The 2 dangers of living in Turkey as a foreign​ woman

13938555_1247243605309163_822962642739573736_nAs an Istanbul-based blogger, I receive plenty of emails from potential expats asking me for insider tips about living in Turkey.

Where to live, what to budget for and how to get an ikamet (resident permit). The list of questions is long.

And, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but people do love to focus on what could go wrong in the world, rather than what could go right.

People – particularly now – are more interested in the dangers of being in Turkey, rather than hearing about the wonderful experiences people can have in the country.

There are plenty of expat blogs out there that tell you what to look out for, but on reflection, not one of them talk about the two most difficult aspects of living in Turkey – especially as a foreign woman.

1  Meeting a yabancı teyze

The first danger to be aware of is meeting a ‘yabancı teyze’.

In Turkish, yabancı means foreign.

Yabancı is a word you’ll hear a lot. Usually whispered by people around you.

Order food or ask for a table at a restaurant and you’ll hear at least one waiter whisper to their colleague: Yabancı. You’ll probably grow to despise the word because it’s used to describe anything foreign – from aliens to expats.

In Turkish, teyze  means aunty.

Turkish teyzes (or teyzeler to be correct) are generally mature ladies in age. The unsung heroes of Turkish society. They’re the ‘eyes on street’ for keeping law and order in their families and the community.

They keep an eye on their young family members, an eye on the elderly and an eye on their yabancı neighbours – who wish the teyze next door would mind her own business, sometimes.

But, from what I’ve seen, they tend to wear the pants in a sometimes male dominated society. Yep, the Turkish teyze can be handy to have around in troubled times because they’re built tough…real tough. Stand by one in a crowded tram and no man will stand close to you.

The yabancı teyze is somewhat different.  She generally fits one or all of the following:

  • She’s an expat woman who’s been living in Turkey for a while. Ask her how long and she’ll snap and say: “Please don’t ask me that. I hate it when people ask me that!” (True story)
  • She is or has been a yenge. Meaning, they’ve been a serious girlfriend or wife of a man in Turkey. And, she secretly hoards deep-seeded anger towards that ex-lover – or any other man for that matter.
  • She knows everything there is to know about Turkey. Just ask her.

You can find a yabancı teyze, simply by posting a question – or an opinion (if you dare) – on one of Turkey’s many Facebook pages for foreign women.

At first, you’ll be keen to befriend a yabancı teyze. After all, new friends in a foreign land and someone to show you the ropes does help to navigate the obstacles of assimilation. And, of course – let’s not generalise – not all foreign women who live here a long time are yabancı teyzes. Most foreign women do use their experiences for good, not evil.

You’ll know when you meet a yabancı teyze.

They’re nurturing, helpful and upbeat but when you start talking about your hopes and dreams for your future in Turkey, they’ll cut in and recite horror stories about their tough times here.

Talk about the  boyfriend in Turkey, you’ll hear: “Just be careful. They’re all the same!”

Expat blogs in Istanbul

Your reaction: No they’re not!!!

 

Talk about wanting babies with that boyfriend in the future, and she tisk tisks: “Oh my, wait until you have children with him. It all changes….”

Best blogs in Turkey

Your reaction: Back off yabancı teyze

 

Say you love Çemberlitaş Hamamı and get: “Oh, that place is so touristic. It’s not as good as mine.”

Istanbul blogs

Whatever…teyze

 

The only thing you can do is look on in disbelief as they squash every inch of passion and hope you had for your life in Turkey.

The thing is, no matter how negative they can be, they actually love Turkey. They can’t possibly return to their hometown because they’re so in love with their lifestyle here. They know they’ll miss the drama. The hospitality. The 10 things to miss about Turkey. So they feel stuck. This makes them frustrated and they take that frustration out on you. The new fresh-faced yabancı in the expat ‘hood.

Yes, she can be like a Mary Poppins with a bag full of difficult and awkward stuff you really don’t need in your life. But, the good news is, you can overcome that sour taste you feel when you meet one by handing them a ‘spoon full of sugar’.

Tap into their positive experiences and that’s when you find the gems they have to offer. Because as much as things have gone sour for them, there’s plenty of sweet things they’ve experienced in Turkey. Otherwise, why are they still here?

The hidden rooftop bars.

The best beaches near the city.

Where to buy sweet potato or coriander.

And…..how to get that difficult ikamet.

