Showing posts with label Istanbul. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Istanbul. Show all posts

Saturday, February 2, 2013

NY Woman Murdered In Istanbul

The body of 33-year-old New Yorker Sarai Sierra was found near popular tourist haunts in Istanbul, Turkey Saturday.
Reports indicate her body was dumped near the last place she visited, the Galata Bridge, in the neighborhood called Sarayburnu, or Seraglio Point. This area juts out into the Bosphorus and is downhill from  the highway and train tracks that circle Sultanahmet. It's a short distance to Topkapi, Hagia Sofia church-mosque-museum and the Blue Mosque.
Nearby are many small wooden hotels and youth hostels. A tram or a walk across the Galata Bridge connects Sultanahmet with the Beyoglu/Pera/Galata side of the water. The quays on either side are dotted with small restaurants, where you eat fish under canopies as ferries and ships glide past.

A TV report on
Sarai Sierra
CBS news says here those initially "detained were at the scene when the body was found, with Sierra's driver's license, near the Four Seasons Hotel."
The London's Daily Mail quotes Sierra's husband speculating that maybe she got into trouble photographing graffiti. CBS quickly concluded the murder won't disrupt tourist travel to Istanbul. Conveniently, who was paying attention to international news on a Saturday afternoon?
But it is clear that the ramifications of the case were important to Turkish police, who questioned so many -- including two women. Also, a volunteer Turkish organization for missing persons got involved.

UPDATE 2/7: Sarai Sierra's body was turned over, curiously, to an Armenian Church in Beyoglu and her coffin carried through narrow walkways before the return to the U.S. on a free Turkish Airlines flight. Related stories here and here. There is much detail that U.S. media omitted in the English-language Turkish daily Today's Zaman, which writes that police denied the following rumors:
"Pointing to the shadier backstreets of Beyoğlu where Sierra stayed and the side trips she made to Amsterdam and Munich, suspicions that Sierra was a CIA operative, drug trafficker, and so on, have circulated in Turkish media."
Istanbul is a mesmerizing mix of headscarves, mosque calls to prayer, blue sea, ancient Greek sites and an overwhelmingly male sales force at the cash register. A larger issue here is how men view women in a Turkish cultural context. Do Turkish girls and women get encouragement and access to equal education and treatment as boys and men?  Important and shocking observations on that from the New York Times here.
A woman alone in Istanbul remains a curiosity, but it's not uncommon. I've traveled alone in Istanbul. Proprietors were very curious and friendly. Deeper into Turkey, a woman has little clout without a male companion, not to mention a translator.
On one trip, wandering out of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar at the close of business, a young man purchased a  piece of curious-looking melon for me when I asked what it was. He asked about my life, wouldn't take money for the fruit, and moved on. Another man, a jeweler, walked me to my hotel and we chatted in the lobby over tea about the economy and his life; he lived with with his mother.
After days of travel, it seemed the men were unrelenting in hitting on foreign women. One night in Sultanahmet, a guy on the street -- it is always presumed they are hawking a restaurant, hotel, carpets, ceramic trinkets  -- called out to me as I walked toward him: "Are you French, British, American?" With half a block before I got to him, I crossed in the middle of the street to the other side.
"I'm sorry," he finally called out.
I never looked back, and took the tram home, in the dark, to an apartment-hotel with no front desk. Within four blocks, Turkish police armed with machine guns manned a post; transvestite prostitutes hovered in dark corners.
Sarai Sierra, a young mother and aspiring photographer, wasn't so lucky.

Weekend Reading: Burning Trees in Athens, Bombing in Ankara

Some weekend reading about Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, but don't expect good cheer:

This news is deeply disturbing: the Economist reports of multiple attacks on old Christian women in Istanbul in recent weeks. The first reader comment on the Economist piece? A diatribe denying genocide. Relatives of one 85-year-old Armenian murder victim said that the lines of a crucifix had been knifed onto her unclothed body. All of the incidents occurred in Istanbul's Samatya neighborhood, home to 8,000 Armenians and the Armenian Patriarchate. Istanbul's governor insisted in a Tweet that one particular incident was motivated by theft, not hate, which is a prevailing view according to this Catholic News report.  I wrote about Istanbul cemetery vandalism in 2009.

Two weeks ago, a young New York mother and aspiring photographer disappeared in Istanbul while on a solo trip, and it doesn't sound like she met with a good end. She found cheap accommodations on and the New York Post reported Friday that Istanbul police are detaining a man she agreed to meet on a bridge.

