You were not born and raised in Istanbul, but you are an Istanbulite in all your ways. If it is all right, can we talk about Istanbul and being an Istanbulite? But let’s start from the very beginning. You were born in 1933 in the Black Sea town of Ereğli.
Yes, I was born in a roadside detached house between Ereğli and Devrek. There were villages in the vicinity, but ours was a solitary house. We had no neighbors. We were not villagers; my father was a graduate of secondary school. Living in such a desolate place was not much of a problem until I was seven. But when I came to school age, we found a solution. The problem was our house was a few kilometers from the nearest village. The road ran through the forest; it snowed in winter, wolves would come down, and the roads were muddy, so someone had to take me to school. We were never sure if the wolves would attack or not. My deceased mother was a lady who had been a teacher for eleven years.
Was she a graduate of Darülmuallimat?
No, she wasn’t... I do not know where she graduated from. But she and Turgut Özal’s late mother Hafize Hanım knew each other. My mother quit teaching after eleven years. She thought it out and decided to send me to a boarding school in Istanbul. Back then, Galatasaray was a school that offered twelve years of continuous education, starting from the elementary first grade. There was not a test or anything like there is today. But there were fees... I suppose the first year was either 245 or 265 liras, to be paid in three instalments. Our conditions were not very ideal, but they took a leap of faith and enrolled me in Galatasaray. There was not a highway or bus in the past; instead the ferries departing from Hopa and İnebolu went to Istanbul. We boarded a big ferry spewing out coal smoke from its chimney and arrived in Istanbul.
In 1940, right?
The 1939-40 academic year ... They picked me up and took me to the first part of Galatasaray School in Ortaköy. My registration and so on was carried out.
From a village of Ereğli to Galatasaray High School in Istanbul...
Yes, a very unusual event. I, personally, had not seen or known even a small city until that time, let alone Istanbul. I was a little kid. There must be a picture of me over there. Of course, some children in Galatasaray were from the dynasty and aristocracy. No way out, we started, my number was 273. School numbers are unforgettable. With the same number, one memorable number, I studied for twelve years at Galatasaray. If I had not studied there, I wouldn’t have been exposed to culture. Currently I have a little bit of culture, I would not have had even that. I am grateful to Galatasaray for this...
Would you please tell us about your first impressions of Istanbul?
I perceived Istanbul as follows: The Black Sea was often rough. The ferry would lurch forward to the strait, sway from side to side, then the swaying would stop and tranquility would prevail as the waves calmed down when we entered the Bosphorus. You would feel seasick, and so on... At that time there was nothing like Anadoluhisarı (Anatolian Castle) or Rumelihisarı (Rumelian Castle). The Bosphorus started from Sarıyer and Beykoz. Well, not like today of course. I remember very well: even Cihangir was full of wooden houses. Gazing from Üsküdar to the Şemsipaşa side, we could see all the wooden houses, Salacak, and so on. Of course I was very young, I would not perceive it that way now. Years later I can evaluate these pictures I can still remember. Apparently, we passed through the strait of a city of legends. The ferry docked at the pier in Sirkeci or, more rarely, in Galata and be moored at the stern. We would be taken from the ferry by boats that measured twenty, thirty or fifty meters in length. Istanbul was muddy in winter and dusty in summer and the sidewalks were not very smooth; but the city was the city no matter what. Istanbul was a “dream city”. Its beauty could be understood from a distance. The change today is that now you cannot see the beauty of Istanbul during the day. When it gets dark at night, something beautiful can still be seen thanks to the lights. But this concrete in the daylight, these ugly buildings, and these skyscrapers murdering the skyline... At that time there were no skyscrapers in Istanbul. Of course we were kids, we could not even read or write. I would ask my deceased mother to read for me. Then I went to Galatasaray as a boarding student. In fact, the first lesson was French, given by a lady named Mademoiselle Lomedo. “Comment vous appelez vous” she asked me, which means “What is your name?” I didn’t understand as I had never encountered anything in French up until that day. But those city children yelled at me, “Tell your name to Mademoiselle!” Apparently they had put me in the wrong class, so I was immediately sent to the class across. We went to the course of Hafız Nureddin Bey, who it was said had previously taught the sons of the sultan.
Which grade were you in?
Primary school... We were going to start with the alphabet. Of course, Mr. Nureddin Hafız was more approachable to me. He would come to class with khuf boots in the winter. Studying for twelve years, and what’s more at the same boarding school, was a real adventure. If I wrote even the things I can remember, it would make quite a book.
Did you study all twelve years pass in the building in Ortaköy?
No, after fifth grade, we moved into the building in Beyoğlu. I studied for five years in Ortaköy and seven years in Beyoğlu. Of course, at that time, Beyoğlu was another world. Let me tell you something that happened before my birth: in the Istanbul of 1929, five French newspapers were being published, five... So, Istanbul was a city of culture. At that time the population of Istanbul did not even reach a million. Now, the official figure has reached fifteen million and the actual figure has reached twenty-five million. Well, now how about the publication of five different English newspapers in this city -instead of French during that time? Unthinkable. Because Istanbul has become into the world’s largest village, the largest hamlet in the world. I’m not saying this to insult anyone. But, why should I cover up the truth... It is not possible to call Istanbul a cultural center like Paris, Berlin or London. But still there is culture, still there are cultured people. But the city has become a village. Well, less than a village, it has become a hamlet.
Would you please talk about Ortaköy a little?
Like I said, I was a small child then; they did not allow children to leave the school without parental guidance. My late aunt Hamdune would come and take me on Saturdays. Hamdune is a name that is no longer used.
Was Hamdune a close relative? Or...
