Archive for July, 2007

The Mysteries of Pera

July 26, 2007

After a two-week trip across Turkey seeing the contrasts between coast and interior, city and country, East and West, rich and poor, I am back in Istanbul and once again stay in Beyoğlu, formerly Pera, the Venetian and Genovese enclave right from the 15th century where European embassies and companies set up residence in the second half of the nineteenth century in order to pick the remains of the languishing Sick Man of Europe, the Ottoman Empire. It is still dominated by the Galata Tower, built by the Genovese, seen in the picture below. It is an area where churches still outnumber mosques, and where, the other day, I first heard church bells in Turkey, as the bells of Santo Antonio rang out at midday while I was working in an Internet cafe.

It is the area to meet, eat, drink, beg, dance, see films, plays, shop for art or antiques or musical instruments, enjoy Turkish rock, rap and hip hop, as portrayed in the film, Bridge to Istambul, drink coffee at Starbucks or Gloria Jeans, eat ice cream, visit numerous galleries, and buy books. It is the tribal area of Turkish punks, Gothics and darks. It is the gay, lesbian and transvestite area. It is the red light district. It was the district where I first arrived in Turkey on a snowy evening in February 2000 to see snowball fights between rival office workers. It was the area I first visited after returning from the conservative East in February this year. It is La Rambla, Soho, La Riva Gauche and Greenwich Village. It is the district I am drawn back to time and time again, as are so many visitors.

It is the area of hidden Greek and Armenian churches and Jewish synagogues, whose congregations now often number no more than a few elderly who missed the boat to New Jersey or New South Wales. It is the area of Dickensian alleyways and stern and solid Victorian apartment blocks, some of which still have Greek names like Papadoupoulos Apartmen, and around every corner one imagines a Jack the Ripper might be lurking. And it comes as no surprise that the Istanbul Eugène Sue early 20th century wannabe was called Les Mystères de Pera. It is an area of contrasts, with certain parts now becoming gentrified, as in Cihangir, where rents have soared, and others, like Tarlabaşı, remain seedy and dilapidated, and are home to Kurdish and Gypsy migrants, displaced Iraqis, glue-sniffing urchins, workers in the sex trade, pimps and thieves. I peer down its scruffy streets and see sheets are hung out stretching between appartments on the narrow streets, rather like a Sicilia d’antan.

If this nostalgia is not yet enough, catch the funicular railway, the Tunel, the second oldest underground railway in the world (London was the first), built in 1871, from Galata Bridge up to Pera and imagine yourself a European diplomat or banker in the late 19th century returning home or visiting a Parisian cafe in the Grande Rue de Pera or La Rue des Petits Champs, for French, naturellement, was the lingua franca of Pera.

It is an area of ghosts. Opposite the huge Greek Orthodox Church (open only for Sunday service) the Rum (Greeks born in Turkey) and Armenian brown stone schools are now schools for the local Turkish population. This is the area where, as I mentioned in my very first blog on Turkey, quoting from Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul: Memories of a City: “Nineteen fifty-five was the year the British left Cyprus, and as Greece was preparing to take over the entire island, an agent of the Turkish secret service threw a bomb into the house where Atatürk was born in the Greek city of Salonika. After Istanbul’s newspapers had spread the story in a special edition exaggerating the incident, mobs hostile to the city’s non-Muslim population gathered in Taksim Square, and after they had burned, destroyed and plundered all those shops my mother and I had visited in Beyoğlu, they spent the rest of the night doing the same in other parts of the city” (p.157). 

Near the German Hospital in Cihangir I discover a viewpoint over the Kabatash pier, the warehouses and old military arsenal of Karakoy, where the Modern Art Museum now stands, and the Bosphorous. The grassed area near the steps down to the Bosphorous seem to be a popular meeting-place. The grass area is littered with bottles. A group drink beer and wine. Couples sit on the steps, smoke and admire the view, as do all Istanbullus. Down below liners from Russia have arrived bringing throngs of Russian tourists. Yachts, ferries and speedboats ply the Golden Horn and the Bosphorous, taking care to avoid the oil tankers from Russia and container ships from the Turkish Black Sea ports, which have negiotated the 30 km long straits, at their narrowest just less than a kilometre wide.