In fact, the best way to deal with one yabancı teyze is to see two of them in action. In the same room, or on a Facebook forum. That’s when you can sit back, eat some popcorn or çekirdek (sunflower seeds) and watch as they battle it out in a supreme fight of “I know more about Turkey than you.” It’s a true battle of the egos that will leave you feeling good about yourself. Until you recognise the second danger of moving to Turkey…

2. When you become a yabancı teyze yourself!

Speaking from experience, don’t panic.

Apologise to the person you annoyed. Know it is you and not them. Realise everyone has their life lessons to live. Get off Facebook as a keyboard warrior if you have to. Take a walk by the Bosphorus.

Deep breathe.

You’ll be ok.

But, do know you have been warned of the signs and symptoms of becoming a yabancı teyze in this blog.

You’re welcome.

 

Thanks to Turkish Memes for some of the images above.  Now, go like them on Facebook because this yabancı teyze told you too.

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Is this what it means to be beautiful in Turkey?

A light-hearted reading from Istanbul’s Spoken Word on April 12, 2016.

balik etli

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This is a story about one woman’s struggle to come to terms with beauty in the eyes of the Turks.

Well, the truth be known it’s actually my own struggle.

I recently spent three months in Australia where I danced in a stage show. With a month of intensive rehearsals in the heat of an Australian summer I naturally lost weight – about three kilograms.

Though, when the curtains came down on the show, my weight was not on my mind. I binged on chocolate, burgers and biscuits for a few weeks as my dancing feet rested. I no longer had to watch my waist line – and I enjoy my food!

That said, about a week before flying back to Istanbul I began to feel apprehensive about my weight, because I had to face my Turkish friends. And, I knew, EVERY TIME I land in Turkey I’d get their honest opinion about my weight:

“Hello my friend? How are you? ………Have you put on a little bit of weight?”

In Australia, you would NEVER, EVER say to someone’s face: “Have you put on weight?” To say such a thing would be highly insensitive, perhaps even insulting to anyone insecure about their extra kilograms.

But no, no, no – not in Turkey. Apparently, it could be a compliment to hear: “Have you put on a little bit of weight?”

I bet there’s a few people right now mentally sizing me up as they read this blog. And, if you’re Turkish you maybe thinking …”It sounds like she’s carrying a few extra kilograms…is she balık etli!?”

What does that mean? Some of you may ask. Well let me tell you a story.

I was introduced to this term six years ago when I came to Istanbul.

I met a Turkish guy at bar in Taksim. He was mid-30s with dark long locks and kept himself fit. We exchanged pleasantries in English – because my Turkish was terrible. He was cute and charming.

I was enjoying the conversation – right up until he started looking me up and down, and declared, “You know, you look like…”

He gazes at me with “Turkish sexy eyes”.

Sexy eyes (2)

I hold on for a compliment that will make me swoon for this dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty.

Perhaps he will say I look like Reece Witherspoon. I used to get that all the time in bars – when I was thinner. Or may be he thinks I look like Ginger Spice. I mean, the mid-1990’s, curvier, union jack sporting version of Ginger Spice, because I used to get that too.

He repeats himself and pauses, contemplating his words: “You look like….

……balık etli.”

My eyebrows raise. I’m speechleess. I’m stunned as I translate those two words in my mind to:

Fish meat!

“I look like fish meat!?” I  exploded, moving uncomfortably – irritated by his comment. My western brain, which would never compare a woman’s ‘look’ to fish, instantly concluded this guy was simply rude and insensitive.

Although, to give him the benefit of the doubt, I calmed down and briefly reflected on the other moments where my world was lost in translation. Perhaps I did not hear him right, or perhaps my Turkish translation skills got this wrong.

I clarified, “Pardon? Did you just say I look like fish meat?”

I gasped when he answered, “Yes.”

What does that mean? My mind went berserk again as I searched for words to respond.

What fish could I possibly be?

Am I hamsi (anchovies)? Short and slender. I do have pale skin. Maybe I was shining under the lights of the bar?

Hamsi

Am I hamsi (European anchovies)?

Am I çupra (sea bream)? Chubby in the face and mid-section. Skinny in the “legs”.

Seabream

Maybe I’m like cupra (sea bream)?

Or perhaps levrek (sea bass)? Sleek and in proportion.

Seabass

Perhaps I’m like levrek (sea bass)?

