Sorry, party’s closed

Huge beach boulevards that smell of sea and fried fish. Tanned cops popped out from a 80s movie show, featured by sideburns or dark moustache. Snowstorms one day and clear sky the day after. French phrases sometimes enriched by some Italian expressions. Casinos, cocktails, roaring luxury cars and, yes, Russian cathedrals. That’s what Nice is, a crossroad of cultures, desires and people.

This French city, which is also the capital of the so called “French Riviera” (or as the French people call it in their classy language, “Côte d’Azur”), has a special and unique celebration known as “Nice Carnival”. This exciting event, held annually in February, features a huge parade with satirical characters on carts, masquerades and several competitions. When you see it for the first time, it looks like a blend between a Brazilian Carnival and a fashion parade: funny and grotesque characters animate the streets with music and dances, while models, dressed with beautiful costumes, throw flowers at the spectators. This latter practice is called “Bataille des Fleurs” (“War of Flowers”), during which 100 000 flowers are thrown to people. During the last night of Carnival, the “King”, which is the main featured character of the celebration, is set on fire. People of Nice like to emphasize the short durability of power.


The “Bataille des Fleurs”

However, there has been a slightly annoying problem this year. The celebration was held in a confined space, delimited by huge barriers and walls restricting the view. For the first time, people, and even citizens of Nice, had to pay to see it; fees ranged from 5 to 26 €. A festivity set up for the pleasure of partying all together was thus “killed” according to citizens. “I can’t stand it! It’s all a business now, it’s all for tourists and the rich!” muttered one man at one of the gates. I was astonished too when I had to circumvent the long array of walls, by heading north of the city, during one of my runs.

But why all these ugly walls are covering and hiding one of the most colorful festivities of France? Nice deputy of Tourism Rudy Salles highlights it’s all a matter of security, since people wouldn’t come to it if they didn’t feel safe enough. The fear of the 14 July 2016 attack that killed 86 people and wounded 458 in the “Promenade des Anglais” is still present. A huge army has been thus deployed to control the celebration and maintain a high level of security: 200 police officers at the entrances, 50 cameras, several elite snipers on the rooftops and many groups of soldiers and elite forces scattered around the perimeter. Indeed, all of this had been made with a considerable cost. That’s why you have to pay now to watch and enjoy Nice Carnival.


The last night of Nice Carnival. Credits : debs-eye

But is it worth it?

When I was there, peeping through the holes of the walls, I didn’t see so many people inside. Also, some of the seats of the grandstands were empty. Was it really a success? Putting high barriers between the crazy party and a city that is struggling to recover from a dramatic event, seems like a way to deepen the scars and the dissatisfaction of the people.





Monumentale: when art dissipates death with beauty

The Cimitero Monumentale is the most important graveyard of Milan, Italy, where renowned citizens are buried.

The Famedio is the main building of Cimitero Monumentale

Memory is crucial to remember great people who have passed away and keep them alive in our hearts: their examples and their lives inspire us to follow our passions and achieve amazing things. Art is often used for this goal, by creating impressive works which encompass history, time, loss and human emotions. Indeed, the Cimitero Monumentale is one of these special places where art, nature and funerary tradition are well combined.

The Tomba Morgagni, made by sculptor Enzo Bifoli, combine oriental spirituality with neoclassical aesthetics

But there’s more, because this museum “en plein air”, dedicated to Milanese history, is a monument to all kind of cultures, arts and ethnicities. The main building, the Famedio, is a typical example of XIX century eclecticism, combining Gothic, Byzantine and Romanesque art. In the park, there are sculptures and artworks inspired by ancient civilizations, such as pyramids, Greek temples and paleo-Christian carvings, or by more modern artistic trends, for instance expressionism or neoclassicism. The Monumentale is a funerary symbol built for the sake of memory and humanhood.