I think of the pictures I have seen when the Bosphorous was so much fuller with boats, before motor transport, like that below, after the first Galata Bridge was built in 1841, but many years before the first bridge between European Istanbul and the Asian side was built in 1973.

Advertisements

As a Tourist

July 21, 2007

It was one of those moments of being a tourist I dread. I had just driven up the winding mountain road with its hairpin bends and thousand foot unprotected drops and arrived in the vilage of Zerk, some 50km from the southern coast of Turkey and some 100km from Side and Antalya, in order to visit the old Roman town, and particularly, the Selge amphitheatre.

The previous night I had seen La Traviata at another Roman amphıtheatre in Aspendos, built in the second century AD, built along the Greek style but with an elaborate stage on which scenery could be lowered, and which seats some 15,000. When Atatürk visited, he ordered it to be used for the performance of opera, theatre and ballet, the Western arts which were imported in the early years of the Republic and played an important role in the Westernization of the middle-classes. But now many of the spectators are Western tourists, and also Russians.

I arrived in the mountain village and the locals crowded around the car. The village boys told me where to park. The village women crowded around to sell me their beads and embroideries. Neredesiniz? Where are you from? Inglizim, I told them. I hold on to my money bag. I worry about scratches on the rented car. I feel uncomfortable. I think of bolting. How do I get out of the situation? I examine the beads and embroidery and buy one from both of the women still following me. They ask fifteen Turkish lira. I offer ten, still much more than they are worth, but it is an act of appeasement, a transfer of a small sum I can afford, and things get easier. Fatma seems to be the head women, knows a few words in German and takes me up to the amphitheatre together with a pair of boys from the village, Bayram and Ramazan. The whole village is built on the Roman ruins way up in the mountains. The crumbling amphitheatre seats 5,000, and there was a population of 20,000 in the town. How did they survive in such an inhospitable and remote spot where little seems to grow? It seems an aqueduct brought the water and the town prospered till Byzantine times.

Relations become more relaxed. It is a good opportunity to practice my Turkish. I am invited in for tea. One of the few things that grows in the village is wild thyme, and Fatma dispatches one of the boys to collect some wild thyme. I take off my shoes and enter the home, three rooms, brick, not poor. Granny is rocking the cradle of baby girl Bilkent, one-year old, who doesn’t want to sleep. Where are the men? I ask. Gitti, they’ve gone away from the village. İş yok, there is no work, no water to irrigate the land, and they have all gone to the coastal resorts to work in the hotels. I am complimented on my Turkish and escorted to my car. I give a couple of lira to the boys and am waved away.

I drive back down to the Köprülü Valley, where the German and Dutch tourists are being initiated into the skills of rafting. In Side the tourists are back from the beach, relaxing in their posh hotels, strolling around the Roman ruins, drinking their Efes beer, for there are no alcohol restrictions here, shopping and getting ready to go out for the night.

The Elections

July 20, 2007

The General Election in Turkey will take place this coming Sunday, 22 July. It has been hyped up as being the most important ever election as Turkey as the strategic position of Turkey becomes increasingly important to Western powers, with Turkey sharing a border with Iraq, Iran and Syria.

Bunting and posters fill the cities. Party vans blare their martial party songs. The squares and hubs are full of canvassers. One point that initially confused me was that all the parties except the AK Justice and Development Party, whose colours are white, orange and blue, use the colour of the Turkish flag, red, and symbols that echo the crescent and stars of the flag. Thus lots of red flags and posters, and lots of stars and crescents.

