Istanbul is an enormous place, and expanding all the time. There was no better evidence for that than the Levent neighborhood. We listened to our guide and professor discuss this area as it was as late as the 1980s: a rural zone populated by people living in modest two-story houses amidst plentiful gardens and even sheep. Amidst the construction boom of the last decades, it has transformed into a financial district replete with shopping malls, high-rise hotels, and glistening skyscrapers of equally dubious function. In other words, it’s a plutocratic paradise, the seat of the local financial aristocracy. It also happens to be the headquarters of a major environmental NGO called TEMA (Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion in English), which can mobilize 500,000 volunteers and pursues legislative lobbying and legal pressure against irresponsible development projects in Turkey. We spoke to some of their leadership today, and got a fairly good impression of competent and powerful organization, even if it does mostly rely on volunteers.
We also made a visit to the offices of Agos, a bilingual (Turkish and Armenian) paper that also publishes in English on the web fairly regularly. A liberal, pluralist publication, it was founded by famous journalist Hrant Dink, who fell to an assassination in 2007, which people commemorated across the country just a few days ago. The editor to whom we spoke was enthusiastic if appearing somewhat haggard––the paper is a constant source of controversy, just as much as its founder, despite the fact that it attempts to chart a course for reconciliation between the Armenian minority and the Turkish majority. Its offices are small but well-stocked, and our talk there was also quite informative. From what I have seen of the English arm of the paper, it’s well worth checking out.
Earlier in the day, however, was a widely acclaimed wonder of the world: the Hagia Sophia. Now a museum dedicated to the history of the building, it was a church from the sixth century and a mosque from the fifteenth before assuming its current form. Justinian’s building is best explained through visuals, so I will end the post here. Take a look below.