Am I turbot? Flat, round, bumpy and rather unattractive to look at (but pleasant to devour).

turbot.jpg

Turbot, with a face only a mother could love.

Seeing the disgust on my face, my new friend was quick to explain what balık etli meant to him.

He tells me that, in Turkey, to be “balık etli” means to be voluptuous – to have curves in the right places, and Turkish men do love curves (he reassured me several times).

His confident explanation soon had me believing that I had indeed heard the most awkward compliment ever.

But since then, many people have said otherwise. That perhaps when people say: “You’re like balık etli” it’s actually a warning to avoid that next chocolate, burger or biscuit.

Regardless, given this experience and many others I’ve had in my travels, I do feel beauty is defined by the culture and society we live in.

Do you like your ladies lean, voluptuous or lumpy and bumpy? Like your preference in fish, beauty comes down to personal taste, and that taste is largely shaped by the society you live in. What is attractive in one society may not be in another. And, as long as I enjoy my food, and I enjoy my curves, and Turkish men find balık etli “tasty” I’m not moving to another country anytime soon.

So…who’s up for a spot of fishing this weekend? <insert cheeky bream grin here>

Skinny-Mirror

(Balık etli kadını sonunda bulduk = Finally we found the balık etli woman)

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Am I safe in Turkey?

It’s a question I get askeTerrorism in Turkeyd often and right now I’m inclined to say:

I’m not safe in Turkey.

I’m not.

What I mean is, I’m not safe from other people’s fears and what they create around me.

The atrocities and struggles we see today – acts of terrorism, restricted freedoms of expression, divisions in society, hatred towards others – they’re products of fear.

People’s fear of losing power.

People’s fear of the truth.

People’s fear of cultures they’ve never experienced, or countries they’ve never visited.

People’s fear of people they’ve never met, or the religions they’ve never understood.

The truth is, if I ignore the fears of others, and focus on my pleasant day-to-day life in Turkey, I do feel safe – especially in Istanbul. In the very city that just yesterday was devastated by a bomb in the heart of the city’s tourism district of Sultanahmet.

You see, Sultanahmet is a place I call home. It’s where I spend most of my time. It’s one place in the world where I’ve always felt safe and at peace, because it’s where East meets West every day and many friendships are formed.

My favourite thing to do in Istanbul is to sit at a cafe in Sultanahmet, savouring a Turkish tea, whilst talking to tourists and locals. I’m always amazed with how easy conversations with strangers start here with anyone from Australia, Canada and America to Algeria, Syria and Saudi Arabia. We instantly have a common topic to discuss – Istanbul and all the magnificent historical attractions.

To hear of the bombing yesterday that killed and injured people in “my home” is something that is too difficult to comprehend – as it is for many with an affection for the city.

The fear now is that this dreadful event may tarnish tourism and many businesses may flounder. Inshallah (god willing), it will not be this way. Like New York, Bali, Madrid, Paris – any tourism hotspot that has overcome terrorist attacks and continues to attract world travellers – I intend Istanbul will too.

But, just how can we overcome this?

I believe, you become what you think. You become what you create. However, influencing this are the thoughts and act of others. What other people think and what other people create can shape our reality – and collective thoughts are powerful. Another way of looking at this is, positive thoughts bring positive results. Negativity breeds negativity. Fears can breed negativity.

I’m in Australia at the moment and it’s been somewhat trying when the topic of “my home” comes up in conversation with Australians. I’m constantly asked to respond to other people’s fears about Turkey with the question: “Do you feel safe in Turkey?” Instead of asking about the good things happening in my life in Turkey or what I enjoy about the country, people “auto-reject” within seconds to focus on the negative.

I’m growing frustrated because Istanbul is my home and I believe inflicting negative views, essentially invites further negativity. I don’t want that for my friends in Turkey or Turkey itself. Like a sensitive vampire lifting their cape to doom, I hiss back: “Do you feel safe in your hometown?”

The counter question is always met with silence or a stutter of random comments. “Well, do you?” I poke with my words, hoping they might come to the same conclusion I have. That is, a reality distilled from fears. The reality that threats to our personal safety and lives occur every day, everywhere in the world. We have perhaps become desensitized to many of them, because sadly, they have become to norm.