     

 

At the moment it looks as if the ruling AK Justice and Development Party will get up to 40% of the votes, and this may be enough for them to form a government, with a majority of seats in parliament, 276. The voting system is one of a regional list of candıdates, where candidates are elected from a list provided by the party according to the proportion of votes they receive in that region. But parties must pass a threshold of 10% of all votes cast nationally in order to be represented in parliament. The AK Party has been cashing in on its successful management of the economy over the last four and a half years, with an average growth rate of over 6% per year, the desire of the electorate to have a stable strong government, avoiding weak alliances which have been disastrous in the past, particularly in the case of the 1999 government, which failed to prevent a stock market crash and a rapid fall in the value of the Turkish lira, and its popularity amongst the poorer classes, who have benefitted from welfare aid and fuel allowances. The AK Party has an Islamic origin, being the offshoot of the banned Virtue Party, and its leader Recip Erdoğan, spent a brief spell in jail in September 1998 when Mayor of Istanbul for “inciting armed fundamentalist rebellion” when he quoted a poem of Zıya Gökalp, ironically one of the intellectual mentors of the Republic: “The mosques are our barracks, the minarets our baynets, the domes our helmets, and the believers our soldiers…”. Erdoğan gained great credit for metaphorically cleaning up Istanbul, and the AK Party draws much of its support from the urban poor, Islamic groups, but more and more from the middle-classes who have done very well in the last four and a half years.

Its critics say that it has a hidden Islamic agenda, and they point to the fact that a number of AK Party mayors have attempted to restrict alcohol sales and introduce segregated schools, according to Islamic principles. Primers used in schools have also put an Islamic slant on traditional Western stories.

The CHP, the Republican People’s Party, which should be the next largest party, with some 22-25% of the vote, is the party founded by Atatürk, and which held power from the founding of the Republic in 1923 until 1950. It is staunchly Kemalist, following the precepts of the state founded by Atatürk, which means that it is secularist; nationalist, statist, republican, and populist, in the sense of promoting equal rights for women. Indeed, Turkey was one of the first countries in the world to give the vote to women. The Republican Party secularized education and all public institutions in Turkey, prohibiting the use of religious symbols such as headscarves in educational institutions. It is traditionally the party of the government bureaucracy, the army and teachers.

The next largest party should the MHP National Movement Party, populist, secular and right-wing, with a paramilitary youth wing. It emphasizes the values of “Turkishness”, and is highly suspicious of Turkey’s attempts to join the EU, believing that this will result in a loss of Turkish sovereignty. It is also wary of apparent European support for greater Kurdish independence. The Kurds should see themselves as Turks and participate in the Turkish state. Its share of the vote in recent polls has increased due to renewed problems in Kurdish areas and the killing of Turkish soldiers by the illegal Kurdish PKK paramilitary group. 

The MHP may reach the threshold of 10%. If it does so, and the AK Party’s share of the vote is lower than expected, a coalition government may be formed between the CHP and the MHP. And here there may be an ironic sequel as this secular alliance of non-religious parties would be much less keen on accession to the EU than the pro-Europe Islamic-based AK Party, for whom EU it has been a central part of their agenda. Indeed, the leader of the Socialist group in the EU, Jan Marinus Wiersma, favours an AK victory.

Other parties, of which there are a large number, will probably not reach the 10% threshold in order to qualify for parliamentary representation. However, there will be a large number of Independent candidates, for whom this threshold is not valid. In Kurdish regions candidates representing Kurdish parties are standing as independents.

Points of Origin

July 19, 2007

A point of origin, a point of departure. A moment, an incident, a battle, a place that is given a special national importance. A religious or mythological site. I think of a number in Britain: the White Cliffs of Dover, Hastings, the Tower of London, Stratford-on-Avon, Buckingham Palace, 10 Downing Street.