She was my aunt. My late mother’s sister ... She lived in Istanbul. She was a widow whose husband had passed away. God bless her and be pleased with her, she would take me to her house on the holidays and weekends.
Where was her house?
At first it was in Nişantaşı, then she moved to a flat in an apartment called Konfor on Rumeli Street. So, at that time a lady who wasn’t wealthy could even afford to rent a flat there.
So in your childhood you became acquainted with the European style of Istanbul. Ortaköy, Galatasaray, Nişantaşı...?
Yes, that is true. Whatever I saw, I saw in Galatasaray School. Then there were my relatives, my late aunt, etc. Later still at a very young age, in my twenties, working as a journalist, I met some gentlemen. For example, the late Ali Fuat Başgil, Mahir İz ... In terms of cultural level, lifestyles, these were people I would never have come across in the provinces. But I was a very introverted young man. Of course I could not adapt so easily. But there were also our teachers at Galatasaray. For instance, our history teacher in the second grade of middle school was the former minister of foreign affairs for the Ottoman Empire, Raşid Bey, Raşid Erer. Today, it is unthinkable that a former minister would teach in a secondary school. But he would come to teach us. I learned a lot from him. One day, he was teaching, and he was explaining very well. In the middle of the lesson, he suddenly got off the podium and deserted the class. From behind, we shouted “Sir, why are you leaving, where are you going?” He stopped and gestured towards the class saying, “I am coming here to teach the gentlemen of Galatasaray. I have no business with hell raisers!” This time we were surprised even more. “What have we done, Sir?” It turned out that one of our friends in the back row was cracking his knuckles. I learned then how rude it was to crack knuckles in the manners of Istanbul. Another time, in 1947, we had a geography teacher named Ferruhzad. He was a member of a distinguished family and had studied geography at the University of Grenoble in France. I am still very keen about geography, thanks to the love of geography that he instilled in me. The famous archaeologist Mambour, Monsieur Mambouri, who wrote city guides to Istanbul and Ankara, was our math teacher.
Yes, Ernest Mambouri... When it comes to high school... Nihat Sami Banarlı, Orhan Şaik Gökyay Ahmet Kutsi Tecer, Muvaffak Benderli, and many others... One day -this happened in high school- our literature teacher Muvaffak Bey said, “Şevket, run and get Feridun Bey’s Collection of Prose”. I had the key to the library. Galatasaray had such a tradition: they would give the keys to the library to the keenest student of literature. We call it a library, but it was like a museum. I ran. I knew how to read Ottoman a little bit. Feridun Bey’s Collection of Proses was a colossal book, and very valuable. I picked it out and brought it. Our teacher flicked through and read the Nâme-i Hümâyûn, which Sultan Süleyman I had sent to King Francis I of France. Now, even this scene is unimaginable in Turkey in 2015. The school library will have Feridun Bey’s Collection of Proses, one of the students will at least know how to read the title, the teacher will have it brought and will read it aloud to the children in the classroom. I suppose, today it is more difficult to find teachers who will read the Ottoman from its original. I graduated from Galatasaray High School in 1952 after passing two tests. The first one...
You were going to talk about Ortaköy before graduation?
Oh, let me put it this way: There was a creek in Ortaköy, now it is covered. In the forties, in my childhood...
Which creek, what’s its name?
It was Ortaköy Creek. It was an open creek. There were bridges every 50 meters so that you coud cross it. Ortaköy was a cosmopolitan place, there was a Jewish neighborhood. Houses, all of them were old-fashioned houses ... Of course Istanbul did not receive such a massive migration as it does today. Poor people of Istanbul were Istanbulites, as well. They were poor people, their windows would break in the winter, and they would cover them with paper. They did not have money for new panes. But, they knew to respond by saying: “Do not mention it, sir, thank you”. Ortaköy was not only populated by Jews, but also Turks, Greeks and Armenians… My aunt then moved to Cağaloğlu Şerif Efendi Lane with her daughter and son-in-law. Cağaloğlu used to be settled by good middle-class families in the past. I would not go out alone in primary school, but in the secondary school, it must have been 1945, I could go out freely. Then, the weekend holiday would start at 1 pm on Saturday, not Friday night. I would take the Aksaray tram, I have always remembered it.
Did you start to travel to the walled city, Nefs-i Istanbul, after your aunt moved to Cağaloğlu?
It was like this: Back then, my horizons were not as broad as they are today. I was going to the walled city not to examine this mosque over there, that tomb or that gravestone. I still remember the old Istanbul. For example, until recently the top of Basilica Cistern was covered with old-fashioned houses. I would see the big advert of a meatball restaurant named Recep Tanaçar -I can never forget that. Both sides of Divanyolu were full of old mansions. It was the same with the vicinity of Istanbul Boys’ High School… They all disappeared. I suppose, today, there is not a single family living in Cağaloğlu. Then, there were fish, liver and pickle sellers and groceries between Çemberlitaş and Nuruosmaniye. There was a pickle seller there, his son was my classmate. I remember that he had two crystal pickle containers in his shop window. I reminisce about the old Sirkeci. It was dream-like… And there are few pictures taken of those days. I wish they had photographed the entire old Istanbul one place at a time.
Now you have told us about Ortaköy, then you went on to Beyoğlu; the high school was in Galatasaray. There is a Beyoğlu world there. Galatasaray had a different world of course, it is a world dominated by French culture. Have you experienced a cultural conflict in your mind, in your soul?
I have an innate sense of piety.
Well, when did you learn to read the old alphabet?