Alcohol and drug related violence, car accidents, homicides, drownings, falls, electrocutions, deaths by exotic animals and gun violence in America. Scan the morbidity and mortality statistics on these around the world and realise that the chances of succumbing to these issues are far greater than terrorism, but like terrorism, we cannot always predict when these afflictions will strike.

So, what can we do?

Be aware of your fears and how they may impact on you and others.

Question the sources of information around you. Are they reliable and unbiased?

Choose positivity over negativity and put the right intentions out to the world for you, for others and the places affected by terrorism.

Mourn those who have lost lives and livelihoods in the terrorist attacks around the world, and remain defiant – never to let another person’s fears stand in the way of your life goals and happiness. (Waleed Aly says it best here)

And, for Istanbul’s sake, be positive. Be like a good friend going through hard times, come visit to help her heal.

Please don’t feed the fears.

Instead….

Love Life Istanbul is it safe in Turkey

My heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of those who were killed and injured in Sultanahmet on January 12, 2016. 

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Other articles on this topic by fellow bloggers and writers:

Don’t hide from Istanbul by  (January 12, 2016)

The New Normal by Janey in Mersin (January 13, 2016)

This isn’t chaos this is my home by Life in Istanbul (January 13, 2016)

Is Turkey Safe from Isis and Terrorism by Turkish Travel Blog (June 2015)

 

 

 

 

Love in the time of elections

There are times in Turkey where I read the local news online and wonder if I’ve been duped. The headlines and content of the news can be so absurd I find myself scrolling through the website looking for the disclaimer saying:  “This an onion.”

An onion piece is a satirical news article based on factual events. They’re often good for a giggle and say the things we wish to say in our world full of injustice.

When this headline appeared on my Facebook newsfeed I clicked on it it with curiosity.

Davutoğlu promises to find spouses for unmarried if AK Party is elected

It had to be an onion right? Davutoğlu, the leader of the AK political party was offering to set up weddings for those who elect him in the snap elections on November 1?

Then I saw the news source…

Today’s Zaman – a reputable and rather serious English-language daily based in Turkey.

Nope, no onion piece here…this news was true!

Free husbands and wives for all if you vote for AKP!? Can you be serious?

Apparently you can.

So cancel your OKCupid accounts people…AKP have got this.

The news has sent us single yabancı (foreign) ladies into a “joking” frenzy online as we conjure up our perfect mate in Turkey.

Our conclusion is:

He must have the eyes of Burak Özçivit

LoveLifeIstanbul özçivit

The hair of Engin Akyürek

Love Life Istanbul -engin-akyurek

The smile of Yiğit Özşener

LoveLifeIstanbul yigitozsener

The body of Kıvanç Tatlıtuğ

LoveLifeIstanbul full-kivanc-tatlitug

And, if he insists on having a moustache, then let it look like Burak Özçivit‘s too!

love life istanbul moustache

He must like to read like Kenan İmirzalıoğlu

 

And swim like Çağatay Ulusoy

LoveLifeIstanbul cagatay-ulusoy

 And…. I’m sorry what was I saying?

LoveLifeIstanbulWhatwasIsaying

Oh yes, he must show concern for me like Tolgahan Sayısman

LoveLifeIstanbul Tolgahan Sayısman

And when we fight, look angry at me like Burak Hakki

LoveLifeIstanbul burak-hakki

And when we make up, welcome me home like Mehmet Akif Alakurt

LoveLifeIstanbul Mehmet Akif

But most of all he must have the humour of Yılmaz Erdoğan

 LoveLifeIstanbul yilmaz-erdogan

And the sense of adventure like Engin Altan Düzyatan

LoveLifeIstanbul Engin-Akyurek

Though, let’s get serious. Who are we kidding? If political parties are doing the matchmaking and we’re after an adventurous guy with a sense of humour…

…..

…..

…..

…..

…..

…..

…..

this might be the best we get!

Recep-İvedik-4-Resimleri-31

(Sahan Gökbakar as Recep Ivedik, 2008)

2 ways to love in Turkey

Love Life Istanbul 3

Has your new Turkish ‘friend’ confessed they love you after one date or one week? Or perhaps the Turkish student has openly declared their love for you in class. Confused? Perhaps you’re lost in translation and here’s the reason why.

I recently caught up with an ex-boyfriend. A Turkish guy I had an on-again / off-again relationship with over four years. Whilst we couldn’t make it work as lovers, he remains one of my closest friends and confidants as I navigate the tricky expat life in Istanbul. We have a mutual respect and support one another in times of need. He’s been excellent at this role – until now.

