Sir, we know that you are a true resident of Istanbul, or, if you will, an Istanbulite, born and raised here. More than that, we also know that your maternal lineage goes much further back into Istanbul’s past. Therefore, you were born into Istanbul’s culture—refined and cultivated through the ages since its ancient beginnings—and you have experienced this culture. What do you remember about the Istanbul in which you lived your childhood and the first years of your youth? What was that Istanbul like? What were its characteristic qualities?

1- Sadettin Ökten was born and raised in Beyazıt. He is a man from Istanbul who    continuously thinks, writes and imagines about Istanbul.

Yes, let’s start with bismillah, in the name of Allah. It is a difficult question, but I hope we will manage to give a good answer. It was September 1, 1942, the most intense time of the war. I was born on that day in apartment six of the Ali Vardar Building on Küçük Haydar Efendi Street -the second street on the right when you go down Mithatpaşa Street in Beyazıt. If I start off with such an anecdote and follow its lead, it will probably be all right. I was born in an apartment building. The houses in that neighborhood had all burned down in the Hocapaşa fire and had been rebuilt (before my birth); therefore, there were scarcely any wooden houses. There were brick and stone houses and apartment buildings. Places that we could call small apartment buildings (compared to what we have today)… Long after we had moved out, a TV station wanted to make a documentary on the life and recollections of my late father. Together, we went to the Soğanağa quarter. Our Soğanağa quarter had become a garment district. Seeing me in this outfit -and I had this same hair and beard, and probably I was wearing a coat- some men standing in front of the shops started to say things to me and they were very insistent. “No, I am a Turk!” I said in Turkish. One of them said something like, “And now they are speaking Turkish!” There were places that sold leather products and a number of things. Anyway, we pulled the car over--by the way, drivers are very skillful men. The cameraman started shooting. I could not go up to the floor where I was born. I just could not bring myself to do that.

How many floors did the Ali Vardar Building have?

It was a five-story building with two apartments on each floor. However, if I tell you that we had a view of the Princes’ Islands from the rear balcony it should give you an idea about the Istanbul of those years. In good weather, my mother would shout, “I can see Bozburun!” That’s what my mother would say, but I didn’t know what Bozburun was. You know, it is the land that curves toward Gemlik Bay. When there was a southwesterly wind, the ferry would run against the tide for a while, and the searchlight would reach our building. Because the building was on a slope, it was possible to watch the sea from the rear balcony. We could hear the sound of the steam train running along the coastline, even though we couldn’t see it. We could hear the sounds of machines working, whistles and bells. Down the road was an Armenian church. And the sounds of the ezan (call to prayer), first in Turkish, and then… Such an atmosphere. What I mean to say is, Istanbul did not yet have tall buildings; it was still a flat city.

2- The partial view of the section of Istanbul within city walls from the Golden Horn.

I guess you lived in that apartment for many years.

Yes, more than twenty years, from 1939 until 1962. We started with a rent of thirty-five lira, and when we moved out, it was about 105 liras. My father died and his corpse was washed there on November 21, 1961; then we buried him in the Edirnekapı Cemetery. At the time I was nineteen years old. Along these lines, the first things I remember about Beyazıt are a fountain and pigeons. We would go up the hill. At that time, Istanbul had not yet undergone any changes at the hands of the [Adnan] Menderes government. At the beginning of Mithatpaşa Street there was a garden, that is, at the beginning of the hill. The road would narrow down a little up there, and at the corner was a nougat seller dressed in white robes. My mother would not buy me that often, saying, “Because they are dirty, they are inedible!” But my maternal aunt would secretly buy me nougat. I would just wait to see who would buy me nougat! We would walk to Beyazıt Square. In that square there were snapshot photographers. I still have those pictures. A little chubby boy in shorts, not allowed to go out of the house... I am five or six in those pictures, not yet going to school. We would feed the pigeons. Of course, I remember the mosque as well as the gigantic gate of the university. I also remember Beyazıt Pool very clearly. We used to take two different trips from my neighborhood. Both went by tram from Beyazıt Square. For the first, we would go visit my maternal grandmother in Atikali. My father would make his way in the morning to Vefa High School, where he worked. When he left, my mother would tidy up the house, and then we would go out at 10:00 or 10:30 a.m. There was a stop in front of Emin Efendi Restaurant, which was adjacent to Beyazıt Square; we would take the tram from there. The red seats were for first-class, and the green ones were for second-class. There were no minibuses in Istanbul yet. And before my father came back home, we would have returned by the same route, around 3:00 or 3:30 P.M.

3a- Panoramic view of Istanbul from Nuruosmaniye

3b- Panoramic view of Istanbul from Nuruosmaniye

3c- Panoramic view of Istanbul from Nuruosmaniye

3d- Panoramic view of Istanbul from Nuruosmaniye

3e- Panoramic view of Istanbul from Nuruosmaniye

3f- Panoramic view of Istanbul from Nuruosmaniye

Obviously, the Atikali quarter holds an important place in your memories.

As I said, my maternal grandmother lived in a wooden house in the Atikali quarter. There, you could observe ancient sights of Istanbul: wooden houses, cobbled streets, graves of martyrs of the conquest on street corners, shrines, dervish lodges, etc. Such an atmosphere…

You mentioned that you took two routes.

Oh, yes. There were also our trips with my dad. Those short trips also started from Beyazıt. On the opposite side of the mosque, yellow trams would depart from the front of the library. They were modern trams. Their doors would be opened by a compressor, and the stairs would open in the same way. We would go up to Taksim on them. When going to Taksim, people would use the expression, “We’re going up to Beyoğlu.” A friend of my father’s from Kabataş High School lived in Taksim, Selahattin Güzey, a French teacher. I’d call him “Uncle Selahattin.” Selahattin Bey and his family lived in an apartment building in Talimhâne, Taksim, for approximately forty-five years. They were, of course, a notably intellectual family. Their landlord never asked them to move out. Their house was full of books, newspapers, and magazines. They would talk, and I would keep silent. Then they would take me on a stroll to Taksim. There I’d get to see the modern Turkey. So, in Fatih’s Atikali quarter, you’d see the Ottoman Turkey, so to speak. I remember watching what was around me in Taksim with slight fear, as well as admiration.

4- Eminönü Square was also dealt with during the years of Democrat Party rule. The photograph was taken soon after the fish market which had been on the coast of the Golden Horn was demolished. A while later, the construction of the road between Eminönü and Unkapanı began. (<em>İstanbul’un Kitabı</em>)

This contradictory psychology is very interesting. Fear and admiration...

I am not sure. Fear because the places around Taksim were unlike the Muslim milieu I had gotten so accustomed to; in those years, the places where I felt most at home were Beyazıt, Atikali, and some other similar places. Admiration because the streets were orderly with a lot of flowers, and in Taksim Gezi Park there would be well-dressed people strolling, that is, better dressed than we were. My father would not pay any attention to such things, but for some reason my mother would tell me things like, “Pay attention to how you dress!”

