(This article was first published on September 26, 2010 for the Study Abroad section at Global Post. View the original article here.)
KAYSERI, Turkey — Before dawn, dozens of dusty trucks roll into a vacant lot and bring it to life. It’s Saturday, the day when village merchants come to Kayseri’s Talas district to sell fresh fruit and whatever else they have.
“One Lira, one Lira! Over here, one kilogram, one Lira!” shouted 13-year-old Hasan Erol from behind his father’s fruit stand.
At the market, shoppers find an array of fresh fruit for sale laid out neatly in colorful rows on tables under patchy burlap tents or sometimes just exploding from trucks. Gargantuan cabbages and melons roll on the dusty ground while a cornucopia of seasonal fruit and veggies including fresh tomatoes, eggplants, carrots and bananas wait to be sold.
Turkey’s 13 percent unemployment rate coupled with its rural poor makes markets like this crucial to most merchants’ livelihood.
“The supermarkets are hurting us badly,” said Aydin Topbas as he shared a cup of Turkish tea. Major European chains including Migros, Kipa and Carrefour have moved into most large Turkish cities.
Topbas left high school 12 months ago to start work in the market. Topbas and his father work together selling spices in empty parking lots like this across the region. Topbas is pessimistic about his chances of continuing the family business, and he’s not alone.
“Some days are good, but others are really bad,” said Baki Kara, a 27-year-old merchant who started working with his father at the age of 16.
Kara works one of the many fruit stands in the market. He lives on a farm just outside
Kayseri with his family, including his 10-year-old son, Yunus, who now helps his father at the market. Yunus serves him tea while Dad grabs one of the blackened kilogram blocks to balance fruit on a scale.
Kara’s 62-year-old father, Omer, still visits the market although he’s technically retired. Turks used to retire and collect social security very early, some even retired as early as the age of 40 just 10 years ago.
Today, however, younger Turks have to wait until they’re at least 62 to retire, while some older Turks can still collect in their early 50s.
Omer and his wife watch their son and grandson carry on the family business while strolling around the crowded bazaar. Although development has drawn people away, the market continues to fill up every Saturday morning with older, more traditional-looking women from all over the city. At a market where two pounds of carrots can cost you less than 75 cents, the price is right for many Turkish families and penny-pinching students.
Towards the far end of the market, shoppers can find a treasure trove of random goodies. Factory rejects, knockoff shirts and sweatpants, cheap Chinese-made toys and household supplies, and even a vendor selling scarves and sewing supplies for the massive “Teyze” demographic. (“Teyze” is a word meaning maternal aunt, but is also traditionally used as a term of endearment for elder women.)
Whether or not this village tradition will survive the rapid pace of development that some economic experts foresee, for now these markets remain the only sources of income for hundreds of families. Moreover, Turkey needs all the jobs it can generate for such a young population eager to work.
At the end of my “bazaar day,” I left with a broom, a pound of carrots, a plastic dish-drying rack and a spatula. All bought for less than five Lira, or $3.50.
Oh, and, of course, two cups of tea. No charge.
“Why Kayseri?” is one of the most common questions asked to me by neighbors, students, and other Turkish friends, including residents of Kayseri. With ocean front and cosmopolitan cities like Istanbul, Izmir, and Antalya, and even a bustling capital in Ankara, my students are always curious how I ended up in what many people view as a kind of no-man’s land.
The simplest and easiest answer to this question is, “It wasn’t my choice. I chose Turkey, but not Kayseri.”
However, this comes off a little harsher than it should. Although it’s true that I had no control over where I would be placed, I’ve enjoyed my year in one of Turkey’s fastest growing cities.
Kayseri, my home for nearly 8 months now, is located in practically the geographic center of Turkey. It lies
between Turkey’s green, but bustling Western shores and the eastern wilderness beyond the mountains. What was once a sleepy backwater of 65,000 in 1950 has grown into a city approaching one million. Particularly since the Turkish government began opening up more opportunity’s for private companies in the 1980s, Kayseri now serves as one of the major industrial centers in Turkey. Economists refer to Kayseri as one of Turkey’s “Anatolian Tigers” continuing to provide a powerful surge to the Turkish economy.
The position as economic power player is not a strange one for Kayseri. Kultepe, a 4,000-year-old settlement located next to Kayseri, served as one of the major commercial settlements of the Hittite empire. Turkish historians have referred to the site as “one of the world’s first cities of free trade.” Kayseri’s location also puts it right along the Silk Road. For this reason, the city would remain an important one for the Byzantine Christians and Seljuk Muslims who would later rule. Churches, caravanserais, madrassahs, mosques, and an old fortress still stand as relics from those empires.
