Kuzguncuk – a jewel in the Istanbul metropolis

Come visit the Bosphorus village of Kuzguncuk

Living in Istanbul which has a population of around 14 million people, it sometimes feels like everybody is out and about at the same time, making it impossible to get anywhere quickly. The streets throng with too many bodies cramming the small broken pavements, making me long for greener pastures. Any of my friends can tell you my love of nature doesn’t extend to actually living in the country, so when I crave a respite I stay close to home and head for Kuzguncuk, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus.


Until the late 19th century, this small neighbourhood was largely isolated from the rest of the city due to limited public transport. By the early 20th century, the introduction of regular steamboat services made the area much more accessible, but it still feels like a small village, even today. Kuzguncuk has always been a neighbourhood where multiculturalism and ethnic differences thrived, and gives us a glimpse into everyday life during the Ottoman Empire,.

Over the years its population has been made up of Armenians, Greeks, Jews and Turkish families from the Black Sea, just to name a few. So close were these different peoples that the Armenian community gave up a piece of their land for the Kuzguncuk Mosque. Today the mosque and the Armenian Surp Krikor Lusarovich Church sit side-by-side on the Bosphorus.

The rear of the Surp Krikor Church in Kuzguncuk

At one stage up to 10,000 Jews were believed to live in Kuzguncuk, many of them original descendants of the Jews exiled from Spain in the 15th century. Up until the first decade of the 20th century they mainly lived in Fener and Balat. However a major fire caused many of the better off families to move over the leafier shores of the Bosphorus, leaving the old neighbourhoods to descend into poverty. Just up from the start of the main road, Icadiye Sokak, on the left hand side you’ll see a small cubicle with blackened glass windows. This is the security booth for the Beth Yaakov Synagogue built in 1878. It still operates as a synagogue but you need to apply to the Chief Rabbinate if you want to enter and inspect the dome paintings. Due to the presence of a policeman on duty I didn’t take a photo, but the building is recognisable by the Star of David etched in stone over the main door.

Typical Kuguncuk streetscapeTypical Kuguncuk streetscape

Further up the main street on the right is the Greek Orthodox Church of St Panteleimon. The original structure dates back to the 6th century and the reign of Emperor Justinian. The current building was erected in 1821 while the bell tower under which you enter the grounds was added in 1911 by Andon Hüdaverdioğlu. The church is one of the oldest still in use in Istanbul, and opens on Sundays for services. When it’s open you can also visit the ayazma, or sacred spring, located to the left of the bell tower.

The solemn bell tower of the Church of St Panteleimon

What makes Kuzguncuk so different from many other Bosphorus neighbourhoods is Bostan Sokak. This small lane, with a tea garden and art gallery, is also home to market gardens, from which the street takes its name. The wooden gate opens easily to reveal a large field containing small plots that are rented out to locals. When I visited there were tomatoes, chilli, beans, sunflowers and pumpkins being grown and I felt like I’d stepped straight into a country garden.

Welcome to the Kuguncuk community gardens.

Check out the charming topiary in Kuzguncuk gardens.

The gardens are bordered by another small street which houses some beautifully kept 19th century wooden houses. They’ve featured in numerous popular Turkish miniseries and are in high demand as backdrops for wedding photos. Most of the windows display notices instructing people they aren’t to be used for commercial purposes, but when I visited there were several heavily laden photographers setting up regardless.

Kuzguncuk's premier street for brides.

Although these wooden houses are clearly worth noting, they aren’t the only interesting architectural examples in the neighbourhood. Turkey has a well-known reputation for developing its own versions of Baroque, Art Deco and other international styles.




Heading back down the main street lined with plane trees, I enjoy the way the original buildings are slowly being revamped to house funky cafes, a stylish bookshop and various small boutiques offering modern takes on traditional products.

Visit thehome made oils and soap shops in KuzguncukKuzguncuk's local bookstore


Go back in time with Kuzguncuk art works


Another beautiful street in Kuzguncuk.

