Dreaming of a perfect life in Istanbul…

“You will find the life you are looking for in this perfectly planned community. Leave the past behind as a fond memory! You will rebuild your life in the colourful and lively world of My World. You are the centre of the world from now on.”

The words of this Ağaoğlu advertisement sound enticing and convincing. Who wouldn’t want to live in a perfect world, full of opportunities?

Ağaoğlu is one of Turkey’s largest and most influential real estate companies that has constructed an impressive number of gated communities in the past few years. Its apartments have attracted thousands of home owners and investors not only in search of a safe, luxurious and convenient place to live, but also looking for a new way of life, going beyond the borders of traditional neighbourhood living.

Dutch filmmaker Remmelt Lukkien and I became curious. How come these types of projects have become so popular in Istanbul over the past decade? Why are many people so eager to live in these kinds of homes? What is the secret to the success of these projects? And how do they influence urban life in Europe’s largest metropolis?

These questions guided us to Istanbul, where we are currently researching the lives inside the gates of several prestigious gated community projects developed by Ağaoğlu, and another Turkish real estate company, Sinpaş. Our research should result in a film plan on the basis of which we could realise a documentary film on Istanbul’s gated communities and their residents and creators.

Today we explored two Ağaoğlu projects in Batı Ataşehir: My World Ataşehir and My Towerland. Join us on a photographic journey of two fascinating projects situated in an urban environment that changes on a daily basis…

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Local residents of Turkish cities turn public stairs into rainbows

Source: sumrue, Instagram

On a warm August day, retired forestry engineer Huseyin Cetinel decided his downtown Istanbul neighbourhood could do with some extra colour. He immediately took action, bought 800 dollars worth of paint, and painted the public stairs in Findikli, which connect the trendy neighbourhood of Cihangir with a busy seaside road, all colours of the rainbow. At once, he became a local hero. People loved his work. However, the municipality didn’t seem to like Cetinel’s stairs very much, and painted them back to their original grey. They didn’t realise this act of power would unleash a major public drive to turn more public stairs in Turkey into urban rainbows…

“I didn’t do it for a group or as a form of activism. I did it to make people smile,” Cetinel told the Turkish media. Even so, many Turks did see the stairs in Findikli as a symbol for the gay rights movement and/or the spirit of uprising that has been roaming Turkey’s cities for months. From West to East and North to South, Turkish people have picked up their paint brushes and started transforming their local stairs as well. The rainbow stairs have become popular hangout spots, strenghtening communities and revitalising neighbourhoods. Even a newlywed couple showed up at the Findikli stairs to pose for their wedding photographs one day, saying this was the best setting for it in town.

This article was originally posted on Happy Streets

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Mensen maken de stad

Parijs, 2010 © Simone Pekelsma

Vraag mensen waar een stad uit bestaat en je krijgt hoogstwaarschijnlijk antwoorden als ‘gebouwen’, ‘musea’ of ‘winkelcentra’. Jarenlang hebben we met z’n allen ook voornamelijk op dit soort fysieke kenmerken gefocused. Nu de crisis menig stad in zijn greep heeft, blijkt deze houding echter onhoudbaar, want er is weinig geld meer beschikbaar voor nieuwe stedelijke hardware. De software van de stad – oftewel: de mensen die er leven – krijgen langzaam de aandacht terug die zij verdienen. Maar hoe kom je in contact met die mensen?

 

 

Volgens ‘straatoloog’ Pim van den Berg zijn we bang geworden voor de straat, en voor het contact met mensen. We durven geen contact meer te maken met elkaar. Dit terwijl juist dat contact tot nieuwe inzichten en ideeën kan leiden.

Gisteren gaf van den Berg een presentatie bij de inspiratiebijeenkomst ‘Op zoek naar kansen? Kijk eens anders naar (ge)bouwen!’, georganiseerd door het netwerk Vernieuwing Bouw.  De aanwezige vertegenwoordigers uit de bouw- en vastgoedsector hingen aan zijn lippen…

“Voordat je een plek kunt ontwikkelen moet je contact maken met dat gebied, en onderzoeken wat er leeft,” stelde van den Berg. “Uiteindelijk maken mensen plekken. Het succes van een gebouw of locatie is voor een groot deel afhankelijk van de activiteiten die mensen er ontplooien.” Dit betekent volgens de straatoloog dat ook de gevoelens van mensen een belangrijke rol spelen. “Het leven wordt voor 98% bepaalt door emotie.”