In fact, from what you have told us, we understand that the Beyazıt of your childhood was already on the verge of Europeanization. However, as I understand it, the typical Ottoman landscape could be found in Atikali. You have already told us a little about that Atikali. Could you give us a little more detail about how it was, in and around Atikali?

The streets there were not straight; that is, they had not been built along straight lines. They had done their best to build according to the topography of the terrain. In old neighborhoods, when they did not build in compliance with the terrain, they would build stairs. Houses invariably had gardens; the house would occupy only a small portion of the garden. The basement was usually the ground floor, not a separate floor below ground level. In those neighborhoods, you could not find subterranean floors. So you would enter a house without a basement directly on the ground floor.

What the old folks call a “stony entrance.”

Yes, through a stony entrance. That is, the basement was not used for living or sleeping. For example, in my grandmother’s house, because it sloped slightly, there was a cistern and a coal bunker. So, on top of a brick floor, there were two wooden floors. There were trees in the garden.

What kind of trees were they?

Fruit trees, such as plum. Roses were an indispensable part of those gardens. They also always grew grapes -they used the unripe grapes to make sherbet- as well as pomegranate and fig trees. The Sultan Selim fig was grown exclusively in that place. My father had brought Murat Agha from Darüşşafaka and had him tidy up the garden and sow green plants, such as boxwood. For example, we had blackcurrant, cornelian, two or three species of mulberry, and greengages in our garden. Everyone had more or less the same plants in their garden.

I suppose there was also parsley and onion.

Sure, they had a separate place in the garden. Parsley, mint, onions, etc. They were planted according to the season. There was order. People spoke softly and slowly in the streets. They walked neither too fast nor too slowly, and without fail greeted one another. In fact, I would ask, “Mom, do you know this lady?” “No, I don’t know her,” she would say. The common form of address among ladies was “Sister!” And men, depending on the situation, would, for example, address each other with words like, Efendi Baba, Erenler, etc. And they would greet each other by saying “Salamun Alaykum” (Peace be upon you) without exception.

What can you say about the social status of the residents in such a neighborhood?

They belonged to the middle class. Those from the middle class of those days in Istanbul would be in a much lower economic category today. They were usually civil servants, a few religious officials, one or two teachers. Everyone knew each other.

Were there no wealthy people in the neighborhood?

Wealthy people? There were no rich people in the neighborhood back then. Apparently there had been some rich residents previously, but they had already moved from the neighborhood. There had been somebody called “Molla Bey,” but when he died his children reportedly rented out his mansion. So, in those years, during the time when I grew up, there was nobody in the neighborhood who was conspicuously from a higher social class.

As far as I know, in a typical Ottoman neighborhood, people of all levels of society lived together. The rich and the poor, together.

Yes, apparently it had been that way in the past, but in those days this was not the case. There was a plot of land in front of the house, and my grandmother used to say: “There was Hajji Nuri Efendi’s mansion there; when he died, his children had it torn down, and now it is an empty plot.”

They probably moved to Nişantaşı [a rich neighborhood].

I guess so...

In times when Istanbul’s population was declining, we can understand that the typical order of neighborhoods was disrupted.

5- In his article titled “Yenicami Saati (The New Mosque Clock)” (Yeni Gün, no. 3 March 25, 1939), Refik Halid Karay talks about the dual clocks of New Mosque  which were preferred by the people of Istanbul for centuries to set up their     watches and the timekeeper of those clocks. People used to believe that those
    clocks one of which showed Turkish time and the other European time were
    the most precise clocks and therefore they would turn their eyes to the hands
    of the clocks in a ritualistic fashion and set up their watches while passing by
    them. According to Refik Halid who claims in his article that half a million people
    used to perform this rite in a day, the clocks of New Mosque were not in haste
    like the ones we use today. They would not stop and restart, and skip from one
    second to another like a child. It would work slowly and in a dignified fashion like
    it belonged to another universe. It would work “in a careful, solemn, and timid
    fashion befitting to the walks of carriages, horsecars, and the gentlemen with
    ankle shoes.” On the day that Refik Halid learned at school the couplet “Şeb-i
    yelday-ı müneccimle muvakkit ne bilir (how can the timekeeper and astrologer
    know the longest winter night) / Mübtelay-ı gama sor kim geceler kaç saat (Ask
    the one who suffers from grief how many hours the nights are),” these clocks
    and the timekeeper who sat down on a cushion reciting the Qur’an in the stone
    room with iron grating on its windows below the clocks came to life before his
    eyes. For the children of the time, the clock was only New Mosque Clock and
the timekeeper was the one who set up these clocks.

Yes, this may have been the case. And let me tell you this: my mother’s side of the family immigrated to Turkey from Plovdiv in 1893. I mean, my grandmother’s father and mother moved to Turkey; my grandmother’s brother, Hafız Sami Efendi, was born in Plovdiv, but my grandmother was born in Istanbul. The famous Hafız Sami happens to be my mother’s uncle. And another group came during the Balkan Wars. They were descended from a richer lineage. They had lived in Arnavutköy and on the hillside in Kandilli, and when I was little, they lived in Nişantaşı. We used to visit them once a year. My father would absolutely not come, but I would go with my mother and grandmother. My grandmother’s cousins wore fur coats, they covered their hair in a style known as sıkmabaş, and their sons went to a private college. So, this was a rich, modern kind of family. Their children and my uncles were second cousins. There was a significant difference between our incomes. One of those family members, I called him “Uncle Ekrem” -I remember it very well- would buy me a toy from the Japanese Market on the ground floor of their building every time we went there. They were beautiful, high-quality toys made of wood. You could not break them. Toy trams, horse-drawn carriages or something; I really liked them. I’d console myself for a whole year with the dream of being given another one of those toys.

That person, the one I’d call “Uncle Ekrem,” was the manager at the Austrian Tobacco Company. When the war broke out, the Austrians left the Turkish market and the company was left to Uncle Ekrem. He then died in a plane crash. It was in 1947 or 1948. If I’m not mistaken, the plane crashed on the way to Germany. His family suffered a lot when that income was cut off. They had gotten accustomed to having plenty of money. On the other hand, the Nurettin Tekke was a well-known major center of spirituality in Atikali, just like the Sünbül Sinan Tekke in Kocamustafapaşa, like in a poem by Yahya Kemal of the same name (“Kocamustafapaşa”). How do I know? First of all, when walking past that place, you would invariably see someone offering a prayer in front of the prayer window; at nighttime there would be an oil lamp burning inside. If you entered through the main door of the tekke, that is, if you had a chance to see the inside of the shrine from the side, you could see the oil lamp inside as well. Now, imagine a child: it is nighttime, and there is no sunlight, there is an air of slight fear that instills in you a feeling that something strange and mystical may happen, like in old folk tales, quiet people, entering and exiting like ghosts.

The tekke was open and active at that time, right?