The day I visited Kuzguncuk the air was hot and still with a high level of humidity. Nonetheless my darling husband accompanied me on the rigorous hike to the top of the hill to try to visit the Jewish Cemetery. It dates back to the 14th century and is said to have tombstones with inscriptions written in Ladino, a romance language derived from Spanish, and widely spoken in former Ottoman territories. When we finally found it our way was blocked by a newly built concrete fence. I asked a couple of local women the way to the main gates and was told the closest route housed a ferocious dog. Realising we faced what seemed like a further impossibly long walk under an increasingly hot sun, I decided to make do with what I could see over the fence and plan to visit the cemetery another time, by car. We walked back at a more leisurely pace and enjoyed some interesting finds on the way back down.

I thought I was in the countryside ... ... and I wasn't expecting to see a giant Kangal!


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Hidrellez: May Your Wishes Come True

Hayirli Hidrellez

I’ll begin my story on Hidrellez in the manner of a traditional Turkish folk tale. Once there was and once there wasn’t a Turkish Australian friendship between a woman from Istanbul, Turkey and a woman from Sydney, Australia. They met about five years ago at a language exchange night in Kadikoy, and became BFF, going out to dinner, shopping, meeting for coffee and walks along the water, going to the movies, on holidays together, to belly dance classes (much to the horror of the Turkish woman’s grandmother), and brunch every other Sunday.

One of the Sundays they met was in early May, and it was Hidrellez. Hidrellez is a very old tradition in Turkey, celebrating the arrival of spring and the awakening of nature. Turks believe it’s the day the prophets Hizir and Ilyas met with each other on earth to awaken the earth. With a bit of research I’ve learnt that Hizir is a Muslim saint whose name derives from the Arabic, al-Khidr, meaning the Green One. Although his name doesn’t appear in the Koran or the Bible, the association of green with this prophet is linked to the fact that the prophet Muhammad wore a green cloak. Hizir was believed to have many powers, but the most important was the ability to grant wishes. He’s long been associated with spring planting and rebirth, which is another reason he is called as the Green One.

Hizir forms the first past of the word Hidrellez, while Ilyas (Elijah in the Old Testament, forms the middle section. Ilyas (from the Arabic) is credited with bringing rain to arid croplands and his prophesies are documented both in the Koran and the Bible. Ruz, the Persian word for day, gives the ending, so in total Hidrellez is the day of Hizir and Ilyas.

Me with my Turkish kanka before making our wishes.Hidrellez starts on the eve of May the 5th and what happens to you on the 6th of May, the actual day of Hidrellez, sets the tone for the next year. In villages and small towns all over Turkey people prepare for May the 6th by cleaning their houses from top to bottom because Hizir is said not to visit a house that isn’t clean. When he does visit he brings blessings and abundance with him, so food bowls, pantries and wallets are left open.

My BFF always helps her mother and grandmother clean their home on the eve of Hidrellez and then they go out to dinner together to celebrate. After our brunch on the day of Hidrellez, we wrote down our wishes on tiny pieces of paper, before walking to the edge of the water and throwing them out on the waves. Like many Turks my BFF believes Hizir will pick them up out of the running water and carry out the wishes we’ve written down.

Elsewhere in the city people will have spent the eve of Hidrellez out on the streets, singing and dancing to gypsy music. As midnight nears, some jump over fires while saying prayers in order to ensure good health for the coming year. Others hang small models of things they hope to obtain or their wishes written on pieces of paper on a Nahil or wishing Tree. However Turks aren’t the only people to celebrate on this special day. Orthodox Christians celebrate the day as Hagia Georgi, and for the Catholics it’s known as Saint George’s Day. This revered saint is still worshipped as the Green Man by pagans.

Hidrellez as celebrated in Avanos, central Turkey, 2007.It’s believed that all wishes made and prayers said on the eve and the day of Hidrellez will come true. Nowadays my BFF and I can’t always celebrate Hidrellez together, but I know the wish I make for her every May 6, for a long life, health, and happiness, will always reach each her.


