Though techno still dominates the airwaves in Turkey, hip hop is slowly finding an audience

Story by Alexandra Legend Siegel // Photos by Ryan Tyler Payne

ISTANBUL, Turkey – The lights were flashing green and white, the music thumped and the view couldn’t have been better from the rooftop nightclub in the hip Taksim area of this sprawling city. If only the half-empty room were full.

That’s only a matter of time said Ratna Ramasita Van Ek, also known as DJ Jane Doe, as she twisted the knobs and pushed the buttons on her sound equipment while American rap music blared through the speakers.

DJ Jane Doe plays hip hop at club 360's first "Hip Hop Night."

Until the success of Turkish rapper Ceza’s first album four years ago, hip hop music was a largely foreign genre to the people of Turkey. And although Turkish listeners still prefer house and techno music, hip hop is slowly making its way into clubs, radio stations, television programs and people’s headphones.

“They have some real hip hoppers here [in Turkey]. Hip hop is on the rise and I will do everything in my power to continue it,” said Daryl Johnson, an American club promoter and music agent-manager who played a large role in the hip hop movement in Germany and now hopes to do the same for Turkey. “[In Germany] I started doing shows and together with a strong crew of hip hoppers, brought artists like Ice-T, Ice Cube, Run DMC to Germany and hip hop blew up. I want to do the same here.”

Hip hop in Germany has been growing more successful since the early 1990s. The music itself is strongly influenced by German and American hip hop but hasn’t quite taken off in Turkey in the same way. DJ Jane Doe lives and DJs in Holland and has watched the hip-hop movement boom there. She believes that with the right environment, the same can happen for Turkey.

Aylant Ozarici loves hip hop so much he has a tattoo of Tupac on his left leg.

“I couldn’t believe that Istanbul, alone, has 20 million people. Holland only has 15 million in the whole country and hip hop is big there. All you need over here in a city of 20 million people is a thousand people … who like hip hop. It’s hard to imagine there wouldn’t be, especially with the Internet,” she said.

Johnson agreed that there is a fan base in Turkey and hip hop is not reaching them because it is not presented in a way that caters to them. He believes that having events such as “Hip Hop Night” at 360 will help the movement gain momentum and eventually lead to clubs devoted solely to bringing the music to fans.

“So many people love hip hop here but venues aren’t doing it the right way,” Johnson said. “I think the problem is the venues. It’s sad when you go to a venue that’s promoted to be hip hop but has no clue about hip hop. But all of that was before I got here. I call myself ‘the game changer.’”

Many guests at 360 expressed that they would love to see more hip hop events in the future, however they said they would pass if the music played included native Turkish rappers.

“I don’t like Turkish hip hop because American hip hop is more original and Turkish language in hip hop doesn’t mesh,” said Aysegul Erin Mungen who lives in Istanbul but spent 18 years in America.

Aylant Ozarici is so passionate about hip hop that he had his idol, Tupac, tattooed on his leg. While Ozarici is an avid fan of American hip hop, he has little faith in the Turkish hip-hop scene.

“Turkish rap and hip hop is really bad. They can’t get better because they have no fun with it,” Ozarici said.

But according to Gamze Elgin, the music director for the Turkish channel Dream TV, there is a growing market in Turkey. Elgin works with T-rap, which stands for Turkish rap, a program on Dream TV that plays Turkish hip hop music and celebrates Turkey’s hip hop culture.

Last Thursday was club 360's first Hip Hop Night. Organizers and guests hope there will be more to come.

“Unfortunately foreign music or alternative genres are not taking attention [in Turkey]. Turkish pop music and Turkish classical and traditional music are always more important than the other genres,” said Elgin. “Yet, among young people, rap is becoming more and more important.”

Mehemet Tuluk, a student at Istanbul University, rattled off names of his favorite Turkish hip hop artists such as Cartel, Sagopa Kajmer and Fuat who are all among the most successful hip hop artists in Turkey.

“I like the lyrics,” said Tuluk’s friend Sumeyra Gurbulak, also a student at Istanbul University. “Their style is good too. I listened to a rapper yesterday and she was asking ‘why did you leave me’ and I just felt like ‘Yes! Why?’”