You see, our last meeting slid into a conversation about our former relationship, which broke up over a year ago. We believed there was enough time and space now to question what went wrong and what went right.

He eventually asked me, “Do you think we would have made a good couple?”

“Do you?” I poked, encouraging him to dive in to the topic first.

“Well,” he paused, before proudly declaring, “I guess, I really, really liked you. I didn’t love you.”

My heart, made by a Western culture, dropped. A heart that understood love as everything we had experienced in our relationship. It plunged into a pool of anger deep  within me that could have knocked him over with a wave of expletives.

Love to me was this: 10 lessons about love. That’s what we had in our good times.

Nonetheless, I snapped, “What do you mean you didn’t love me?”

“I really liked you.” He responded, still proud of himself believing he’d paid me a compliment.

“No, that’s not possible. What do you mean? Like is an emotion you mainly have for friends or aquaintances.” I snapped again, with my mind furious and my heart wanting answers.

I started to roll off the names our mutual male friends from my spiteful tongue to make a point. “I like Serkan. I like Erhan. But, I don’t love them like I loved you.” We both paused, with him looking as though he realised our difference of opinion.

I added, “So are you telling me that for all this time I was I just your friend?”

He cut in trying to save himself. “No, no, no. That’s not what I mean. You don’t understand. Like is better than love. Love is really romantic. Love is where you don’t see each other’s errors. Where you’re passionate all the time. You’re not confused.”

He continued, “Love is when you’re blind to each other’s errors.”

He then added, “We saw each other’s errors. We weren’t romantic all the time.”

Now sensing my growing resentment, he cut himself off and concluded. “Trust me, like is just better than love in a relationship.”

I sat in silence, sulking, trying to think of the words to bring this topic to an end. I was facing a reality that after all this time, he just ‘liked’ me. The feeling stirred in me for a while, but I noticed his body language was trying to reach out to me – probably in an effort to break my silence.

His forwardness and eventual guilty assertion to stay with him to drink another çay (tea) confused me. I was now curious about these mixed messages. I contemplated leaving to wallow more in self pity. Then a thought dawned on me…

Was our conversation simply lost in translation?

I asked, with new-found hope, “Ok, so let’s just clarify. What is the Turkish word for like?”

“Sevmek.” He replied.

“And, what is love?” I continued, although I already knew the answer.

“Aşk.”

I decided to leave it at that. Knowing that later, as an avid sociologist and researcher, I would seek out the difference…and write about it.

After all, I had seen loving words and phrases with sev and aşk used interchangeably in relationships, and to be honest, I never questioned their difference once translated to English.

Seni seviyorum = I love you

Sevgilim = my love

Aşkım = my love

Didn’t they all refer to, “love”?

Later, when I got home, I did what most people do when lost in the language differences of a foreign world. I consulted Google translate.

I typed: Sevmek

The translation tool revealed the word, ‘like’.

Then I typed: Aşk

The answer: Love.

Dam! My ex was right. In defiance, I concluded that Google Translate for Turkish and English was rarely accurate so I had to delve deeper.

I Googled.

Love life Istanbul 1

Scanning through the results, I read things suggesting sevgi being an affectionate love between friends or between parents and children, whilst aşk was a romantic love. My heart didn’t lift. So, I kept surfing in my quest to define love in Turkey.

Finally, TurkishClass.com had a forum where others were equally confused:

Love Life Istanbul 2

“What?” I was struggling with Turkish, let alone Greek! So now, I’m more curious. I Google: Eros and agape, and I have a little breakthrough with this page:

Four Kinds of Love; Eros, Agape, Phileo & Storge on the blog, Eros to Agape: Moving more deeply into loving relationships.

On this page, eros (aşk) was defined as:

“A love felt particularly within the body (trembling excitement, elation, joy), coloured and underpinned by deep and beautiful procreative urges.”

“….Eros is a state of the heart and while it is intimately related to sex, sex can exist, and often does exist, without Eros enlivening it. It leads to children, family, joy and laughter. It is good and right, but it is usually not enough to sustain a relationship long term.”

