Photo of the Week: Belgrade Forest



A friend from the U.S. visited me last week. A gorgeous day of sun and crisp air made us want to get out and see nature. This is a challenge in a gigantic, sprawling city like Istanbul, but a glance at a satellite photo of Istanbul shows that there’s an enormous green patch in the northwestern part of the European side, not terribly far from where I live, actually. The place is called Belgrad Forest. It’s home to many varieties of deciduous trees and some Ottoman dams. The Ottomans used the water in these reservoirs as Istanbul’s main water supply for much of the duration of the Empire. The words on this plaque, written in Ottoman Turkish, are allegedly the names of architects and workers who built the dam.

The bus ride out there was fairly long, so I decided to say hello to a high-school-aged guy standing next to me. He told me his family lived in the forest and offered to show us around. He spent a couple hours walking through the forest and acting as a tour guide, then we had a cup of tea at a shop near the main forest entrance. Not one to weaken the stereotype of Turkish hospitality, he even insisted on paying for the tea.



animals-Turkey-thesuiteworldIn response to my first post, some of you asked about why English would use the same word for two things as seemingly unrelated as Turkey and a turkey. I figured there’s no better time than just before Thanksgiving to answer that question. Let’s talk a little bit about the etymology of the words ‘turkey’ and ‘Turkey.’ Etymology is the study of words’ origins and the way their meanings change over time.

The word ‘Turkey’ ultimately comes from the word Turk’ which is the name of an ethnic and linguistic group, and has been for a very long time. Turks have historically been associated with Anatolia because they have been the largest ethnic group there.


Here’s the etymological explanation for ‘turkey,’ paraphrased from the Online Etymology Dictionary.

There’s a type of bird called the guinea fowl, which comes from Africa. Back in the day (in the 16th Century), traders would bring guinea fowls from Madagascar up through north Africa, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire. Because of their trade route (and maybe because they were ethnic Turks), Englishmen called them ‘turkey merchants.’ Eventually, the name ‘turkey’ ended up being used for the guinea fowl.

The actual bird we know as a turkey was from the Americas, not Africa. When English speakers first saw a real turkey, they misidentified it as guinea fowl, aka ‘turkey.’

So, although there’s no real-world connection whatsoever between turkey and Turkey, we use the same word.

The Turkish word for ‘turkey’ is hindi, which basically means ‘Indian.’ They called it that because the bird came from North America, which most people at the time thought was basically an extension of India. This misconception is also the reason that ‘Indian’ is synonymous with ‘Native American’ in English.

There’s a moral to all of this. Humans make lots of mistakes. Language is created, modified, and shared by humans, so it reflects these mistakes. I find it all pretty charming.




Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the cockpit of a subway in the Marmaray Tunnel (Source:

Thanks to Caroline for asking about this topic.

Traveling between Istanbul’s European and Asian sides can be a real pain. More Istanbulites live on the Asian side, but the main commercial areas of the city are on the European side, which means a lot of people cross the Bosphorus Strait every day. However, there are only three bridges crossing the Bosphorus, which means they are clogged with bumper-to-bumper traffic most hours of the week. Because of this, many transcontinental commuters use ferries, but this is a relatively inefficient way of traveling.

To make things easier for Istanbul residents, PM Erdoğan began an ambitious project called the Marmaray Tüneli, a subway tunnel that would run under the Bosphorus and connect the two sides of the city by rail for the first time. The Marmaray Tüneli has been a long, difficult, and expensive task for the Turkish government, but Erdoğan has stressed the importance of its completion, emphasizing its symbolic value. He sees it as an especially valuable connection between the two continents, saying it will someday serve as a link between London and Beijing.

Erdoğan claims that his inspiration to build the tunnel came from Sultan Abdulcemid, who wished to build a tunnel underneath the Bosphorus 150 years ago, but couldn’t because technology was inadequate.

Erdoğan conducted the subway’s first test run on Republic Day, the day that Turkey celebrates its founding as a new, non-Ottoman nation. Because he presented the project as a way to fulfill the dream of an Ottoman Sultan, many Turks found saw the timing of this ceremony as a strong political statement.

Photo of the Week: İSTİKLAL CADDESİ

İstiklal (Independence) Avenue


I know I mentioned İstiklal Avenue in a previous post, but I thought it deserved a second mention and a better photo.

İstiklal Caddesi is one of the most popular streets in Istanbul. It’s in the Beyoğlu neighborhood (several miles away from my house), connecting to Taksim Square at one end. For the most part, it’s a pedestrian-only street – the only vehicles traveling up and down İstiklal are the historic tramway (in the picture) and police or municipal service vehicles. It’s just under a mile long and serves as the center of a network of narrow, winding cobblestone streets full of businesses, historical sites, and apartments.