Maar hoe vang je nu die emotie? Hoe ontdek je wat mensen beweegt, en wat hun wensen zijn? “Door te kijken,” meent van den Berg. “De gedrevenheid van je blik bepaalt wat je ziet.” Zelf is de straatoloog een beoefend kijker. In de afgelopen 16-17 jaar reisde hij de hele wereld af om voor opdrachtgevers plekken te bekijken en analyseren. Zijn website Perspectives geeft een overzicht van bijna 2 decennia leven in de stad. Wie een middagje tijd heeft kan zich vergapen aan de vele foto’s die van den Berg maakte. Maar wie écht wil weten wat er in een stad leeft, gaat natuurlijk gewoon zelf naar buiten en opent zijn ogen…

Dit artikel is oorspronkelijk gepubliceerd op Leidse Ruimte

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Stad van parken, cultuur, en vooruit…tapas

De afgelopen dagen was ik in Madrid. Ik had me voorgenomen me eens niet te verdiepen in stedelijke ontwikkeling, nieuwe culturele venues of interessante stadswijken, maar gewoon te genieten van mijn omgeving. Voor een groot deel is dat gelukt. Ik heb in lange tijd niet zoveel tapas gegeten als afgelopen weekend, en ook het aantal bezochte terrassen lag wat hoger dan mijn gemiddelde in Leiden. En toch heb ik het niet helemaal kunnen laten, en heb ik me wel weer degelijk ondergedompeld in enkele stedelijke projecten. De meest indrukwekkende – en toeristisch interesssante – wil ik vandaag graag met jullie delen…

Retiro ParkHet Retiro Park

Madrid is een van de meest groene steden van Europa. Dat blijkt niet alleen uit de cijfers, maar wordt ook direct duidelijk als je er bent. Het Retiro Park is wat mij betreft een van de mooiste parken van de wereld. Het combineert groen met historisch interessante gebouwen, terrassen, sport faciliteiten, publieke activiteiten en honderden – al dan niet duizenden – plekken om lekker te liggen luieren. In het park hangt een heerlijk rustige en gemoedelijke sfeer, maar het is er absoluut niet saai. Het park is goed ontsloten, en makkelijk bereikbaar met de bus en de metro. Ik durf het bijna niet te zeggen, maar zou het Retiro Park misschien wel eens perfect kunnen zijn?

Madrid RioMadrid Río

Ooit was het gebied rondom de Manzaranes rivier een onaantrekkelijker plek. Een snelweg liep aan beide zijden parallel aan het water, en ontnam daarmee de Madrilenen alle lust om dit deel van de stad te bezoeken . De flats naast de snelweg fungeerden ongeveer als roetfilter, en werden daarom ook niet bepaald gezien als aantrekkelijke woonlocatie. Van dit alles is nu echter niets meer te zien of te merken. Voor het project Madrid Río is de snelweg ondertunneld, en is langs de rivier een 10 kilometer lange boulevard aangelegd met sportvelden, kiosken en groenstroken. Tegenwoordig rijden er geen auto’s meer, maar is er volop ruimte voor voetgangers, hardlopers, fietsers en mensen op rolschaatsen en skates. De flatgebouwen die ooit uitkeken op de drukke autoweg, hebben nu een prachtig uitzicht over een groen park dat zich zowel links als rechts kilometers uistrekt…

Matadero_MadridMatadero

In Leiden werd het slachthuis omgetoverd tot de woonwijk Nieuw Leyden. In Madrid werd het monumentale slachthuis uit 1911 omgebouwd tot het Matadero centrum voor hedendaagse kunst en cultuur. Tegenwoordig kan je er terecht voor films, muziek, theater, lezingen, cursussen en natuurlijk heerlijke hapjes en drankjes. Er is zelfs een botanische tuin op het terrein. Vanaf Matadero loop je zo de boulevards van Madrid Río op, dus als je wil zou je al skeelerend een film kunnen bekijken, tapas kunnen eten, om je weg daarna al koffie drinkend te vervolgen naar het volgende metrostation. Wat wil een mens nog meer? 🙂

Dit artikel is oorspronkelijk gepubliceerd op Leidse Ruimte

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Citizen participation in shrinking urban areas

With few exceptions, cities and towns all across Europe currently face the effects of ageing and depopulation. In the future, the entire continent is expected to feel the impact of shrinkage on its towns, cities and regions.

