Now that I’m back in the US, I’ve got the time and resources to edit and upload some video. Thanks to my broken leg, I’ve also got plenty of time to sit around and reflect on my experience, and to share some insight along with the videos. I’ve decided to move in chronological order, posting video “Travel Blog Updates,” that will inevitably be a mash up of random clips edited with some music that give you a small glimpse of what my trip was like.
The first update is some video and an interview I shot in Istanbul, the first city I spent some time in. I had been to Istanbul previously in 2010 when my band was touring Europe and we spent two days in the city where east meets west, playing a show and seeing the sights. We met a bunch of really cool people in those two days, and my friends from a few years ago were more than accommodating, putting me up and showing me around the city in the four or five days I spent there this time around.
One of the things I was interested in while I was in Istanbul, was exploring the Kurdish culture. The Kurdish population has a volatile history with the Turkish government, and a conflict, particularly between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and Turkish police and military forces has waged steadily since the 80’s. Kurdish culture has been repressed and criminalized, and the Turkish government carried out a scorched-earth campaign during the 80’s and 90’s, killing and displacing thousands of Kurds in eastern Turkey.
Since the rise of this conflict, Kurds in Turkey have sought to escape military rule in the eastern regions and moved by the millions to Istanbul. It’s now estimated that between two and four million Kurds live in this city. Upon arriving, Caroline and I asked around where the Kurdish neighborhoods were, how the situation has been changing, and what life was like for Kurdish people in Istanbul. We were told to check out the neighborhood of Tarlabasi, a predominantly Kurdish, Romani and Armenian neighborhood that has a long history of minority culture, dating back to the Ottoman period.
Upon entering the walled off section of Istanbul, the minarets and glossy windows of the tourist sections of town disappeared in favor of crosses atop churches, iron sheeting that blocked entrances to dilapidated buildings, and stray dogs picking through garbage. As we pushed through the narrow colorful streets lined with drying laundry, playing children, and kurdish political graffiti, we made our way to the market. Much like other markets in the city, it was busy, as people pedaled vegetables, bread, seafood, spices and various other goods along the streets.
Tarlabasi boasts an impressive collection of historic architecture, which the minority neighborhood is unable to upkeep and preserve. This coupled with it’s close proximity to Taksim square and downtown Istanbul make the real estate here of particular interest to developers. There’s been a push to shut down the neighborhood, evict the people who’ve lived there for decades and build tourist infrastructure and shopping malls. This gentrified dream has already been achieved in several other neighborhoods around Istanbul.
The Turkish-Kurdish conflict is something that not everyone is willing to talk about openly. Before we headed east we were warned not about the military factions of the PKK, but to be ware of the Turkish military. When we openly discussed Kurdish issues on public transportation, we were routinely given some concerning looks, and on one occasion I spoke with a woman who expressed disgust over the “stupid people in the east who want to separate from Turkey and take the resources that we need.”
I was able to sit down with a student and ask him about Tarlabasi and the Kurds in Istanbul, but he wanted to remain anonymous, as even speaking about these things on video can have you labeled and targeted. So, at his request, I blacked and blurred his face and did not reveal his name.
The end of the video is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the largest in Istanbul. It’s located right next to the main market, overlooking the Bosphorous.