Here is Daily Telegraph coverage of Friday's deadly bombing at the U.S. embassy in Ankara, Turkey.

Over in Greece, poor people desperate for heat are cutting down trees for firewood, and apparently even chopped one tied to Plato. The Atlantic wrote Thursday that the pollution one sees hovering over Athens, "is the smog of austerity. Greece is literally breathing in the fumes of its recession." Make that depression.

Cyprus needs a bailout, in case you have crisis fatigue and ignore financial news. Even if Russians who like to bank in Cyprus chip in some cash, European authorities must step in, says this English-language article in Kathimerini. Complicating matters: hydrocarbons could be exploited off the southern coast, which is the Greek coast, of Cyprus. Seems the northern, Turkish side wants in, but someone forgot to toss a seismic detector into the Mediterranean Sea circa 1974. Until now, valuable discoveries were more along the lines of the icon of Christ that Boy George handed over to Cypriot authorities.

Finally, check out my friend Jim Montalbano's movie review blog. "Once Upon A Time in Anatolia," a  Turkish fictional drama about -- what else? -- death, is one of his favorite films of 2012. The official trailer is here. Looks pretty dark. I watched "The Lark Farm" last weekend - a dramatization of 1915 atrocities in Turkey focused on a wealthy Armenian family that protected poor neighbors. All were sent into a starvation exile and most died. Watch it for actress Arsinee Khanjian's natural looks and to contemplate what would have happened if her daughter had run off with the handsome Turkish soldier - and what happened to those women who pursued such survival tactics. Film available on Netflix.

Just rented Madagascar, whose animated critters promise to lighten things up.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Turkish Schools in U.S.; Who is Gulen?

Chicago Tribune lead columnist John Kass, who's normally focused on scrappy city politics, just wrapped up two weeks of foreign reporting that took him from his familial Greek village to resurrection services in Istanbul.

There were 10 columns in all. But in the column where he visits with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Kass dropped the little-known name Muhammed Fethullah Gulen.

Gulen's many followers in Turkey and among Turkish-Americans like to call Gulen a philosopher. Kass called him a theologian. But it seems fair to say Gulen is a preacher, born in Turkey but living in the U.S., who harnesses a powerful wealth network to put a progressive face on Islam.

Some links with more info:

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Rick Steves in Istanbul

Istanbul was the featured city of tonight's PBS re-broadcast from intrepid traveler Rick Steves.
In Chicago, the show was on Channel 20 at 8 p.m., but you can check local listings here on his Website. He brings home that the Turks have a script for the city's tourists: nation created in 1923, Sultans at Topkapi lived in rich sophistication, Istliklal Caddesi is interesting, and Hagia Sofia was the center of Christianity.
Why, as a museum, even after restoration, is Hagia Sofia still in a state of decay inside?
Working at the family dining table here, I just can't bring myself to finish the last nibbles of the loukoumi (locum) that I bought back from an adorable old-fashioned-looking shop in Uskudar. That's a neighborhood on the Asia side of Istanbul where there were many Greeks and Armenians at one time; the ferry ride across the blue sea full of fluorescent jelly fish, the warm sun setting, was really pleasant.
I realized after I got back to the states that the candy box decoration is a church. I thought it was just a clock tower, since there is no cross on it. I didn't recognize the spelling of church, "kulesi," because I only knew it was pronounced KEEleeseh.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Turkey's Seismic Sunday

A powerful 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck eastern Turkey on Sunday. As the death toll mounts, I unpack my bags stateside.

NTV quoted Veysel Keser, mayor of Celebibag: "There are many people under the rubble ... People are in agony. We can hear their screams for help. We need urgent help."

Istanbul, Turkey's largest city with more than 12 million people, was unaffected. It's closer to Europe, and this quake's epicenter was near Armenia and Iran. But National Public Radio reports Istanbul is near a major fault line and the city is ill-prepared for a major earthquake because of overcrowding and faulty construction. Experts say more than 40,000 people could die in a major Istanbul quake.