This year’s EUKN Key Publication presents a thorough overview of the effects of shrinkage on European towns, cities and regions. What is most remarkable about the publication is that it focuses very strongly on civil initiatives and resident participation in shrinking areas. It provides an overview of inspiring examples of active citizens who have taken matters into their own hands and developed their own creative solutions.

In the United Kingdom for example, residents of the village of Hesket Newmarket bought their local pub. In Idom and Raasted (DK) citizens set up their own multifunctional centre. In Parkstad Limburg (NL), creative companies and freelancers created their own online network to promote their activities. In the Czech Republic, youngsters were asked to design their own skate park. While in Rieseland (DE), locals run their own bus service to allow elderly people to remain active and mobile.

The projects developed by residents show that shrinkage does not necessarily have to be seen as a problem. Instead, shrinkage can also be used as an opportunity to re-adjust the city to changing times, and turn it into a habitable, attractive place to live. Both today and in the future.

The publication can be downloaded here

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Contemporary Sufi Practices in Istanbul

Sieta Neuerburg & Simone Pekelsma
Download the accompanying PowerPoint presentation

Sufism is a mysterious issue in Turkey. Not only because of its mystical origins, but also because of the fact that it was officially forbidden in 1925. However, Sufi practices have always survived underground. Tekkes might have been forced to close down, and tariqahs might have been banned, but the spirit of Sufism has always survived. Since the 1980s, Sufi practices have increasingly been performed by Sufi foundations and associations that were erected in order to be able to legally continue the tradition..

The contemporary practice of Sufism is vague though. A lot has been written about the situation until 1925, but what happened after that, has not been explored in much detail. That is why we set up a research project focusing on contemporary practices of Sufism.

From the 5th until the 18th of April 2012, we were in Turkey to analyze the current interpretation and implementation of Sufi philosophies and practices in today’s Istanbul. We did so not only by studying Sufi music, religious gatherings and literature, but also by focusing on websites, TV shows and popular culture.

Sufism and music
One of the most discussed elements of Sufism is its music. Music plays a central role in the rituals of most Sufi orders. In the Ottoman empire, the tekkes of the Mevlevi order especially could be compared to conservatories, training musicians who would perform in both religious and secular settings. The music of the court was deeply influenced by the music of the Mevlevis.

After the founding of the Republic in 1923, however, (Mevlevi) Sufi music and musicians lost their high status. Kemalist ideologues such as Ziya Gökalp argued that the music of the court and the tekkes was too ‘Eastern’ and belonged to a decadent Ottoman, urban élite. This music, they believed, was influenced by ‘Arab’ cultures and had nothing to do with ‘genuine’ Turkish, rural culture, which in their view belonged to the ‘Western’civilization. In line with these views, the government made it clear that ‘art’ (or sanat) music, including the music of the Sufi orders, was now considered out of place and time in the rapidly modernizing, secular Turkish state.

Discourses about what is ‘genuinely Turkish’ music are still relevant today, as was proven during our visit to a group of amateur musicians. This group of friends plays together each Sunday in the former medrese of the Atik Valide camii in Üsküdar. They play ney, kanun, and tanbur, and sometimes they sing along to the music as well. Their repertoire exists mainly of 19th century and early 20th century compositions.

During our visit, we asked the musicians some questions about the music they were playing and their relation to it. Asking if they would only play religious music, we were pressed not to think in such categories as ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ music, because they really are the same. Moreover, they asked us not to use the term ‘sanat müzik’ (art music) because in Turkey it often refers to classical music in ‘western style’. Therefore, they preferred to talk of “Ottoman, or, even better, Turkish classical music, because this refers to the continuity between the music and culture of the Ottoman empire of the past and that of today’s republican Turkey”.

Mercan Dede: contrasting electronica and classical arts
Some ‘Sufi’ musicians seem less concerned with the ‘tradition’ and more with the (postmodern) present; for example the Turkish-Canadian DJ and ney player Mercan Dede. His music features a range of musical styles and instruments from many musical cultures, mixed with electronic beats and samples. The binding factor between the mix of musical elements is Sufism. In many of his recordings and performances, Mercan Dede plays the ney. Also, many of his songs’ and albums’ titles refer to symbols and persons related with Sufism. On his website, Mercan Dede explains that for him “this contrast between electronica and classical or folkloric arts cuts to the core of the Sufi philosophy”. However, Mercan Dede is criticized by some for turning Sufi rituals and religion into a show. Indeed, his performances often feature a female dancer performing the whirling dance of the dervishes, whose dress is full of color and fluorescent decorations.

