POSTCARDS FROM ISTANBUL: News about Fashion, Politics and Culture from The Edge of Europe and Middle East

By Binnur Karaevli March 11, 2012 09:00 AM
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POSTCARDS FROM ISTANBUL: News about Fashion, Politics and Culture from The Edge of Europe and Middle East

Endless Snow, the Top Box Office Winner in Turkish Entertainment, and International Women’s Month

The climate in Istanbul is similar to that of New York City. It is hot and humid in the summer and cold, rainy and windy in the winter. It usually snows at least once or twice but this year snow seems to be going on forever causing great mayhem in the daily lives of its inhabitants. The already congested traffic gets even worse with snow and everything tends to come to a halt such as schools, work and appointments. Life stops and this high-energy city takes a break from the daily hustle and bustle.

Lately I have been contemplating how government officials plan for the expansion of cities. Istanbul is an ancient city that dates back to the Roman times. Roman aqueducts surround the old city where the remnants of the hippodromes and temples can still be seen. When the Roman Empire split in two, Istanbul became the capitol city of the East Roman Empire and later Byzantium. When the Byzantine Emperor Constantine became a Christian, churches and cathedrals flourished in the city. In 1453 the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and changed its name to Istanbul and added their own flavor of Islamic Architecture into the mix. Minarets of countless mosques adorned the skyline. Needless to say, most of the older sections of the city are covered with narrow streets and historical buildings that cannot be torn down. Years ago, when the first subway system was being built, every time the engineers would dig under the city, they would discover yet another ancient layer that belonged to one of the mighty empires that used to rule Istanbul.

Nevertheless, there are now large sections of Istanbul that are completely new. The city has expanded to its surrounding regions. Actually in the last 10 years, countless new neighborhoods, business centers and mega-shopping malls have sprouted on what used to be grazing fields for livestock. However, what remains the same are the one -lane streets and impossibly narrow sidewalks. This rather Byzantine approach to new developments is mind-boggling. Maybe Istanbul’s older persona has an inexplicable hold on the mind of the contemporary city officials or just perhaps they sit around a table and plan a new business center with numerous skyscrapers but all the time insisting on building roads that leave no room for parking. Being Turks, as Turks do, they improvise and pull up to the sidewalks and thus still keep the old charm of the empires past.

The Turkish Film That is Breaking the Box Office Records….

Writing about the history of ancient Istanbul brings me to the latest biggest hit in the Turkish entertainment history, “1453, The Conquest” which is breaking all box office records. More than 2 million people have seen it on its opening weekend debut; this is huge by Turkish standards. The film is about the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottomans. It is a special effects-heavy feature with lots of battle scenes, which targets the young male demographic who are the dominant moviegoers in Turkey. It is really entertaining to witness the enormity of the feat that Ottoman Emperor Mehmet pulled off to conquer Istanbul. Because a strait divides the city, many tried to take it from the sea but could never succeed. For centuries Istanbul remained impregnable, but Sultan Mehmet had a genius of a plan. He built wooden tracks on land for many miles and had his soldiers pull the Ottoman ships to the strait, at night. When the morning came, the Byzantines were being attacked from land and the Ottoman ships were within the strait, and that is how Istanbul was conquered.

The Turkish film and Television industry has seen tremendous growth in the last 5 years. Most films and TV series have found their niche market in the Middle East, the Turkic Republics, Eastern European countries, Russia and even in Germany because of its large Turkish immigrant population. The dominance of American entertainment has waned and most Turkish people prefer to watch their own films and series. With its ever-expanding economy, stable government, and leadership position in the Middle East, Turkey is experiencing an Ottoman spring. After all, the Ottoman Empire was a long lasting, far-reaching, multi-cultural phenomenon that exerted tremendous influence in the world politics. Turkey is ready to claim its history and revive the power of the Ottomans; therefore, the timing of this movie is perfect.

International Women’s Day and the Celebrations in Turkey

I have been invited to many seminars, events, exhibitions and celebrations for Women’s Month. One of the most interesting of these events was a play called, “The Wedding.” It presented generations of women’s problems in Turkey; mainly being treated as second-class citizens. Prior to the special performance, famous male writers came on stage to discuss women’s issues, which was a nice touch. Of course one could say having men voice their opinions about women’s issues is counter productive, but both points of view have validity. The other interesting women’s event was a 100-meter run that took place in the coastal city of Antalya, but the female runners had to compete in 5-inch heels!!!! This is the Turkish equivalent the Helen Reddy song, “I am woman, hear me roar.”