No, all the tekkes were closed. However, the shrine was open, and Fahreddin Efendi was there. What I am telling you now is what I remember seeing from the outside. But my father was a disciple of Fahrettin Efendi, the imam of the tekke, and all those private intimate conversations . . . that is a different story. Everybody would come and go, benefiting from that place. You could go in and out as you wished. The surrounding buildings were not tall apartment buildings. They were two-story, three-story houses with gardens, and they were separate from each another. This was not the case in Beyazıt. However, in Beyazıt there were a lot of masjids—the Soğanağa Masjid, for example. That masjid had its own congregation with an imam known by everyone in the neighborhood. An imam would do his job only and nothing else. A müezzin was only a müezzin. He would, for instance, not deal in books or anything. And at that time there were also street tradesmen, for example, tinsmiths. There was a certain tinsmith named Ahmed Efendi in Beyazıt; he was a half-hafız, having memorized half the Qu’ran, and he would sometimes go to a mosque in Kumkapı to perform or lead the afternoon prayer (salat al-asr) there, and he would fix tin items or water pipes in houses. My father would treat him to a meal and they would have lunch or dinner together. My father would ask him a few questions about religious law or doctrine, and on this and that. Shoemakers and shoe repairmen would pass through the street. Junk dealers would pass by, collecting refuse and all kinds of junk. These street vendors all had their particular way of shouting. Wafer seller, cotton candy seller, peppermint candy seller… For example, the peppermint candy seller would sing folk quatrains. These men would sell their stuff—that was their job. Invariably, there were simit sellers. And we still have them.

Sherbet sellers, milkmen and vegetable sellers . . .

I don’t remember vegetable sellers passing through the streets. But we had the boza sellers walking by on winter nights. I guess they still exist.

Sir, hearing you tell of these things has reminded me of a depiction of old neighborhoods right at the beginning of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar’s novel entitled “Those Outside the Scene.”.

Yes, this was what a typical neighborhood of the 1940s was like. Our building in Soğanağa had ten apartments in it. One of the residents, Mustafa Bey, bought a car; he was a merchant who had become rich partly because of the war, at least this was what some ladies said among themselves. Then the house next door was pulled down, and they started erecting a new building. This must have been 1953 or 1954. I remember watching the construction from our balcony, trying to see who was building it and how. Mehmet Bey, a merchant, was the contractor. We were renting our apartment. I mean, people’s status in the neighborhood did not change. We had a grocery store, a butcher, a greengrocer. My mother would usually go to the Çarşıkapı Market. Later, when I grew up, I started accompanying my older sister to the Wednesday Market. The Wednesday Market was very cheap. It was set up one day a week. We would go there by tram. I was able to carry two market baskets. We would buy what could be bought with a public servant’s salary. Things continued this way until around 1957 or 1958.

Now, sir, you live in Soğanağa; if you went up a bit toward the Beyazıt Square, from there you would go down to Aksaray. On the left side is the Beyazıt Madrasa. Around the madrasa are old and dirty coffeehouses.

Especially the famous Hasanpaşa Bakery. The simkeşhâne (goldsmiths and silversmiths bazaar) blocked the entire way on that road.

It was around Beyazıt Madrasa, maybe you are not old enough to remember that.

6- Wooden Mansions in Istanbul in 1950s

I might not have been old enough, yes. I now remember: there was a big building on the way down Mithatpaşa Road. The İhsan Sabri Building; it was one of the buildings in front of the Marmara Cinema, which was pulled down by Menderes. In those buildings there was a grocery store, the largest in Beyazıt. The owner, İhsan Sabri, had a son and a grandson. After my father’s retirement, we would do our monthly grocery shopping there. In the same place, there was a certain butcher by the name of Süleyman Efendi. Also a watch repairman, a döner kebab seller, and a stationery store. These were some of the stores that looked out on Beyazıt Square. Such was the atmosphere in Beyazıt. I also remember Emin Efendi Restaurant on the corner near Beyazıt Mosque. But we, of course, could not afford to go there. Last night, we were home, and I told the children a story related to that place, and we laughed a lot. There were shops in Beyazıt, right next to the tram, and one of them made döner over a coal fire. I said to my mother, “Mom, can we have some döner?” Could a woman enter the restaurant unaccompanied by her husband? “That is dirty, son! I’ll make you some at home,” she said. Of course, she could not make döner at home. She could make me meatballs. It was impossible: if my mom were to enter that place all alone, everybody would stare at her and ask things like, “Who is that woman?” “Why has she come here alone?” etc.

7- Saadettin Ökten

I want to bring the conversation here: there were quite shabby coffeehouses, stores, etc., around Beyazıt Madrasa, which was completely besieged by those shops to the point of being almost invisible. When you go down a little further, for instance -I think you are old enough to remember that- you had the famous Beyazıt Hamam (Public Bath), also known as Patrona Halil Public Bath. When we look at old photos, we can see that people erected buildings around it, like parasites attached to its walls. And above the adjacent buildings, we cannot see a public bath.

Well, I do not remember that. I do remember that the road narrows as it reaches the simkeşhâne. And it was a flat road. Then all of a sudden it started to curve toward Aksaray.

The Aksaray Hill… From Vezneciler it was the same way. It went toward Vezneciler, before the underpass was built by Turgut Bey [Özal].

Sure, the Fuat Pasha Mansion was on the same level as the road.

What else do you remember about things around Beyazıt?

Another thing I remember is scenes from the Grand Bazaar. The war is just over, and Turkey is literally down to nothing. There was another block of shops at the entrance to the Grand Bazaar; they were selling roasted chickpeas. Chickpeas gave off such a lovely, inviting smell as they were being roasted. I also remember glass sellers. They would hit the glasses on their baskets while shouting things like, “Imported glass! ‘Avrop’ [European] glass! It doesn’t break!”… Once when I was small I saw one of the glasses crack as one of them hit the basket! But the guy hid it immediately and took out another one. And he continued shouting, “Avrop! Avrop!” From the Grand Bazaar, I remember Şefizade Mehmet Bey, the fabric seller, and Dursun, the shoemaker. Mehmet Bey was from Dagestan; he kept a record book, and he wrote down whatever we bought in that book. Depending on the season, we bought printed cloth, cotton, wool, etc., and they were paid for when my father got paid at the end of the month. He never failed to buy me a toy as well, cardboard or wooden toys. The toy usually cost no more than 2.5 liras; if it was five liras, what a joy for me. I remember making my father buy me a ten-lira truck. I cried so little when I was a kid, but I cried my eyes out to make him buy that truck; it was a beautiful wooden truck, all for ten liras. It was completely handmade, probably a Turkish product. These are the kind of memories we grew up and were raised with.

8- A scene from the street between Eminönü and Unkapanı after the demolition of Fish Market. The empty space in the front used to be occupied by Fish Market, one of  the colorful corners of old Istanbul.

What do you remember about Ramadan? It’s said that Ramadan around Beyazıt was a very lively and joyful time.