Spiritual shows for tourists
On the other hand, we could wonder if a ‘show’ or aesthetic element necessarily reduces the  spiritual meaning of a ritual, both for the performers and the audience. This is an important and intriguing question in relation to our research, because Istanbul hosts dozens of ‘sema shows’ for tourists. Some of these groups perform in very secular spaces, such as restaurants or even the Sirkeci train station. These semas usually include only music and whirling and often last about one hour only – in contrast to a complete ceremony, which would include communal illahi singing, prayers of the Mevlevi tradition, and regular namaz and which may last up to five or six hours in total.

Foundation of Universal Lovers of Mevlana
There is also a group of more ‘hybrid’ events which address both the local population of believers and tourists. We visited one such event organized by the Foundation of Universal Lovers of Mevlana (Evrensel Mevlana Aşıkları Vakfı, EMAV). It took place in their newly built ‘cultural center’ in Silivrikapı. The large room was decorated by poems and sayings taken from the Mevlevi and Bektashi tradition. The main wall was decorated by three portraits, showing Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, Jalaluddin Rumi, and Ali. For the first one and a half hour, we were the only foreigners in the room. The dede was engaged in sohbet (religious conversation) for quite a long time, before he and the believers started to sing illahi together. After performing namaz, there was a tea break and we were invited to ask some questions to Hasan dede. He stressed that women and men were performing sema together in his group, because, as he put it, ‘times had changed’. On our asking why a portrait of Atatürk was behind him, he stated that Atatürk was ‘like his brother’. In the promotion leaflet produced by EMAV, it reads that the association defends the lineage of “all the prophets and saints…like the Exalted Mohammet, the Exalted Ali, the Exalted Mevlana Rumi and the Headmaster, the Honorable Mustafa Kemal Atatürk”.

After the tea break, a large group of tourists arrived and the ‘show’ part of the ceremony started. Indeed, both men and women took part in the dance. The men were the traditional white robes, while the women are dressed in red, pink, and green. As stated in an older leaflet, ‘the colorful robes bring to mind a rose garden’. In spite (or partly because?) of the colours, we could not help but feel that this sema was first and foremost a show. In comparison to the sema in the Nürettin tekke, the semazens seemed to be performing the exact same movements and gestures over and over again. Moreover, they were whirling only in one spot; they would not move around the room. Also, it was interesting to note that the (Turkish part of the) audience was not singing along to the illahis. This may be caused by the fact that the musicians of EMAV often perform their own, new compositions rather than the traditional prayers. Rather, many Turkish visitors were taking pictures and making video recordings, just as the foreign visitors. What also surprised us was that the dede himself continued to engage in conversations and jokes during the performance of the sema. The hybrid nature of this event makes it a difficult topic for interpretation. We would like to visit more ‘tourist shows’ to be able to understand this better.

Karagümrük: public religiosity
In addition to ‘touristic groups’ such as the ones described above, there are also groups that very closely follow the religious philosophy they believe in, and carefully perform the rituals they perceive as being part of this philosophy, while also being open to the public. One example of such a group is situated in Karagümrük, at the Nurettin Tekkesi. The group belongs to the Cerahi Tariqah, which was founded by Muhammad Nureddin al-Jerrahi, who is also buried at the same site. Karagümrük forms the head convention of the international Halveti-Jerrahi order. The order became particularly well known because of the 19th Grand Sheikh Muzaffer Özak who died in 1985, but gave a lot of lectures – especially in the United States in the 1970s.

During our visit to this group we talked to Burhanettin Altındağ, a prominent member of this Cerahi order. He stressed the religious sincerity of the order:  “We pray five times and we fast during Ramadan. Some of us pray more often (nafilah) during the day. A dervish will seek every opportunity to pray. Some of us also fast during the year to feel closer to god.”

The same evening we attended an extensive evening program consisting of the Al-Fatiha prayers at 19:00, the evening prayers at 20:00, a wedding ceremony at 21:00, the yatsı prayer at 21:20 and a sema from 22:00 to midnight.