The ceiling of the Famedio seems more the one of mosque than one of a crypt

Designed by architect Carlo Maciachini, the graveyard was established in 1866. From that moment on, notable people were buried there, such as writer Alessandro Manzoni, philosopher Carlo Cattaneo, painter Francesco Hayez, poets Salvatore Quasimodo and Alda Merini, sculptor Medardo Rosso and many more. There are even sections dedicated to Jews, Armenians, Non-Catholics and Atheists.

The small graves of dead Jewish children

Exoteric symbols are scattered all around the place. My guide, Vittorio Castracane, showed me the most emblematic ones, such as the Templar Cross, the phoenix and the winged hourglass. Symbols like these, alongside the Acacia leaf and the Square and Compasses, can be found in freemasons’ graves and Freemasonry artwork. Indeed, the Crematory Temple, the place in which the bodies are burnt down, was built by Alberto Keller, a Milanese freemason and a rich entrepreneur.

The Square and Compasses and the Eye of Providence are typical symbols of Freemasonry

Great Italian architects built the most amazing funerary structures. For instance, Antonio Bernocchi’s tomb, made by Giannino Castiglioni, represents an impressive Babel Tower with sceneries about human history. Even sculptors have a central role in giving to each grave a unique touch. Adolfo Wildt made expressionist and eclectic bronze sculptures, by putting on them a specific mixture of urine and bat guano to create a glowing green color. Giacomo Manzù and Giò Pomodoro established more modern artworks, focusing on their intimate research of life and existence.

The Babel Tower created by Giannino Castiglioni

What’s striking about the place is that you quickly forget it’s a graveyard, since its eclectic art and ambiance make it seems more to a museum. Death becomes a mean to express the inner beauty of people and of the world through art. Even in sadness and loss, hope and life are still present.

An amazing sculpture about Nature made by Adolfo Wildt

More importantly, the whole set of artistic styles displayed in the Monumentale help us understand that nobody is different when facing death: colors, sex, social status, religion, occupation and wealth fade away. So, why not using the art from all around the world to win death with beauty?

Not an angel, but a beautiful woman with butterfly wings! A typical element of the Liberty artistic style

The only thing people can do to remember their dead is to create art for the sake of memory, feelings, virtues and good deeds, as it was highlighted by Italian poet Ugo Foscolo (and others such as John Keats) in his wonderful poem ” Dei Sepolcri “.

I’d like to give my special thanks to Vittorio Castracane, a great friend and a good guide, that showed me some hidden wonders and explained them to me.

Running: a lifestyle conquering the world

Running has become a huge trend in a lot of world’s societies. It’s common to see flocks of runners swarming in the streets and parks of Paris, Milan, Berlin, New York and many other cities. More than a sport, running has become a real passion and a way of life. Famous people and VIPs like Jennifer Lawrence, Hugh Jackman, Justin Timberlake, Oprah Winfrey and many others have become adepts of this rising practice.

In the last few years, there has been a slight decrease in people participating to U.S. marathons and running competitions. Still, there has been a worldwide growth of 13.25 % in marathon running between 2009 and 2014. Asia has the greatest rates of marathon participation, by showcasing an amazing increase of 92.43 % between 2009 and 2014, with China, Russia and Philippines leading the chart.

However, Europeans keep being the fastest marathon runners in the world with Spain, Portugal, Luxembourg and Iceland at the top of the ladder.

Physical, economic and mental benefits

But why so many people are starting to run and roam in cities, parks and countrysides? Are there real benefits? Yes!

First, running is cheap, simple and easy, since you just need to get a good pair of running shoes, comfortable clothing and then you’re ready to go.

Moreover, it improves your life expectancy, since runners can live 3 years more than non-runners according to a recent medical research in cardiovascular diseases.

Another positive element is that you don’t need to run a lot to get some benefits. Even running 30-60 minutes per week improves health and lowers body fat. And do not forget it is also good for sex life!

More than a simple sport

Running doesn’t have only economic and physical benefits, but even psychological ones. I often run when I need to let off some steam, to think and focus more on my goals, to enjoy a sunny and pleasant day and even when I’m heartbroken (it works, trust me). In short, running helps you improve your daily life and your mental health.