And here in Turkey there are so many. In a previous post, Gallipoli, in December, I mentioned the strategic importance of the Dardenelles, and the failure of the Allies to take them in the Fırst World War through their own blunders and the leadership of Atatürk, then Mustafa Kemal, of the Turkish forces, then allied with the Germans. One wonders what would have happened if the Allies had succeeded. Kemal’s career would not have taken off, and surely he would not have had the authority to unite Turkey and get rid of the occupying forces after the First World War and, especially, defeat the Greeks, who held a part of Western Turkey from 1919 to 1922. 

Leander swam the Dardenelles, or the Hellespont, as it was known, to meet Hero but finally drowned, and Byron swam the straits to show off and prove that it was really possible to swim the distance of less than a mile, thought impossible in 1807!

In the December blog I recounted the legend of the Golden Fleece and the origin of the name of the Hellespont: Athamas, king of the city of Orchomenus in Boeotia in southeastern Greece, took as his first wife the cloud goddess Nephele, by whom he had two children, the boy Phrixus and the girl Helle. Later he fell in love with and married Ino, the daughter of Cadmus. Ino was jealous of her stepchildren and plotted their deaths.  Nephele, or her spirit, appeared to the children with a winged ram with a fleece of gold. On the ram the children escaped over the sea, but Helle fell off and drowned in the strait now called after her — the Hellespont. The ram took Phrixus safely on to Colchis, on the eastern shore of the Black Sea. Phrixus then sacrificed the ram and hung its fleece on an oak tree in a grove sacred to Ares, where it was guarded by a dragon. There it remained until taken by Jason. The ram became the constellation Aries. And the fleece is the Golden Fleece.

Then Troy is very near Gallipoli. Disappointing to many who look for the romantic and grandiose as the fortified town has no grand sights, no amphitheatre, and the walls of the ruins are no more than a foot or two high.

In the Far East of Turkey, it is believed that Noah’s Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat. There have indeed been several sightings of the Ark high up on the mountain…

In Tarsus, on the southern coast, I passed Cleopatra’s Gate, previously rather unkindly called “The Bitch’s Gate”. In 41 BC, Mark Antony, as ruler of the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, which included present-day southern Turkey, sought the military support of the Queen of Egypt and summoned her to meet him in Tarsus.

As she made the final leg of her journey up the river Cydnus she travelled in a magnificent barge filled with flowers and scented with exotic perfumes while she reclined on deck surrounded by her servants and trappings of gold. According to Plutarch [Antony was] “…carried away by her to Alexandria, there to keep holiday, like a boy, in play and diversion, squandering and fooling away in enjoyment that most costly of all valuables, time.”

Some 40 years later St. Paul was born in Tarsus. A well marks the spot, and nearby you can see the ruins of the house which may or may not have been his. I shelter from the scorching sun in the St. Paul Cafe, and it seems St. Paul is being used to attract tourists to the old part of town, now being refurbished.

Often the point of origin is disappointing. Near Antioch, or Antakya in Turkish, near the border with Syria, I visit Harbiye, the ancient Daphne, where the virgin Daphne prayed to be rescued from the attention of Apollo and was turned into a laurel branch. It is now a popular tourist attraction with stalls selling tacky goods, and restaurants where you can eat fish while your feet are cooled by the channelled mountain streams rushing down to the waterfall.

St Peter’s Church, chiselled into the mountain just outside Antakya, is no disappointment. It was one of the earliest places where the still persecuted Christians in the Roman Empire worshipped, and tunnels provided an escape route. The Acts of the Apostles (11:26) tells us St Barnabas fetched St Paul from Tarsus, and in Antioch: “For a whole year they met with the Church and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians”. Antioch at that time was one of the great cities of the Roman Empire, with some half a million inhabitants until it was destroyed by an earthquake in 526 AD, and half the population was killed.