Posted in Living in Turkey, Religion | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Flowers and the Judas tree in Ottoman culture

Visit Istanbul in Spring and view the Judas treesWhen Mehmet the Conqueror swept into Constantinople in 1453, trees and flowers were already much adored by the city’s residents. To celebrate his victory, Mehmet posed for a miniature painting, not brandishing a sword as you might expect, but smelling a flower. By the time Süleyman the Magnificent came to power, the city was awash with private gardens planted with colourful blooms, women wore flowers in their hair and members of the Ottoman court always carried one in their hand. Such was the demand that by the 16th century there were more than 200 flower shops in the city.

Come see the magnolia bloom at Ilhamur KasriIn Ottoman times, flowers as well as fruit were used as a means of communication. Flowers frequently denoted love, but were used to signal other meanings. One example was when someone in a household was ill. A yellow flower would be placed in the window to tell those passing to keep quiet. A red flower in the window meant there was a young girl of marriageable age in the house. It was a request that no one make negative comments or put curses on the girl in question so that her heart would stay pure.

The giving of fruit was another way of communicating. It was based on mnemonics, the idea that a particular object brings up an association with another. For example, the Turkish word for pear is armut. Giving someone a pear was a way of telling them not to despair, to have hope (umut in Turkish). Armut and umut were close enough in sound that handing over a pear was like saying “Armut, ver bize bir umut”, that is, “A pear gives us hope”. In the same way, a gift of pepper, biber, was a request for news, haber.

Trees as well as flowers have long been associated with Istanbul and the most famous of these is the Erguvan or Judas Tree. From the Latin, cercis siliquastrum, the name is derived from the Greek and is a combination of two words, cercis meaning tree and siliquastrum meaning fruit. Istanbullu have long called it the Erguvan tree, a Persian word describing the colour of the flowers which grow straight from the tree limbs. In Christian myth this tree is said to be named after Judas, the betrayer of Christ. Realising what he had done, Judas is believed to have hung himself from one such tree. Originally tall and strong, bearing beautiful white flowers, the Judas tree felt guilty at its part in his death. The once elegant boughs drooped low and the flowers blushed and changed colour in shame.

Jenny Downing's beautiful image of a Judas tree in flower.There are many stories associated with the Judas tree. Seafarers who arrived in Constantinople long before the Byzantines, are said to have boiled its petals and drunk the infusion to ward off disease. It’s been suggested that when the city of Istanbul came into being in 1453, the Judas trees were in bloom. Whatever the truth of this claim, the Judas tree had a special place in Ottoman culture. Festivals to celebrate the flowering began in the 15th century Ottoman Empire, called ‘erguvan’ days or gatherings. The purple, lavender and pink petals of the Judas tree are also known to have added colour and flavour to salads in the traditional Istanbul cuisine of the past. Their strong boughs were carved into elaborate walking sticks for use by the Ottomans.

The Erguvan blooms around the latter half of April and signifies the arrival of spring. At this time the shores of the Bosphorus are aflame with the brilliant pinkish-purple blossom. Locals and visitors alike go to viewing spots around the city or out on small boats to admire the trees in all their glory.

Of course, the best known of all flowers associated with Turkey are tulips. So much has been written and is known about them, that it’s a topic best left for another post. You can find out more about life in Istanbul in my book Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City.

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My Donation to Small Projects Istanbul 2017

Small Projects Istanbul - help them make a differenceEver since Syrians fleeing the war started to appear in the streets near my Istanbul home I began trying to help them. First I gave clothes and food, and then I started posting details about the different organisations helping Syrians in Istanbul and throughout Turkey.

Now I want to do something more. Buy a copy of any of my three books about Istanbul and Turkey, or Kim Hewett’s “Out With the Boys: the Sharpie Days” directly through Amazon and Createspace in April 2017, and we will donate AUD$1 of the purchase price of each copy sold (both paperback and ebook versions) to Small Projects Istanbul*.