The city continued to rise and fall over its four-thousand year history. Kayseri holds many names including Mazarca, Eusebia, Caesarea Cappadociae, Kaisariyah, and now Kayseri in the Turkish Republic. For a long time, it remained a diverse city with a variety of Muslims and Christians living together including significant Armenian and Greek populations. However, the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the chaos that ensued would ultimately eliminate Kayseri’s ethnic diversity over time. Today, the city is well over 90% Muslim like the rest of Turkey.
Moreover, Turks identify Kayseri as one of the country’s most conservative locations. Which brings me back to the initial question: “Why Kayseri?” Many Turks would ask me if I liked Kayseri, if I found it a good place to live, and if the people were “nice there?” Imagine a foreigner coming to live in the US, and their destination is Utah or Mississippi. In the eyes of many, that’s the equivalent of my move to Kayseri.
There is no question that Kayseri is conservative, at the outset. There are only two bars in the city that I know
of (I haven’t really been looking), and the restaurants and shops are usually locked up and shut by 10pm, even on Friday and Saturday nights are usually. The cities most famous citizen is the current president of Turkey, Abdullah Gül, who belongs to Turkey’s conservative leaning Justice and Development Party.
But, living in the city, particularly at the university, has led me to see Kayseri in a different light. Yes, religion is practiced more in Kayseri than in Istanbul. However, this isn’t special to Kayseri, and in fact, most Turks I’ve met in Anatolia (Turkey’s Asian plain) have been more religious. But, they’ve also been respectful and tolerant of differences. I am occasionally asked if I’ve considered becoming a Muslim by friends, but after sharing my thoughts, we almost always move on to other topics with ease.
The other thing I’ve noticed is that students from Kayseri are as tolerant of differences as most other Turkish students . Last February, I wrote an article about Turkey’s ideological split regarding the wearing of headscarves where five students from Kayseri explained how they may have one belief, but don’t want to force it on another. For my more religiously observant students, they’re seeking equality more than conformity.
With that said, not all of Kayseri is as forward thinking. Some families and dormitories impose curfews for their daughters and female students as early as 7pm. Issues including ethnic differences and sexual orientation are certainly still taboo in many circles in this city, but I’ve yet to see how the issues in Kayseri are different from Turkey’s capital of Ankara, where I also lived. Ankara’s size and position of capital does mean more diverse groups of people live there, but the culture is extremely familiar.
In Anatolian cities like Kayseri, I’ve met extremely friendly people. People who have invited me into their homes for dinner. People who have driven me 25 miles outside the city in order to learn something about their history or their family. People who have helped me find the things I need to manage my life in the strange but increasingly modern and westernized city of Kayseri.
I think the fears of a conservative revolution emerging from Kayseri is a bit overblown. Its residents will continue to hold on to traditional values that have been apart of their lives for generations. But, Kayseri is an emerging city with plenty of room to grow. Turkey remains a youthful nation, over half the country is under 25. The students here are looking forward, and hoping to find successful careers in the global marketplace. Kayseri is ever evolving.
This is “why Kayseri” is a interesting place to be.
(For all of my photos from Kayseri and Erciyes University, check out the photo gallery.)
Every April 23, Turkey’s children take control of their nation.
Turkey’s Children’s Day (April 23) is a national holiday where children attend festivals across the country, and some students are even selected to serve as the honorary President, Prime Minister, and as members of Parliament for the day.
Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish state, declared the holiday while in the middle of the country’s war for independence. On the 23 of April, the Turkish Republic’s first Parliament convened. Ataturk entrusted the day to children to emphasize their importance in contributing to the growth and protection of the fledgling republic.
The thousands of parents and families in attendance today agreed about the day’s importance.
“Our motto is peace at home, peace in the world,” said parent Murat Dogan, “Children are like young trees. This celebration gives us the chance to inject peace into their minds. We need to bring our children up with peace. If we do this, the future will be bright.”
Fatma Akkas, a grandmother added, “This is a holy day for us because Atatuk gave our children this gift. I always take my children.”
“When I was bringing my children this morning,” said Ebru Turksanli, a mother of two, “I thought about how hard our ancestors fought for this holiday. It wasn’t easy for them to give it to us.”
Parades, dedications, and festivals fully run by children marked the event. Government officials and Turkey’s omnipresent military took in the show from the sidelines. One student was eager to share in the national themes.
“We are very thankful for Ataturk! On this day, the Turkish Parliament was formed and Ataturk declared this day, Children’s Day. This was the first and only children’s day in the world. Thank you Ataturk!”
Children’s Day celebrations are not new. They are found in at least 50 countries, although Turkey is among the few who make it a national holiday. For the participants, the day represented the culmination of months of hard work.