İstiklal is usually covered by extremely dense foot traffic from about 9am-2am. During the day, people visit its museums, art galleries, boutiques, sweet shops, clothing stores, international consulates, cafés, historical churches, mosques, movie theaters, and restaurants. By the late evening, many of the shops close down while the bars and nightclubs open.

The nightlife on İstiklal is characterized by excess and diversity. There are hundreds of bars and clubs on İstiklal, many of which feature live music of most styles imaginable until about 4 am. On any given night, a person would have no trouble finding electronic dance music, Turkish folk, Turkish oldies, Turkish rock, and heavy metal, to name a few. However, finding the ideal place to hang out can be challenging because many businesses lack signs and can only be accessed by entering an unmarked door and ascending several flights of spiral stairs. This is also part of İstiklal’s charm.

İstiklal avenue also features lots of beautiful architecture, mostly Ottoman, but international influences are evident in places like churches and its numerous international consulates (French, Russian, English, Greek, Dutch, and Swedish). Other “international influences” on İstiklal include branches of multinational companies like Starbucks, Burger King, KFC, and Levi’s.


Republic Day Fireworks

As Xander has pointed out, the iPhone 4S is terrible at taking photographs of light sources, so this Photo of the week is not my own.

Tuesday was Cumhuriyet Bayramı, Turkey’s independence day. It marks the anniversary of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s declaration of the new Republic of Turkey in 1923.

Cumhuriyet Bayramı is an official national holiday, which means I didn’t have to go to school.  Knowing all of the colorful (and sometimes ironic) ways in which Americans express patriotism on the Fourth of July, I was curious to see how Turkey’s largest city celebrates this important occasion, so I spent the day meandering around the city.

My first stop was İstiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue) near Taksim Square/Gezi Park. This is a pedestrian-only street that serves as the center of Istanbul’s shopping and nightlife. To my surprise, some of it was closed, barricaded by dozens of police officers at either end. They wore armor and carried shields, batons, and rifles (a common sight near Gezi Park). I grabbed a cup of tea near one of these assemblies and watched as waves of young protestors marched through, carrying Turkish flags and Atatürk portraits and shouting the mantra of this summer’s Gezi Park protests:

Her yer Taksim! Her yer direniş!
Everywhere is Taksim! Everywhere is resistance!

I didn’t witness any serious confrontations; the police sternly admonished protestors who were wandering into forbidden areas, but there was no use of weapons and no need for shields.

Afterward, I took a ferry to the Asian side of the Bosphorus, where I met some French friends who told me about some communist protests occurring there. While I missed the march itself, I saw communist and socialist banners, and lots of policemen.

The most common political expression, however, was simply one of Turkish patriotism. I must have seen two hundred Bayrakçı (flag sellers) and I wouldn’t dare estimate the number of Turkish flags I saw printed on t-shirts, hanging from windows, covering skyscrapers, and being worn as capes.

My friends and I caught the next ferry back to Europe, picked up some tea and a small box of Istanbul’s best baklava and went to a waterfront park to watch the fireworks. Our view was roughly the same as the one in the picture. The fireworks began on the Bosphorus bridge (left of the frame above) and continued on the Asian side. Most of the fireworks were red and white. Near the end of the show, they even managed to create stars, crescents, and the work TÜRKİYE out of fireworks.

Accented by the reflection on the Bosphorus and the energy of the locals around us, this was undoubtedly the most elaborate and beautiful fireworks show I’ve ever seen.

Cumhuriyet Bayramı was a peaceful day full of different expressions of what it means to be Turkish. Members of almost every political sect waved the same flag, but they each interpreted its meaning in different ways. Watching the fireworks, I thought about how communists, Gezi Park protestors, Islamists, and secularists were probably enjoying the same fireworks show. For me, it was an occasion to reflect on the meaning of national identity and the use of national symbols. It challenged my narrow view of a flag as a static icon that represents a fixed set of values that only belong to some of a nation’s citizens.



Turkish/Kurdish Breakfast, Tea


Breakfast in the Hasanpaşa Kervansaray (General Hasan Caravan Fortress), Diyarbakır

Sorry about the quality of this photo of the week. I took it while very hungry and anxiously anticipating eating the pictured meal.

