Tag Archives: Greeks

From Culinary Backstreets: A Beyoğlu Legend Passes on

25 Nov

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Why did we know that even if we were not definitely told by anybody?  i.e., that the whole culture and ceremony of meze-fish-rakı is a Greek contribution to İstanbul.

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The last Greek restaurant, İmroz (Ίμβρος) on Nevizâde Sokağı closed soon after its owner passed away in 2015.  Before that there was still İnci, the patisserie on the Jadde itself that was momentarily a part of the Gezi protests in 2013.  See my: “Nobody really cares about Gezi Park: Greek thoughts on the protests of 2013.

So, it’s over; I think it’s now official.  At least as far as I know.  I’m 99.9% certain that there are no longer any Greek retail businesses left in the City.  Anyone who knows any different, let me know.

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On any given night, bustling, narrow Nevizade Street in the heart of Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district buzzes with thick crowds of evening revelers searching for the best table while clean-shaven waiters in their customary uniform of pressed white shirts and V-neck sweaters attempt to lure the crowds into their establishments.

Hyperactive as it may be, Nevizade – a hub for the meyhane, the Turkish taverna where plates of meze are enjoyed alongside slowly sipped rakı and grilled fish – has for decades had one distinctive, constant presence: Yorgo Okumuş, co-owner of the meyhane Krepen’deki İmroz and sole proprietor of a pair of almost comically bushy white eyebrows and an enigmatic mien that seemed to say he’s seen it all (which he probably had).

This week, sadly, Nevizade lost its elder statesman, with Yorgo Baba (as he was affectionately known) dying at the age of 94 after a short period of bad health. With the passing of Yorgo, a member of Istanbul’s dwindling Greek community, Beyoğlu lost one of the living links to its once vibrant multicultural and cosmopolitan past. At the same time, with his meyhane, Yorgo leaves behind an Istanbul institution that itself serves as a link to that past and that tells the incredible story of the fall and rise of the Beyoğlu neighborhood and its nightlife and dining scenes.

Imroz, photo by Yigal SchleiferWhile Nevizade and the streets surrounding it comprise one of the most lively and well-known nightlife hotspots in Istanbul, the meyhanes there trace their roots to a humbler, grittier period from where a time traveler would find the Beyoğlu of today utterly unrecognizable. “We were the first meyhane to arrive in Nevizade, in 1982. No one else was around in those days, and there was a mortician next door,” 57-year-old Mustafa Yıldırım, co-owner of Krepen’deki İmroz, told us during a recent visit. The name, which translates as “İmroz from Krepen,” is a nod to the island (known in Greek as İmroz and Gökçeada in Turkish) from which Yorgo hailed and a reference to its former location, the late Krepen Pasajı, where it opened in 1941.

Built sometime in the second half of the 19th century, the arcade was home to shoemakers and tailors until the early 1940s, when meyhanes began to move in one by one, resulting in a rowdy alcove of debauchery, where good-natured hell was raised on a nightly basis until the passage was razed in 1982. It was later rebuilt as a more mild-mannered arcade for secondhand bookshops, and remains so to this day.

Krepen might have been demolished, but Yorgo and Mustafa decided to carry on, relocating to Nevizade Street, just off Beyoğlu’s fish market, and İmroz became Krepen’deki İmroz so that it would be recognized by patrons from the previous era. “The backstreets were dangerous,” Mustafa said of Beyoğlu in the ’70s and early ’80s. “They were terrible back then. As far as a woman walking through during the day, forget it. It was even difficult for men to pass by. There were drunks and junkies, and the possibility of a fight breaking out was high.”

“We really struggled against this,” he said, adding that mafia pressure (still a factor in Beyoğlu today) was a major reality back then, with legendary kingpin Dündar Kılıç exerting a formidable presence in the area.

The cosmopolitan feel of Beyoğlu created by the Greeks, Armenians, Jews and Levantines (residents of European descent) who once dominated the area began to disintegrate in the second half of the 20th century, when non-Muslim Istanbullites vacated the area en masse, leaving a wealth of gorgeous, European-style architecture behind as tokens of their once established presence. The devastating anti-Greek pogrom of September 6-7, 1955, set its sights on minority-owned homes and businesses throughout the city, but the damage in Beyoğlu was particularly severe, resulting in a large number of Greeks leaving the country. Just under a decade later, thousands of Istanbul Greeks were expelled from the city as Greek-Turkish relations turned sour over Cyprus, a nail in the coffin for the once robust community and the urbane quality of Beyoğlu.