In Karagumruk there was a strict separation between men and women. The men were downstairs, and the women were sitting upstairs, behind wooden lattice work. The women participated in the prayers, and watched the sema, but they didn’t ‘sing along’ with the illahi. Burhanettin Altindag had already explained the position of women in our interview earlier that evening. “The women participate by watching and listening to the ceremony. Allah says they have to be separated. However, there is no difference between men and women; god wants the same thing from both. Women do not perform meşk though. If they want to, they can sing illahi together.”

Interestingly, foreign women were allowed to sit downstairs and watch the sema there. Does this mean foreign women are not women, or that they are lost already, or that it doesn’t matter they sit on the same floor as men, because they are not Muslim?

Şirin Anne: women at the center
The position of women within the performance of rituals was very different at another place we visited: almost the opposite. Here there were only women, except for the son of the anne (mother), a friend of ours, and another man who joined later on.

We attended a sema that took place in the living room of Şirin Anne, the old-aged leader of the group, who was actually very sick and in bed. The living room was covered by framed pictures of Mevlana, Ali, Şirin Anne when she was younger, and other people who probably were important to the group.

From the beginning onwards, the sema at this group was very intense. The women were extremely into it, shaking their heads and moving their arms. The woman leading the sema was all the time trying to spice things up more by enthusiastic hand and arm gestures. Somewhere half way the ceremony, one woman started to whirl in the middle of the group. It didn’t look aesthetically beautiful, but you could feel that she was very sincere. Later, the leader of the group seemed to try to heal one of the group members by softly hitting her with a stick. The woman got very emotional, and seemed to be completely in a different world.

It was quite special that we were able to visit this sema, because it’s not an open ceremony like in Karagümrük or EMAV. This was probably one of the most intense sema’s we visited, but it was also one of the least tangible ones. After the sema, there was a common lunch, during which we talked to the son of Şirin Anne. He looked very much like a new age type of spiritual leader, in wide white pants, a white shirt, a white hat, and with a long beard. We asked him very concrete questions about the background of this group, when it was founded and so on,  but he only wanted to talk about very intangible subjects such as ‘being a dervish’, Adam and Eve and searching for the password to the Mevlevi philosophy. We thus didn’t get any real information from this visit, but we did get an idea of the intensity with which Sufism can be experienced by people. In addition, it showed us that there are also groups where very different kinds of women perform rituals together. They do not need men to perform their rituals at all. The mix of women was also interesting. At Şirin Anne, there were women who looked more rural when it came to their clothing style, but there were also women who looked like typical rich Nişantaşı women. They wore colorful headscarves with shiny beads on them, but after the sema, most of them immediately took those off.

Mevlana Education and Culture Association
Walking down Galipdede Caddesi, we passed the famous Galata Mevlevihanesi, which is now a museum. Sema is performed in its restored semahane for (paying) visitors several times a week. After explaining the topic of our research, the organizer of these performances invited us to meet with the dede of the Mevlana Education and Culture Association (Mevlana Eğitim ve Kültür Derneği, MEKDER), which is housed in Hasanpaşa, Kadıköy. Kaderi Yetiş dede explained to us that he led two groups; one male and one female. The group of men would perform in the Galata Mevlevihanesi, but the women would pray and dance in private only. Every Tuesday and Saturday, the women would come together to ‘practice’ and perform the sema, led by the dede. After our interview with the dede, the women’s group started to arrive, and we had some time to sit and talk with them. The women were all wearing jeans and shirts; none of them covered their hair. They were all aged between roughly twenty and thirty five years old; most of them are in university or working.

The group invited us to come to their meeting on Saturday morning. In contrast to the rather uninspiring environments of Hasanpaşa, the women and men of MEKDER also perform their sema each Saturday in the restored semahane of the beautiful Yenikapı tekke. This sixteenth century tekke, just outside the city walls in Zeytinburnu, has been restored in 2005-2010 and is now in use as a university. The semahane is still used for sema performances sometimes and, apparently, also used by MEKDER for private sema ceremonies.

On Saturday morning, the women arrive early to have breakfast and tea together, talking about Mevlana and what he means in their daily life as they wait for the dede. During our visit, it turns out that the dede is feeling unwell today and the sema is delayed. However, we have some more time to talk to the women of the group. It becomes clear that most of them joined the group by personal motivation and choice. None of them talks about being raised in the Mevlevi tradition. They all stress the importance of the teaching of Rumi and the participation in the sema for their personal wellbeing.