NPR wondered about a recently restored 10th century Armenian church, Akdamar Church, which is perched on a rocky island in Lake Van near the epicenter.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Attaturk & Architecture

A number of watchdog Christian news sources, including Italy's AsiaNews are reporting the European Court of Human Rights "ruled that Turkey must return the former Greek Orphanage on Büyükada Island, the largest of the Princes’ Islands, back to Fener Greek Patriarchate. This concludes the long legal case between the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople and Turkish authorities." (See an Armenian site for photo and good summary.)

Travelers take boats to these pretty islands, which are increasingly dotted with nice hotels - prime real estate. Today's Zaman, a Turkish newspaper that favors minority interests in Turkey, points out the orphanage is one of the largest wooden buildings in the world and was illegally confiscated.

When CBS' 60 Minutes profiled the Patriarchate recently, they filmed the Patriarch at Büyükada. The legal status of many other properties that Christians lost, when forced from Turkey, cannot be questioned, thanks to the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923.

Also on the subject of architecture, consider Aghia Sofia, the magnificent church in Istanbul that became a mosque and now is a Turkish government museum. The above photo shows a stone piece from Aghia Sofia embedded into the facade of the Chicago Tribune Tower -- just after the Treaty of Lausanne was signed. The Tower was completed in 1925 following an international competition in 1922, just when Christian refugees were fleeing Turkey. The contest: design the most beautiful office building in the world. Today, Chicago's Tribune Tower still houses a decayed-but-great newspaper and remains dotted with fascinating artifacts from the world's monumental architecture.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Spice on Netflix!

Netflix makes the movie "A Touch of Spice" available next week. It's a sad, romantic story about the definition of home, and what it means to leave it. Home, in this case, was Greek Istanbul in the 1950s, told through the eyes of a spice-seller's son. This subtitled movie, called "Politiki Kouzina" in Greek, isn't perfect, but the storytelling really moved me when I saw it in a Manhattan cinema last year (see my earlier post and link to YouTube). But none of my friends could see it -- until now!!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Obama Met Patriarch

President Obama met with Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in Istanbul Monday, but all the interested parties got Thursday was this lousy press release and Web link . Old news won't get covered -- but really glad we spend on Internet ministries. It appears foolish to put the news out late and without any explanation of the obvious: why wasn't the Patriarch also a part of publicized meetings with other local Christian leaders? Why did Obama and the Patriarch meet at a hotel and not at the Patriarchate? The Patriarchate "Fener" neighborhood is just a taxi ride from the Conrad Hilton Istanbul. The photo in the link above is of the president speaking; the release is mostly about what the Patriarch said. Diplomacy is one thing, but Byzantine secrecy is just so ... Byzantine.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Touch of Spice

Play this music and read on: A grandfatherly Greek spice-seller in Istanbul in the late 1950s is the focus of a sweet movie you have to rent: Politiki Kouzina, ("A Touch of Spice," or literally "Constantinople Cuisine" or "Political Kitchen.") The 2004 film doesn't concentrate on violence or politics in the final uprooting of Istanbul's Greeks to an unfamiliar "motherland," but instead uses spice and food to tell stories about life and love and tragedy that began in 1915-1922. You can watch one particularly poignant moment on YouTube. I lost it when the main characters depart Istanbul's train station with just a few bags, leaving behind, forever, an entire life. (Our family story too.) Plot problems aside, the movie is subtitled, and showing again starting April 24 at the Cinema Village in New York. See it! In the meantime, make your own judgments by reading the 1992 Human Rights Watch report called, "Denying Human Rights and Ethnic Identity: The Greeks of Turkey" a free Google pub. In the end, it's all history. In Istanbul, the massive cathedral of Aghia Sofia is a museum. Minarets and women shrouded in black characterize former Greek neighborhoods. (See January photo above.) Still, you can't but fall in love with beautiful Istanbul.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Combating Fear

Last week when I was wandering alone on the dark, stone lanes of Old Jerusalem, or in a conservative Istanbul neighborhood, I didn't feel courageous. But several people very close to me have admired my courage for going to both places. I wasn't courageous, or foolish. Journalists in Gaza, Israeli soldiers in Gaza, those who choose to live in Gaza -- that's courage. It's just that we are so isolated in America, it's easy to get sucked into the never-ending headlines without juxtaposing them with the everyday reality beyond Gaza's rockets. Consider these headlines from recent days: From Turkey, "More Arrested in alleged plot by Turkish ultranationalists to bring down the Islamic-rooted government." (Wall Street Journal) Turkish fighter jets danced over Greek territory. As for Israel: Gaza rockets have gotten within 20 miles of Tel Aviv, warning sirens went off in Jerusalem Wednesday (erroneously, says the Jerusalem Post) and the Palestinian death toll is approaching 1,000. But even in a "dangerous" place, and I wouldn't call Istanbul or even Jerusalem that, everyday life goes on. I definitely was scared when I arrived in Jerusalem because there were things on fire in the street. But at the wedding in Tel Aviv, there wasn't any security. Four of us got lost and entered the celebration through the kitchen without question. The bottom line is we can't live in constant fear of isolated terrorism, even if, today, Osama Bin Laden is urging a holy war over Gaza. I'm glad I am home. Then again, the New York Times suggests moving to Istanbul: look what $800,000 buys!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Patriarchal Blessing