Well that started off sounding nice but ended badly. So I read agape (sevgi):

“Agape – Is more of a parental, mature, sacrificial kind of love. The Thayer Lexicon describes agape beautifully when it says “to take pleasure in the thing, prize it above all other things, be unwilling to abandon it or do without it.” In a way it is as idealistic as Eros, in that it is a crazy love that will not let go. Agape loves, usually at cost to the bearer. Agape puts the beloved first and sacrifices pride, self-interest and possessions for the sake of that beloved.”

Oh! The penny drops. Agape (sevgi/like) does sound more like the relationship my ex and I had, and probably still have in that we can’t do without each other. Our love was mature. It wasn’t fleeting. It wasn’t unfulfilling as eros was defined. I knew that eros doesn’t last and that’s what made him different to other relationships I’ve had.

Then these quotes sealed my new-found understanding:

Sevgi last forever even if aşk ends.”

And, my favourite:

“A man who says aşkım may be talking about his love for a pretty blonde, but not the blonde herself.”

Now, I get it. In Turkish, in the world of commitment, like (sevgi) is better than love (aşk). Aşk is more about lust. It’s an erotic love that often ends – like a fleeting romance. Sevgi is a higher love. It’s unconditional and lasting.

My ex and I were lost in translation. Whilst he failed beautifully in his attempt to label our relationship using English words, the words in Turkish made complete sense – and were actually quite sweet. I completely saw his point.

With my research declaring ‘case closed’, I rang my ex to apologise. I broke the ice by joking about all the times I called him aşkim (my love). He re-confirmed the difference and confessed he too couldn’t quite explain the difference in our bilingual relationship.

I joked further, “Google Translate has a lot of explaining to do!” I apologised for my anger and, instead, thanked him for his honesty and kind words.

Hanging up the phone, I said to myself:

Remind me, never to aşk about love again!

How you can REALLY help donate to refugees

Welcome, fellow humanitarians.  I guess you’ve stopped by because you’ve realised that the lives of refugees are just as worthy as your own, and you’re now keen to donate to make a difference.

LoveLifeIstanbul 1

If you’re looking to donate new or used goods, your services or your time to helping refugees in Turkey then head to Lisa Morrow’s Inside out in Istanbul for a summary of the current groups and initiatives (as of September 2015). Also check out the agencies and groups doing good things for refugees world-wide. These are listed at the end of this article.

Beyond the initial motivation to donate there are some practical actions donors can do to help volunteer efforts, and in turn, help the refugees get what they need faster for their  passage to peace.

1. Ask

Ask what the immediate needs are of the group(s) you’d like to donate to. Check their website. Link to their social media pages. Contact their coordinators.

Food is obviously high on the list of needs but these needs can change.

The groups helping refugees in Turkey are largely run by volunteers – volunteers that don’t have budgets to buy or rent large storage spaces. They rely on the kind donations of people for shelving, boxes and rooms to store items in. For this reason, storage and security of those donations after-hours can present a challenge for volunteers – especially when flooded with goods kindness.

Asking the organisation what they need as a priority will not only help them manage the stock and space they have but will also direct your donations to the areas of most need.

2. Think

While we’re on the space issue, when sorting or buying goods to donate, do think about the lives of the refugees you’re donating to. Are they on the move or in camps? Think about the logistics they face in getting from point A to B. Think about the climate they’re in, their genders, ages, their sense of fashion and aim to support these needs as a priority.

Items that cannot be given out to refugees by volunteer groups do take up space or require additional management to distribute them to the right receiver. Keep the needs of refugees at forefront of your mind when deciding what to donate.

Think small and compact for personal belongings such as hygiene products and toys for children.

Think light-weight for carrying in small bags.

Think maximum reach for donations (i.e. If buying baby clothes or shoes, donate those with unisex colours so boys or girls may benefit from your donation).

Think practical.

3. Don’t donate

Yes, I said don’t donate….IF the item you wish to donate is one or more of the following:

  • Sequined disco dresses
  • Skin tight short dresses
  • See-through clothing
  • Short shorts
  • Short skirts
  • Tops with revealing/plunging necklines
  • Dusty shoes with holes in them
  • Shoes that are broken or on their last steps
  • Clothes that are stained or tattered or full of holes
  • Stiletto shoes
  • Evening gowns
  • Racy lingerie
  • Opened or half-empty personal products
Not ideal for distributing to refugee women.

Not very appropriate items to donate to the ladies feeling war torn countries.

(Yes, my research has shown these items have been found in the donation bags to refugees!)