Whether you run with other people or by yourself, it’s always a good activity that enhances reflection, health, sex life and positive attitude, by keeping challenging your body and mind. To get things more interesting and compelling, there are good applications such as Runtastic that add more fun to it.

So, why not try? Start running for a couple of kilometers and see how it goes. It’s hard at the beginning and the rewards come later, but you’ll soon know it’s worth it.


Last thoughts on Istanbul

A universe full of worlds, all put in one big city rising between two lands, divided by a strait of sea water and mountains. A metropolis in which you can find at the same time bazars, filled with merchants selling animals, spices, electronic devices, leather goods, clothing and lanterns, and high skyscrapers, outlining the scarlet and golden horizon during sunsets and sunrises. Sounds like a magic place, but it’s real. It’s Istanbul.

I’ve been exploring the city for 11 days, by discovering a lot of wonders and meeting people from a lot of countries and cultures. As I said in my previous articles, Istanbul is one of the world’s doors, a huge crossroad filled with the beauty of history and humanity.

Indeed, the city, inhabited by nearly 15 million people (that’s the greatest city in Europe and 7th in the world), is in a dramatic situation right now. Istanbul is the stage of a great clash between progressive and conservative forces. Moreover, the city is populated by a lot of refugees coming from Syria and other Arabic nations. This leads to the development of ghettos and neighborhoods often shut to people from other cultures or languages. For instance, “Tarlabasi”, the ghetto of the Kurds, is one of them.

Nevertheless, the people in Istanbul constantly strive to keep the true spirit of their country, which is based on mutual respect, tolerance and warm openness. In times in which populism and extremism are spreading worldwide, the examples of some brave Turkish activists, journalists and citizens are encouraging and amazing. I saw the authentic passion for what they’re fighting for. They still believe in good change, constructive dialogue and a better world. We should take inspiration from them.

This ancient city had been a marking experience for me, since it was my first on-the-ground experience as an independent reporter and journalist. I built my own network by sending mails, meeting people randomly and going to specific places not knowing what will happen to me.

I found friends, fascinating travelers and unique people. Everyone left something in my soul. A lot of other stories enriched my story. I won’t forget Istanbul and its ancient history depicted in a great picture encompassing old mosques, ruins, palaces, skyscrapers, malls and hardened conflicts.

Most importantly, I will remember the faces of the great people I met, since they’re the living story of Istanbul, of Turkey and of our world.


Cumhuriyet battles for democracy and independent journalism

As Turkey is dealing with a rising conservationism and more authoritarian institutions that suffocate any thought or attempt of opposition, there are still some people advocating for freedom of expression and democracy.

For instance, human rights and feminist organizations still promote a more open and varied society. Yet, the path that leads to victory is long and thorny.

But the key elements that could change Turkey’s political and socio-cultural setting are media. Indeed, around 70 % of media belong to president Erdogan political party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP). Especially, television and press play a crucial role in shaping public opinion that fits in the government’s propaganda.

Aydin Engin, one of the accused journalists of Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, calls them “governmental organs”. He and 16 of his colleagues are currently on trial, accused of being “terrorists” that work “against the government”. Twelve of them were in jail, till the first trial hearing occurred in July 24 in which 7 of them were released. “At the beginning, I had to go to jail too. Then, they told me I was too old, so they let me free,” Engin says.

Problems with the government …

Since the Kafkaesque purge started by Erdogan after the failed coup of last year, around 150 journalists have been imprisoned, even some foreigners too, and more than 170 media outlets have been shut down. Moreover, Engin emphasizes that a lot of “independent” media have become sterile and not efficient channels of information. “That’s why we call them among us “penguin media”. Because during the Gezi Resistance all of them ignored the big news and showed documentaries about penguins,” he says.