I got to know Fatih Mosque before Beyazıt Mosque. And for the ‘Eid prayers we would go to Atikali Mosque. I got to know about the Beyazıt Mosque and Abdurrahman [Gürses] Efendi in my secondary school and high school years. I started secondary school in 1953 and graduated from high school in 1959. In those years, Ramadan was in the summertime. My father did not choose to come with us most of the time, but I, my older sister and my late mother would go to a different mosque every night for the tarawih prayers if it was a spring or summer Ramadan. For example, we would go to Nuruosmaniye to listen to Hafiz Hasan [Akkuş] Efendi’s Qur’an recitations. I remember that very well. And we would also listen to Abdurrahman Efendi. And there was also the second imam of Beyazıt Mosque, “the Red Imam,” as he was called. We did not know his real name. There was also the young müezzin. When it was the time for the prayer, he would shout “Sallū!” I remember these occasions. Beyazıt would be very pleasant around Ramadan. There was a great tradition of reciprocal Qur’an reading in Beyazıt Mosque. Some outstanding people would not fail to participate in the Qur’an readings after the afternoon prayer (salat al-asr) in particular. When it was about half an hour before the evening prayer (salat al-maghrib), they would check their pocket watches, saying things like, “Hafız Efendi is about to finish, let us slowly make our way!” or “My dear sir, please honor our humble house this evening!” And they would take home guests for the fast-breaking dinner. Well, back then, women were not able to object to such guests; for example, my father used to bring guests, and my mother wouldn’t say anything, but immediately put some more food on the table.

Would you go to the Sahaflar Bazaar (second-hand book sellers)?

I graduated from the science department of Vefa High School and went on to Istanbul Technical University. I was able to find some books related to my job in this bazaar, on subjects such as mechanics, physics, and mathematics, books that I couldn’t find anywhere else. Unfortunately my connection to Sahaflar was only as far as this technical stuff in those years. I got to know Şemsettin Yeşil and Muzaffer Ozak—both famous scholars—as well as Arslan Kaynardağ around the same time; they were very famous in the bazaar. I would look at Arslan Kaynardağ from afar because he was a leftist. His books attracted my attention; I didn’t dare get closer to him. Actually, the same thing happened with Yeşil Hoca and Muzaffer Hoca. Just like a shy lady, I would stand at the door, but did not have the courage to step in. That was our upbringing. I knew the flea market better. I had a bike and it naturally had many spare parts, like bolts, this and that, and it sometimes had to be repaired. Some junk dealers in the flea market took care of such minor repairs. My mom would get angry, and say, “Son, do not deal in such stuff! Show me what you have!” And at that time I learned the famous saying, “If people favored old stuff, beams of light would rain on the flea market!” Of course, we always bought second-hand when it came to things like a bicycle; my father was retired, we were students; one of my sisters was studying medicine, and the other chemistry.

9- A picture showing the state of Beyazıt Square in 1950. The tram on the right soon will turn around the pool, while the one on the left has already turned. If you go through the wooded road on the right, you can reach Küllük coffee house and Emin Efendi Restaurant (<em>Turistik İstanbul Rehberi</em>, Istanbul, 1950)

Those were the years when I discovered places like the Marmara Club and the Marmara Cinema. Mostly university students frequented the Marmara Club; we could not enter. Then we started going to the cinema. Not every movie, of course; we had to get my parents’ permission. The first film I went to was Istanbul’un Fethi [the Conquest of Istanbul], starring Cahit Irgat. I’ll never forget it: it was 1953, and I was finishing the fifth grade. The teacher gave us an assignment to watch that film. I remember that the Janissaries were attacking the Istanbul walls reciting Salat al-Ummiyya, and my mother cried. Of course, I was puzzled at the time about why she was crying. The recitation of Salat al-Ummiyya in a cinema film… That is, it being chanted so openly in public made her cry. There are a lot of similar anecdotes. I don’t recall the exact date, but it might have been between 1965 and 1969: our family heard a hymn on the radio for the first time. It was the hymn of the venerable Sufi Saint Aziz Mahmud Hudāyī in the maqam Hijāz; “Tevhide gel, tevhide… “ My aunt started sobbing. These anecdotes may provide some material for future sociologists, I presume. That is, why would a woman cry upon hearing Salat al-Ummiyya in a cinema film? It was a democratic beginning, and people had truly longed for such things. This was the difference between what came before and after 1950.

By the way, I haven’t asked you which primary school you went to.

I went to school at the Koca Ragıp Pasha Primary School, as my father called it. Its official name at the time was the Tenth Year Primary School. It was different from the buildings made in the first years of the Republic; it did not have an arch, or a dome, etc. Unlike the other schools in Fatih, it was a modern, two-story, brick building. It had, for example, central heating, unlike the others, which had stoves. Our lives were proceeding normally. In the meantime, the greatest event that I recall regarding Beyazıt Square was the funeral of Field Marshal Fevzi Çakmak. Our whole family attended. I can still clearly see before my eyes how his coffin was snatched from the hands of the military band and carried by what seemed a tremendous flood of people, or a tremendous consciousness. My family supported the Democratic Party. The party was saying, “We have embarked on the slippery path of elections!” For instance, Ahmet Emin Yalman was a member of the Democratic Party at the time. When the 1950 elections were held, we were in Kanlıca, in our summer house.

You owned a vacation home in Kanlıca?

No, we just rented a waterside residence there. It was a deserted mansion located between Kanlıca and Çubuklu; it had last belonged to Hüseyin Hüsnü Efendi1, one of the last sheikh al-Islam of the Ottoman State. We would stay in that mansion for four months during the summer and come back just at the beginning of the bluefish season to Beyazıt, because the schools would open. During our stay there in the summer, we would return to Istanbul occasionally, once or twice a month. The best seasons to be in Beyazıt were fall, winter, and spring.

Does the mansion in Kanlıca still exist?

That mansion was restored and sold. They built something similar to the old one, but the ambience is no longer there. What did I have see there? I saw Kanlıca and Çubuklu, two quiet villages. Kanlıca was an aristocratic Muslim village, while Çubuklu was a village of workers and commoners. Quiet and pious people living static lives. The same static life was in Atikali. Beyazıt was somewhat different. In Atikali and the places we went to for the summer, we could feel nature much more directly. That is, feeling life itself: the sky, the colors around us, the sun, the stars etc. You could not feel them as strongly in the midst of apartment life.

You went to Vefa High School, didn’t you?

10- Taksim Square after the Barracks of Artillerymen (Topçu Kışlası) was demolished and İnönü Park was founded in its place (<em>Cumhuriyet Devrinde İstanbul</em>)

Yes, Vefa High School. My years in Vefa High School were spent during the Menderes Government, the ill-tempered, combative opposition of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), and the resulting dilemmas Turkey found itself in. When the coup of 1960 occurred, I was a freshman in the Civil Engineering Department of the Istanbul Technical University. I remember the colonel’s voice on the radio, shouting “We are committed to NATO, CENTO. The Turkish Army has overthrown the government!” so on and so forth. Interestingly enough, there were two buses numbered T1 and T4, by which we could go to Taksim from Dolmabahçe or Unkapanı, and we could make it back home for lunch. There were four classes before noon and in the afternoon there were usually three, sometimes four classes. We would skip the fourth class before noon, take the T1 back to Soğanağa, and return to school after lunch. This would happen within two hours, between 12 and 2 P.M. On a warm April day, the street was crowded and we were out in Beyazıt Square, waiting for the bus. The square was quite empty. Then a group of mounted policemen appeared out of nowhere, and people started shouting, “Bloody dictators!” and singing a marching song. It turned out that they had rewritten the words of Gazi Osman Pasha’s march like this:

Is this a fitting attitude?
Do siblings shoot each other?
O bloody dictators
You think you’ll own this world?

