ART / istanbulogy / February 2, 2013

Oh, Istanbul, what have you turned me into?


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A couple of years ago, I was having a late lunch in a tradesmen restaurant in Mecidiyeköy.  I am all ears  in such restaurants; this is one way to  get a feel of the times. A retired army officer who served in the south east of Turkey and an old Kurdish worker who migrated from that region are having a chat at different tables. If you know a bit about Turkish politics, you could immediately figure out how tense this could get. I was wondering if they would be able to come to terms with with the civil war going for almost 4 decades. How would they word what they have gone through?


Though you could feel the army officer had already stripped down his authority like he did his uniform, the old man does not fail to pay respect to this former officer he personally does not know. The old worker’s frustration is obvious in his voice. His heavily accented Turkish reveals a dead-end state policy, which has frustrated both parties in the past decades. Once the identities were clear enough, to my surprise their conversation took a different course.  10 years ago, my oldest son insisted we came to Istanbul.” he says. “I opposed him  fearing a big city like Istanbul will turn us into something we are not. I told him we cannot survive in Istanbul. He disagreed saying we did not have anything to lose; so we packed  up and left for Istanbul. 10 years after we migrated here, my son now tells me I was right. He says “You were right about the big city, dad. We should have never come here in the first place. I cannot recognize what this city has turned us into.”  How can we go back? We don’t have anything left there. We are stuck here in misery.” How can I disagree with him?


“You were right about the big city, dad. We should have never come here in the first place. I cannot recognize what this city has turned us into.”


Geographically uneven development policies employed by the state (probably for centuries), along with the civil war  have resulted in the mass migration from the rural areas in the East to the urban areas in the West. Actually, so many factors are intertwined that it is hard to isolate the reasons for the migration taking place since the second half of the last century. The further and wider I travelled in Turkey, the more I acknowledged  that  it is not only the values of the rural that are disappearing, the city culture is also disappearing. When I can no longer recognize the city I was born in, what can I say to console the old man? “It is not only you! I sometimes cannot recognize myself either!”


“All this was for our own good” by Sevil Tunaboylu


Art installation photos from my archive; I just could not let them go unused. This work titled “All this was for our own good” by Sevil Tunaboylu  within  Alanistanbul  soft city project focuses on the interaction between individuals and the city.  Here is a good take on what cities turn us into. Whenever I look at these photos, I remember the frustrated old man’s voice full of regret. 


Tags:  civil war exhibition Galata installation Kurdish issue memories migration photo essays politics

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