Cumhuriyet, which is considered as the reference newspaper of Turkey and one of the oldest media outlets of the country, constantly seek news that can hurt Turkish government unethical dealings and secret affairs. The “MIT Tirlari” affair, occurred in 2014, is one of them. Basically, the Turkish intelligence service (MIT) was sending trucks loaded with weapons and ammunitions to ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and other extremist Islamic rebels in Syria.

… And financial troubles

This led to a several attempts from Turkish government to shut down the newspaper, but since they couldn’t do it, they introduced a harsh advertisement embargo that prevent any company or person to buy any ad space available in the website or in Cumhuriyet printed version. “We are not only blocked by criminal suits but also by strict financial measures […] When we get our wage at the end of the month, we give ourselves a standing ovation and ask ourselves if we will achieve to get it next month too…,” Engin highlights.

Aydin Engin

Some international and national solidarity organizations are helping the media outlet to overcome its monthly expenses and its financial problems.

Interestingly, Cumhuriyet is a media outlet without a real boss or owner, since it is based on a foundation composed by its own fellow journalists. There are some strong and weak points, of course. On one hand, it’s hard to get a promotion or a salary rise, on the other hand the medium isn’t linked to political parties or private companies.

This leads to a company in which journalists strive to find appealing news and good scoops, by building a relationship with its readership based on confidence and reliability. That’s why Erdogan’s repressing this independent news outlet. The Turkish leader wants to create a nation whose knowledge comes from a single source, based on government propaganda and conservative beliefs.

The big vs the small, an old story

Italian journalist Dimitri Bettoni says there’s a steady replacement of Turkish cultural elite, since new political and economic key players settled down after the failed coup and subsequent purges. “There are some jointed forces that are trying to dominate the political and cultural panorama. There’s no division,” he says. It seems like a David vs Goliath story, with the exception that Goliath forces could win this time.

“We serve only the people”

Whether it could be the end of Cumhuriyet or not, Engin says “At the end of the trial we may get convicted. But we are determined to fight until the end […] We serve only the people.”


People of Istanbul

Here’s a gallery of several pictures I took during my Istanbul trip. There are people from all nationalities and walks of life, since Istanbul is a huge crossroad where you can easily meet travelers (and not normal tourists!), locals and migrants from all ethnicities, cultures and religion.

Let’s start with this guy. He works in a restaurant close to Istiklal Caddesi. The place is pretty hard to find, since it is well hidden from the huge crowd of Istanbul’s main commercial street. No tourists at all, only locals. I was immediately fascinated by his character. I asked him to take a picture after eating a good Muhlama (a Turkish cheese fondue).

This Syrian girl (who’s much probably a refugee) was playing a drum close to the docks of ferry boats. Her eyes caught my attention, it seems she’s playing that instrument as a robotic machine, by thinking to other things. I wonder what kind of things …

This carpet and ceramic merchant is an astute trader. During one of the first days, he took me to his shop, offered me a good cup of tea and displayed his stuff. “What carpet do you like?” He asked. “That one” I replied. “It’s yours for 280 Turkish liras”. I laughed and then I said I didn’t want to spend so much money. “What’s the price of something that will bring you good luck?”. I answered, “80 liras”. He looked at me with amazement. “Ok, it’s yours for only 140 liras, because you’re a nice guy and you’re my first customer. Selling you something will bring me luck”. After bargaining for 10 minutes, I got my carpet for 100 liras. I paid in cash and as soon the merchant grasped my banknote, he passed it to his lips, reciting some words in Turkish that will bring him good fortune to his business during that day.

This kid was playing in a fountain close to the Blue Mosque. The day was hot, but he seemed interested by the almost magical features of water which was flowing through his fingers. Beautiful.

Behold my personal masseur of the Sofular Hamami. This ancient Ottoman Hamam was a great place to discover. There people don’t speak English and most of the guests are locals. Luckily, human gestures are universal and I could get a complete treatment with sauna, skin cleaning and massage. A great and pleasant experience.

One of the cartoonists of Cumhuriyet that I met during my visit at the newspaper’s HQ.