The women of MEKDER combined their individual experience and interpretation of Sufism with participation in a more or less ‘traditional’ order or group. However, many more people may be engaged in listening to Sufi music, reading spiritual literature and even ‘practising’ Sufi rituals without being related to any organization at all.

Ebru: personal interpretations and experiences
In this respect, our meeting with Ebru Bilun Akyıldız was an eye opener. Ebru is photographer, designer and film maker. She recently finished the documentary Soul traces (Etek izlerini silmeden) about the restoration of the Galata Mevlevihanesi. In her film, Ebru interviewed a range of people, from literature professors to construction workers to the 22nd granddaughter of Jalaluddin Rumi, Ms. Esin Çelebi Bayru. Several speakers stressed that the power structures of the tarikats or orders were developed long after Rumi’s death. After watching the documentary together, Ebru expressed her devotion to a personal interpretation and experience of Rumi’s work. She stated that Rumi himself would probably have agreed with this private approach to spirituality and that he would have opposed the institutionalization of the Mevlevi order over time. To her, no one would need a dede or religious leader to “translate Rumi’s work, as it speaks directly to the heart and mind”.

Ebru’s approach added an interesting (and complex) aspect to our research. Because…How to find out how and to what extent people are engaged in ‘private’ forms of (Mevlevi) Sufism? An indication of the popularity of Sufi spiritual ideas among large parts of the Turkish population is the existence of a ‘popular culture’ building on Sufi (particularly Mevlevi) tradition and symbols. This can be witnessed not only in the field of music (see the example of Mercan Dede above), but also in literature.

Elif Şafak: The forty rules of love
A few years ago, Elif Şafak’s book Aşk (translated as The forty rules of love) turned into a major bestseller in Turkey in 2010 (also selling well in translation). In this novel, American housewife Ella falls in love with the ‘wandering dervish’ Aziz, who tells her – by e-mail – about the life of Jalaluddin Rumi and Şems of Tabriz. The novel stresses the ‘universal’ values of Sufism, such as love for all that live, forgiveness, open mindedness, and being true to yourself. It could be said that the ‘popular culture’ manifestations of Sufism are mostly detached from a strictly Muslim tradition, and more oriented toward the branch of ‘Universal Sufism’, which is very popular in Western Europe and the United States. However, we would like to take a closer look at this phenomenon before drawing any conclusions.

From Universal Sufism back to Islam
Acccording to H. Nur Artıkan, the spiritual leader of the Şefik Can International Mevlana Education and Culture Association (Uluslararası Mevlana Eğitim ve Kültür Derneği), the mevlevi tradition is inextricably linked to Islam. In our interview she stressed that she did not want to qualify books such as that of Elif Şafak as bad or good,  but she did say that this was not the original way. Her group – a mixed group consisting both men and women – supposedly follows the Qu’ran and Sharia law very closely. The atmosphere and the relations between the different group members seemed to be very relaxed and easy going, but H. Nur Artıkan also explained there were many invisible ‘rules’ that we, as outsiders, wouldn’t be able to detect.

Nonetheless, this was one of the most peaceful groups we visited. It seemed to be a very honest and open group, that was very accepting and tolerant. We did notice that they are strict. H. Nur Artıkan also writes books and gave us a copy. The book includes texts Mevlevi philosophy, but also on practical ‘rules’ and guidelines, such as how to practice eating little.

Besides publishing books, H. Nur Artıkan’s writings are also used for the Turkish website ‘Semazen’ , which according to Artıkan is one of the most reliable sources on the subject. It includes links to explanations of Mevlevi texts – columns from experts – , and links to book shops and other shops selling Mevlevi products. This shows that in addition to the selling of the tourist experience at EMAV,  the selling of Universal Sufism of Elif Shafak and Mercan Dede, there is also quite an industry of more religious products.

Also on television, Sufism has a certain presence, illustrating that it is increasingly being mediatized. The video in our presentation shows a special TV program of CemalNur Sargut – the head of the Turkish Women’s Cultural Association and a well-known spiritual teacher, in which she answers questions from people in Turkey from a Mevlevi perspective.

Conclusions
In conclusion, our research brought up many more questions than answers so far. It has certainly inspired us to come back to Istanbul, visit more ceremonies and have more in-depth conversations with practitioners of Sufism, both those participating in some organization or those who are Sufis ‘at home’.