Buy one book or buy them all! If you’re not sure which one to choose, you can read excerpts from my books on the links below. Once you’ve made up your mind, you can click through to Amazon on each page (or by clicking on the photos on the right hand side of my website).

Click here for an excerpt from Inside Out In Istanbul: Making Sense of the City 2nd edition

Click here for an excerpt from Exploring Turkish Landscapes: Crossing Inner Boundaries

Click here for review of Waiting for the Tulips to Bloom: Adrift in Istanbul

The idea to donate from sales came from my husband Kim Hewett, a gifted author if I do say so myself! If you ever wondered what it was like to grow up in inner city Sydney in the 1960s, then you’ll love his book Out With the Boys: the Sharpie Days. As with my books, AUD $1 of the purchase price of Kim’s book sold through Amazon and Createspace in April 2017 will also be donated to Small Projects Istanbul.

Please SHARE this post on social media – FB, Twitter, etc (see buttons below). Help me raise as much money as I can to donate to Small Projects Istanbul.

Thanks very much for your support and help. Happy reading!

Help Syrians while discovering more about Turkey!*A non-government organisation, Small Projects Istanbul believe it is imperative for refugees to continue with their education and to develop skills which will be of use when they are finally able to return to Syria. To date SPI have helped refugee women create an income by teaming them up with local businesses, sponsored children to go back to school and opened a venue called The Olive Tree. It provides a safe place for families to relax and have fun together, a Turkish homework club, as well as Turkish, Arabic, German and English language classes. The SPI vision means Syrians are now developing their own programs and working towards financial independence using the facilities and resources SPI are able to provide.

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Perking the Pansies by Jack Scott

Try perking the pansies with Jack Scott!Perking the Pansies by Jack Scott tells the tale of Jack and Liam, a gay couple, who move from a thriving metropolis to a small Aegean town in Turkey, expecting to find a satisfying social whirl, albeit with better weather. Instead they face the dilemma of any expat – a small community which expects everyone to instantly bond based on shared language and booze consumption.

What they find is a mixed community of tragi-comic characters determined to take them under their collective wing. Crusty would-be English gents who bemoan the setting of the sun on the long lost Empire the lower the level in their glass becomes. Failed retirees whose pensions no longer provide them with the standard of living to which they’d aspired. Expats whose bodies reside in Turkey but whose thoughts and customs remain firmly rooted in mother England. Women of a certain age who copy Brittany Spears’s schoolgirl phase when choosing their clothes and engage in unsuitable romances with local Turkish men. And other women who have learned from the latter and now engage in a more fulfilling romance with life in Turkey, with all it has to offer. Turn the pages of this witty and engaging memoir and discover how in a short space of time, Jack in particular manages to alienate or offend almost all of the people in these groups, but as the months pass, his and Liam’s openness to difference helps them forge close friendships with some.

If your life is like the one Jack and Liam used to lead, and you’re caught up in the crush of long gruelling hours at work and depressed by the particularly grey hue of Northern European winters, Turkey is a great place for a holiday in the sun. It can be absolutely spell-binding, and many a holiday maker has returned to their normal life and started talking about moving there for good. However, crossing the divide between fantasy and action is a big step. As Jack and Liam discovered, the difference between an imagined new life and the actual one can be a real shock. If you’re lost in the dream, this is the book for you!

Click on the links to buy your copy of Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam Move to Turkey by Jack Scott in paperback or as an ebook

Title: Perking the Pansies: Jack and Liam Move to Turkey
Publisher: Springtime Books
Date: 2015
ISBN: 978-1904881643

For more books about Turkey check out my review page here.

Posted in Aegean Turkey, Book reviews | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Ottomans and Byzantine Turks in Romania II

Walk in the path of the Ottomans and Byzantines in RomaniaIn my first post “The Ottomans in Romania” I wrote about the way the Turkish language had entered into the Romanian tongue. However words aren’t the only traces of the Turks left in the country today. In most cities and towns there are beautiful architectural and cultural signs of the influence of the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires.