Krepen Pasajı, with its raucous array of meyhanes run by both Turks and Greeks alike, successfully navigated those complicated twists and turns in Beyoğlu’s social life. The Turks learned the trade from the Greeks, and Yorgo was perhaps the last meyhane proprietor of his kind in Istanbul, where the Greek population has now fallen below 2,000.

Mustafa of Krepen'deki İmroz, photo by Paul OsterlundYorgo and Mustafa opened Krepen’deki İmroz in 1982, but the two had actually worked together since 1970, when a 12-year-old Mustafa was hired on as a busboy in the meyhane where Yorgo was working as a waiter at the time. When they opened their own place, the beginning of a new social life began to take root in Beyoğlu. “In the 1970s, while working in Krepen, there were no female customers. Maybe in a month you would see one or two. Families would not go there,” recalled Mustafa. “The atmosphere was one of vulgar, slang-ridden conversations between men. After we moved to Nevizade in the ’80s, women started to show up, and the men began to watch their mouths.” Kadir’in Yeri (“Kadir’s Place”), one of İmroz’s neighbors from Krepen Pasajı, followed suit by opening on Nevizade under its current moniker, Krepen’deki Kadir’in Yeri.

At that time, Beyoğlu was far from the vast entertainment hub that it is known as today. The back alleys were beyond sketchy, and young people did not go there to socialize, instead heading to the quarters of Ortaköy, Nişantaşı and Etiler, which now rank among the most expensive and luxurious neighborhoods in the city. Krepen’deki İmroz was part of Beyoğlu’s gradual change, which surged after 1988, when the district’s main avenue, İstiklal, was designated pedestrian-only, and the adjacent Tarlabaşı Boulevard was expanded across six lanes.

“Eventually the pavyon segment of Beyoğlu began to transform into one of pubs, cafés and grillhouses, and young people began to come hang out,” Mustafa said, referring to a kind of “gentlemen”-only nightclub where customers would pay to have women flirt with them tableside and which was once a main fixture of the district during its seedier days.

Krepen'deki İmroz today, photo by Paul OsterlundDining habits in the meyhane also changed in the post-Krepen era, Mustafa told us. Back then, the meze affair was much simpler: While İmroz’s meze tray today groans with the weight of some 40 selections, it only carried a half-dozen or so in the old days. Not-for-the-faint-of-heart choices such as grilled kidney and ram’s testicles were also on the menu once upon a time, but have since quietly disappeared.

The years treated Mustafa and Yorgo well until recently. Mustafa said that the Gezi Park protests of 2013 and the subsequent iron fist of police violence that slammed down on Beyoğlu for months afterward have irreparably damaged business, sinking revenues by as much as 50 percent. The constant cat and mouse of police and protestors – and the ensuing tear gas – routinely spilled over into backstreets like Nevizade and profoundly affected the area.

“Since we’ve been around for so long, we have been able to stay on our feet. Some of our neighbors are having a harder time,” Mustafa said solemnly.

Wreaths for Yorgo Okumuş included one from Yeni Rakı, photo by Ansel MullinsMany of those neighbors turned up for Yorgo’s Wednesday funeral at the Greek cemetery in Istanbul’s Şişli neighborhood. Meyhane keepers, merchants from the Beyoğlu fish market and waiters, some in their work attire, all came to pay their respects. One man walked through the greeting line wearing an apron. Near Yorgo’s grave was a large funeral wreath from Coşkun Kasap, an old-time Beyoğlu butcher who supplies many of the meyhanes. Not far from that wreath was one sent by Yeni Rakı, Turkey’s largest distiller of the anise-flavored spirit.

Old customers were there in force as well, unshaven, many looking hungover. They smoked and gathered in knots, as if congregating in the dining room of İmroz, all wearing a photo of Yorgo pinned to their jackets. “He was the last of the Mohicans,” Emre, a tour guide and regular, told us. A spice merchant from the fish market said, “He was a four-star human, a beautiful person.”

One old regular of İmroz recalled Yorgo’s occasional temper, which over the years became part of his charm. “Many times I’d do something to annoy him and he’d blow up on me. But that came from his love,” he said. “Love and friendship – that should stay in our minds when remembering Yorgo Baba.”

Yorgo’s son, giving an interview to a television station, simply said, “He was the heart of Beyoğlu, the heart of the fish market.”