An old-fashioned pop-corn seller. He just puts some corn in his pot and then, after a series of pops, the hot pop-corn is put in plastic bags. Of course, the best customers are children. Then, what better place than selling them in a playground in Gezi Park?

Meet Daniel André from Santa Catarina, Brazil. His bright smile caught immediately my attention. If you wanna have some good vibes and positive moments, that’s the right guy to find.

Alexis is a French traveler from Nantes. He journeyed for weeks in Turkey, by visiting the huge lake of Van, the Black Sea, the cities close to Syrian and Iranian borders and, finally, come to Istanbul to end the first part of his trip. Next stop Bulgaria, maybe Romania, and who knows what other countries! Fascinated by oriental poets such as Rumi, he writes poetry too. Safe travels my friend and fellow artist.

Maruan has been one of my closest friends here in Istanbul. Originally from Mosul, Iraq, he taught me a lot of things about Muslim culture and some words in Arabic too. He’s the perfect “Mu’allim” (“Teacher” in Arabic). Despite hardships faced during his life in Iraq (ISIS, war, poverty, unemployment, losses), he still has hope for a brighter future, even if the past is hard to forget.

She’s the cook of an Ethiopian restaurant, located in the multi-ethnic neighborhood of Yenikapi. The good smell of her cuisine led me to her. So, I just asked if I could take a picture of her wonderful face.

Another cook, but of a Pakistani restaurant close to Yenikapi metro station.

Alper is a great friend. He was really kind to take me to one of the best places to drink “Boza”, a traditional drink made of fermented wheat that is spread not only in Turkey, but also in Eastern Europe and Asian countries such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

I finish my portrait gallery with this picture. This is Godson, the receptionist of the hostel I was staying at. We had great philosophical discussions during night time. He’s from Tanzania and he’s curious of everything. He’s currently studying business at Istanbul University. His character and his clever eyes took my attention. But what thrilled me was his endless stream of words that always built up interesting and compelling debates. This is the last portrait I took before getting back home.

Still, I couldn’t take the pictures of other great people I met. Especially, Nour, Nihad, Ahmet, Olgu, Osama and many others. I hope to see them again and take pictures of them.

Finally, as you can see, Istanbul is a vibrant city with a lot of cultures, ethnicities and people interacting between them. Most of its neighborhoods are lively and full of sad and happy stories. Even if the country’s living a hard moment, undermining freedom and human rights, the people are working tirelessly to build up their future. That’s another world, not Europe, not Asia. That’s Istanbul.


Turkish Feminists Cooperate for Equal Dignity

Women are playing a crucial role here in Istanbul. Whether you see them wandering with European clothes or dressed in long coats and colored veils, their different behavior and appearance has become a visible symbol of Istanbul’s cultural split. They display with pride their personal lifestyle and beliefs, by participating actively in community’s life. However, both are often victims of mobbing, sexual harassment and rape.

“In Turkey, it’s common for women to be harassed in their work environment. This is a way to put a lot of pressure and stop them from having a normal career as men,” Sanem Öztürk, founder of feminist organization KADAV, says. Of course, the most vulnerable are refugees and poor women who don’t have many work rights and don’t know how to react against these personal assaults. These women, coming from Syria or Africa, work usually 12 or 13 hours per day.

“Normally, they don’t have good supporting services for these issues, so they are just left alone with their problems,” she says. Usually police reject refugee women seeking help at police stations, since they don’t have mediators that can efficiently translate what they’re saying. “Worst case, they send them back to their country,” Öztürk says.

The protection of a specific law …

There’s a specific Turkish law that protects all women from acts of violence, which is law number 6284. The beginning of the first article says:

“The aim of this law is to protect the women, the children, the family members and the victims of stalking, who have been subject to the violence or at the risk of violence, and to regulate procedures and principles with regard to the measures of preventing the violence against those people.”