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- With the Epiphany feast upon us, after a blessing of waters liturgy at the church of St. George at the Patriarchate here in Istanbul, I was granted an “akroasi” (meeting for a blessing) with His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew Monday morning. I was last to be seen; before me were mostly Greeks from Greece and men who seemed to get preferential treatment. When I finally saw the patriarch, he commented that that as a journalist, I have an important job because I can influence people. However, before seeing him, I was warned not to conduct an interview, which needs more than two weeks approval. Seeing the patriarch at all took quite a bit of waiting and confusion, and a stall-tactic soup consisting of white beans with lemon and spicy dry red pepper on the side. After all that, I learned several things: the Patriarch is indeed a kind man. He administers with Post-its. He has blue eyes. His ibriks for demitasse coffee are very old copper with intricate bronze handles. This may not make me a better Orthodox Christian, but it is what it is, and the patriarchate deserves support given longstanding, and current, oppression by the Turkish government. (On the main shopping street, the Catholics have a church where they can conduct services in Turkish and English. There's a Greek Orthodox Church at the top of the same street, at Taksim Square, but the authorities have only allowed two Greek Orthodox churches to remain open, and they aren't conveniently located.) Anyway, the Patriarch offered me chocolates, and gave me a gold-tone cross stamped on the back with the patriarchate name, a small book in Greek with a CD explaining the church of St. George in the Fener or “Phanar” district and the Church of Chora, which I visited last week. Thought the gifts were very generous; and he took down our Asia Minor [Turkey] family name and village name when I asked if they have a map of the Nicea region. I asked if he had any questions for me; his response was that I am young. I asked him how we know Gods will, but I don’t remember the answer – except that we have to listen and things take time. Other tidbits: he also offered to me that his baptized name was Demetrios – and he told me twice that I had to come back Wednesday, when he throws a cross into the nearby inlet that leads to the Bosphorus. And then, it was all over. A newly ordained deacon who hails from northern Indiana took two photographs, and the Patriarch put on a long black street coat and headed, with a driver, to the hospital to visit his sister. It was pouring rain all day Monday, so the light wasn't good for photos. You can see here the facade of the St. George church at the Patriarchate, with the administrative offices to the right. The brown wood is typical of old Istanbul structures including both hotels where I stayed. Surrounded by the sea, anything else deteriorates. Which begs the question, why would the builders of St. Stephen of the Bulgars use iron?

Istanbullda Birkadin

That means I'm a woman in Istanbul. And what an amazing city Istanbul is! There is no way I can see the modern art museum, and Topkapi might fall off the list too. On Monday, after visiting the Phanar, which is nearly on the water and a 10-minute cab ride from anything important to tourists, I wandered in the neighborhood. Lots of very old, brick-and-wood buildings being restored, but others very run down. I was told the "Fener" neighborhood is the most religiously conservative neighborhood in Istanbul; nearly every woman sported a headscarf and long coat over long dress. Fascinating too: a man selling garlic from a makeshift cart, hawking to second and third-story customers. From there, I hopped into a cab with two English speakers headed to Taksim Square -- they wouldn't let me pay -- and capped all this off with a walk from Taksim through the shopping street, Istiklal Caddesi (second photo here). The boys would love because a small red trolley runs up and down the street at very long intervals. I bought lots of little, Turkish things today: rose water (for a face toner or food flavoring), some antique post cards and Turkish music. (Books are very expensive here $50+) Huge New Year sales here. I found hand-knit baby booties from a villager selling on the street.
Had dinner by myself, wishing I had someone to talk to. But traveling alone means you meet more people, and experience more instead of concentrating on your companion. I asked in stores twice about places to eat, and landed in a bustling mezze taverna -- a "meyhane" -- the kind of place where locals have small portions of pan-seared fish, pickled greens that look like miniature olives leaves, spicy puree of tomato and raw onion, with raki diluted in water. It was perfect.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Astrakan Hat