In any case, we would like to dive more deeply into the following aspects. First of all, why are so many groups calling themselves after Mevlana, even though their symbols seem to refer to other traditions, such as the Bektashi orders? The simple answer would be that the Mevlevi order was and is more generally accepted (by the state and society), but we would need more research to find out about the motives and reasoning behind this phenomenon. Secondly, an interesting theoretical approach would be to consider the commodification and ‘musealisation’ of Sufi practices in the context of the (re-)appropriation of Ottoman and Turkish heritage and ‘identity’ by a range of social, political and religious actors in contemporary Turkey. In relation to this, we will look at the ‘religion industry’. ‘Sufism’ as idea and practice is packaged and sold in the shape of ‘sema shows’ for tourists; in popular culture, and, last but not least, in religious books, TV programs, and websites. A last aspect which we will take into account is the status of the individual in Sufi groups, looking at the wider context of the supposed ‘privatization’ of religion in Turkey. Finally, we will reflect on questions of ethnic and gender identity, as they affect all of the other subjects for research.

This research project was made possible by the Netherlands Institute in Turkey (NIT). The presentation was given at the NIT International MA/PhD Workshop ‘Contemporary Popular Religion in Turkey and the Netherlands. April 16-17 2012, Istanbul.  

Read more about our research in the Bake society newsletter Vol. 2, Issue 2, June 2012

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Sustainability in Turkish cities: dream or reality?

Turkey is not particularly famous for its sustainable, green policies. According to the latest EU progress report, the country hasn’t made many steps forward when it comes to the environment. There are several actors and organisations that support and promote sustainability in Turkey though. Last weekend, the Green Thought Association and the Heinrich  Böll Foundation organised a conference about the green economy in Turkey. It especially focused on the local and urban dimensions of a greener, more sustainable future.

Comparing the green policies of the German city of Hamburg to those of Turkish cities, is like trying to uncover the many differences between white and black. However, this is how the conference started.

Hamburg is the European Green Capital of 2011 and Dirka Griesshaber, working for the city’s green capital project team, explained how they had been able to secure this title. The city is actively involved in stimulating energy efficiency, promoting renewable energy, building CO2 neutral homes, creating bio-energy, supporting e-mobilitiy etc.

In Turkey, these kinds of policies and practices still seem very far away. In Istanbul for example, even recycling hasn’t been implemented properly yet. The city still allows dirty and polluting buses  and trucks into its territory. It’s even planning to build a new highway for which 1 million trees will need to be cut.

Why is there such a gap between the local realities of Turkish cities and Hamburg?

Local interests vs. national decisions
One of the main obstacles to sustainable development in Turkish cities seems to be the fact that the central government is still much more powerful than local governments. Ankara makes the final decisions, even when these decisions have a major and potentially negative local impact. Haluk Gerçek, professor of transportation at Istanbul Technical University gives a recent example: “Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality spent 5 years creating a detailed development plan for the city, involving many different actors and experts. However, after it was completed, Turkey’s central government came up with several projects that were outside the scope of this plan, such as the third bridge and the Eurasia car tunnel between Harem and Kumkapı.” The effects of these individuals projects will alter the land use plans of Istanbul completely and might have a detrimental effect on life in the city. Haluk Gerçek therefore wonders: “Why can’t we stop these kinds of projects as local governments? Why can’t we stop these projects that are completely imposed by the central government?”

Resident participation
Ikbal Polat, working for Nilüfer municipality in Bursa, points at another obstacle to sustainble development in Turkish cities. “In Turkey, the main actors take planning decisions based on their own interests. Local inhabitants are not involved in decision-making at all.” She illustrates this by pointing at a major project: the Gebze-Izmir highway. “This highway impacts on 17 cities, but none of them have had any influence on its development. This example shows that the planning process in Turkey is often closed; there is no democratic consensus on plans. If we want to have sustainable cities, this needs to be changed first. People need to be engaged in the planning process and be enable to defend their own rights and interests!”

Global actors
There was a time when Turkish people were relatively engaged, especially in local housing issues.  90% of the population used to be involved in housing related activities. This can be explained by the high rate of homeownership in Turkey. Turks used to all be real estate developers, creating their own houses. However, after 2003, globally operating mega companies became the main actors in involved in real estate. The Turkish real estate sector is now the 2nd largest in the world. According to architect Orhan Esen, this might be a threat, but it could also be an opportunity. “Can’t we develop new policies and enter political dialogue with these companies? Can’t we co-create greener and more social cities together?” he wonders.