Recently, female Turkish rappers have been stepping into the spotlight. Sultana, one of the first female rappers in Turkey to gain success, raps about social and women’s issues in the country. Ayben, the sister to the leading Turkish rapper Ceza, proved that she could shine outside of her brother’s shadow and has made a name for herself in Turkey’s hip hop sphere.

“I really like Ayben. I don’t understand the lyrics but when you hear it you feel the passion,” said Johnson.

Still, despite the growing appreciation of the music, only one radio station, T-rap, plays Turkish rap music and hip hop does not get as much air play as house, techno and pop music.

“Turkish hip hop is not really big here because [the artists] have to work harder. The music isn’t blowing anybody away. Hip hop is not part of our culture but we have to work on it,” said Togalhan Tarim, also known as local DJ TNT.

Johnson is confident that the hip hop movement in Turkey is going to take off soon. He said he has met a variety of different people from students to corporate executives who love hip hop and he has faith that one day they will all listen and dance to hip hop side by side.

“It’s about the music, bringing worlds together,” Johnson said. “It took a while to bring hip hop to 360. Everybody said it was impossible and here we are, but we still have a ways to go.”

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Kurds, once forced to suppress their ethnicity, are finding renewed acceptance in Turkey

Story by Alexandra Legend Siegel // Photos by Ryan Tyler Payne

ISTANBUL, Turkey – Yilmaz Dulkadir leans against the glass shop window near a concrete archway marking one of the entrances of the Grand Bazaar, the oldest covered marketplace in the world. Inside his shop, colorful scarves are stacked neatly on the shelves next to small sultan figurines and metallic tea sets. Dulkadi, who has worked in this shop for nine years, is one of many both living and working in Istanbul who identifies himself as Kurdish.

Bomozan Gelik, a Kurdish man living in Turkey, said he is happy that he can now speak his language and express his culture freely.

“I am Kurdish, I speak Kurdish language and I listen to Kurdish music,” Dulkadir said with a grin on his face. Even a few years ago, he might not have been able to say this with as much enthusiasm and pride. But recently, Kurdish people in Turkey have started to make progress in what has been a difficult and enduring battle against institutional discrimination.

Tensions between Kurds and Turks date back to the formation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923. The founders wanted to build the country on a shared identity and ethnicity that was strictly Turkish. As a result the Kurds were not allowed to differentiate themselves as a separate ethnic group and their culture was suppressed. Since then there have been failed Kurdish rebellions and in the 1970s the Kudistan Workers’ Party (PKK), widely considered a Kurdish terrorist group, was formed, demanding a separate Kurdish nation.

“The government has a policy of repressing Kurdish people, hoping they will stop their demands. But if you take away the political sphere then they can only rely on terrorism because there is no other way to make people listen,” said Ilke Civelekoglu, a political science professor at Dogus University, a new institution on the Asia side of Istanbul.

However many Kurdish people are against the PKK’s violence because it creates a negative view of Kurds and promotes discrimination.

“When terrorists do bad things and kill people, people think all Kurdish people are terrorists,” said Dulkadir. “We Kurdish people don’t want terror, we want a peaceful life and for our Kurdish people to get better.”

Since the capture of the PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, in 1998, and Turkey’s move for a more democratic government in order to appeal to European expectations, Kurdish people have gained more freedom and respect. This is largely due to the removal of restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of expression, according to Orzlem Terzi, an international relations professor at Istanbul University. Now the demands of the majority of Kurdish people are less radical.

“The Kurdish issue has become an issue of human rights rather than secession,” said Terzi. “It’s a political issue now instead of terrorism but for the Turkish government it was easier to fight militarily than in the political sphere.”

There are at least 12 million Kurds living in Turkey – a country of 75 million. Terzi believes that the results of the June 12 election will prove beneficial to the Kurdish community, even though their political party, the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), is not a supermajority. She said even though the Justice and Development Party (AKP) remains in power, the Kurds will still make significant strides in government.

Most notably, there are now 36 Kurdish-backed politicians in the 550-seat assembly, up from 22 in the previous parliament – a development that is bound to push the Kurds’ agenda up on the prime minister’s list of priorities.