Moreover, the document highlights that “The gender-based discrimination directed against a woman just because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately and any attitude and behavior violating the human rights of women are defined as violence in this Law.”

… that doesn’t work

However, KUDAV member Özge Burak says this law isn’t applied often, especially for women of low social classes. “There is a social and cultural disparity between women in this country,” she adds. Indeed, Kurdish or Arabic women and children who can’t speak Turkish are isolated from social and public places, such as schools or hospitals.

A young Syrian girl working as a beggar. These activities leave children unprotected.

This lead, for instance, to acts of violence made by doctors and nurses against migrant women. They call it “Gynecological violence”. Basically, hospitals put pressure on these patients, especially Syrians, and give them bad treatment. “According to them, Syrians are exploiting Turkey to make children here and give them Turkish citizenship,” Burak says.

It’s even harder making an abortion, since the country is becoming more conservative and many women must do it through illegal ways with unhealthy procedures. “Women are currently treated as baby machines by the government. There’s a campaign to encourage them to make as many children as possible. “This is an obvious attempt of body objectification,” Burak says.

“These are not real marriages”

Underage marriage is another issue of modern-day Turkey. According to KADAV members, one third of women in Turkey marry underage, which is forbidden by law. Specifically, Turkish Muslims marry underaged Syrian girls as second wives with the excuse of “protecting these children and shelter them in their houses” to avoid problems with law. After a while, they’re kicked out from the houses and they cannot come back to their families, because they won’t accept them anymore.

“These are not real marriages,” Öztürk emphasizes.

The threat of government related organizations

Moreover, the government is currently shutting down human rights and feminist NGOs in Kurdish regions, located close to Syrian and Iranian borders. As soon as these organizations have stopped their activities, a new association, called the Women and Democracy Association (known as KADEM), is established. This latter is currently spreading in these territories and consolidating its influence as the main feminist NGO in Turkey. Since its deputy chair is Sumeyye Erdogan Bayraktar herself, the youngest daughter of president Erdogan, it’s only a matter of time before KADEM becomes the only “feminist NGO” of Turkey.

“The government is blocking and eliminating each kind of independent activity and act. There’s a constant control,” Burak says.

Nevertheless, the pressure and the many challenges given by Erdogan’s government are shaping a strong and cohesive community of feminists and LGBTI. “Their efforts to shut us down give us more resilience and desire to strive and do more,” Burak says. Through workshops, consultancies, employment platforms, new branches and artistic projects, KADAV hopes to give a future to women still haunted by their past.


Reporters Abroad: Istanbul

Lately, most of the international media focused their attention on Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s repression on media, militaries and educated classes (especially students, professors and activists). The trial of Cumhuriyet, the oldest newspaper of the nation, is just one of the many cases that nourished the debate on Turkish freedom of expression and filled the pages of a lot of worldwide media outlets.

However, what is currently at stake is media comprehension of the real facts occurred in Turkey. According to Italian journalist Dimitri Bettoni, most of foreign press relate Turkey’s political and cultural situation with their own country’s issues and debates. To make an example, Italian media would narrow down their perspective on how the Turkish government is dealing with migrants and refugees, by discarding other important facts such as Turkish society’s shifts and political changes.

It’s easy to observe the cultural mix of Istanbul during a stroll in the Grand Bazar

The context is more complex than it seems and is connected to a whole setting that encompasses Turkey’s relations with Europe and Middle East Marie Jégo, reporter for French newspaper LeMonde, explains.

Indeed, Bettoni talks about a “metaphor of the pendulum” when he tries to explain Turkish history. “Sometimes the nation has a process of westernization, other times middle eastern cultures influence it, including Islam” he says.

This leads to a fragile condition that can easily be exploited by political elite. However, the two journalists underline Turkey has always had strong political figures such as Mustafa Kemal Atatürk that drastically changed some aspects of society, for instance by introducing a new alphabet and a broader sense of laicity.

Being foreign reporters in Turkey

But what does it mean to be a foreign journalist in a country like Turkey?

