June 6 2020
As millions of people in Istanbul and throughout the country have been confined to their homes during the COVID-19 epidemic, the balcony has acquired a new status in urban Turkey.
As we take preventative measures to protect ourselves from the coronavirus, we must not neglect the obligation we have to protect the city. To protect Istanbul is to protect ourselves.
After a series of curfews have ended at midnight on Sunday for the past several weeks, a trend has emerged where people cooped up in their apartments take to the streets as soon as the clock strikes the hour. Many are walking dogs that have been clambering for fresh air and exercise, others are making runs to the convenience stores that open on the dot to sell beer, cigarettes, soda and snacks to those who made the mistake of not stocking up in the days prior to the lockdown.
As journalists, we must engage with this novel and dangerous virus, as it is the top item on the agenda. The fear of getting the virus, how severely it may affect you, and transmitting it to others is layered upon the existing fear and lack of security that comes along with the job.
Only a few weeks ago I was on a gastronomy trip to the Central Anatolian provinces of Nevşehir and Kırşehir with a group of Lebanese food and travel writers and our excellent Turkish guide who curated everything. That trip now is seared in my mind as one of the last I might take for a very long time.
Last Friday, I went out alone to explore the usually-lively districts of Şişli, Beşiktaş, Kadıköy and Beyoğlu. It was a surreal and startling journey. While the three hours or so I spent outside were spooky and unsettling, it was comforting to know that the city is taking coronavirus seriously.
The energies of Istanbul and Berlin are different in substance but equal in exhilaration. Despite rapid change, they both possess resilient characteristics and kinetic energies that preserve their identity as two of the world's great cities.
Taksim Square's status as an ideological battlefield predated the ascent of the AKP, though it intensified during those years, particularly following the Gezi Park protests. Now that Istanbul is no longer in the AKP's hands but run by opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu, it appears that the government will do what it can to sidestep the municipality and exert its control over the city and its most important spaces, adding a new dimension to the ideological battle over Taksim.
On Feb. 18, a court ruled to acquit all defendants in the Gezi Park trial, a bizarre affair where civil society figures and celebrities were charged with plotting the protests for the purpose of toppling the government. While the 2013 protests did stall the destruction of the Gezi park, storied buildings have since made way for garish shopping malls.
Something I have often pondered while walking the streets of Istanbul, by far the most expensive of Turkey's major cities, is how people earning the minimum wage here are getting by. The short answer is that they really aren't.
I realize that this is a privileged perspective, but for me the worst thing about living in Istanbul is not the traffic, the crowds, the noise or the chaos, or the skyrocketing rent, but rather the nonstop and unsettling change and destruction brought about by rampant greed and speculation that pays no heed to heritage, history and humanity. The little I could do was write about these things.