Here’s a small selection from the things I saw.

The black church in BrasovModern day Brasov was located at the intersection of trade routes linking the Ottoman Empire to Western Europe. This, and the fact the city was privy to certain tax exemptions, allowed Saxon merchants to obtain considerable wealth and exert a strong political influence in the region. One of the largest structures still standing, which is a testament to the cities Ottoman past, is the black church. Built between 1385 and 1477, construction of the Marienkirche as it was known to the city’s German inhabitants, was hampered by extensive damage caused during Turkish raids in 1421. Damaged again by fire in 1689 the building was finally completed one hundred years later. Now, 119 Anatolian carpets hang from the interior walls. Thankful to have survived their trips into the “barbaric” lands south and east of the Carpathians, German merchants donated the carpets to the church in the 17th and 18th centuries. This collection is largest of its kind in Europe. Photography is forbidden in order to protect the weavings, but elsewhere in the city I was able to take photographs

Step inside for a Turkish pastry treat!


Somewhere nice to grab a snack
The perfect accompaniment for a sweets is a Turkish coffee followed by fal.




Turkish coffee anyone?

Or maybe just some ice cream

You don't need to travel all the way to Kahramanmaras for great ice cream!


A predominantly Germanic town, Sibiu, once one of the largest and wealthiest of seven walled citadels built in the 12th century by German settlers known as Transylvanian Saxons, appears at first to have few connections to Turkey. Make your way to the spectacular Orthodox Mitripolitan Cathedral and you’ll change your mind.  Built between 1902 and 1906 on the site of a former Greek church, it clearly shares a similar style with the Haghia Sofia, originally a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal bascilica, in Istanbul.

The Greeks first entered Romanian through apoikiai (colonies) and emporia (trade stations) founded in and around Dobruja. This part of Romania was once part of the Eastern Roman Empire before coming under Byzantine rule. It then became part of the Bulgarian Empire in the 6th century AD. During this time Romanians were converted to Orthodox Christianity which many people still practice today.

The interior of the Orthodox Mitripolitan Cathedral in Sibiu is dominated by a massive gold chandelier and features neo-Byzantine decorations. It is the second largest Orthodox cathedral in Romania and on the day we visited, was jam-packed with people dressed up in their best clothes to celebrate the feast day of the Assumption of Mary.


Orthodox Mitripolitan Cathedral - a must see!






Dobruja was occupied by the Ottoman Turks in 1420AD and remained under their rule until the late 19th century. Constanta, also once part of Dobruja, was founded by the Greeks as a port on the Black Sea for trading with inland people. It was called Tomis in the 6th century BC. The city was later renamed after Constantina, niece of Constantine the Great (272-337AD) who rechristened Byzantium (modern day Istanbul) after himself.

The Great Mosque, built in 1910, was first public building made of concrete in Romania. It was a gift from King Carol I to the local Muslim community. Built in the Moorish style in honour of Sultan Mohamed II, it is a fairly austere structure with little decoration in comparison to Turkish mosques, although it does boast a luxurious Hereke carpet.

At the beginning of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–1878, most of Dobruja’s population was composed of Turks, Bulgarians and Tatars, but, during the war, a large part of the Muslim population was evacuated to Bulgaria and Turkey.

If you get the chance I recommend you visit Romania. It has a fascinating history, the people are well educated and have a good sense of humour. You won’t regret it.



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Turkan Soray

Turkan Soray - see why she's so loved in Turkey!

Türkan Şoray, Turkey’s own Sophia Loren, was born on the 28th of June 1945 in Eyüp, Istanbul, to parents, Halit, a railway-officer and mother Meliha, a housewife. Along with her younger sister Nazan, Türkan had a normal upbringing until she went to a film set with her friend and neighbour Emel Yildiz (now a champion for animal rights known as Panther Emel). Once there, Inanoglu, a screenwriter, film director and producer who became famous after working at Turkey’s Yeşilçam Studios, recognised Türkan’s star quality and cast her in the lead role in place of Emel.