Thank goodness for Paul, a California Greek and friend of friend, who moved to Istanbul and now is married wıth baby and puttıng down roots. He arranged the colorful and small hotel where I will stay when I get back Sunday night. Lanterns and antiques on split levels in lobby, plus a harem-style room with tons of fabrics, ceramics, tassels and lanterns coatıng the walls and ceilıngs like a wholesale showroom, which is more or less what it is, with dust. Owners apparently got rıch sellıng carpets, and one goes daily to the Grand Bazaar; he ordered dinner from the hotel restaurant for bunch of us who filled up the room last nıght. We had rak, musıc and we ate on the floor, while several male assistants tended to musıc, tea, etc. Went back to the Grand Bazaar wıth hım today where he took us to the Turkmenıstani where İ bought my glass beads yesterday. Today I got an Astrakan hat (see photo). Then borek and baklava with cherry juıce forlunch. LOVE the grand bazaar, cotton bath towels, haremlık pompom slippers for the kids, and that hat -- not as bıg as the one favored by Attaturk (who I never knew had blue eyes. Was he really a European?) Got to see the Chora Church today; beautiful mosaics and frescos. Irked me that the Blue Mosque ıs free, but a church 'museum' costs 11 dollars, and you don't even get a pamphlet or a pretty ticket. I never get lost, and this city is confounding. Very hard to navigate given language barriers (got on bus going wrong direction and decided to stay for a 1.5 hour round-trip since not a soul on the bus spoke Englısh and ıt ıs posıtıvely freezıng here. Missed a hamam appointment, but maybe just as well because it is too cold; snow flurries don't stick two mornings in a row. Aghia Sofia tomorrow, maybe odds and ends around bazaar. And then to airport Tel Aviv. One ceramics seller trıed to reassure me, tellıng me Iran won't start WWIII and the İsraelis have lots of fire power. Happy to report that my stress level is fine, and have not resorted to raki, though I loved the t-shırt at rıght at the bazaar. Sorry for keyboard mıstakes here- Turkısh keyboard despıte brıngıng my laptop. Wıreless does not work (got bıg dıscount on room, but have to blog at receptıon desk. Teşekkür ederım -- that would be, 'I thank you.'

Monday, December 29, 2008

Istanbul Snow

Snow was a metaphor Turkey's best-known author, Orhan Pamuk, used to convey a deep disconnection in his novel of the same name. It snowed here today and it's apropos for me in Istanbul, in good and bad ways. First the bad: my friends in Israel are plowing ahead with plans for New Year's eve and parties for a wedding, as they must. But I feel like mourning for more than 300 dead in Gaza. And I feel cautious about getting closer to it all. Yet life is as usual today on the Bosphorus, and Turkey is a peaceful VERY Muslim country, as the constant call to prayer and VERY present headscarves remind. In some kind of oblivion to all this, the ships continued to glide past on the Bosphorus this morning as I sipped breakfast tea on the rooftop, accompanied by spicy feta, a boiled egg and some trahana soup with lemon. The sun was shining, but tiny snowflakes looking more like ashes fell too. Energized -- no get lag at all today -- I walked through the Blue Mosque it is full of beautiful Iznik ceramic tiles with turquoise designs, soaring ceilings with round domes, and intricate stained glass. Had to take our shoes off and it is bitter cold here, but thankfully the prayer space is carpeted. Then off to the grand bazaar, a covered maze of glass-enclosed shops dripping with jewelry, fabric, blue ceramic tiles and bulbous glass votives that truly look best in groups of 20, from afar. There are mosques surrounding the bazaar, and the prayers to Allah seem to creep out of crevaces deep inside the maze of narrow lanes and odd wooden courtyards that date back to the early 1900s. I only talked with men all day; all were VERY friendly without being pushy, and I bargained fairly well. But there are no bargains here, as far as I can tell. The damned euro is worse than the Turkish lira, which I got and spent at the I bought some pretty "Roman" glass beads from Afghanistan at a shop run by a Turkmenistani father and his young sons (photo below). They gave me a pretty good deal, so I promised to promote their Website: Hanaka Collection.