“I thought it was very good,” said one young performer, “We worked very hard. We practiced for nearly four months. Last month, we were dancing more than we were going to school.”
As the final flags and images were unfurled, the crowd erupted to thunderous applause. For a few hours at least, the issues of Turkey were put on hold as the eyes of a nation turned to their children.
Special thanks to Abdulfettah Açikel and Hüseyin Yılmaz for translations.
Today, our university played host to a wonderful jazz group. The New York City based “Ari Roland” Quartet was flown in by the US Embassy’s cultural affairs division. The group is currently making a tour through central and southern Turkey.
Attending cultural exchange opportunities, like this concert, are one of my favorite activities in Turkey. The musicians, Ari Roland on bass, Chris Byars and Zaid Nasser on saxophone, and Keith Balla on drums, also had nothing but love for their experiences in Turkey.
Roland made the audience burst out in applause after he said, “In most countries, it can take six months to become close friends. In Turkey, it happens in five minutes.”
The musicians played a full hour set for the audience and also devoted at least another 20 minutes for questions about jazz and their band. One student asked why the band was called, “the Ari Roland Quartet.” Roland quipped that the name changes depending on which band member makes the calls and emails.
The group really bonded with the audience during the concert. The band made
a sincere attempt to speak the language drawing smiles and cheers from the crowd. It also didn’t hurt that they turned three popular Turkish songs into jazz tunes. When the first familiar song hit the speakers, the audience responded with immediate applause.
“Jazz is a unifier in that way,” said Nasser after the concert about the decision to “jazz-ify” Turkish tunes, “We do it whenever we go to another country. The music brings people together.”
Chris Byars, the other saxophonist whose wife is a Turkish Cypriot, said the group’s next CD would even include a song from their Turkish repertoire.
At the end of the concert, the band again gave ample time to meet with anyone who wanted to speak with them. A dozen or so music students got to spend time talking shop with the band and getting some first-hand advice. On the other side, the band also received recommendations for good Turkish music.
The work of the US Embassy’s cultural programs were unknown to me before I started my Fulbright and began attending their events. Our university has played host for diplomats Q&As including with the US Ambassador to Turkey, a documentary film screening with it’s award winning director, and now a live jazz concert with real American musicians.
The act capped their performance with two short pieces. One about New York, and the other was another popular Turkish song done in jazz fashion. For a little over an hour, Turkish and American culture came into perfect harmony…well musically anyway.
(Hear a sample of the band here.)
While living abroad, the biggest shock to my system has been getting used to not having the food I used to eat regularly while eating foods I never knew existed until arriving in Turkey. One thing I’ve done to lessen the culture shock is to find foods in Turkey that resemble some of my favorite foods back home. One of my favorites is Pastirma (Pahs-teer-ma), or what I lovingly call, Turkish Bacon.
Pastirma is a cured meat, usually beef although some sources also indicated mutton and goat have been used in its history. You’ll never find Pastirma with Pork as Turkey is 98 percent Muslim. And, even some less religiously inclined Turkish friends have admitted to me that they view the pig as an disgusting animal and wouldn’t eat it if they had the choice.
Pastirma has a rich history, and it’s origin according to the Turkish Cultural Foundation goes back hundreds of years when Turkish horseman would pack the meat in their saddlebags. The meat would be “pressed” during the ride and ready for consumption by the time the rider was ready to eat it. Pastirma comes from the Turkish word “to press.” The Pastirma from Kayseri, my home city, is the center of Pastirma production for Turkey. Someone once told me that the Greeks would visit Kayseri for their “pastirmaki.”
Today, the Greeks and Italians have developed their own style of curing the meat and call it…pastrami.
Pastirma can be prepared as sausages, fillets, or in paper thin strips resembling, you guessed it, bacon! There are between 19 and 26 varieties of Pastirma cuts depending on the animal. The meat is cured with salts and then in a smelly reddish spice called Çemen (chey-men). The Çemen has a strong smell that many warned me about long before my first taste, but unlike garlic, it’s a smell I’m easily willing to endure for the delicious product at the end. The meat takes about 30 days to prepare for eating, but once ready, it’s a deliciously spicy meat that soothes my bacon-aching stomach.
The 17th Century Ottoman (Turkish) traveler Evliya Çelebi (Chey-leb-ii) praised Kayseri’s production of the meat in his journal, saying “(Kayseri) has produced an enviable reputation around the world with its Pastirma.” The legacy continues today with two major producers of Pastirma in Kayseri, Şahin and Başyazıcı.
Pardon the pun, but in terms of Pastirma, living in Kayseri has been a treat.