As the Kurds are making themselves heard in the political arena, they are also embracing and sharing their culture. Terzi said Kurdish musicians and artists are returning to Turkey from Europe to perform and display their artwork. Also, schools teaching the Kurdish language, once forbidden, have sprung up across the country.

“I think Turkey is becoming more acquainted with the Kurdish culture,” Terzi said.

Bomozan Gelik and Murat Geng, two Kurdish men who are waiters at Chang Cheng, a Chinese restaurant in Istanbul, both agreed that they are relieved and happy that they can now speak their language freely.

“Kurdish was my first language, before Turkish,” Gelik said. “I will never forget our language, I will teach it to my children.”

Geng also spoke of being proud of his language and he said he has seen the improvements in the lives of Kurdish people and is confident that they will continue despite AKP’s lack of support.

“Five to 10 years ago it was so bad. Kurdish people were not free in Turkey, but now everyone likes Kurdish people. [Our language] was forbidden, now I can speak it,” Geng said. “[The AKP] cannot forbid our language and culture again.”

Soli Ozel, a journalist for the Turkish newspaper Haber Turk, said that the swell in confidence of the Kurds and recent unearthing of Kurdish culture is due to the increasingly educated middle class.

“Now more Kurds are educated. There is an educated middle class and they discovered their Kurdish heritage. They want to speak their Kurdish language,” Ozel said.

This education, pride and persistence is what Terzi said makes the Kurds so difficult to suppress when violence is not involved. As the Kurds have moved away from violence and embraced their culture, they have begun to be accepted by the people in Turkey. But there is still a long way to go. Although Kurds have made strides in the political sphere, there are still prejudices that hold them back.

“[In government] if you don’t publicize your Kurdish political identity, it’s OK, but if you express that you want rights you are seen as a threat and a separatist. There is a paranoia every time Turkey is criticized,” Civelekoglu said. “If you’re Kurdish you look like an internal threat.”

But Dulkadir has faith that in the upcoming years the minds of the Turkish people will change even more and that people will see Kurds as something other than terrorists.

“People think we are bad because of the terrorism but that’s only some people. Kurdish people are very friendly and have good hearts,” Dulkadir said. “I hope Kurdish people will be more free and open soon.”

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Free speech advocates: Stop Turkey’s plan to censor the Internet

Story by Erin Kelly

ISTANBUL, Turkey – “Sex,” Irem Esen, a student at Istanbul Bilgi University, said, giggling. She pauses.  “Blond… mini-skirt.”

These are just a few of the words Esen has heard that, if included in an Internet domain name, will make a website inaccessible once the Information and Communication Technologies Authority, or BKT, implements a compulsory web filtering system set to go into effect on Aug. 22.

"This site has disabled access to the court decision," is what appears when trying to access a blocked website in Turkey. Richard Dawkins, an atheist, had his official website banned by a court order in 2008, after a Muslim creationist claimed its contents were defamatory and blasphemous.

The legislation, called “Procedures and Principles Regarding the Safe Use of the Internet,” will require Internet users to choose from four packages – standard, domestic, family and kids – with the purpose of protecting children and families from “unsafe” or “obscene” content distributed on the web. Each package will filter certain websites and content to a different degree.

Many Internet users feel their freedom is being compromised.

Esen has heard a lot of speculation about the new system, but is unclear about details.

“Maybe they are rumors, maybe they are facts,” she said. “The government doesn’t give us specific information. We heard websites are going to be banned, but we don’t know anything else.”

Internet filtering, or the process of government-blocked websites, is not a new concept in Turkey. Ozlem Dalkiran, a human rights defender who collaborates with Bianet Organization, a country-wide network for monitoring and covering media freedom and independent journalism, said there are already more than 30,000 banned websites administered by court decisions or BKT rulings in Turkey.

Though the Internet in Turkey was once largely a free medium, this changed when laws restricting Internet content were introduced in 2005. In May 2007, the Law on the Internet (or the Regulation of Broadcasts via Internet and Prevention of Crimes Committed Through such Broadcasts) No. 5651 was passed by parliament and signed by President Ahmet Needet Sezer.