Even though these items are given with good intentions, these items are not appropriate to give to refugees – who dress more modestly. Not only do they contribute to the space issue, they take up the time of volunteers who spend hours sorting and categorising clothing. These volunteers wish to get on with helping refugees – rather than reminisce about the days of disco!

Basically when deciding what to donate, put yourself in the shoes of a refugee and ask yourself: Would I wear that? Would I need that? Would I want my husband/wife or my children to wear that? If the answer is no, then keep it for another donation drive elsewhere. Donate only those items that you feel a refugee will genuinely wear or use, rather than using the call for donations as an excuse to clear out the wardrobe.

4. Do donate

In terms of clothing, there can never be enough good quality clothing for all shapes, genders and sizes. More helpful clothing items that can easily be distributed are:

  • Ladies long cotton skirts
  • Ladies long sleeved cotton tops
  • Ladies shalwars either worn by themselves or under skirts
  • Primary school aged kids clothes (6 – 12 years), including shorts and pants
  • Comfortable pants for men
  • Winter jackets, beanies, gloves, scarfs, enclosed shoes (especially now winter is coming)
  • New underwear for all ages, genders and sizes
More appropriate donations for ladies...

More appropriate donations for ladies.

Clothing is not the only the thing to donate though. By researching the agencies linked to this article below you’ll find there’s plenty to contribute to, such as:

  • Food packs
  • Sanitation packs
  • Hot food donations
  • Donations of toys
  • Donations of reading material
  • Donations to help cook or set up a new home
  • Funding for programs and initiatives
  • Calls for volunteers to donate their time to teach, coordinate groups, and organise volunteers
  • Donations of boxes, shelving and other furniture that help organise premises for volunteers to work.

Again, ask the group(s) your interested in helping what their immediate needs are and go from there.

5. Categorise

The volunteers in clothing distribution centres are overwhelmed with clothes and one of the greatest things you could do is to help them out too. When sorting through your donated clothes try to categorise them into separate bags so they can be stored faster and the volunteers can spend more time in helping refugees directly.

Here’s some suggested categories you can either box or bag your donations in.

Suggested categories for clothing donations to held volunteers sort and store items.

Suggested categories for clothing donations to help volunteers sort and store items.

Winter and summer items should also be ideally separated and categorised as it’s likely they’re stored separately. Labelling or categorising items into sizes may also help when large quantities are given.

6. Gratitude

The world has not seen this mass level of migration in many years and those who have come forward to donate their time to helping are giving up work, time with family, time with friends and time to themselves. In donating to refugees, also donate some gratitude to those helping, because the other risk to this crisis is volunteer fatigue. Say thanks and keep them energised. Better still, go give them a helping hand.

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#SyrianRefugees #RefugeesWelcome #Syrian #HumanityThanks

Keen to donate your time, services or goods? Here’s a list of agencies with donation programs to help refugees:

Care Packages for Syrian Refugees (based out of Bodrum, Turkey)

Lesvos Volunteers (Based out of the island of Lesvos/Lesbos, Greece)

Halklarin Koprusu

Caritas in Istanbul

Small Projects Istanbul (Based out of Istanbul, Turkey)

Ad.Dar Istanbul

Hayata Destek (Support to Life)

United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHRC)

International Rescue Committee

International Committee of the Red Cross

Save the Children

Care International

Refugees-Welcome

Doctors without Borders

Humanity, can you hear me?

I couldn’t sleep last night. The images of the refugee crisis culminating in the lifeless body of little three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed ashore on a Bodrum beach in Turkey weighed heavy on my mind.

The image is distressing to people, but this is the reality of our world right now. Last week there were images of other children, about the same age as Alan, washed up on Mediterranean shores which I chose not to share at the time. I thought it was too upsetting to share. But enough is enough. The world needs to see what their governments are doing and what the people of the world may be contributing to.

The powerful image of little Alan is what happens when governments deny a safe passage to refugees seeking asylum.

Alan’s death and the death of so many other refugees – men, women and children – is not Europe’s fault. It’s not the Arab world’s fault. It’s not Turkey’s fault. It’s not USA’s fault. It’s not Australia’s fault. It’s not Canada’s fault. It’s the whole world’s fault.

It’s not the European migrant crisis. It’s the international refugee crisis – there is a difference. All of those countries mentioned above and beyond are responsible for these deaths.