That was the first time I ever encountered a student movement. I was probably seventeen or eighteen years of age. We got on the bus. Mounted policemen were chasing people, beating them with their batons. I did not see a gun. Children were throwing stones at the police. That was the kind of commotion in which I started university. I told myself, “Well, this is the situation, what can I do?” Later that day, they cancelled classes. The next day we went back, only to find a boycott of the universities. We were on our way to school by way of Taksim, and fifth-year students turned us around, saying: “There’s no school; there’s a boycott!” We were young boys just out of high school, too green to understand certain realities; we had no idea what a boycott was. We wondered if we were doing something wrong. These demonstrations continued in Beyazıt Square for some time. One mid-May evening at home, we were sitting together and an uproar broke out in the neighborhood, an extraordinary clamor. My father said, “Extinguish the lamps, watch from the open window.” It was possible to see the intersection from our home. We saw that tanks were driving through our neighborhood. “Dad,” I said, “tanks have come out of the barracks!” My father said, “Once they are out, they will not go back in unless they get what they are after!” He had witnessed the Incident of March 31st, the Mahmud Şevket Pasha Incident. He told us all about those incidents, and I was putting together the whole story, piece by piece. He had, for instance, seen the hanging of Kemal Bey, the governor of Boğazlıyan, in Beyazıt.

Throughout history, Beyazıt Square has witnessed numerous important events.

As these events were occurring, Beyazıt Square started taking on another character different from the place where we once fed the birds and listened to the Qu’ran recitations of Abdurrahman Efendi. The azans from the minarets of Beyazıt Mosque were truly beautiful. With no loud speakers, the müezzins would deliver the ezan with their naked voice, barely audible, but it would catch your attention. The city was quiet, no noise. Speaking of müezzins, I remember that we would overhear conversations while traveling on the T1 and T4 buses and learn a lot from them. There is a joke I like very much; I heard it from one of those conversations. The great clock of either the Gedikpaşa Mosque or the Azak Mosque was broken, and the müezzin puts it on his back, taking it to the watch repairman in Beyazıt. Madam Siranush has bought some food from Çarşıkapı and is heading home. When she sees the müezzin with a huge clock on his back, she goes, “Lo! You have no money to buy a pocket watch?!” These were Istanbul jokes and they were not told to humiliate anyone; this was folk life, Istanbul’s folk life. We would hear them on the bus, on the tram.

And then came the MTTB (The National Turkish Students Association) and the “Citizen, speak Turkish!” era started. They had to speak Turkish, but how? Then “citizens” left Turkey and we were left to ourselves. And then the Aydınlar Ocağı (Intellectuals Association) was founded. Dr. Süleyman Yalçın, the surgeon Asım Taşer… There was an office block called Karaağaç, and the Aydınlar Ocağı was based there. Dr. Izzet Bey, a specialist in urology, had a house there. After the death of the doctor, they made it an office block. His son, Siret Bey, was a pharmacist and had opened a pharmacy in Beyazıt. I was in my third year in college and I started to go there. I first listened to Tarık Buğra there. Bekir Topaloğlu also made a very eloquent speech there: “Women in Islam.” It was there that I saw Necip Fazıl for the first time as well. These are some colorful fragments from Beyazıt. Another fragment was the Nationalists’ Association. And in the meantime I was a member of the University Chorus. When I was attending a German course in 1962, Dr. Abidin Gerçeker was in our class. I do not know how, but he said, “If you are interested in Turkish music, I lead a chorus. Why don’t you come? It’s on the ground floor of Marmara Lokali.” The ground floor was actually a wedding hall; the chorus had its rehearsal sessions there. That’s how I became involved in the University Chorus. My interest and participation in this chorus continued for a fairly long time. That’s also how I met my wife. My relationship with music lives on. The first song we learned was in the maqam Bestenigâr by Haşim Bey: “Kaçma mecbûrundan ey âhû-yı vahşî, ülfet et.” [Do not escape the one who has no option, but you, O brutal gazelle; get closer.] Years later I heard Atilla İlhan’s poem, “I have no option but you,” which sounded very original, but such a theme had already been used much earlier in Haşim Bey’s song.

Did you use to stop by the famous Marmara Coffeehouse as well?

11- From Aksaray to Saraçhane… This was before Aksaray Square was turned into a functionless place by building the current over-pass.

Of course, but only after my father’s death. In the life of Celal Hoca [his father] there was only time for home and school and a little time for the Jerrahi tekke or for the Iskender Pasha congregation. I was, of course, a home-bound kid, able to go places only with my father’s permission. I got my freedom after my father’s death and that’s how I was able to go to the Marmara Coffeehouse. And this is what we call freedom. I got to know Ziya Bey—Ziya Nur Aksun, the historian. I was not like Mehmet Niyazi, who was staying in a dorm. He was my closest friend. Because he was staying in a dorm, he was able to go there very often; that is, he had more freedom than I had. I would still be uneasy when I went to the coffeehouse. One must not provoke people to say things like, “His father passed away and the boy got his long-awaited freedom!” I knew Brother Refik. He was older than me. Teşkilat Refik and Zaptiye Ahmet. These were some of the colorful figures from the Marmara Coffeehouse. God have mercy on him, Zaptiye Ahmet died at the age of twenty-seven. Brother Refik must still be alive; he had a great sense of humor and awesome jokes. In those years, Emin Işık Hoca’s nickname was the “Red Imam”. He started delivering Friday sermons first in the Soğanağa Mosque, and then in the Yakupağa Mosque.

When I finished the Technical University in 1964, I became an assistant in the same institution. After a few years as an assistant, I grew more self-confident and carved out for myself a place of some standing in the university. I started giving myself some license on Fridays. At that time, we went to school also on Saturdays, but I spent Fridays at home. We moved out of the apartment in Soğanağa and to another one near Laleli, our own property. We were paying monthly installments to Emlak Bank. At least we were not troubled by having to pay rent. I would attend Emin Hoca’s Friday sermons in the Yakupağa Mosque.

As far as I know Nurettin Topçu attended the same mosques as you.