When I finished elementary and went on to the secondary school, I made my mom write the letters on a notebook, then I got a book written in the old alphabet. Something like a novel... I was searching as if solving puzzles. I say an “es”, then a “tan” and then this must be an “Istanbul”. I would run to my mother: “Mom, is this Istanbul?” Mom would be surprised: “How could you read this my child?” I started to read this way slowly. Of course, it was not a perfect way of reading, but I was not calling an “elif” a pole. Some of our teachers’ speeches against religion would make me feel uneasy. For a schoolboy to oppose his teacher was something unimaginable in those times. Let me also add that for whatever I learned from my non-Muslim teachers, I am grateful to them. But as a Muslim, there is a limit to everything, there is a restriction. I benefited greatly from my non-Muslim teachers who were not aggressively against religion. Not everyone was a non-believer at Galatasaray. Some of our teachers had studied in Galatasaray High School during the reign of Sultan Abdülhamid II. Praying had been compulsory for the Muslim students in Galatasaray at the time of the sultan. They used to pray back then. They quit afterwards, but none of them were disrespectful to Islam. There were a few atheists and so forth. But not all of the atheists were disrespectful to Islam. Some atheists would say that Islam was the religion of the majority and warn us not to make people uncomfortable. Some of them were aggressive. I did not have any complaints about the non-aggressive ones. It didn’t matter if your teacher is English or French at school... Our English teacher was a Christian Arab for example, Habib Bey... I didn’t have any complaints about him as a teacher.
How was your relationship with the world of Beyoğlu?
Beyoğlu was of course a completely different world. We would go out on Saturday. Since I had a meager allowance, I wouldn’t hang around for long, but still would buy one or two books from the booksellers in Yüksekkaldırım. Then, there was a person named Behzat Butak, he had a cake and confectionery shop, Patisserie Butak. We would eat cake with friends there. Behzat Butak, as you know, was first an actor, and then a coin collector, and third a pastry chef. I would go to the cinema and so on. My memories of those times are like this. Then, everyone, all the men, would wear hats in Beyoğlu. There wasn’t the shabbiness of today. There were shaved men, with their shirts’ starched-stiff collars. We could wear a starched shirt. Even though the clothes were ironed and the shoes were resoled, they were also polished. Even some meticulous people would carry velvet pieces in their back pockets to wipe off the dust on their shoes a few times a day. Of course, there were many non-Muslims. There were extensive libraries and fine furniture in the houses of non-Muslims, I mean the Jews, Greek and Armenians who were living in Beyoğlu and around there. We learned about that from secondhand booksellers later. This culture has died unfortunately... Right next to Galatasaray, Kanzuk Pharmacy, or one shop beyond, there was a...
Did you say Kanzuk?
Kanzuk ... There was an Abdullah Efendi restaurant next to Ağa Mosque. Is it gone now, into the Bosphorus?
Hacı Abdullah ...
No, Abdullah Efendi Restaurant. Hacı Abdullah did not exist then. Hacı Salih was opened much later. After Hacı Salih passed away, it became Hacı Abdullah. There was Markiz in Beyoğlu, we couldn’t go there. Our pocket money was not enough. Opposite to this was Löbon. It was a little busy from Taksim to Galatasaray. The traffic would be much lighter from Galatasaray to the Tünel. There were the Macka-Tünel trams. The trams travelling to Şişli and Mecidiyeköy were already passing through Beyoğlu. The cinemas were very famous. At that time there was no television, nothing; movies meant life. I wouldn’t go to the cinema as a student. Of course there were concerts. Refik Fersan, Fahire Fersan ... Back then, sir, I listened to them a lot. The theater life was very lively in Tepebaşı, for example. Cyrano De Bergerac was playing for a long time. One night there was one leading lady on the stage, the other night a different one. Was she Cahide Sonku? Of course there was Hachette Bookstore in Tünel. It was a cultural center itself. It has vanished now.
Yes, Hachette does not exist anymore.
Let me relate a memory of mine: There was a Bulgarian Pudding Seller next to St. Antuan Church in the 1940s. My late mother and aunt would go there when they met, taking me with them. We would drink an afternoon tea. The tea was served in a teapot. There was hot water, and on top of it was the teapot. I went there again one day, after coming back from Europe in the 1970s, in order to rekindle my old memories, and the waiter brought me a cup of tea. I said, “I used to come here when I was a child, we drank really nice tea”. The Bulgarian was a little angry with me: “Well go find those men and then you can talk!” he said. “If I served the tea in that way,” he said, “no one would know what to do!” The response that this Bulgarian gave me shows the cultural change in us. In addition to Turkish, a third of the conversations were in Greek in Beyoğlu. There were even groceries called N. A. Agora and Ermis in the fish market. These were really large grocery stores. When they calculated the bill -we memorized this when we were children- they did it all in Greek. There were very cultivated Greeks. There was Çitulis Brothers Printing House. Luisa Liç Printing House. Embros Newspaper was printed in Yüksekkaldırım. On the side streets there were shirt sellers, tailors. In the past, the clothes were not ready-made, everyone would have them tailored. And, there was perhaps the most famous barber of Turkey there. Barber Vili ... A barber’s shop with strange chairs, like operation tables. In the windows of the buffets they would display stuffed mackerel on platters- you could see it when you passed by on the street. Now, just try and find the same.
Mackerel is rare in the Bosphorus.