Law No. 5651 introduces criminal liability for people who post content that fits into an illegal category, detailed in Article 8. Illegal categories include obscenity, criticizing Ataturk (Turkey’s founder), prostitution, promoting gambling, facilitating the sexual abuse of children, encouraging suicide, and supplying illegal drugs. If such content is posted, the law requires immediate removal, either by authorities or by the Internet Service Providers (ISP) themselves. Consequences for ISPs or hosts who refuse to block access to illegal content include imprisonment for up to two years.

Ragip Baris Erman, an associate professor of law at Bilgi University, explained the four filter categories.

“One [filter] is the same category as always, which is the standard package,” he said. “Then there will be the inland, or national package, which will ban all foreign websites…The family package and children package will have different sets of filters, so you can either ban all online games, or all kinds of pornography.”

Those who do not choose a specific package will use the standard package by default, which will not restrict anything more than what is already blocked today, he said.

However, there are currently ways to get around the filtering system, or access blocked websites, such as DNS routing and anti-filtering software. But after the new filtering system goes into effect, these methods will no longer be useful.

Part of the reason for this is that the ISPs will be responsible for complying with the standards of anti-filtering software, and will be criminally or administratively responsible if Internet users are able to use anti-filtering software or DNS routing through their sites, Erman said. Also, the new filters themselves will eliminate any chance to use DNS routing.

A controversial aspect of the filtering system is the list of 138 “key words” distributed by the directorate of Telecommunications Communication Presidency (TIB) to domain providers in April. Erman said that if any words on the list are found in ISP domain names, the website will be automatically filtered, or blocked for all Internet users in Turkey. Though the words mostly relate to pornography, others are ambiguous, he said.

“Animal,” “beat,” “fire,” “free,” “hot,” “story,” “partner” and “team” are all words on the list, Erman said.

“’Animal,’ for example, could mean something in relation with pornography, but also something completely different,” he said.

Yet the meaning of this list is still debated. A press release from the BKT distributed in May emphasizes this list was formed upon the examination of complaints against websites, and is meant to be a guideline for domain providers, not a list of words that will automatically be filtered.

The Bianet Organization has challenged BKT in court by filing a complaint to the Council of State in Turkey, aiming to stop the implementation of the filters, and await a judicial decision.

Nadire Mater, project advisor of Bianet, calls the new filtering system “active censorship.”

“These regulations are absolutely unacceptable, and absolutely against the freedom of expression,” Mater said. “It is a new way, one other way, of controlling Internet users.”

Though the BKT claims the system will help parents control their children’s Internet usage, Mater questions their motives.

“The government claims that it is not a censorship, it’s just a protection for the family and the children, she said. “But [the government] does not know what family values are, from where it starts to where it ends. [The filters] mean they are going to control which websites we visit. I don’t want this, it’s not the state’s business.”

Bertan Tokuzlu, an associate professor of law at Bilgi University, said Turkey has a history of Internet censorship. In the past, Youtube, Google Groups and Blogspot have all been blocked for designated periods of time. Tokuzlu feels the legislation is a slippery slope toward greater restrictions in other areas of personal freedom.

“Censorship is prohibited in our Constitution, but I see this as an initiative for de facto censorship,” Tokuzlu said. “It looks like we’re going to adopt something like China, which is scary for us.”

Despite demonstrations and rallies against the filters, the AKP is backing the initiative and will remain in power, leaving it up to the judicial system to stop implementation.

“The government does not want to understand this [negative] reaction,” Mater said. “But if we get this verdict from the court, [freedom of expression] will be more open, and [Turkey] will be better for all of us.”

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A primer for Sunday’s elections in Turkey

Turkey’s Parliamentary Elections are tomorrow, and Istanbul is pulsing with demonstrations and campaigns for possible candidates. The current group in control, the Justice and Development Party, (AKP) seems poised to hold on to a house majority, and its candidate for Prime Minster, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is ahead in the polls. But opposition parties are out in force, trying to sway voters away from the conservative AKP. This year’s election is especially important because the ruling party plans to rewrite parts of the Constitution after the elections are complete. With 550 Parliament seats in contention, Sunday’s vote will determine which path Turkey’s secular government will take into the future. Click here to see Jessica Gagne and Rob Tokanel’s report on the election.