The Turkish word for breakfast is kahvaltı, which literally means “before coffee.” Despite this, I rarely see Turks drinking coffee after breakfast. This may come as a surprise considering the famousness of “Turkish coffee” in the Western world. While Turks do indeed drink Turkish coffee on occasion, they much prefer çay (tea – pronounced the same as “chai”), which they drink during all waking hours. One day during my trip to Turkish Kurdistan, I decided to count how many cups of tea I drank. The number was 12, and I had turned down no fewer than four.

Çay, unless otherwise specified, is a strong black tea that comes from the Black Sea region of Turkey. It’s served strong with a couple of sugar cubes on the side – sweeten to taste, but don’t even think about adding milk. The typical vessel for çay is a small, tulip-shaped glass with a saucer.

Fun fact: Per capita, Turks drink more tea than people in China, England, India, or Japan.

Breakfast is a huge deal in both Turkish and Kurdish cultures. There’s no arguing that it’s the most important meal of the day here. It’s also a trademark of Turkish and Kurdish hospitality; hosts always serve breakfast to overnight guests. (I was even served koç yumurtası last week, without warning. Feel free to look it up.) At home, breakfast is served on the floor atop a special “breakfast rug.”

The general theme of breakfast is very similar all across Turkey, but some ingredients – mostly fruits and vegetables – vary depending on the season and location.  A standard Turkish breakfast consists of:

  • bread
  • jam (flavors like rose, sour cherry, and apricot are popular)
  • a hard-boiled egg
  • green olives
  • fresh vegetables: tomatoes and cucumbers, maybe spinach
  • beyaz peynir (“white cheese,” similar to feta, but softer and less sharp)
  • çay

Lyla and the class vegetarians – afiyet olsun (bon appétit)!

Our Kurdish breakfast at the Kervansaray was essentially a Turkish breakfast of monstrous size and quantity. I contained the following (from left to right, as if you were reading a book):


Soft eggplant sauce, crushed hot red peppers with oil, potatoes, seasoned fried eggs with beef, beyaz peynir with thyme, börek (a Turkish pastry with a beyaz peynir filling), cooked eggplant, tahini with honey, crumbly and sharp beyaz peynir, baked bell pepper sauce, sautéd  bell pepper, super salty Diyarbakır-style beyaz peynir, fresh spinach with lemon, local-style black olives, fresh and peeled tomatoes, fresh cucumber, beyaz peynir #4, beyaz peynir #5 (strikingly reminiscent of string cheese, but less labor-intensive), local-style green olives, yogurt with pomegranate preserves and seeds, çay, banana with oranges and oats, honey and kaymak (sweet, buttery Turkish cream), fresh bread

I’m a tad embarrassed to admit that my two companions and I nearly finished this breakfast.

How do these breakfasts sound to you? Do you normally eat breakfast? I certainly hope so. Any favorite Portland brunch spots or dishes?

Photo of the Week: GEZİ PARKI

Gezi Park

Gezi Park upon my arrival, September 2013

If you pay much attention to the news, chances are you heard something about Gezi Park last Summer. When I walked around the park in September, I could hardly believe that this had recently been the site of the largest political demonstration Turkey had seen in decades.

It’s a smallish park located next to Taksim Square in the Beyoğlu neighborhood. Last May, the Turkish government announced plans to demolish the park. In its place, they planned to build a nostalgic Ottoman building that would house a large shopping center. Most people in Istanbul were furious about this because Gezi is the only park around and, believe me, there’s no need for a shopping center in this district. So large-scale protests broke out in an attempt to save the park. The Turkish government, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (EHR-do-wahn), responded by unleashing a massive police counter-resistance.

The protests began peacefully, but the police attempted to dispel the crowds with tear gas and water cannons. The protests continued for months, increasing in size as the police continued to exercise force against the protestors, resulting in many imprisonments, hospitalizations, and at least one tragic death.

The protests were somewhat successful. PM Erdoğan has decided to at least postpone the demolition of the park, but he was ultimately unwilling to cooperate with the protestors, instead calling them “looters” and saying they should “go live in a forest.”

Although the protests began as a response to the demolition of Gezi Park, the protestors claimed they were responding to the government’s increasing conservative Islamist policies like a ban on alcohol sales past 10 pm (remember that Turkey is officially secular). They were also upset about not being involved in the decision-making process that chose the park’s fate.

Most of the people my age in Istanbul seem to have participated in the protests. They recall them as very emotionally intense experiences, and many are thankful for the experience as it helped them feel more passionate about political involvement.

These protests were important for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it put Turkish politics in front of an international audience.

We’ll talk more about the reasons for the Gezi Park protests soon.

I’m traveling to Turkish Kurdistan this weekend. My next post will be on Tuesday. Talk to you soon!