There is no mackerel, and there is no one who knows how to make it. Stuffed mackerel is Greek food. Since the Greeks were part of Istanbul, it was an Istanbul dish as well. In my childhood, the Bosphorus was crowded with fish. Turbots were caught in Beykoz. Belching out heavy smoke from their chimneys, Şirket-i Hayriye ferries raced with the dolphins. I miss the Şirket-i Hayriye ferries. How nice the names of the ship were: İnşirah, İnsibat, Neveser...I would see the paddle steamers Halep and Basra, which docked on the Kadıköy side. As children, we used to call them “pat pat”. The young cannot understand this statement: We killed the Bosphorus! There was a Bosphorus civilization, a Bosphorus culture. The Bosphorus was an art in itself. Adverse events, houses, concrete structures, destruction all took place along the Bosphorus, but still there is something… I would recommend, if you have time, a ferry trip on the Bosphorus. I recommend the splash of color that is present in the redbud season. Take the ferry from Eminönü and make a Bosphorus trip to Beykoz, Sarıyer. I call it the “ferry” out of habit. Ferries are steamships with coal-fired boilers. Now they have been replaced with diesel ships. You might want to call it nostalgia or something, but those old ships were much nicer. Anyway, you will feel some relief as you gaze at the mansions, woods, trees, and flowers and feel depressed when you look at the ugly housing settlements. Inevitably, you will curse the people who destroyed this legendary beauty.
How long did you live with your aunt?
I didn’t live with my aunt. I would stay in the school at night, and she would pick me up on Saturday; I would stay with her on Saturday and Sunday, on Monday I would be at school again. Sometimes she couldn’t come. Then I would stay at school.
Did you go to Ankara right after your graduation?
When I graduated, my father’s business changed for the worse, and my family were not economically able to send me to university. After studying at a school like Galatasaray, it would have been a loss for me not to study at university. I began to look for scholarships. At this time there were no foundations or scholarships like there are today. The state provided scholarships only for forty students from Social Sciences Faculty, and these were given after an examination. I took the test, passed it, and went to Ankara on a scholarship of 100 Turkish lira a month.
Well, after the civil service, your life in Ankara ended. You didn’t take a position in government as far as I know.
No, that didn’t happen: After completing civil service a group of ten of us produced the Islam magazine in Ankara. However, after nearly ten issues, the journal was no longer under our control and it was taken out of our hands. As I said, my family was not financially well off. So, I had to find a job. I took the civil service examination...
It was the Democratic Party period, right?
Yes. I took the civil service examination for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at that time known as the State Department. I passed it, however, I thought to myself, it was not possible for someone like me, who doesn’t dance, play bridge, or drink alcohol to be promoted. I would be stuck retiring from the first clerkship of the Bolivia delegation. I knew Tevfik İleri; mercy be upon him, he was a very honorable, very dear person. I said, “Sir, I need a job... Please find me a governorship in Interior Affairs.” In those years, there were small townships without roads, like most of the villages. “Let them send me to one of these” I said and presented a petition. He talked with someone. There was an undersecretary called Dilaver Argun. They did not assign me. I went and got an appointment. “Son, you are a pious person and we do not interfere with this. But you’re too young and inexperienced, some bad people might abuse you”, the undersecretary said. They did not make me a district governor, either. I was unemployed. I was going to the Religious Affairs Administration very often. There was a vacant position for an interpreter, but they were not hiring anyone. I called Tevfik İleri again and said, “At least have me assigned to the interpreter position in Religious Affairs”. Ahmed Salih Korur was undersecretary to the office of the prime minister; he said, “Meet Ahmet Salih Bey. I talked to him about you”. I went to meet him, and told this to the executive assistant, who took me to his room. I still remember, it was like a museum. Somewhere in the room there was a folding partition made of ebony, wonderful carpets on the floor and on the wall, right beyond it Yahya Kemal’s “Kocamustafapaşa” poem.
Yahya Kemal dedicated “Kocamustafapaşa” to Ahmet Salih Bey.
Yes, a blue-eyed man from Rumelia... He looked at me with his blue eyes. But angrily... “Yahu”, he said, “you are a graduate of Political Sciences, and you can be a governor”. He didn’t know that I had finished in the Diplomacy Department. “Where did this Religious Affairs interest come from?” he asked. He spoke a little abusively. “There’s something fishy here”, he said. He didn’t want to turn down Tevfik İleri’s request since he was Adnan Menderes’s assistant in the party. He pulled out a small note. Ahmet Salih Korur was written on it. He scribbled two lines there. “Give this”, he said, “to the ministry of Religious Affairs”. He wrote “Keep in touch” in Latin letters. He had written, “Let’s keep in touch” in the old letters. He didn’t know I was able to read it. I took it and left. That was how I was hired in Religious Affairs, as a French interpreter. I learned a lot in Religious Affairs. There were really wise, deeply religious, virtuous people from Meşihat times in the Religious Affairs Ministry. However, Religious Affairs was completely marginalized.
Why was that?
Imagine that the official car of the Religious Affairs was too awful to be used as a minibus. Then May 27 came, and we were really uneasy after May 27. They assigned Ömer Nasuhi Bilmen to the Ministry of Religious Affairs. I would like to clarify this point: Old coup d’état defenders were merciful people. If there were a coup today, they wouldn’t assign someone like Ömer Nasuhi Bilmen to the Religious Affairs Ministry. They searched and asked who the most enlightened Muslim scholar of Turkey was. Ömer Nasuhi Bilmen... But of course, it was a regular practice of the military officers for some of them come to the ministry and put pressure on us... You will print this book, that book... I stood out there. Sir, this staff member is in his twenties, a graduate of Galatasaray, and has completed a degree in Foreign Affairs of Political Sciences. Allah, Allah, what’s he doing here? I felt uneasy, very nervous. The pressures on religion and such. At that time, I received a letter from Istanbul. Mahir İz wrote, “We have established a company called Sönmez. And we are issuing a weekly newspaper called Yeni İstiklal, but have made a mess of it. You are familiar with printing and publishing things; you issued the Islam periodical. Would you accept this position?” I had a very good job in the Religious Affairs, of course; I was getting paid like a governor. I consulted with my mom and dad. I said this and that... “Son, do what you want?” they asked. I quit my job in the Religious Affairs -sent my resignation letter afterwards- and started working as a journalist in Istanbul. Things had come full circle in the end. It was of course, a revolutionary atmosphere. I made the following agreement with Sönmez: I was supposed to complete compulsory service in exchange for a scholarship. They would give me the money to repay my debt to the state. Anyway, we agreed, and I published this magazine for six months. Back then, today’s sense of Islamism didn’t exist and there were no Islamists either. Just old-fashioned religious people.