A more holistic view of development
What seems to be lacking in Turkey, is a more holistic view of development and progress. Usually, development is fully expressed in economic terms: capital flow, job creation and economic growth. However, issues such as nature, (local) well-being and sustainability are often ignored. This leads to one-sided policies that do not necessarily benefit the Turkish population at all. Because the Turkish public is largely excluded of the decision-making process, even when it comes to local projects that have a major impact on their personal lives, they rarely get the change to voice their opinion. Officials don’t hear them, and just go ahead with whatever plans they feel should be realised.

This means the critical voices of Turkey – which do exist in large numbers – have a great responsibility. They need to continue to speak up and voice their opinions and demands. They could easily start to feel discouraged, disillusioned or powerless, but they are probably the ones holding the key to a more sustainable future for their country.

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Istanbul’s hidden treasures

Istanbul is a city full of hidden treasures. They don’t present themselves to you unless you go and look for them though. You have to wander the city’s streets – sometimes for days – and hope they will be revealed to you.

We were lucky. American photographer Payam Emrani and I were just walking around Karakoy, on our way to the Kadikoy boat after a Let’stanbul activity, when an old man presented himself behind the window of a ventilation systems workshop. Payam took his picture.

Sometimes taking someone’s picture without permission leads to drama and angry faces. However, for this man, having his picture taken seemed to mean trust. He immediately asked us to come into his workshop and see something very special. Something of which there were only 4 in the entire world, he said.

We were very curious. The building was old and dilapidated. The old man had been working there for 40 years and barely changed anything. The building was centuries old, and still contained many original elements, such as metal doors, stairs and windows. Apparently, it was used as a prison in Ottoman times. The oldest and most spectactular trace of history was even older though. We found it in one of the back rooms.

There, surrounded by old junk, machines and piles of stuff, the man showed us a mural on the ceiling. With a proud, smiling face, he said: “15th century, Byzantium.” We looked up and saw a black and white painting of a scientist who seemed to be pondering the fate of humanity, while looking at a globe placed at its feet. “Only 4 in the world,” our host repeated. “There used to be more of them in this building, but they have all been stolen in the past.”

At that moment we learned something important about Istanbul. Maybe even about life. Some things may get stolen, or they might simply disappear. But others are rediscovered and treated wih great love. This man loved ‘his’ mural. It was his hidden secret, his Istanbul treasure and he wanted to protect it.

We were very happy he shared it with us. It was a special moment. We don’t know when the next secret will be revealed to us. Maybe never. We have to cherish the moments we are given, it seems…

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LET’STANBUL 2011: Meet Zeynep Yildirim

Name, Age, City/Country
Zeynep Yildirim, I am 24. I live in Brooklyn, New York, but I am originally from Turkey.

What do you do?
I am a graphic designer at a boutique graphic design firm, but I also do freelance jobs. I’m mostly working on branding, marketing and type projects.

How would you describe your life?
I guess I can say very busy and in action all the time. Its overwhelming sometimes to work full time and freelance at the same time, and work on personal projects on top of that. But I love what I do, so I try to manage my time in the most efficient way so that I also have time left for myself.

What do you expect to find in Istanbul?
I lived in Istanbul, but the last 5 years I’ve only been visiting every 6 months, so I feel like a tourist sometimes. However, this time I’m expecting to see Istanbul from a very different perspective than before.

What are you going to do at Let’stanbul?
I will be doing a type installation – a large type (a word) will be cut out of turfgrass. I will ask a question to viewers or people passing by, and will have papers connected to a stick(will look like flags) so people can write down their answer and insert the flag in the grass. So in the end, the type will be covered with little flaggy things depending on how much people are willing to contribute.

Want to see Zeynep Yildirim’s work? Check out her website

Download the LET’STANBUL programme

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LET’STANBUL 2011: Meet Anka Bardeleben

Name, Age, City
Anka Bardeleben, 33, Berlin

What do you do?
Photographer

How would you describe your life?
A thoroughly mixed bag 🙂

What do you expect to find in Istanbul?
Energy, history & beauty

What are you going to do at Let’stanbul?
Report, absorb & hopefully be able to add something interesting

Want to see Anka Bardeleben’s work? Check out her website

Download the LET’STANBUL 2011 programme

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