Aged just fifteen, Türkan’s portrayal of Ayşe in Köyde Bir Kiz Sevdim (I Loved a Girl in the Village) lead to more films and by the late 1960s she was the most desired women in Turkish films due to her beauty and talent. She was frequently cast as the innocent village beauty forced to move to the city in search of work, where she was exploited by unscrupulous bosses and pursued by men of ill intent. Her character never succumbed to either and was extremely popular with the large numbers of Turkish villagers migrating to the cities at the time, where their traditional ways and the patriarchal family model were being challenged in exactly the same ways as Türkan portrayed in her films. Any movie she starred in was bound to be talked about, but due to many of her films having similar plots, some of her movies were made at a loss.

Turkan Soray as a village womanNonetheless her popularity remained high and such was her fame, Türkan Şoray was able to create her own set of expectations, known as the Şoray Rules, which meant she remained free of the usual typecasting of attractive women in stereotypical roles of the time. These rules consisted of constraints about where she would be expected to film, non-nudity clauses in her contracts, reasonable working hours, set penalties for violation of her rules and so on. Producers wishing to work with her and guarantee box office success had to agree to her conditions or find themselves another star.

Turkan Soray in the Yesil Cam film ‘Sultani’Over the course of her career she has received many national and international nominations and awards, and was chosen to be an “Artist of the State” by the Ministry of Culture of Turkey Republic. In the 1980s she began portraying women with problems of female identity in films such as On Kadın (Ten Women) and Hayallerim, Aşkım ve Sen (My Dreams, My Love and You) for which she won her third Best Actress Award from the Antalya Film Festival in 1987. In it she portrays three different women, each of whom is a facet of Türkan Şoray herself.

In the 1990s, Türkan moved into television, starring in the sentimental series Ikinci Bahar (Second Spring) and Tatli Hayat (Sweet Life). In addition she filmed a biographical program for cinema called Sinema Benim Askim (Cinema is My Love) with the NTV channel, which also resulted in the release of her autobiography called Sinemam ve Ben (My Cinema and Me) in 2012.


For more on the history of Turkish cinema I highly recommend “Turkish Cinema: Identity, Distance and Belonging”, available here.

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Kadikoy Walking Tour – Set your own pace!

Want to get more out of your next trip to Istanbul? Come and explore the Asian side of the city with the help of a long term resident. I’ve just released an audio tour called Stepping Back Through Chalcedon: Kadikoy Walk so you can do just that. The tour downloads to your phone and it’s like having a private guide, without the hassle of being in a group and having to wait for people to catch up all the time.

Check out my new Kadikoy Walking Tour

My audio tour Stepping Back Through Chalcedon: Kadikoy Walk takes you on a journey of discovery through Kadikoy’s multicultural past. You’ll see Turkish national architecture, Greek Orthodox churches, former Russian haunts and lots more. To tempt you, I’d like to share a little of what I know about the area here.

“It’s well known that Kurukahveçi Mehmet Efendi is the producer of Turkey’s most famous coffee. He began working in the family shop on Tahmis Sokak in Eminönü where his father Hasan Efendi sold spices and green coffee beans. When Mehmet Efendi took over in 1871 he began roasting the raw coffee beans, a first for the industry.

Meet the locals on my Kadikoy walking tour.Less well known are the innovations his children introduced to the business. After Mehmet Efendi’s death in 1931, the business passed to his three sons, Hasan Selahattin Bey, Hulusi Bey and Ahmet Rıza Bey. The eldest son Hasan Selahattin recognized the importance of the international market and began marketing Turkish coffee abroad as well as in the domestic market. Son Hulusi introduced mass production of roasted coffee and commissioned Zühtü Başar, one of the leading architects of the period, to design an Art Deco headquarters for the company on the site of the original family shop. Tucked behind the Egyptian Bazaar and somewhat obscured by the surrounding buildings, this striking structure remains the company’s headquarters to this day.