There were nationalist conservatives...
There were conservatives. Hacı Beyler.
Let’s focus on Istanbul now. You came to Istanbul; which parts of Istanbul did you live in?
Firstly on this Şerif Efendi Lane... Sönmez Company had a wooden building which had been a house in the past, and they gave me one of the floors. Two rooms and a storage room. That’s it. I was issuing a weekly magazine from there. I would sleep in the storage room. But of course it was still a family home. I remember the First Departmental Chief Ali Bey, who had a role in those old torture room incidences on our old street. In earlier years when at my aunt’s I personally heard about the torture rooms from him. In order to prevent the men they put in the torture rooms from bending, they would tie the back of their knees with strings. And bulbs of 100-150 candles on the head. In order to boil the brain. I listened to these things told in the first person when I was a child crouching down in a corner. Of course, doctors, school principals, middle class businessmen lived in Cağaloğlu. If not written and explained, it is really difficult to express what Cağaloğlu was, what Cağaloğlu culture was, how the atmosphere feels as a dwelling place, sir.
Then, what is it? Where does the name Şeref Efendi Lane come from?
The name of Şeref Efendi Lane is very famous sir, due to these Unionists. It is said that Party of Union and Progress headquarters was once there.
The famous Red Mansion...
Old people I have met could easily understand Şeref Efendi Lane as they had experienced the recent past. Today, tell a high school, a university, or a cultured student about Şeref Efendi Lane, poor thing, he won’t understand anything at all. There was a Dr. İsmet Efendi on Şeref Efendi Lane, his home was his consulting room at the same time. I can never forget; his servant would wash and spruce up the pavements—there were pedestrian ways like cobble stone streets—in the pitch-black darkness of the morning. Most of the residents were retired, cultured people. On one side of Şeref Efendi Lane, there were printing houses. For example, Tasvir Printing House. There was a rotary press from before the flood, the ground - all the way to Sultanahmet - would shake when it was operated. A clunky machine... As I said, families were the majority. Even in the 1940s, a building was demolished there in order to build a new one, and two tomb-like graves from the ground floor came to light. There was apparently a dervish lodge there. I remember it vaguely.
Since you lived in this region, you must remember Fatma Sultan Mosque across from the Provincial Hall. At the same time it was being used as a Gümüşhanevi lodge. It was a wooden-roofed mosque.
I do not remember it, unfortunately. I printed a book about Gümüşhanevi and put a picture of the mosque on it. Semavi Eyice has a very good article in a magazine about it. There are also pictures of it.
It was demolished in 1957 to expand the roads.
Yes, sir, and they bulldozed it to the foundation. Gümüşhanevi Lodge was a center, a center of spirituality; they didn’t want it to continue. But now, a project is set up, it is going to rebuilt.
How nice! You mentioned a Cağaloğlu culture, and this has aroused my interest. What is Cağaloğlu culture?
This is Cağaloğlu culture: My aunt’s son-in-law Nurettin Bey and his wife Nermin would dress up once a month. They would go to the cinema once a month, there was Çemberlitaş Cinema inside a very old building in Çemberlitaş...
Not the building of today’s Çemberlitaş Cinema...
Yes. But not the one today. The old building.
Is it the one where Osmanbey Printing House stands?
Yes, but not only Osmanbey Press. I went to Osmanbey Printing House, and there were many outrageous machines which had been inherited. It had fixed ladders to climb up on top of it. Poor man, he devoted that place to printing the Holy Qur’an, but they shattered it, even the stone molds of the Holy Qur’an. They sold alcohol there at one point. What was I saying? Nurettin Bey and Nermin used to go to the concerts. I went to one of those concerts as well. I still cannot forget the performances of Refik Fersan and his wife Fahire Fersan. The music and their performance are quite different stories. The other day, I even got bored again and listened to a cyroto.
Cemil Bey’s students...Tanburi Cemil Bey...
That’s right... They were the distinguished students of Tanburi Cemil Bey. I remember it very well. Of course, the public used to have a music culture then. Rakım Elkutlu was a well-known name. For example, there was Kaptanzade Ali Rıza Bey’s song, “Such a beauty hasn’t been seen since the time of Yusuf”... Now they still exist, but people do not appreciate them. Only a very small coterie appreciates this. Appreciating music has categories of course. One will have a fine ear for music and appreciate it knowingly. Since music is like beauty itself, others will enjoy it though they have no music culture. Cows listening to good music produce more milk and chickens produce more eggs. So, not everyone needs to have a fine ear for music. Someone who doesn’t appreciate music can still get something from Abdülkadir Meragi. But of course, for this, we need to train our children. At the bottom of that building was a pudding shop with windows and window cases that looked on the main street. It was very famous, as well. Downhill from there, towards Sultanahmet and Dizdariye, were neighborhoods, and there were no migrants in these neighborhoods. Generations of Istanbulites. They might have come there from another district, but they were all from Istanbul. The most important aspect of Cağaloğlu: it was the heart of the press, publishing was done there. If you go downhill from Cağaloğlu, from Cağaloğlu Ramp, taking the byway, you will arrive at Meserret Coffee House. You surely have seen one of the doyens drinking tea, eating simit and scribbling his article on an old letter paper there. At that time, there weren’t modern newspaper buildings as there are now. No meals were provided by the newspapers, so you would see all the journalists and authors in the köfte restaurants of Nuruosmaniye. Of course, there were diners and tradesmen restaurants cooking delicious meal in Istanbul, and the doyens would eat there. I remember very well, somewhere very close to Istanbul Boys’ High School, was a diner frequented mostly by porters. At lunchtime it would be bustling. The flavor of the dishes still lingers. I have never found another small diner cooking such delicious dishes.