When living in Istanbul, every day I looked over the Rumeli Hısarı, the castle from which Mehmet II, the Conqueror, prepared his siege of Constantinople, which he finally took from the Byzantine forces on May 29th 1453, a day which is still lamented by many in the West. And just after I arrived in Istanbul two weeks ago I walked along the walls of the old city and saw the area, now a main road, where they were first breached, and where the Golden Apple was finally taken.

St. Peter’s Church 

At the Market

July 15, 2007

A thousand kilometres across Turkey, and the layout of every Turkish town and city becomes familiar. As you get near, the market gardens providing vegetables, the army barracks. The scruffy outer suburbs littered with plastic bags and bottles. The packed minibus dolmuses. Maybe an out-of-town shopping center near the new smart estates, the sites, with just a token guard at the entrance. The smart avenue leading to the centre of town, often called Atatürk Bulvarı, starting from the smart traffic island with the statue of Atatürk. And there will be İstıklal Caddesi, Independence Street, an Inönü Caddesi, after the second president of the Turkish Republic, and now that the disgraced Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, deposed in a military coup in 1960 and hanged the following year following corruption charges, has been rehabilitated, there are plenty of Adnan Menderes Caddesis.

Along the Atatürk Bulvarı we find the Benettons, clothes boutiques, smart hotels, mobile telephone shops, Starbucks and Mado ice cream parlours. And nearby the tea garden, probably part of the park, maybe leading to the castle, where couples stroll at night, admire the view, drink tea and smoke the nargile water pipe. 

The town council offices, the belediye and the main post office will be central, maybe next to the Archeological Museum, as here in Antakya, formerly Antioch, one of the largest and greatest cities of the Roman Empire, and now a relatively recent addition to Turkey, having been a French protectorate from 1918 till 1939. All have played a central role in the integration of Turkey as a modern state: the belediye to exert control over some remote rural areas; the post office to facilitate communication; and the archeological museums to stress the relation of modern Turkey to the ancient Turkic peoples, the Hittites and Selçuks, emphasizing that the concept of Turkishness has always existed. Many of the museums house Greek and Roman mosaics, as does the Antakya museum.

I have not forgotten the mosques. The central mosque may be called the Ulu Cami, the High or Sublime Mosque, with its courtyards, fountains and disactivated medresse, Islamic school, for such schools have not been allowed in the Turkish Republic. It will usually be near the bazaar, or pazar in Turkish, for it has traditionally earns money by renting out stalls and shops. A few shops near the mosque may sell Islamic souvenirs – Korans, pictures of Mecca, prayer mats and beads, but most will sell cheap clothing, the there will some shops selling conservative Islamic clothing for ladies, shoes, plastic kitchen and bathroom goods, many of which are exported to Russia and the ex-Soviet Republics. Indeed, “sacoleiro” shoppers come to İstanbul on charter flights with a ninety kilo allowance from Uzbekistan and Krgyistan. The traditional Turkish bath, the haman, will also be nearby. To a great extent they are now a thing of the past, or a tourist attraction as nearly all houses now have modern bathrooms. Then we move into the area of taps, bathroom appliances, mobile phones, electrical appliances and tools, then maybe the jewellry district, especially gold and silver.

Fruit, sold from barrows, varies according to the season, and now the stalls are overladen with cherries, peaches, apricots and heavy sweet water-melons. There will be plenty of places to eat: the fluffy börek pastries are made in large pans over heat; as are the sweet and stick baclava sweets. Some shops specıalize in a wide variety of nuts and dried fruits, especially in the east of Turkey. You can see the bakers at work taking freshly cooked flat loaves out of the open ovens. And not to forget the omnipresent kebapcıs, the kebab sellers. And the spice sellers add colour for the photographers with their different shades of dark red paprika, thyme, mint, and brown tea.

There are still a few memories of the crafts of yesteryear. Metal workers hammer out pots and pans in tin and copper. But the Arabic inscribed bowls I buy come all the way from Syria, well, it is just down the road…

At about one fifteen the muezzin calls the faithful to prayers, many of the businesses shut for some twenty minutes, and the old men shuffle over to the mosque for midday prayers from the public garden or the kıraathanesi, the cafe where they spend most of the day drinking tea, playing cards, backgammon and another domino-like game.