Yes, Topçu Hoca came to the same mosques and would sit in the muezzin’s lodge on the upper floor. We sat towards the back of the mosque so that we could watch both Emin Hoca and Nurettin Topçu. After the mosque, we would go to a kebab restaurant, but Nurettin Topçu wouldn’t come. We young people, as members of the Nationalists Association, would go to the restaurant as a group. Kebab restaurants had started to open in Istanbul only recently. There had previously been a döner kebap restaurant in the blocks across from Marmara Cinema, and the cook would roast the kebab on over coals. There was a watch seller next door. He was a watch repairman; we didn’t know his house nearby, but his mansion in Kanlıca was everybody’s topic of conversation. The man had a waterfront mansion, next to the İsmail Ağa Coffeehouse, the second or the third mansion toward the Citadel. They said it was a narrow, thin mansion. Gradually, Adana Kebab restaurants and Antep Baklava shops started to open. The baklava shop was situated at the corner near Hasanpaşa Bakery. Anyway, Emin Hoca’s Friday sermons were really interesting; he would give an overview of philosophical issues and touch upon Kant, for example, Kantian ethics. Nurettin Bey liked it a lot. Sitting on the top floor, we were following them both, Emin Hoca and Nurettin Topçu, and paying particular attention to what kind of reaction Topçu would have [in response to examples like Kant]. Topçu would gently smile, and we would take pleasure in this scene. Then we would go to the kebab restaurant, but Topçu wouldn’t come along. And in the meantime, we started getting a great deal of pleasure from the Qu’ran recitations of Abdurrahman Efendi in Beyazıt Mosque. We would try to follow him in prayer, especially during prayers in which the leading imam recited the Qu’ran audibly, and in particular during the supererogatory tarawih prayers during the month of Ramadan. And the years of separation came. After seven years of working in the university as an assistant, I said to myself that it would be better to see what it was like in the United States and I went to study for a PhD there. I assure you, one of the things I missed most when I was in the U.S. was the Qu’ran recitations of Abdurrahman Efendi. That style, that musicality... We had thought that Abdurrahman Efendi did not know how to traverse between the maqams of Turkish music, but indeed he was a great performer given the maqams he recited the Qu’ran in. His art, his music was well hidden, embedded in his recitation; I have to mention this.

12- The activities of public development on Fatih-Edirnekapı Boulevard

Sir, if we do not mention the famous Marmara Coffeehouse of Beyazıt, this interview will be incomplete.

Yes, we should not continue without mentioning Enderuni Ismail Bey. When there was no space left for any more shops in the Sahaflar Book Bazaar, new book dealers found a building called Beyaz Saray, or “White House,” and opened their shops there. There is, I presume, a bank now at the entrance of Beyaz Saray. And our ağabey (brother) Ismail (Özdoğan, died on September 5, 2012) opened his bookshop called Enderun there. Famous book lovers would frequent his shop, first and foremost among them Mehmet Şevket Eygi, Şinasi Akbatu, Ertuğrul Düzdağ and Ali İhsan Yurt. I had previously met our brother Ali İhsan in his narrow shop in the Fahri Kiğılı Office Block. He was a member of the Nur congregation before; he was an elder-brother figure who viewed things from a rational angle and had a remarkable command of details, but got lost in the overall picture. İsmail Bey would serve dinners to break the fast during the month of Ramadan. The table would be set in the empty space in front of the shop, and we would have iftar (fast-breaking) dinners there that were soon to be sweet memories of the past. And that was Beyazıt.

13- The street between Edirnekapı and Beyazıt. It was a 30-meter wide street with a median strip beginning from Edirnekapı. It used to pass by Fatih Complex (Kulliyah) and from there go through Saraçhane and Şehzadebaşı and reach at Beyazıt (<em>İstanbul’un Kitabı</em>)

And there was also Book Dealer Suat; his shop was downstairs just before you left the building through the side door. He had unique interests and abilities of his own. Another close friend we loved was İsmail Ünalmış. He was a very interesting person with his own peculiar political comments and observations. The magic of Beyazıt has been disappearing. I mean, we do not have Abdurrahman Efendi anymore. Beyazıt is no longer a square; its upper section is a car park and the lower one is a passageway. Çınaraltı has been lost. In order to be called a “square” it must be able to attract people and provide them with security and peace of mind. When I am standing alone in the middle of the square, I fear being hit by a stray bullet that could come out of nowhere or I am wondering who might hit me as they are running or driving their car, and from which direction. This is just about it regarding my time in Beyazıt. People make places, but places also build people. In Istanbul people built this place. The first bulldozer was brought in by [Adnan] Menderes, and Turgut [Cansever] Bey brought it into its present condition. Our dear teacher Turgut Cansever… But now this place cannot build people because Turgut Bey’s project was not carried to completion. As Turkey has not ceased to have people, we can build such places again. At the very least, we must achieve a state in which we can preserve what we still possess. This is how we must view Istanbul. I was a personal adviser to Tayyip Erdoğan and Ali Müfit Gürtuna from 1994 to 2004, and to Mr. Kadir Topbaş for about two months. I suppose the things I said about the notions of city and culture were solemnly welcomed, but they evoked no response at all on their part. It was as if I were speaking to an empty space before me. I hope the generations to come after us will behave differently. We have money, we have knowledge, but we have no cultivation. Money and knowledge alone created such an Istanbul.

14- Şirket-i Hayriyye’s Paddle Steamer named “Bağdat”

How long did you live in Beyazıt?

I will never forget, we moved from Beyazıt in May 1970. That means we lived in Beyazıt for twenty-eight years, from 1942 to 1970. Beyazıt was central to our life. You know, in the late 1960s and 1970s bus companies started to open offices in Aksaray to sell tickets and they slowly made it up to Beyazıt. As more and more bus company ticket offices opened, hotels also began to be opened there. As an increasing number of ruined buildings were turned into hotels and motels, there came a time when we became tired of living in Beyazıt. We left, and where did we go? To Beşiktaş, and then to Baltalimanı, and finally to Mecidiyeköy, where my father used to take me on excursions as a child.

You would go on excursions?

Yes, during my elementary school years, my father used to take me from school in the spring; there was a public bus from Beyazıt to Mecidiyeköyü and we would take it. The last stop on the tram line was Şişli; the tram did not go any further. That was the old tram garage; in its place the Cevahir Shopping Center stands today. Yes, we used to go to Mecidiyeköy, because there were mulberry gardens there. There were things like swings, the Ferris wheel; things were very simple, primitive... I also remember the train. I would ride the train and each ride was twenty-five kuruş. Some youngsters would push that train. My father would sit under a tree and open a book.

We’re talking about Mecidiyeköy?

Yes, Mecidiyeköy. There were mulberry gardens at what is now Ortaklar Road. And on our way back we would buy mulberries. This is the picture.

Sait Faik talks about that place in his story called “The Valley of Violets.”

Of course, below was a valley.

How long did you live in Mecidiyeköy?

We lived for a total of nineteen years in that unfortunate neighborhood, and in Erenköy for the next few years. But my relationship with Beyazıt never ended. I was able to appreciate the importance of Beyazıt Çınaraltı after my travels abroad. We had conversations with Kaya Bilgegil and Nihat Çetin. These all took place in the summer; they were fantastic times. It was a time when the famous Sahaflar was still its true self. The vitality of Beyazıt Square was destroyed when a main road was built through it. The vitality of the entire district disappeared. The textile and leather garment industry that had already been thriving in Aksaray started to creep into Beyazıt and things were turned completely upside down.

Now let us go back a bit, if you like. We are in the 1950s; you were born in 1942. When the construction boom took off you were in high school. So you easily...

15- Üsküdar Square, Mihrimah Sultan Complex (Kulliyah) and the Fountain of Sultan Ahmet III

… remember everything. Yes. We never ceased to be amazed: “Oh, they have demolished that place too!?”