Compared to Turkish journalists, both Bettoni and Jégo admit that foreign reporters are “better treated” than their local colleagues. “I received threats and insults in social media, but no more than that … For the moment” Bettoni says. Nevertheless, journalists from other countries are often invited to change something in their written works, it can be a title or something described in their articles. Even taking pictures can be risky sometimes.

More importantly, one of the main features of current Turkish journalism is daily self-censorship; every reporter working in the country must be careful to not cross the line. Worst case scenario, you are sent back to your home country or, in some cases, you’ll meet up your fellow Turkish journalists in jail.

Self-censorship is a common habit for most of Turkish journalists. Credit: Carolyn Tiry

Indeed, most of the mainstream media, especially television, are under the strict control of Turkish government.

All of this is made for the sake of the revolutionary “destani” (epic saga), by spreading propaganda and fake historical facts that distort reality. In truth, Erdogan’s support isn’t stable anymore. During the anniversary of the recent Turkish revolution, there weren’t so many people, according to Marie Jégo. More interestingly, Istanbul – including Üsküdar, the neighborhood in which president Erdogan resides — and Ankara, which originally supported the government, voted against the Turkish referendum.

“The people are invested in a mission of constant surveillance”

This instability leads to the development of a great paranoia. Jégo highlights Erdogan is adopting similar policies as president of Russia Vladimir Putin. For example, by creating some youth movements as Nashi and NGOs directly controlled by the government and by weakening each element of opposition, including media and education. “The people are invested in a mission of constant surveillance” Jégo says.

Nevertheless, both foreign reporters say they’re pleased to live in Turkey in times such as these, since it’s interesting to witness this historical change. “We’re living a third epochal change for Turkey,” Bettoni says. Fascinated by Istanbul during an Erasmus exchange experience, the Italian journalist decided to live in this metropolis built upon the lands of two continents.

“Unlike it is shown by international media, Istanbul is an open city with a great tradition of hospitality. Turkish people have this theatrical sense that makes them unique,” Jégo says.

“I developed this affectionate bond with Istanbul some years ago. No matter what happens, I will be forever attached to this chaotic city,” Bettoni says.

Credits Featured Image: Fredrik Walløe


Fighting for Their Kids

Being LGBTI in Istanbul is not easy at all. The rising conservative trends and the waves of purges that often target liberal wings of the society in universities, in media and political institutions, are gradually suffocating the few rights gay and transsexual communities earned with hardships and long campaigns.

Isolation and discrimination are common things that happen daily to these people. Consequently, being openly LGBTI in Istanbul and Turkey is an act of courage that highlights some basic needs related to human liberty, especially freedom of expression.

However, what’s more amazing is seeing parents getting alongside with their LGBTI sons and daughters and advocate to their right to be what they want to be. In Istanbul, there are several LGBT NGOs such as Lambdaistanbul, Kaos and SPoD, but LISTAG stands out from the others, since it’s composed by parents of LGBTI individuals. This association has a crucial role in the LGBTI community’s integration in society, since it gives support to help parents accept their son or daughter’s sexuality, by giving advices and organizing informational meetings.

“We do it for the people, not for ourselves”

Funded in January 2008, this solidarity group is a warm lighthouse and an important reference to parents of LGBTI individuals. “We do it for the people, not for ourselves” says H. Metehan Özkan, one of the organization’s founders.

The long path of parents’ acceptation

In truth, homosexuality and transsexuality are often discriminated in Turkey and people have a poor knowledge about them, which leads to negative stereotypes and distorted perspectives. In short, having a LGBTI son or daughter is considered a great disgrace and a shame for a traditional Turkish family. The documentary produced by LISTAG in 2013, called “My Child”, shows it quite well. Parents from all walks of life had a hard time to understand and accept their son or daughter’s real nature: it’s a long and hard psychological path.