But like everywhere else habits are changing. Super and hypermarkets are found in everywhere medium-sized town. The car-owning middle-class prefer its Migros or Carrefours, and there are signs that the downtown market, as in the huge İstanbul Kapalı Charsı will become more of  a tourist attraction and curiosity as serious shopping is done at the out-of-town malls.

From İznik to Konya

July 9, 2007

The last call to prayers in summer comes late, around 22.15, owing to the late sunset and the hour of daylight saving time. I take a dip in İznik Göl, or Lake. İznik was Nicaea, an important Roman then Byzantine town, one of the outposts of the Byzantine Empire, until it was taken by the Ottomans in 1331. Though sacked by Tamerlane (Tamberlaine) and the Mongols in 1402, it became the centre of tile and porcelain production for the Ottoman Empire.

But in the 18th century the tile making and porcelain industry went to Kutahya, some 200 km away, where the porcelain industry dominates the town, and where, on a warm evening, a local potter shows off his skills to the sound of rock music in the main square and beginners try their luck with the wet and sloppy clay.

Now İznik depends on olives. Tractors slow down the traffic coming into town. Shops sell agricultural implements. Farmers are busy tending the trees, but still have time to sit in the teashops, for the olive harvest is still a long way off. Further south things are much busier as I pass through the cherry harvests of the town of Çay, Tea. Families are gathering yellow cherries, sour cherries and red cherries from the heavy trees. They sell at the roadside, at the coach stop, and take it to the cooperative to get weighed. And as I get near Konya orchards change to wheat fields, already being harvested in mid-July.

Konya is supposedly the most religious city in Turkey and is the home of the Mevlana Sufi tradition. My Rough Guide tells me of a local youth severely beaten up in the 1980s for smoking on the street during Ramadan. But at first sight this conservatism doesn’t seem so obvious as on Aladdin Street (not the genie but the Selçuk leader, Aladdin Keykubad, the enlıghtened Selçuk sultan of the early 13th century, when the arts flourished in the Konya area) there are plenty of uncovered women. But I do feel a bit conspicuous as the only man in Konya wearing shorts despite the 30C+ heat. 

Outside Konya I get a better idea of this conservatism. In the shallow waters of Lake Beyşehir just men bathe. A religious group of men pray before eating. Long trousers and sleeves. No swimming. Their womenfolk stay at home. Other family groups are preparing lunch. A group of men wrestle on the beach. A gırl strolls past in her tracksuit. Another sits on the beach in her jeans. Of course there are no restrictions to female bathing, but girls just don’t feel comfortable…

Tourists throng to the Mevlana Museum, where Mevlana Mohammed Jelaled-din Rumi (1207-1273), the founder of the Mevlana sect, is buried. It is very much a pilgrimage for many, who pray at his tomb and those of his followers and take pictures of the flutes and the illuminated Korans. Rumi wrote poetry and instructed his followers to pursue all manifestations of truth and beauty, and to practice infinite love and tolerance and avoid ostentation. He also condemned slavery, recommended monogamy and believed women should play a public role in public life. The Mevlanas are best known today for the ceremony of the Whirling Dervishes, who, through their gyrating dance, often for longer than fifteen minutes at a time, reach a trancelike state in which they leave behind earthly bondage and find a union with God. The right arm is held up to receive grace from Heaven, and the other down to the ground, so all that comes from upon high will be distributed to humanity, and the dervishes will keep nothing. During the ceremony the black cloak, representing the funerary shroud, is cast aside, denoting that the dervishes have escaped from their tombs and all other earthly ties. The music reproduces that of the spheres, and the whirling dervishes represent the heavenly bodies.