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Maintaining Turkish culture through the ritual of whirling dervishes

Story and photos by Michele Richinick

ISTANBUL, Turkey – As they stretch their right hands toward the sky and left hands outward toward the Earth, the 10 dervishes spin in place.

The left foot turns firmly on the ground, while the right foot circles it and propels each dervish around.

As they revolved inside the Silivrikapi Mevlana Cultural Center in Istanbul during a recent ceremony, their goal was to receive God’s beneficence by twirling toward spiritual perfection.

The dervishes engage in a mystical journey of spiritual ascent, giving life to an 800-year tradition in Turkey.

“You cannot explain with words the wonderful feeling,” Hasan Cikar, a 60-year spiritual master and leader of the center, said through a translator after the ceremony. “God is absolutely love, and we are living the same test as Him.”

He is referencing the mystical dance of whirling dervishes, known as Sema, that represents the journey of a human’s spiritual ascent through mind and love to reach the divine. The tradition reflects Ottoman and Turkish culture, history and beliefs, and has become a tourist attraction in the country.

Dervish, which means “doorway,” is a common term for a follower of the mystical Sufi path of Islam where a deeper identity of self is discovered and the material world is disregarded. They strictly follow the observance of Islam, but also nurture theirs and other individuals’ spiritual dimensions of divine love.

“We take [tourists] to see the ceremony because the religion and ceremonies are otherwise unknown to people,” Dervish Erol Baba, a former practicing whirling dervish for 40 years, said through a translator. “There are many bad things in this world, so we just try to help them see, to find peace.”

Selahattin Kaplan and Murat Alicavusoglu, co-managers of the Istanbul Dance Ensemble, bring about 70 tourists to the Dervish Dede Efendi House in Istanbul four times each week. The ceremonies, sponsored by the ensemble, attract about 12,000 people each year, Kaplan said.

“It’s a tourist attraction, but it’s a kind of cultural activity,” he said from his office in the Sultanahmet District of the city. “It’s a beautiful performance – beautiful music and beautiful dancing. Even if it is a performance, we show [tourists and Turkish people] how it is here.”

Most ticket prices range from 35 to 60 Turkish lira, or $22 to $38, for each hour-long ceremony, depending on the venue.

Joan Miller, of Miami, Fla., said the performance was the most authentic way to experience Sufi culture in Turkey.

“They want to expose us to their culture so we have a connection,” said Miller, who is traveling in Turkey until July. “But the most important thing is to be respectful.”

Sema originated in Konya, Turkey by Mevlana C. Rumi, a mystic, poet and philosopher from the 13th century who believed in peace, love and the equality of races, classes, beliefs and nationalities.

Rumi and his followers integrated music into their ritual as an article of faith, and the Mevlevi Order became a well-established Sufi practice in the Ottoman Empire. As a result, the impact of the ceremonies on classical poetry, calligraphy and visual arts was profound from the 14th to 20th centuries.

To separate education from religion, Mustafa Ataturk’s Turkish Republic in 1925 outlawed Sufi organizations in the country. The monasteries, or prayer and education buildings in the Ottoman Empire, were closed down. Some were made into mosques and museums, while others closed indefinitely, Kaplan said.

In the early 1950s, the Turkish government began tolerating public Sema performances in libraries, cinemas, gymnasiums, sports stadiums and cultural foundations, but mainly as a tourist attraction, he said.

“The past and present are different. Now it is not the kind of religious practice that it was before,” Kaplan said. “They can have high spirits and be religious, but it’s not like it used to be. Music and dance are art. It is more art than something religious.”

Today the sacred whirling tradition of Sufism, which exists as a mystical dimension of Islam, helps promote tourism in Turkey. The Mevlevi Order is still active in Turkey, with about 5,000 dervishes in the country, and 20,000 worldwide, Baba said.

Ten dervishes were performed in the recent Sema at the cultural center, but performances range in size from four or five dervishes to 10 or 15 at larger venues, Kaplan said.

Training to become a dervish takes three years. They must learn to play Sufi music, to read the Qu’ran and to write calligraphy, in addition to creating other forms of art, said Hakan Hacibekiroglu, group organizer for Senguler Travel in Istanbul.

Today’s tourists can experience the whirling dervishes ceremony at cultural foundations, museums and in some restaurants throughout the city.