I am really curious about what you felt and what your family thought about these events and how they interpreted them. What do you remember from those days?

Now, there were two important aspects to this change. One was that mosques were being restored: their rugs were being replaced, tiles repaired etc. The people around us were very happy because of this. The reason is that they did not see the places that were being demolished. We did not either. People were talking, but when people from our own social class who were seeing their workplaces demolished began to spread the word in places like the fish markets in Eminönü and Unkapanı, then the second aspect appeared. We all started hearing complaints such as: “They are restoring mosques on the one hand, but on the other our shop is gone! I had a workplace that I had inherited from my father. What do I do now?”

Some mosques were demolished in the meantime, of course.

16- Üsküdar pier and Square in 1950s. Gülnuş Emetullah Sultan Mosque is on the right. The cone of its minaret was broken. The tomb of Gülnuş Emetullah Sultan is right
    next to the mosque. The tomb is an open-top building with no ceiling and receiving rain water.

Yes, some of the mosques were demolished. They were in the forefront, and were particularly noticeable. Reasons were given, such as: “The tram was unable to pass through that narrow space between the buildings. Also, that road was already in need of expansion,” and so on. So we came up with two different pictures. How can you put it…? Think of these differences as two equal halves. That’s how it was in 1960. And when the coup d’etat was staged, we heard a lot of people making remarks like: “It serves him right! He was cursed by so many people who were hurt by the demolitions.” On the boulevard leading up to Edirnekapı from Fatih, they lowered the level of the road, and in so doing they cut down a lot of trees. Old women would say things like, “See? They cut the trees and incurred the wrath and curse of Sultan Mehmed II, the Conqueror!” At the time, the notion of giving building plots to contractors in return for apartments did not exist. There were no building contractors in Istanbul yet. Nobody had the time or the vision to stop and try to see the big picture of Istanbul and think things like, “Istanbul is an ancient city; every one of its stones is imbued with meaning.” People just had simple, everyday concerns.

Human beings are like that. As long as they aren’t personally affected... Sir, can you talk a little about the scenes that you saw during this construction phase?

I watched the demolition of the Eminönü Fish Market. They had brought large construction equipment from the army. We had never seen such huge pieces of equipment, like the bulldozer.

Where exactly was the Fish Market?

You know the Ahi Çelebi Mosque? It was there. A full-fledged marketplace. They had everything there. It was the Fish Market, but there were clothes, wholesale food, accessories -whatever you wanted. In those years, if somebody told you, “I’m going downtown,” you would understand that they were going to Eminönü. And on the other side, on the Karaköy side, there were construction materials, fishing lines, and hunting and fishing equipment, if you were interested in the sea, like me. On this side were clothes, boots and leather jackets. For example, drivers wore leather jackets. Serious people did not wear leather jackets; that was unacceptable. Drivers also wore signet rings so that they could sell them if they were broke. At that time, construction companies came into play. Demolition teams entered Beyoğlu as well. But I do not know much. We would not go there often. Maybe once or twice a year. It was not proper to go there.

About those who went to Beyoğlu frequently, people would say, “He is frequenting that place again!” Moreover, they would think this person had become an unbeliever. I read it in a book by Falih Rıfkı. And, sir, by the way, I did not know about your interest in fish and the sea.

I think I inherited this interest from my grandfather. That is what my father used to tell me. My grandfather passed away in an accident while repairing a boat. I still have that interest. My late father was not interested in the sea. But he never objected to my interest. When I was in high school, I made myself a boat out of cloth to float along the Bosphorus.

A boat made from cloth?

Yes, from American canvas. You first make a wooden frame, in the form of a boat. You stretch the cloth over the frame and when you paint it, it becomes waterproof. This adventure started with that simple boat and it still continues.

You were a good swimmer then, I guess.

Oh, yes. I was a good swimmer and a good diver, too.

You were well acquainted with Istanbul’s fish culture of that time as well. when we speak of the city’s “fish culture,” what does this mean to the people of Istanbul ?

For example, in this season we should have turbot, but the season is over; they won’t come until next year. When we were Kanlıca in the summer -the idyllic, immaculately clean waters of the Bosphorus flowing in front of us- we would swim. Mackerel abounded there also. For amateur fishermen there was pickerel. If you were a bit more professional than that, you could catch a lot of small bluefish, and then toward the fall, you would have big bluefish. If you had a boat, you could catch bluefish with bait. At the time, I did not have one, so I could only catch horse mackerel and blotched pickerel from the coast. We would always wish for school not to open so we could stay a little longer. Then years later when I became a disciple of the tekke, Safer Efendi forbade me from all such activities involving the killing of animals.

17- Sadettin Ökten in the yard of Valide-i Atik Madrasa watching Istanbul from the
    hills of Üsküdar

Is that so?

It is. He said, “In our tekke all kinds of hunting and fishing are forbidden for the dervishes, so you will not do it anymore!” And so I didn’t.

But now you do.

No, I don’t. Now I cast my fishing line once or twice, but I catch nothing.

Ahmed Mithat Efendi and Ahmed Rasim talk about this at length. “Those who cannot recognize a bluefish cannot be real Istanbulites,” they remark. Ahmed Hamdi Tanpınar depicts in his novel Huzur the scene of a nighttime bluefish hunt -do you remember that?

I do not remember Huzur, but for example they would use lanterns in İstinye, Tarabya Bay, Çubuklu Bay, and Beykoz Bay and go on a bluefish hunt. I know that much. But I never went on such a fishing trip.

Tanpınar describes such a scene as: “The illuminated opera of the bluefish hunt.”

It was indeed so.

Their depictions of those catching bluefish with flashlights, the light from the flashlights reflecting on the sea surface, and so on, are so exquisite. Have you ever been on such a nighttime bluefish hunt?

No, I never have. It’s partly on account of this reality: you either had to have a well-off friend, or you’d have to be a bit of a drinker. I neither had such a friend, nor was I a drinker. But now I have such a friend in Datça. I had a friend named Burhan, like an elder brother. He passed away. He also reportedly went on such nighttime bluefish hunts. They apparently lived in a mansion in Kanlıca. He had two boats, each with two sets of oars, and he would go to Kabataş in them. He was probably born in 1920. During an influx of fish, he launched the boat, took a friend with him -of course, we’re talking about two able-bodied young men- and they rode with all their might and went on a hunt for baited bluefish or bonito, I am not sure which one. But they did go on nighttime hunts. It was not the case with us. I did not go many times, but I would see and be delighted by those scenes. It was a distinct pleasure.

Yes, Ahmed Rasim talks about the same thing.