Not far from the freshly dug grave, a group of friends caught up with each other. “We’re getting the team back together,” one said. “5:30, İmroz.” They all nodded. “5:30, İmroz!”

Additional reporting was contributed by Ansel Mullins.

(photos by Ansel Mullins, Paul Osterlund and Yigal Schleifer)

istanbul pogrom aftermath

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A deserved Greek self-pat on the back — from Ekathimerini

21 Nov
Pantelis Boukalas PANTELIS BOUKALAS

Humanity in the age of neo-cynicism

What keeps societies from falling apart is their members’ spontaneous and unforced compliance with unwritten laws, with principles that they do not even have to be reminded of in order to adhere to.

Values such as solidarity, altruism and hospitality may be set out in charters or schoolbooks. But that is of little consequence if it is not in a person to empathize with a stranger’s suffering. And when we say empathize, we mean standing by another person with actions, and not with vacuous, cost-free words.

Greece’s social fabric could have been ripped apart a long time ago under the pressure of the (still lingering) financial crisis. It would not have been surprising if egotism and antisocial self-interest had emerged as the sole “natural” reaction to the long chain of disappointments. After all, we live in an age of a neo-cynicism that propagates the “natural” and “unavoidable” character of social inequalities and the – also natural – character of offshore tax avoidance.

And yet, despite the difficulties, the unemployment, the underemployment, the falling wages and the devastating overtaxation, the crudeness of individualism has not managed to defeat our culture of solidarity. Its sirens failed to lure the many. The ordinary people. Those who keep a society glued together.

This failure became evident in the attitude of the majority toward the migrants and refugees. Sure, there were cases of bigotry, exploitation, even crude racism. How can one forget the xenophobic sermons from the lips of priests, those otherwise preachers of Christian love? But such behavior never became mainstream.

Altruism was also on display (in the same humble fashion) in the wake of the disastrous summer wildfires. And it is now again evident following the deadly flash floods in Mandra and Nea Peramos, on the western outskirts of Athens. Ordinary people have been offering help from their dwindling savings.

Help, in the form of manual labor (which is all they have to give), has also come from migrants and refugees. The Pakistanis and the Syrians who rushed to provide assistance in flood-stricken Mandra are also part of our society.

Similarly, we cannot deny the fact that the leadership of Golden Dawn, who organized a Greeks-only handout, despite their Christian pretensions, are also part of the same society. One had to wonder if the Arvanite Greeks (Christian Albanians who migrated to Greece in the Middle Ages) who live in the area were entitled to aid coming from the members of the country’s neo-fascist party.

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Mapping the Greek diaspora

17 Nov

 

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Mapping the Greek diaspora from Ekathimerini — YANNIS PALAIOLOGOS

We’re definitely blue-staters, no surprise.  Wish I knew what the different colors mean.  Cluster of orange tacks around New York metropolitan area and southern New England suggest a higher percentage of recent arrivals?

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

For The Byzantine Ambassador @byzantinepower (interesting thread going on there)

8 Nov

A great book — and destined to be the seminal go-to for these issues — for anybody interested in role Hellenism played in later Greek consciousness is Kaldellis’ Hellenism in Byzantium: The Transformations of Greek Identity and the Reception of the Classical Tradition:

Kaldellis

It leaves you with more questions than answers, but that’s probably how it should be.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

From Ekathimerini: Home of Afghan pupil attacked with stones and — kathikia?

3 Nov

Καθίκια…  He probably got better grades than your kid; was that the problem?  Several statistical sources find children of immigrants in Greece outperform children of natives on both secondary and university levels.

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Unknown assailants have attacked the home of the family of the 11-year-old Afghan boy who had not been allowed by his school in the Athens suburb of Dafni to carry the Greek flag during the October 28 parade.

According to police, the assailants threw stones at the boy’s home at dawn on Friday

Amir, a refugee and a fifth-year primary school pupil, had been selected to carry the Greek flag during the parade to commemorate the 1940 anniversary of Greece’s refusal to ally with the Axis powers in World War II, known as “Ochi Day.”

He was picked by lot under new rules introduced by the leftist-led government earlier this year that scrapped selection on the basis of academic performance

However, he was not allowed to carry the flag and eventually paraded holding the school’s sign.

Earlier story: Probe as refugee pupil denied flag role

God knows what else this kid has been through.  Who deserves to have this memory, as innocuous as it might seem, seared into their minds?

Two people before have asked me what “kathiki” (kαθίκι) means in Greek when I used it in some other post.