In Islam, men and women are forbidden to pray together, Kaplan said. At the Mevlana Cultural Center, religious believers began by collectively praying, with men and women participants sitting on opposite sides of the room.

But both men and women dervishes perform the Sema. During the ceremony, the women dervishes wear red scarves around their necks.

Erol Baba, a former practicing whirling dervish, said he hopes tourists can find peace at the ceremonies.

At the start, the dervishes are led into the room by the dance master, who stands dressed in a black cloak at the foot of a red rug that indicates Mecca where Muslims face to pray. To move toward the truth, each dervish removes a black cloak, which symbolizes the material world, and reveals a white gown underneath, the ego’s shroud.

Sufis believe their lives are meant to be of service to people by deserting the ego, or false self, to reach maturity and perfection. The felt headdresses that each dervish wears represent the ego’s tombstone.

Sema consists of seven parts, with four salutes that begin the dramatic whirling. As they begin to twirl, the dervishes uncross their arms to receive God’s beneficence. About 12 musicians sit on a balcony playing the drums and string and wood instruments.

Each whirling section lasts between five and 10 minutes and is meant for God, not the audience. The dervishes remain silent and propel themselves in controlled movements using their hands, feet and head. The movements of their wide, white gowns create a breeze in the room as they rotate gracefully at their own pace, most with their eyes closed.

After about one hour, the journey ends when the dervishes stand, arms crossed, on the side of the floor. The dervishes believe they reached maturity and a greater perfection, to love and to be of service to creation. They redress into their black cloaks, and a Qu’ran reading in Arabic and prayer are recited. Since Sema is a spiritual act, the audience does not clap before the dervishes exit the room.

Patrick Berthiaume, of Montreal, Canada, always dreamed of attending a Sema ceremony in Turkey.

“I really like the values of Sufism, of loving each other and the spirituality. Most people have heard about extremist Islam, but I think they have many great values,” said Berthiaume, who has also attended the ceremonies in Montreal. “I think it’s a bit sad to see that it’s a tourist movement.”

Kaplan said he encourages both tourists and Turkish people to attend the authentic Sema ceremonies to experience Turkish culture and Rumi’s beliefs.

“The ideas of Rumi are important about peace and love,” he said. “He was a very clever man, and the messages are important to the world because his ideas have no discrimination.”


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In Istanbul’s bustling, chaotic market, two jewelry makers take their time to make their art

Story by Lorena F. Aspe // Photos by Katie Kriz

ISTANBUL, Turkey ­– In the oldest part of the Grand Bazaar, amid hundreds of jewelry stores, lies a hidden gem.

The shop looks like any other from the outside, displaying bracelets with the evil eye, necklaces studded with charms, and golden rings with colorful, uncut stones for tourists to gaze at as they walk the narrow, crowded streets of one of the largest, covered marketplaces in the world.

Ali Güleç dangling a necklace from his collection, composed of chalcedony and pearls.

But Güleç Stone Tasçilik, a fixture for the last decade in what’s called the Cevahir Bedesten section of the Bazaar, offers something different than all the rest.

Inside, customers will find stunning Ottoman-style rings with elegant gemstones in every color, and wide, thick bracelets with strands of tourmaline intercalated by golden plates. One-of-a-kind necklaces hang from the walls with “drozi” semiprecious stones including calcite, amethyst, citrine, opal and chalcedony. The creations also feature precious stones -diamonds, emeralds, rubies.

Ali Güleç, 31, and Mehmet Cankut, 30, greet visitors to their shop as they would old friends to their home. They chat, they laugh, they offer apple tea summoned from a young boy who goes from store to store in the thriving marketplace.

“I treat everyone like a regular, my business is all about the customers,” said Güleç, who has a baby face and a warm smile. “My first policy is to be honest. A lot of the other shop owners try to cheat people and charge them more. If you think just make money you will not succeed. I’m in the business for my customers, I want [to] make them happy.”

On a recent Monday morning, soon after the bazaar opened its 22 numbered gates, Güleç invites an American couple into his shop. They’re here from South Florida and on the hunt for gifts to bring back home.

A silver pendant, in traditional Victorian Style, with diamonds, rubies and emeralds.