Absolutely. The bluefish is a very smart and strong fish. We were building a summer house in the late 1970s in Hereke. At that time we went on a small bluefish hunt in a motor boat pulling a so-called “spoon” or a “spoon back.” Of course, it’s not like bluefish, but still it’s a nice fish. On a baited bluefish hunt -you would talk to the fish underneath the water- if you do not pull up the fishing rod on time, the bluefish cuts the line. It swims very fast and cuts the line just like that. That’s how it is. Those environments really influenced me. For instance, the Kanlıca Coffeehouse, the clock-room, the mosque, the pavilion of Raif Efendi, a deputy of Erzurum, the house of my father’s Persian teacher, Ziya Şükûn from Dârü’l-Fünûn (an Ottoman-era university) just up the road; down the road the waterfront mansion of Yağlıkçı Ahmed Bey, the sea adventures of his oldest son Burhan, our elder brother. This is the kind of picture I have of Kanlıca. Kanlıca, a village cut off from Istanbul. Steamships… You travel for an hour, a completely different picturesque setting. The people are different; life is different and flows in slow motion. You see nature in all of its beauty. The mansion we stayed in did not even have electricity or running water. There was a well. We would draw the water from there.

In the 1930s Kanlıca was reportedly illuminated with gas lamps hanging on poles. There was not even coal gas yet.

During the years we went there Kanlıca had electricity, but the mansion did not have it. My mother would light a gas lamp. That lamp gave life a terrific romantic quality.

It gives a romantic quality. But streets were illuminated with gas lamps hanging on poles. Starting from the 1900s, the Bosphorus fell into serious collapse and dilapidation. With the collapse of the Ottoman aristocracy, it became increasingly more difficult to look after those huge mansions.

Of course, who is going to look after them?

As you said, you’d spend some time in a mansion and pay a certain rent. So there were probably a lot of people doing the same thing in those years.

But only people who were content with those conditions. For example, many of my mother’s relatives would come to visit us for a day or to stay overnight, and they would say, “Oh, we cannot stay here!” You wanted to feel a northeaster? You had to pay the price. But now even those northeasters are no longer there. The construction of so many buildings has blocked the natural circulation of the wind.

Well, it has even affected Istanbul’s sunlight.

Of course, because the spread of the carbon forms a layer in the sky, thus blocking light and so on coming from above.

That is, the construction of large apartment blocks, skyscrapers, etc., has changed the climate of the city. Therefore, those chemical formations have also modified the structure of the light. Nobody has examined this aspect of the problem adequately.

Maybe universities will from now on seek answers to questions such as, “How did it happen? How did it develop? Why did it happen like that?” For example, I remember it very well: The wind comes down from Kayışdağı and cools the coast. Now, the building of eight or ten-story apartment blocks on the coast has rendered places in and around Erenköy, Suadiye and Bostancı unlivable. Why? Because they have erected huge masses of concrete in the way of the wind that once swept the coast. When it climbs over the first row of buildings, there is one more and one more. All in all, the wind cannot go beyond those buildings. It is a kind of air conditioning.

Yes, this was not the case in the urban texture of the Ottoman era, as there were always only low structures.

Structures were low, there was low population density, and there was a lot of green. Now everywhere is made of concrete. Concrete absorbs heat. And when the night comes, it begins to give it out. The city cannot cool down until 2:00 or 3:00 A.M. And the sun rises again in a few hours. What I mean is the city has become an energy store. For example, I live in a village in Beykoz. No matter how hot the day may be, the air cools down after the sun goes down. Why is that? Because all the surrounding areas are green. So there is nothing to absorb the temperature. Only the walls of the house absorb a little heat.

It appears that the old Istanbul was actually a garden city.

Exactly. A garden city, a heavenly city, a mystical city. A city where people might be poor but they lived in contentment. But this poverty and discomfort led these once mystical people in different directions. I believe they should not have been that poor. Let them have heating, running water that does not freeze. But oddly enough when they obtained these, this is how they have ended up.

But this poverty did not come about overnight. We’re talking about the last two hundred years.

Sure. And maybe the last hundred years.

And also the infamous fires of Istanbul . . .

. . . exercised a very negative impact.

A single fire devours everything along its course. For example, the fire of 1918. In an article, Semavi Bey depicts it: The whole of the Aksaray and Fatih vicinity was nothing but empty lots of burned down houses. Mansions, mosques, madrasas- everything was burned. A magnificent heritage was burned. And probably because of the economic recession they found themselves in, they built smaller, simpler structures -almost shelters- in which to dwell to replace the burned down mansions. So every disaster, earthquake, and fire seems to have contributed to the process by which Istanbul became shabbier and shabbier.

It is true. In the past, the state provided the lumber for construction. And then all of a sudden it is unable to do that. People ceased having large incomes. And anyway they were surrounded by wars on all sides.

You have a conception of civilization, sir. Do you have a project, a dream? How else could it be? What can be done from this point on?

Honestly, this is what I think: If this society is to carry its identity to the next century by reinterpreting it, all of the data we currently have at hand is data from a particular conceptualization of civilization and from a mental and spiritual system of abstract thoughts and feelings reflecting onto life. They were right and beautiful for a particular era. But now we cannot live by trying to create the same data. And that this is impossible has been proven by what I have seen and experienced for myself in the last five decades. What’s going to happen, I cannot know that. What we urgently need is a new interpretation of our civilization. What do we do with this city? We are going to demolish it. At the very least, we are going to pull down everything in the historical peninsula except for things with historical value and make it a decent place. What shall we do with the huge apartment blocks that we have built everywhere? Well, at the moment even I do not believe it, but we will demolish them as well. The rest will remain. No matter at what cost, we will do it. Why I am saying is this, you know it and I know it more or less; we have been to so many world cities. This savageness, this vandalism does not exist anywhere else. And especially in Europe, it absolutely does not.

They did the same in Paris, sir.

Even that looks very human compared to what we have seen here. At the very least in Istanbul’s central locations, such as Üsküdar, we are obliged to make some particular locations livable again and enable them to give us an image and a spiritual message, reminding us of the sweet memories of the past. And we are going to pay a price for it. Does this civilization travel toward such a destination? Well, I am optimistic. I think it will. Why? Because it has not been achieved with either the policies of Republican era or capitalism. I say, God willing, whatever the price, we will provide our city with livable spaces that will not be the mere repetition of the past, but rather its continuation.

I hope that this will be the case.


1 Sheikh al-Islam Hüseyin Hüsnü Efendi was the maternal uncle of Mahir İz (ö.1974) and Prof. Dr. Fahir İz (ö. 2004). He died in the mansion at Çakal Burnu in Çubuklu. See also Sarım Hüsnü Çelebioğlu, Şeyhülislam Erzurumi Çelebizade Hüseyin Hüsnü Efendi’nin Hal Tercümesi, Istanbul: Dizerkonca Matbaası, 1958; İsmail Hami Danişmend, Osmanlı Devlet Erkanı: Sadr-ı A’zamlar (Vezir-i-A’zamlar), Şeyh-ül-İslamlar, Kapdan-ı Deryalar, Baş Defterdarlar, Küttablar; Istanbul: Türkiye Yayınevi, 1971, pp. 159-160; Mehmet İpşirli, “Hüseyin Hüsnü Efendi”, DİA, vol 18, pp. 552-53; Mahir İz, Yılların İzi, Istanbul: Kitabevi, 1990, p. 17.

This article was translated from Turkish version of History of Istanbul with some editions to be published in a digitalized form in 2019.