I think it literally means “potty” — like “Shit already or get off the…”  Except in Greek it’s an insult without any of the cute childlike or Victorian connotations of potty.  “Scumbag” is the closest English term I can think of, in terms of power it packs as an insult and with similar hues of both indifferent cruelty and absolute moral vapidity.

Now you know — for when it turns up next.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Watch! Varoufakis discusses latest book on Greek crisis: “The Adults in the Room”

3 Nov

Succinct, summarizing conversation, Varoufakis discusses his most recent book, The Adults in the Room: https://www.pscp.tv/w/1yoJMMnkkoRJQ

Adults in the Room

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Catalonia: I find these photos GENUINELY TERRIFYING — “¡Basta ya con Cataluña!”

31 Oct

Supporters of Catalan independence outside the Catalan parliament in Barcelona during a speech by Premier Carles Puigdemont on whether he would declare independence from Spain, October 10, 2017

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These are photos of a jubilance that one imagines accompanied the Emancipation Proclamation or sees in images of the Liberation of Paris or of the Greek flag being raised over the Acropolis in 1944 or of V-J Day or the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

Instead, they’re photos of a sociopathic hysteria: of a people with one of the highest living standards in the world, with their language and culture (a word I’ve come to hate) fully un-threatened, living in a region with the absolutely highest level of autonomy than perhaps any region of any other state in Europe, or even the world, cumming in the streets because of an absolutely meaningless independence they think they’ve won in an increasingly interdependent world.  Meanwhile their “leaders” are having their moules frites in Brussels.

Really, they scare me.  The affect is so off, the affect level so incommensurate to the stimulus, that it suggests the haunting spectre that even people in one of the most liberal, progressive of human societies can be convinced they’re victims of something.  And like the convert, beware the victim.

There’s a name to that spectre and the victim narrative that is now haunting not only Catalonia and Spain and Europe and American democracy, but the entire world: identity politics.  As Mark Lilla has already said — please read the piece — the main problem with identity politics is that they don’t do politics: Mark Lilla’s “The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics”.  It’s nonsense.  It’s a waste of all of our time, something even more precious than our energy and our resources and brain cells.  It’s a lame Fifth Avenue parade that’s supposed to actually express the soul of a particular segment of human civilization.  It’s an adolescent acting out of culture in a Mardi Gras costume in a deadly serious arena of politics that can quickly get dangerous.  And cultures that deserve to survive, will, by definition, do so on their own and don’t need constant “Pride” parades and manifestos and events and pointless — and dangerous — referenda.  (It’s bad enough to give the demos something complicated to think about; giving them an easy yes-no question is potentially fatal to any polity.)

Andrew Sullivan did a really good job in his  “I Used to Be a Human Being” for New York magazine last year, describing how being hooked up to a screen and keyboard all our lives makes our brains oatmeal, and how blogging all the years he did for his Daily Dish started to have physical health consequences for him, physical consequences that he could only deal with through treatment of his mind and soul.

I’m not in danger of that — usually.  One, I’m too lazy.  Two, I don’t “cover” running stories like Sullivan used to do on his Dish, in what really was a border-line manic-obsessive fashion.  Rather, I jump here and there, back and forth, with now and then ruminations that are all kind of “evergreens”, to use journalist sprache.

But as the child of a family that suffered terribly as an ethnic minority under a Stalinist regime, as a member of an ethnic group that was once spread all over the eastern Mediterranean and was then locked up in the pigsty of a nation-state, as an ethnic-American who always felt the world outside his window was sort of a foreign country, I’m acutely sensitive to issues of pluralism and how they should be negotiated and they strike incredibly powerful chords in me.  And they’ve made me a defender of minority rights but an even more intense critic of self-determination.  It’s not pluralist for every two-bit tribe of Balko-somethings to have their own country; you’re destroying pluralism that way — and the “way” always involves violence of some sort.  WHICH IS WHY I STILL GET SO FREAKED OUT ABOUT YUGOSLAVIA.

That’s also why a story like Catalonia can consume me for weeks if I let it.  And this post was actually meant to declare that I will not myself be writing or quoting or even linking to anything that has to do with the issue — at least until something substantive happens — which may be tomorrow…  I still have some identity politics/multi-culti-bashing pieces knocking around inside my head, but they’ll be dealing with other parts of the world.

Because Catalonia — which infuriates me — and Spain — which I love — are two players that can completely eat me alive if I let them.  For other gold-and-red semiotics, see my Bodegas.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Bodega 10

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