I’ve always been amazed how a city’s character can change in just a few short blocks. In Los Angeles, a few miles of Third Street will take you from Hancock Park, where only the super-rich can dwell, to Hacienda Heights, an East LA slum that has been a gangland battleground for years.
In Istanbul, the affluence and European chic of Cihangir can change to a Kurdish slum in 3 short blocks. Cross Istiklal Caddesi, go down the Balik Pazarı, and cross into Tarlabaşı. The journey takes less than ten minutes on foot and in those ten minutes you can witness the difference between old-money Kemalist Istanbul secularism and Eastern Turkish traditional Kurdish life caught in the crossfire of modernity.
A police tank with a turret-mounted water cannon is parked on the sidewalk at the entrance to the neighborhood, as a reminder of who is in charge. Undercover and uniformed cops are ubiquitous in the streets, this being evidenced to me when a guy standing on a corner in a soccer jersey adjusted his shirt a bit to reveal the 9mm pistol stuck in the back of his pants.
A Turkish flag has been stenciled on a wall, and then subsequently crossed out with a black marker, more subtle reminders of the tension that ripples through the country, kept under wraps in Istanbul by a police force ready and willing to get messy.
On Sunday (Pazar Günü in Turkish, meaning Bazaar Day) there is a massive, never-ending incredible street market in Tarlabaşı. The market is mostly run by Kurds, transplants from Eastern Turkey, but is frequented by the flotsam and jetsam of the world that has ended up in Istanbul: Arabs, Europeans, Africans, Central Asians, and random Korean people.
The market lasts forever, it turns several times, and boasts everything from fresh vegetables (we even found avocado!) to kitchen wares, to clothing, to fish, and the freshest most tasty bread I’ve had in a long time. All for cheaper than anywhere else I’ve seen in Istanbul.