July 6 through 9, 2007
My mission in Istanbul was to get images of urban development as examples for Afghan planners and architects. I mentioned on the July 7 post how it was strange to arrive in Istanbul ‘from the east’; another reason for this is that I was looking for images of Istanbul for Afghans, not for Americans. Having an Afghan audience changed my perspective, as tourist, in unexpected ways. Most of my focus was on mosques and neighborhoods which are not ‘perfect’, but very livable.
Dome of the Mehmet Pasha mosque, by Sinan, circa 1571-1580.
Approaching Istanbul from the East
My hotel is in the Sultanahmet neighborhood, just west of the Topkapi and the Blue Mosque («ami Masjid Sultan Ahmet), is lovely. When I arrived last evening, men and women were sitting out on stoops or in small public parks, very reminiscent of Brooklyn. But the houses are very small-footprint wooden houses, as in Newport, Rhode Island. The street pattern is very tight and irregular, like Venice or Deh Mazang in Kabul.
This morning I walked out to photograph examples of beautiful urbanism that has emerged from informal settlement. I found some workmen digging up a broken pipe under a sidewalk. I stopped to take a close look, to see if there was any example of infrastructure photograph for my students. They only spoke Turkish, but I was listening for cognates from Dari. One man asked me a short question which included mamlakat, so I figured he was asking me what my work was. I replied in Farsi that I was teaching planning at Kabul University. Another man then said something which I didnít understand, and so another repeated slowly, Turk, Afghan, bradarlari. ĎTurks and Afghans are brothers.í Another took my hand and kissed me on both cheeks. Unlike most Turks, they said goodbye as to a fellow Muslim: khoda hafiz.
This happened so quickly I did not have time to explain that I was not Afghan and not Muslim. Actually, given that I speak no Turkish, I donít think I could have explained my situation. In fact, I do regard Turks as brothers in the sense of adamiyat; and even as blood kin because of my Greek ancestry. I know most Greeks would be uncomfortable with that, and Iím not sure how the Turks would feel about it either. But these were workers welcoming the first Afghan they had seen in person, and expressing their compassion for a brother from a country which has suffered. My role, then, was to respond graciously as a representative of Afghanistan. As a teacher in two universities in Kabul, taking photos of Istanbul to show my students, that is in fact my position. For the moment, I am a visitor from the east.
Pictures from Sultanahmet neighborhood showing the irregular streets, small buildings, and wonderful character of the neighborhood.