At the same time the company began to package its roasted-ground coffee in parchment paper and distributed it to groceries and corner stores all over the city using the firm’s own fleet of automobiles, which was an innovation in Turkey. A popular coffee needed a recognisable logo, and this was the achievement of Ahmet Rıza, the youngest son. He had been educated abroad, and understood the power of advertising. In 1933 he commissioned Ihap Hulusi Bey, one of the leading graphic designers of the period, to design a logo for the company. The eye-catchingly simple Art Deco logo is still in use today. In addition their coffee was also promoted through posters and calendars, which was a revolutionary advertising idea for the period.

The Kadikoy outlet, my local, is also housed in a building designed in the Art Deco style. It was opened in 1966 and is the only other branch in whole country. As well as traditional Turkish coffee, they sell a range of coffee types and styles including Columbian filter, which is my favourite.”

Come join Lisa Morrow on her Kadikoy walking tourIf you’d like to know more about Kadikoy than the guidebooks can tell you, purchase a copy of Stepping Back Through Chalcedon: Kadikoy Walk today. You’ll find all the ins and outs of how to use it on the website.


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Nazim Hikmet Ran

The charistmatic Nazim HikmetBorn on the 15th of January 1902, in Salonica, where his father was serving as an Ottoman government official, Nazim Hikmet Ran, commonly known as Nazim Hikmet, was a Turkish poet, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, director and memoirist. Best known for his intellectual pursuits and considered a romantic communist and revolutionary, he was very active throughout his life in pursuit of the values he held dear

Had I been born a lot earlier than I was, he might have been my komşu, that is, my neighbour, when he was a child. His first school was the Taşmektep Primary in the street of the same name in Göztepe, Istanbul, where I live. From there he went to the Galatasaray High School in Beyoğlu for a brief time where he began to learn French. However he was transferred to the Numune Mektebi in the Nişantaşı district in 1913. His school days coincided with a period of great political upheaval, during which the Ottoman government entered the First World War, allying itself with Germany. After Nazim graduated from the Ottoman Naval School on Heybeliada, one of the Princes’ Islands located in the Sea of Marmara in 1918, he was assigned as a naval officer to the Ottoman cruiser Hamidiye. This career only lasted a short time because he became seriously ill and was permanently exempted from naval service in 1920.

Luckily for the world, illness didn’t stop him for long. In 1921 he went to İnebolu in Anatolia with a group of friends including Vâlâ Nûreddin in order to join the Turkish War of Independence. From there he walked with Nûreddin to Ankara, where the Turkish liberation movement was headquartered, and was introduced to Mustafa Kemal Pasha. Atatürk requested that Nazim and Nûreddin write a poem to invite and inspire Turkish volunteers in Istanbul and elsewhere to join their struggle. This poem was much appreciated, and they were appointed as teachers to the Sultani college in Bolu, rather than being sent to the front as soldiers. Not surprisingly their communist views were not appreciated by the conservative officials in Bolu, and so the two decided to go to Batumi in the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic to witness the results of the Russian Revolution of 1917, arriving there on the 30th of September 1921. Then, in July 1922 the two friends went to Moscow, where Nazim studied Economics and Sociology at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East in the early 1920s. There, he was influenced by the artistic experiments of Russian Futurists and Symbolists, as well as the ideological vision of Lenin.

Words of wisdom from Nazim Hikmet

On his return to Turkey, Nazim became the charismatic leader of the Turkish avant-garde, producing streams of innovative poems, plays and film scripts. Due to the political nature of his works he was repeatedly arrested for his political beliefs and spent much of his adult life in prison or in exile. In the 1940s he became a cause célèbre among intellectuals worldwide, so much so that in 1949, a committee that included Pablo Picasso, Paul Robeson, and Jean-Paul Sartre, campaigned for his release.