One needs to eat food in tradesmen restaurants.
It is the same now. Istanbul Chamber of Commerce published a big book, called “40 Tradesmen Restaurants of Istanbul”... They put Konyalı in it and so forth. Konyalı is not a tradesmen restaurant, but there are still very good tradesmen restaurants in Istanbul. In tradesmen restaurants, the tables are not reserved. If there is a free table, one goes and sits at it saying “bon appetit”. But of course, that culture has weakened a little.
Well, there are types of Istanbul people that you are closely familiar with. Can you describe these types of people? What was an authentic Istanbulite like?
I have written two articles under the title “The Features of Istanbul Culture” and specified 62 items. My late aunt used to take me to her friends and so on, and I would hear three words very often in their conversations. The most loved, the most often used three words by Istanbul people. The first is “sir” ... Sir, here and there, “sir” a thousand times a day.
You use it very often as well. You must know the verses by Urfalı Nabi where he compares the beauty of Istanbul Turkish to Arabic. “Bağzik hitaplarından gelür mi hiç/Lafz-ı ‘A cânım! Ay efendim!’ letafeti?” he says.
How nicely he expressed it.
What are the other words?
The second is “thank you”... An Istanbulite is someone who expresses thanks very often. Because he knows the hadith that says, “Anyone who doesn’t thank people has not thanked Allah”. But, when he says thanks, he is always sincere, because he is used to thanking, he feels like it, he knows he is supposed to say thanks and he does it for this reason. The third word is “estağfurullah”... For example when you saw a person who is a real doyen being addressed as “my master”, he would respond with an “estağfurullah” immediately. He would not allow that because he was so kind and a real doyen. Then, of course, gentle people in old Istanbul would never say “I” –something that is a thing of the past now.
“Poor” or “your humble servant”... Of course, not always and not to everyone. Say that two polite Istanbulites are having a conversation. Not “I came, I went, I did...”, but “Your humble servant...”
They would also glorify their respondents with words such as “Your Excellency”, or “Dear Sir” right?
Sure. This tradition still exists among the members of Cerrahi Lodge. There is a high school boy coming to visit me; he writes, “I would like to visit your Excellency at your residence next Wednesday, in the afternoon” in order to get an appointment. He is unique, among the 76 million people of Turkey. So, this behavior might increase if it were taught.
You invite him to your “humble abode” then.
I don’t say “humble abode” to young people. But here was the rule: asking someone “Which district is your house in?” was not polite. It was called either “habitation” or “hearth”. I could see this. Secondly, for your own house: “Our house is in Beşiktas ...” is the “rude Turkish”” as Ahmed Cevdet Pasha states. A polite Istanbulite would say, “our humble abode is in Beşiktaş...” There is an interesting unique Turkish for Istanbul as well. If someone was a member of a Sufi order he would turn the lights on, and he would “wake it up”, he wouldn’t turn it off but “let it rest”. He wouldn’t say, “Let’s eat”, instead he would say “let’s have morsels”. Of course, the handwriting was very neat. Even, the handwriting of elementary school children was nicer than the handwriting of today’s university students. We had a calligraphy class in the second grade of secondary school in Galatasaray, it was in French. You could identify someone from his handwriting. I had met a boy who studied in Switzerland, he came for the New Year Holiday. He studied in an elite, private school. It was compulsory to write with a fountain pen. During the Second World War, in my day, we couldn’t find fountain pens.
The elderly would call it a “stylographic pen”.
We would write with the nibs, dipping them into inkpots. But, for example, there was a pen culture, an ink culture, an inkpot culture in the past. We would call papers “eser-i cedid”. All children, even the naughty and mischievous ones, would say “eser-i cedid”. Gentlemen would own note pads, make notes, write addresses, telephone numbers in them with very neat handwriting. For example, now many university students now decide they want a phone and their fathers give them the money, and they buy a mobile phone costing 150-200 Turkish liras, while in their pockets -if there is one- is a pen, which costs only 1 lira....Yahu, have a heart! At least get a pen worth ten liras. They cannot notice the difference between an ink pen and a ballpoint pen. I had read in a French newspaper that in a college in England, a student was suspended from school because he wrote with a ballpoint pen. Sometimes, I go somewhere to give a speech, and I ask people to hand their questions to me in written form. Otherwise, they stand up and give a small lecture as well, with the pretense of asking a question. A paper is ripped out from the notebook, three sides of the paper are clear-cut, and one side is as if bitten by a mouse with jagged edges. I don’t mean everyone. But gentle people of old Istanbul would not do this.
It seems insignificant, but real civilization is in these minor details.
I have a small pocket diary from a pasha. He recorded his daily expenses neatly. He recorded his bread expense as nan-ı aziz in the late Ottoman years; after the founding of the Republic he wrote ekmek.... This is a very interesting thing. You asked me about the types of Istanbul people I know.
For example, our deceased master Mahir İz was a respected person who had the culture and manners of authentic Istanbul. Between 1952 and 1969, when he died, I visited his house countless times; we dined together, drank tea together, I joined in his conversations. However, I never heard him gossip even once. And not once did he tell me that he was the descendant of the prophet on both his paternal and maternal side. I learned this many years after his death. The deceased was a model Istanbulite Muslim. So was Ali Fuat Başgil. We would visit his house and he would welcome us to his library, on Eflatun Lane. The name of this street is now Ali Fuat Başgil. I learned courtesy from him. He would ask your name, say your name was Ekrem. From then on he would always address you with “Mr. Ekrem”, no matter how old you were. But what’s wrong with saying Ekrem, right?