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu, Buddhist,

sufi, or zen. Not any religion

or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up

from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,

am not an entity in this world or the next,
did not descend from Adam and Eve or any
origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,

first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.

                                    Mevlana Jelaud-din Rumi

 


 

Part 2 – Back to Beyoğlu

July 8, 2007

I returned to Brazil at the end of February, a semestre of teaching, aborted by a month-long strike. Political events in Turkey developed. The governing AK Justice and Development Party nominated its leader Recip Erdoğan as their candidate for the presidential elections. The was deemed unacceptable by Presıdent Ahmet Necdet Sezer due to the Erdoğan’s religious roots. The AK Party then nominated Foreıgn Minster Abdullah Gül, a less controversial figure, and a popular moderate diplomat, but his wife also wears a headscarf. Also unacceptable, especially to the military. But he did not get the necessary two-thirds majority necessary to be nominated. The AK Party then called an early general election for 22 July, and its proposal to hold open presidential elections by popular vote has just been accepted 6 to 5 by the Supreme Court. 

The proposals were accompanied by mass demonstrations in a number of Turkish cities, with over a million turning out in Istanbul and Ankara in support of the secular state and against any kind of Islamisation of the Turkish state. This was the demonstration of the liberal middle-classes, mini-skirted girls draped in the Turkish flag and carrying posters of Atatürk. And who would be in favour of an army coup if a future government took on a too Islamic agenda, as happened in 1997 when the Welfare Party, the forerunner of the AK Party, and the senior member of a coalition government, organısed a Jerusalem Day in Sıncan, on the outskirts of Ankara, to call for the liberation of the cıty from Israel. The Iranian Ambassador made anti-secular statements, calling for the establishment of Islamic law in Turkey, and the crowd demonstrated in favour of Hamas and Hizbullah. But the generals were none too pleased, the tanks rolled into Sıncan, the National Security Council banned Premıer Necmettin Erbakan from politics for five years, the Welfare Party, knowing it would be banned, reformed as the Virtue Party, which then became the AK Party.

The AK Party has apparently renounced its Islamic agenda, but secularists suspect the AK Party of harbouring a secret Islamic agenda, citing its unsuccessful attempts to criminalise adultery, restrict alcohol sales and lift a ban on Islamic headscarves in government offices. They fear the government will have a free hand to implement Islamist policies if the party controls the presidency.

Thus the dilemna of my liberal Boğazici friends. To favour restrictions on democratic participation as a party may well be voted in with an Islamic agenda that will restrict civil liberties. Thought I as I listened to a concert of Shakespearian Songs in the Albert Long Hall at Boğazici, Bosphorous, University. Well, it was Robert College until the 1970s, and still seems a little Ivy Leaguer. And I remember my student’s wrath at the prospect of her son being brought up in a narrow Islamic society.

But on the streets of Beyoğlu such tensions can hardly be seen. Uncovered girls walk arm-in-arm with covered girls. A few covered girls even walk hand-in-hand with rocker type boyfriends. Cinemas, bars, clubs beckon. I also recently saw the film: Crossing the Bridge: the Sound of Istanbul, which reflects the vibrancy of the Istanbul music scene. And Istanbul seems much worried about the impending death of popular singer Barıs Akarsu after a car crash. I have already recorded the delight of my first arrival in Istanbul in February 2000. I was in Poland, and the flight to Istanbul was a little cheaper than that to Athens. Rain turned to snow as I arrived. I knew not what to expect. My experience of Muslim countries had been limited to Morocco, where I had felt a lıttle hostility. And then I arrived in Beyoğlu in the pedestrianised Istıklal Cadessi, the Grande Rue de Pera, full of snowballing executives and secretaries, coffee shops, bars and pubs. I was at home!

The snow lasted 48 hours. The next day the media went out looking for stories and found a woman in a full-face niqab and long black skirt out skiing. And she could ski pretty well. But she wouldn’t talk to the cameras.