They sit and he starts his pitch: Güleç takes out a black velvet tray and a bag of uncut stones. Then a bag of pearls. Then some of his designs. Within 45 minutes, Shelly Smith has picked out a silver and pearl necklace for herself, a citrine pendant necklace for her daughter and pieces for three other people.

“This is exactly what I am looking for,” says Smith, 55. She heard of the store from a friend who was in Istanbul two years ago. “My first impression was how beautiful and fun the things were. I am very attracted to colors, so seeing all these different stones and designs is very fun for me.”

Cankut and Güleç started in the jewelry business when they were both 12. To get extra money as boys, they would work for a man they call “Baba,” a jewelry maker in the same bazaar. They also learned from small local factories that made jewelry – cutting stones, melting metals, tying knots. They self-taught the basics of every step in the process – and so by the time they were 20, they had a store of their own.

“We have been in the business for 18 years, but I didn’t go to school for this, I learned everything in here,” Cankut said. “When I want to do something, I make it best. In my shop I always use best quality stones. That is why they are more expensive but they are nicer.”

Popular designs for handcuff, rings and earrings showcasing the uncut “drozi” jewels the owners travel to India to buy.

Their pieces range from 60 Turkish Lire, or about $38, to 450 lire, which is $280.

Semra Özlenir, 49, has been a customer of Güleç Stone Tasçilik’s for seven years. She too was told of the shop by an admiring friend.

“Normally, I don’t go that far into the Grand Bazaar because it is very narrow and hot. But change is good, and I wanted to see what my friend was so praising about. So, I went to Ali’s shop and really liked it.”

Over the years, she’s bought about 200 custom­­-made pieces.

“They are both cultural and modern,” she continued. “He designs for a great range of customers. For example, you can find a necklace for yourself and for your 8-year old little girl.”

The process of making even a single piece of jewelry is long and involved. Güleç first inspects the stones, which they buy from India and sometimes Turkey, for their natural color, translucency, cut and size. Trips to India don’t take longer than a week because once the request is made he must immediately begin on the design phase of the process. They can fashion a piece in as little as two days.

All of their jewelry is handmade. Cankut and Güleç say they try their best to take the time to get to know each client so that the pieces can be a reflection of his or her taste and personal style.

“They make unique collections for each customer,” Özlenir said. “When a customer does not like some part of a design they think of ways to improve it and change it according to the customer’s taste. So they provide unique jewelry for each customer which is the most important thing to me.”

When it comes to designing jewelry the process unfolds in a creative and natural way for Cankut and Güleç. They are passionate about what they do.

“First you need to love your job and then work in making good design,” Güleç said. “It is like a puzzle. You start looking at the different stones, the colors and shapes and then the design come together.”

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Final frenzy of campaigning under way in advance of Sunday’s election for prime minister

Story by Kaileigh Higgins and Kimberly Russell  //  Photos By Lily Bahramipour and Anthony Savvides

ISTANBUL, Turkey – Thousands donning white baseball caps emblazoned with the Justice and Development Party’s orange light bulb logo flooded a field in the Zeytinburu neighborhood, chanting the name of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erugon.

Tens of thousands came out in support of the dominant AKP. The party is expected to hold into its majority rule in Sunday's upcoming election for prime minister. (Photo by Lily Bahramipour)

Children sat on their parents’ shoulders as the crowd waved flags of red, orange and white. Speakers blared the party anthems that have been ubiquitous in Istanbul the past few weeks as members of the conservative and dominant Justice and Development Party, more often referred to as the AKP, stood on stage hand in hand, swaying in time to the music.

With only a week left to reel in support, the AKP viewed the rally as an important chance to solidify support by relaying its campaign promises to potential voters. On June 12, Turks will vote in a general election that features 23 political parties running for the legislature.

Turkey’s Parliament is made up of 550 seats, each one filled by a representative chosen by voters based on a designated political party. The allotted number of seats per district is based on each district’s proportional representation of voters. Though the results of the election will not come in until Sunday night, there is no doubt that the AKP and Erugon, who have been in power since 2002, will continue to rule in Turkey. The only question that remains is whether they will earn enough votes to have a super majority of 330 seats.