He wasn’t originally from Istanbul.
He was from Çarşamba. But he adopted the manners of the old Ottomans...
So, Istanbul takes and gives its own shape and makes her mark.
Yes, the city of Istanbul would put her stamp on the people who came and studied here, creating them in her own mold. Today it has ended. Istanbul is no more the city of efendim, “Mr.” or “Mrs.”, it has turned into an “aha”, “oha” city.
There is a TV series called “Ulan Istanbul”.
My heart can no longer endure to watch TV.
You mentioned that you identified sixty-two items as characteristics of an authentic Istanbulite. What other features do Istanbulites have? Could you please mention a few more?
What can I say; for example, in spite of skipping two meals and being famished, an Istanbulite would sit at a table calmly and eat slowly as if not starving. He wouldn’t eat like a horse with a slack-jawed mouth and eyes out on stalks. If he was a guest in another house, he would behave properly when he was full out of respect to the host. He wouldn’t use rude exclamations like “ulan”, “yuh”, “aha” or “oha”. He was merciful to stray cats and dogs, birds, trees and the green spaces. He would give them water and food. He would never be ruthless or cruel. An Istanbulite may not always be pious, or may be non-Muslim, or even an atheist, but he would never be hostile to Islam, which is the dominant culture of this city; he would never despise or humiliate any religion; on the contrary he would be respectful. In the past, Istanbulites wouldn’t say “Mecca” but “Mekke-i Mükerreme”, not Medina but, “Medine-i Münevvere”. They wouldn’t mention Damascus and Jerusalem without the attribution of “sacred” (holy). They would go to Beyazıd-ı Camii Şerif, not Beyazıt Mosque. Not Eyüp, but Eyüp Sultan. Which one should I mention?
Well, sir, you embarked on a life in the press after you arrived in Istanbul. You struggled in the media, we already know about that. When did you first start to be seriously interested in the problems and culture of Istanbul as an intellectual?
Let me be frank: As I was a timid, little, introverted young boy coming from the provinces, I was not interested in the problems of art and aesthetics at a very young age. But, after a six-year exile, when I returned to Turkey in 1974, I could no longer do journalism. I had issued two daily newspapers, both of which failed. There wasn’t a proper place which would publish my articles. I gradually started to become interested in artistic matters. I was now witnessing closely how bad our situation was in terms of culture and especially fine arts. For one thing, the word “arts” should not only make one think of literary or architectural works. Some people are like works of art. A gentleman, a doyen or a hero is also the subject of aesthetics. Now I feel the lack of these things. For example, now I have a better understanding of how Nurettin Topçu was a man of honor, although we did not use to agree on everything. I wish Ali Fuat Başgil was still alive and I could visit him at least once a year. If only Mr. Mahir was still around and I could attend his discussions once a year.
Could you please tell us a little about your memories of Mahir İz?
We would sometimes go to Sarıyer in the 1950s with Mahir İz; we would dine in the famous börek shop, and then would drop by the pudding shop which was a little further away. One of the thousand conditions for being an Istanbulite is eating blancmange. I cannot call someone Istanbulite if they don’t like this pudding. Mr. Mahir’s older sister had a palatial house in a garden in Kanlıca. Our master would sometimes stay there in the summer months. If I remember right, Celal Ökten Hoca and Cevat Rıfat Atilhan, a respectable literature teacher from Kuleli, would come in the afternoons on Tuesdays. Extraordinarily pleasant conversations would be held. One day, we went to an old fashioned cafe with him and were eating yoghurt. Just then, a rotund man, a knife vendor, passed the street. He had placed his knifes in a shallow basket, and was travelling from Üsküdar to Beykoz, shouting out and selling them. “Do you know,” asked Mr. Mahir as he pointed at him, “that this man knows the Masnawi by heart?” Imagine that, thanks to Ottoman culture this knife vendor had memorized Masnawi. Also, Celal Hoca started teaching about the conflict between Ali and Muawiya in the run-down mansion in Çubuklu where he used to spend his summers. The building was run-down, there was no electricity. Whoever learned about these classes came to the courses. He had to cancel them. There were some other people, sir. Doyens, poets, authors would visit İsmail Hami Danismend’s house on Saturdays -he was living at Valide Apartment- it was like a French salon on a side street in Şişli. He used to have a library, it was impossible to find a softcover book in that library. All of those books were antique. One day, as I sat, I saw a small window case by me; a fez was inside it... “Sir, whose fez is this?” I asked. “It is Sultan Abdülhamid’s,” he replied. There, pinned on the velvet wall of the window case, I saw a letter written in lead pencil, in Ottoman. “Sir, whose letter is this?” I asked. “Sultan Vahideddin’s (Mehmed IV) letter,” he replied. Now how can you not miss İsmail Hami Bey?
They were the heirs of the Ottomans, of course. You could see them but we have only been able to glimpse a few of them.
One day in the 60s, there was a mosque on a side street in Sirkeci, as you come down from Ankara Street, on the right. I went there to pray. I met a short man in his 70s after the prayer. He came to pray. “I was,” he said, “a military officer from the Fedakârân-ı Millet Cemiyeti in my youth, during the Second Meşrutiyet...” Go find these now! Sir, let me give a simple example: I went into a liver seller’s shop on a side street of Çarşıkapı, to buy liver for the cats: there was a chubby man there, a smoker... We were chatting just for the sake of conversation. We don’t eat lungs, the lungs of lambs. However, a nice dish is made out of it. One thing led to another, anyway, he said, “We are from Manastır.” “Oh,” I said, “the city where our Unionists stormed in and where Şemsi Pasha was martyred!” The man said, “My father was put in the Union and Progress Party, on the table was the Holy Quran, and a dagger by it, they made him swear in that way.” Even a liver-seller. And he was at the unexpected age of 90, still selling livers, he was as fit as a fiddle, and what is more he was plump... Sometimes, you go into a restaurant, see someone who is a living part of history. You see a lady, whose father was the commander of some military unit in Yemen. There is a collection of six volumes called Canlı Tarihler you know, published by Tahsin Demiray...