(This article was first published on October 12, 2009 for the Study Abroad section at Global Post. View the original article here.)
At 11 p.m. Saturday night, the bar is full of 20-somethings drinking, talking, flirting. One young couple steals a kiss at their table of 20 while an Amy Winehouse song booms through the air. Bartenders rush to keep up with the crowded house, sliding glasses topped with foam to their takers.
The decor is posh. From the stylish designer threads of the patrons to the sleek LCD TVs broadcasting videos of Aerosmith and Madonna, we could be in Greenwich Village. But this is Ankara, the capital city of Turkey.
When I told friends and family I would Study Abroad in Turkey, I heard the words “too dangerous” and was warned of Al Qaeda. I was often asked about running water or Internet access. Very few understood Turkey’s rank among the 20 largest economies in the world.
Turkey is a complex country — one that can’t be boxed into any particular image.
In downtown Ankara, women and men dress in tight-fitting Polo and Lacoste shirts, or trendy button-downs with their curve-hugging jeans, as they pass Levis, Starbucks or chic hair styling salons.
Mammoth malls are filled with American and European brands like Tommy Hilfiger, Nine West and Sephora. In Ankara, a dry and mountainous city devoid of much natural beauty, these malls are major recreation centers. Some offer movie theaters, bowling, arcades and outdoor amusement parks. One mall offers ice-skating in the winter.
“People like to hang out in these malls, even though they may never buy anything,” said Ankara resident Caglar Yurtseven, watching dozens of Turks relax in big leather arm chairs at the mall.
Many of these behemoth shopping centers, spurred by major economic growth and the rise of a new Turkish middle class, rose up over the past 10 years since the completion of Ankara’s first Mall in 1999. Since then, 16 other malls have risen, turning city outskirts into prime real estate where projects as tall as 20 stories have been built or are under construction.
The city doesn’t slow down at night. On weekends, bars and cafes spill out on the sidewalk. Walking down the trendy Tunali Caddesi, or Tunali Avenue, Turks and foreign visitors relax in late night cafes and pastry shops, sports bars, disco bars, oldies bars and dance clubs for the young and old. The city has one gay bar, too, near Tunali.
You can’t stereotype Turkey as an Islamic country akin to neighbors Syria, Iraq or Iran. But it’s not identical to its European counterparts, either. As many cosmopolitan residents there are, others adopt a more traditional and religious approach. In Ankara, one-third of women wear hijab, or headscarves. Sometimes it’s religious, sometimes political, often traditional, and sometimes a little of all. Many Westerners don’t know that wearing a headscarf is banned by Turkish law in Turkish universities. Some Turkish women come to the United States to study in the freedom of wearing their headscarf to class.
Many Turks say they fear the growing presence of religion will undermine secular Turkey, while others describe it as a benign migration of a new middle class into the cities from more conservative villages.
Back in the bar appropriately named Random, Turkey’s political and cultural conflicts seem worlds away amid the laughter of the diverse students drinking together. Here, Turkey’s youth relish the cool breeze gently blowing through the beer garden covered in green ivy. In a country where the average age is 25, the youngest in Europe, Turkey seems poised for more growth.
After two months, this blog can finally begin to live up to its name, the Turk FILM Project. Below is the first of what I hope will be many videos to come. I’m still getting adjusted to filming in Turkey and getting comfortable with the language, so this video is very simple with no interviews or voice over. However, I believe the images coupled with the sound of a live Turkish street band provide a perfect little introduction about life on this side of the world. The video is a very tiny peek at Turkey’s largest and most visited city, Istanbul.
For over 3000 years, Istanbul remains one of the most important cities on Earth. As Byzantium and Constantinople, the city served as the capital for two of the world’s most influential empires, the Byzantines and Romans. The city continues to play a major role in world and was recently named the cultural capital of Europe. This is a very small glimpse of the incredible city known as Istanbul.
I want to thank all of you who are already regular readers; I’ve gotten some great emails and feedback about the site. If you are reading, please feel free to make any comments public. You do not need a user name to comment on any of the articles, just simply type in your comments with a valid email addres. I hope that this site can be a malleable tool where visitors can help steer content by asking questions and posting their curiosities about Turkey.
And now, please enjoy Turk Film’s inaugural video: A Glimpse of Istanbul.
This video was filmed during my past two visits in Istanbul. The images are primarily from some of Istanbul’s most visited sites including the Hagia Sofia, the Sultan Ahmet Cami (the Blue Mosque), the Spice Bazaar, Galata Tower, Topkapi Palace, and from various locations on the Bosphorus. The band’s name is unknown, but are playing on one of Istanbul’s most vibrant avenues, Istiklal Caddesi.