As it stands now, the AKP controls around 46 percent, the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) controls around 20 percent and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has 15 percent.

“[The AKP] will be elected and will be the ruling party and make up the next government,” said Soli Ozel, a political science and international relations professor at Istanbul Bilgi University.

Established in 2001, the AKP broke off from of the Virtue Party as a moderate alternative to the Islamist group. By combining conservative social values, progressive economic reform and providing services such as health care and affordable housing, they were able to garner the support of secularists and Islamists alike and rose to power in 2002. The AKP stabilized Turkey, pulling the country out of its worst-ever economic recession, lowering the country’s national debt and decreasing the unemployment rate by lifting most government regulations and enforcing macroeconomic policies.

“The economic situation now is really perfect,” said Ali Atlas, a party supporter, at the rally this past Sunday.

In Erugon’s election proclamation, “The 2023 Vision,” he outlines the party’s plans to place Turkey among the top 10 economies in the world, reduce the unemployment rate to 5 percent, increase the use of alternate energy, join the EU, allow health insurance for all citizens, expand all methods of transportation and increase Turkey’s tourism economy.

On the eve of Sunday's election, in the Sultanahmet neighborhood, a procession of campaign workers for the Saadet candidate for prime minister makes its way through the area's winding streets. (Photo by Anthony Savvides)

The AKP’s economic accomplishments are revered by many Turks. However, the conservative Islamist values of the party have dictated recent policies, such as the restricted sale of alcohol. Turkey, though its population is 99 percent Muslim, follows a secular Constitution that imposes a strict separation between religion and state. While they are outwardly secular – religious parties are banned here – the AKP’s social policies are certainly influenced by its members’ Islamist faith.

“That is a fault-line within the country,” said Ozel. “The increasing religiosity is a matter of concern for many.”

Those against the AKP often cite the growing religious influence as their main source of discontent with the party.

Erman Akalin, 31, is a devout Muslim, but feels that the state has no business enforcing the rules of Islam. “Yes, this is my religion’s rule, but no one can tell me that you need to follow all the rules,” he said. “If it is bad, it is bad for me. It’s just between God and me. I don’t want anyone between God and me.”

Altas, a worker in the textile industry, explained that he, along with many other supporters, won’t vote for the AKP based on their Islamist values. They are more concerned with the economic reforms that the AKP has implemented over the past decade.

“I prefer the services because I need salary, I need revenue, I need income, I need GNP,” he said.

The leading oppositional party, the CHP, led by Kemal Kilicdarogly, is campaigning to prevent AKP’s supermajority. The CHP has a wide variety of followers including liberal and educated elites, students and union workers, and has also been targeting the less powerful conservative voters, baiting them with the Family Insurance Plan and the claim to waive compulsory military service. Known previously for their extreme secularism and anti-conservative policies, they have recently been easing their stances to appeal to a more diverse population of supporters.

“[CHP] is not the right party for me, but there is no alternative at the moment,” said Akalin. Though 23 parties are campaigning this election cycle, many will not see themselves represented in parliament, as the majority will not meet the 10 percent threshold of votes required for representation.

According to Kivanc Ulusoy of Istanbul University, the threshold was originally established to provide political stability for Turkey, preventing disproportionate representation for lesser parties. However, this threshold is now preventing smaller parties from having any representatives, unless they are fielded as independent candidates.

Most notable of the lesser parties is the Peace and Democracy Party, otherwise known as the BDP, which is the party of the Kurdish people. The BDP, unable to reach the threshold in the 2007 elections, has been lending its support to independent candidates in order to gain seats.

If AKP gains the supermajority of national votes, Erugon has made it clear his intent is to create a new Constitution that allows for a more independent state and stronger social policies. Though all the details of the revision have not yet been discussed, one reform they plan to implement is a change in the election process toward a more presidential system.

“It is not our tradition, we do not have very strong checks and balances of parliament. They have been historically very weak,” said Ozel. “You cannot change this in one day. In that sense, I’m weary of a presidential system. We will have to see how they put it together.”

He continued: “We don’t know if AKP is continuing to grow. They lost 8 points nationally in the municipal elections of 2009. We don’t know if they will grow or if they are already stagnated.”

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