Canlı Tarihler from Türkiye Publishing House...
Yes, for example they were always among us. When I was studying at the Political Sciences Faculty, I don’t remember very well, whether the father or the grandfather of one of my friends, had served as a governor on an island in the Red Sea. Then again, there were people born in Makka and Damascus among the old journalists and artists.
Peyami Safa’s father and uncles were all born in Makka.
Now, sir, has there been a degradation? We may be explaining degradation with journalistic language. I wish a novelist were writing about this. Or, sir, if only great thinkers would write about this subject. Because young generations now see Istanbul as the most beautiful city in the world. As a person who has witnessed the Old Istanbul, who caught up with the last remains of the old beautiful Istanbul, it is not possible for me to adore this concrete face of the city. What was I saying? I said that old Istanbul is very nice when you look from the outside. Cobblestone streets might be muddy in the winter; it is cleaner now, but it has lost its all magic, it only looks nice at night. When you gaze at Istanbul from Çamlıca at night, you see a wonderful view. I lived in Üsküdar for many years, in the 50s, 60s. When we would get on Üsküdar ferry, there were all these wooden mansions, pavilions and buildings behind Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, on the left. There were pine trees in the gardens. We have lost these as well, sir. Behind that wonderful mosque, why were those ugly apartments built? It is inexplicable. I know that since I lived in Germany for five years. Destroyed during the Second World War, Germany saved all its old buildings by restoring them. Look at Turkey!
Well, you have experienced this change. Since you have been in Istanbul since the 1940s, you have experienced this dramatic change step-by-step, stage by stage.
I was not aware of what was happening when I was a child, but yes, I have experienced it.
How about the reconstruction activities during the Democratic Party period of the 1950s?
Sir, it was a disaster...
How did you feel about it? Were you aware of what was happening, or did you see it as the modernization of Istanbul?
Since my childhood I have been a bit of a conservative. As I had a nostalgic interest in the past, I felt the pain inside as each mansion was pulled down, each pavilion was pulled down, and each garden was dried out. Then, there is also this: the area from Tophane to Beşiktaş, up to Dolmabahçe Palace, particularly in Fındıklı, the seaward side of the sea was full of shops, buildings. There were boats on the coast. You could eat when you were hungry. If you wanted to drink tea, you could find a coffeehouse, a café. Then they flattened this area, and nothing was left. Or the Golden Horn, sir? It is a very recent disaster. They began in 1984. They started from Yemiş Pier, turned from Eyüp, up to Perşembe Bazaar and across... Sultan Abdülmecid was presented something like a report on Istanbul, I read the French version. “My Sultan, you have two Istanbuls, one is this land, and the Istanbul we know, the second is reflected on the Golden Horn on moonlit nights; this second Istanbul is yours.” They destroyed this, sir. Of course worn-out buildings should be demolished, debris should be removed. But I’m sure that they demolished thousands of buildings, which were not supposed to be torn down. For what? Because they are vandals...
First, they ruined the Golden Horn by building manufacturing workshops, factories, this and that, then by demolishing them on the grounds of cleaning up. You were talking about the Menderes era.
The Menderes era ... As you know, the person shot by a bullet doesn’t feel its pain at first. As the wound cools, the pain starts. It seems that Istanbul suffered a great destruction during the Menderes era. There were mansions and pavilions from Beşiktaş towards Yıldız during Sultan Abdülhamid II’s reign. I have an original watercolor painting by Mehmet Ali Laga, depicting those areas. They turned these areas into a flat boulevard towards the slope.
Yes. This boulevard is unaesthetic. Old Istanbul, historic Istanbul, for example the walled city, should have been preserved as a museum city. This has only been done in Yemen in the Islamic world, sir. If a new inn or a new apartment is to be built in Sana’a City in Yemen with the support of UNESCO’s funding, it must be in the Yemeni architecture of 500 years ago. We couldn’t do that either. Well, we paved roads. We might as well have placed decent buildings by these roads, we couldn’t manage that either. I have travelled to many places around the world; I went to Ukraine and so forth, they wanted to give a form even to the high-rise buildings. I went to Kayseri, it is dead. If there is such a degradation even in a city like Kayseri, which is a well-established Seljuk city, consider the rest. Ninety percent of the new mosques built in the last forty years are architectural disasters. Presidency of Religious Affairs could have produced mosque projects, Directorate General of Foundations could have intervened, the government and the municipalities could have intervened. In Turkey, Islam is under the control of the ignorant and uneducated. Exceptionally, if there are a few informed, cultured and tasteful people, they do not approach anyone.
How long have you been living in Sultanahmet?
Sir, I bought the house in the early 1980s. It was so dilapidated. I renovated it for a year. So thirty years of residing. Of course when I came here there wasn’t even a single hotel, a single carpet seller. Here there was a prison. Çelik Gülersoy launched a project; Boutique hotels were to be built in Sultanahmet. Lattices and so forth were even put on some of the buildings. But of course Sultanahmet lost its old humanistic identity.
And lost its humane structure.
Anthropologically, Sultanahmet is dead now, I mean. We are trying to hold on here. Where will I go now after this age?
Sir, I thank you very much, you have been kind enough to spare me this time.