On the 8th of April 1950, Nazim began a hunger strike against the Turkish parliament’s failure to include an amnesty law in its agenda before it closed for the upcoming general election. This caused a stir throughout the country. Petitions were signed and a magazine bearing his name was published. His mother Celile began a hunger strike on the 9th of May, joined by renowned Turkish poets Orhan Veli, Melih Cevdet and Oktay Rıfat the next day. In light of the new political situation after the 1950 Turkish general election, held on the 14th of May, the strike was called off five days later on the 19th of May, the Atatürk, Youth and Sports Day. Nazim was finally released through a general amnesty law enacted by the new government.

On the 22nd of November, 1950, the World Council of Peace announced that Nazım Hikmet Ran was among the recipients of the International Peace Prize, along with Pablo Picasso, Paul Robeson, Wanda Jakubowska and Pablo Neruda. Despite this honour, Nazım continued to be imprisoned for his beliefs until he moved to the USSR, first escaping from Turkey to Romania on a ship via the Black Sea. Sadly, Nazım died of a heart attack in Moscow on the 3rd of June, 1963, at 6.30am while picking up a morning newspaper at the door of his summer house in Peredelkino, far away from his beloved homeland. He is buried in Moscow’s famous Novodevichy Cemetery, where his imposing tombstone is still today a place of pilgrimage for Turks and many others from around the world. His final wish, never carried out, was to be buried under a plane-tree (platanus) in any village cemetery in Anatolia.

Someof the many works by Nazim Hikmet.

Despite his persecution by the Turkish state, Nazim Hikmet has always been revered by the Turkish nation. His poems depicting the people of the countryside, villages, towns and cities of his homeland, as well as the Turkish War of Independence, and the Turkish revolutionaries, are considered among the greatest patriotic literary works of Turkey. His life and ideals live on in the Nazim Hikmet Culture and Art Foundation located in Kadıköy on the Asian side of Istanbul. Established by his sister Samiye Yaltirim in 1991, it initially housed a collection of books, articles, and other published works by or about Nazim Hikmet, and numerous letters, correspondence and other ephemera pertaining to the poet. The aim was to contribute to the advancement of art, culture and education in Turkey and around the world. Over the years the purpose of the foundation has branched out and now the centre hosts films, recitals, book readings, symposiums and many other events.

To learn more about this great Turkish poet, and to read some of his work yourself, click here.


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The Ottomans in Romania I

Come follow the Ottoman trail in Romania!I recently went to Romania for a holiday and was pleased to find a lot of the words were familiar to me. The Latin I studied at school came in handy because Romanian is a Romance language but more surprisingly, I recognised a lot of Turkish words too. Looking into the history of Romania, it’s not hard to see why.

Food tastes good in any language.In Medieval Times Romania was divided into three separate entities, Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldavia. These principalities were under the control of different ethnic groups and countries, but over the centuries skirmishes erupted in Wallachia and Moldavia against the Ottoman Turks. Wallachia, which lay on the border of the Ottoman Empire, was the most fiercely independent, with successful raids carried out by Vlad III the Impaler (also known as Vlad Dracula and the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s novel of the same name). Moldavia also achieved Independence under the rule of Stephen the Great but by 1541 Romania was under Ottoman suzerainty. What this meant was the Ottomans controlled Romanian foreign policy and its international relations, while allowing them internal autonomy to rule the country in the manner of their own choosing.

During the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 Romania fought on the Russian side against the Turks, and gained complete independence from the Ottoman Empire. Nonetheless many legacies of the Ottoman rule remain, including the language.

Here are some words I picked up during my short stay.

bacşiş – bahşiş – tip
çiorba – soup
cuafor – kuafor – hairdresser. I know this isn’t really a Turkish word and comes from French but I first learnt it as part of my Turkish vocabulary.
harta – harita – map
kapluja – kapı – door/gate
masa – masa – table
papuc – pabuç – slipper
simigeria – simit– simit
tarhon – tarhun – tarragon

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