Selling some food and having a good time together is a good way to fundraise the organization. Credits: LISTAG

“Privileged and upper-class people aren’t more sensitive or aware than the others, I met veiled mothers that are more sensitive and clever than them,” Özkan says. Even Özkan mother had a rough time to accept her son’s homosexuality. At the beginning, she didn’t want to talk to him and she rejected him, then she said to him “you make me puke,” and finally, after working together and communicating for 6 months, she changed for the better.

But schools, universities and other social spaces aren’t places that encourage and let young people to express their homosexuality or transsexuality. Most of the parents had often argued with teachers to defend their sons and daughters and avoid the classic process of putting stereotypical labels to LGBTI people.

United for PRIDE. Credits : LISTAG

“To bring more awareness in Turkey, we’re organizing conferences, meetings and film screenings in universities, opposition parties and international film festivals,” Özkan underlines. Of course, this is not an easy task to do, since Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government is repressing each kind of expression opposed to his conservative and religious beliefs, including LGBTI activities and cultural events. “There’s less civic commitment, less gatherings, less active associations and, therefore, more homophobia”, Özkan sadly says. Indeed, the last official pride march in Istanbul was set three years ago. “Most of the latest LGBTI demonstrations are “pirate marches””, he says.

However, not all is lost. LISTAG could create a vast support network with other European LGBTI organizations, such as AGEDO, which is composed by parents of LGBTI individuals too (they produced an Italian documentary called “2 Volte Genitori – Parlano i genitori di lesbiche e gay”).

A broader civic engagement

In addition, they supported other groups opposed to the authoritarian government, such as academicians who publicly stood against Turkish war against Kurds. Needless to say, most of them were fired from their jobs and they become unemployed. “Therefore, we organized with the mothers a gathering to sell mezzes to help them financially,” Özkan says.

By doing this, LISTAG is acquiring a new level of civic activism that doesn’t limit itself to LGBTI issues and communities, but widely extends its action to defend an ideal at all cost, freedom.


First 24 hours in Istanbul

It was 11 p.m. and the boat was crossing swiftly the Bosporus Strait, while a pleasant breeze welcomed my arrival in the chaotic and fascinating city of Istanbul. Particularly, the city is literally built up in two different continents; Asia and Europe. There are no bridges that join the two parts of the metropolis, only ferry boats that travel night and day to transport people and tourists on the different sides of Istanbul.

So, I was there, smiling at the warm lights of the great mosques and old palaces of the city, after a long and tiring trip that lasted around 10 hours. In truth, I was relieved. That evening there had been violent storm in the area and my plane had a hard time to land safely at Sabiha Gokcen Airport. It was like being in a long rollercoaster. Some children cried, it was annoying. We made a long detour to Ankara and then got back to Istanbul, then we finally landed.

Agya Sofya and the Blue Mosque greeting the travellers coming from Asia

I knew Istanbul was a port city, but what caught immediately my attention was the great opposition between old and modern. There are mosques just beside huge skyscrapers. It’s like a cultural clash between western and eastern features.

But history is quite lively right now in the former Ottoman capital. After the failed revolution of July 15, 2015, the society is living new changes. Turkish flags are wailing in every street and in every boat, censorship is more present than ever and a lot of posters of Erdogan and Turkish heroes contribute to create a patriotic atmosphere that even the most superficial tourist can feel.

Turkish flags are ever-present in ferry boats and city streets

However, there’s more. Istanbul is a huge crossroad of cultures. You can easily find people from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Russia, European countries and even United States. Indeed, the first friend I made was an Iraqi guy from Mosul.

There’s still a lot to visit and to discover. But what I like here is also cheap and good food. There’s not only kebab here, but a whole style of living and eating. People enjoy their Mediterranean fish and salty cakes, with some salad, juicy fruit and a good apple tea (I really recommend it, it’s amazing). Hookah places are easy to find and the tobacco there is good.

We’ll begin to narrow-down the topics in the next issues, by starting to outline Istanbul and its whole cluster of stories, issues and worlds. Follow my Instagram profile if you want to see amazing pictures of the city.