And it’s not just the heads of these governments to blame. It’s the lay people who support their leader’s nationalist “reclaim our country” rhetoric, or the, “stop the boats,” insensitive clichés, or the millions spent to put up razor wire fences and other blockades. Supporting these political slogans to gain power policies, doing whatever means possible to make a refugee’s journey to safety unsafe is what contributes to our crisis.

Those policies aren’t effective. They kill. They killed Alan. They killed his brother. They killed his mother. They killed 12 people on the same raft. They’ve killed for months now. Years. Because no matter what, seeking safety for your family, for your children, seeking a life where you can feed and clothe them in peace will always be a priority for a mother or a father during times of war. FOR ALL OF US.

We cannot deny refugees a safe passage believing our country will always be safe too. The shoe might be on the other foot one day. I pray not, but remember WW2 Europe, America, and even Australia? Syria was at peace just five years ago too.

We let Alan (and others) die because we stood back whilst the greed for power took over around the world. Because insipid fears were not silenced. Fears by parts of our society that believe refugees and migrants don’t contribute to society. The same insipid fears that politicians thrive on to keep them in power. The same politicians people love to hate. The same fears that makes the media rich, because fear sells these days. The same media people love to hate.

In Turkey, websites – largely Kurdish news – reporting on events near the border are blocked. In Australia, the government blocks the media reporting on refugee boats and the horrendous conditions of refugees in Nauru or Manus Island. Look to other international media and they’re hell bent on calling this the “European migrant crisis”.  Spin doctors are having a field day keeping mainstream society in the dark.

Enough already. What is really happening in Syria? What’s really happening on the borders with Turkey in the last month to cause this escalation of refugees? And why do our governments have deep pockets to fund wars, yet shallow pockets to manage the fall out they create.

Enough already.

Our world is better than this.

RIP in little angel, may your next world be far kinder.

#‎KiyiyaVuranInsanlik‬ #HumanityWashedAshore

Source: Save Kobane on Facebook

Source: Save Kobane on Facebook

Honouring our ANZACs in Istanbul

This is the third installment of my special ANZAC centenary series, acknowledging the importance of ANZAC Day in the lives of Australians, New Zealanders and Turkish people. If you’re an expat in Istanbul or travelling to Istanbul for the centenary then here’s are a couple of commemorative events taking place you might wish to check out.

An Unusual Friendship – Remembering Gallipoli

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Photographer Mine Konakci explores the unusual friendship that has arisen between the Anzacs and Turks since the fighting and anguish of the Gallipoli campaign.  By photographing subjects from Australia, New Zealand and Turkey, this project documents direct descendants of Anzac and Turkish (Ottoman) soldiers who fought in the 1915 Gallipoli campaign during World War I. The subjects are photographed with a projected image of their ancestor in an attempt to illuminate the relationship between the soldiers who fought in Gallipoli and their descendants.

The exhibit is open until May 24, 2015 at:

Buart Gallery

Bahçeşehir University building

Level 4, 24 Kemeralti Cd, Karaköy

Set aside 30 minutes to see the exhibition and read the slide show depicting the subjects’ quotes and information about their ancestors’ role in the Gallipoli Campaign. For more information about the exhibit visit: http://www.rememberinggallipoli.com

Getting there:

The Bahçeşehir University building is on the T1 tramline, between Tophane and Karaköy. The T1 tramline links directly to Sultanahmet – the main tourism precinct – in 10 minutes. Get off the tram at Karaköy and walk on the Bosphorus (water) side of the tramline/road in a north-easterly direction for a few minutes until you see the Garanti Bank. The entrance to the university building is next to the Garanti Bank. The latest Istanbul public transport map can be found here, showing the T1 tramline in dark blue. Walking from Sultanahmet can take 20 – 30 minutes.

Çanakkale 1915

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The İş  Bank Museum (Türkiye İş Bankası Müzesi) near the Spice Bazaar/Egyptian Bazaar is hosting an exhibit called Çanakkale 1915. The exhibit features photos, memorabilia and other artifacts from the Gallipoli Campaign from both the Ottoman and British Empires (including the ANZACs). Çanakkale is the town near the Gallipoli Peninsula that came under fire in the battle over the Dardanelles which led up the Allied landings on April 25, 1915.

Entry is free. The exhibit is in Turkish but ask for your free English audio-guide on arrival. The address in English is:

2 Bankacilar Caddesi (Road)
Eminonu

Getting there: Take the T1 Tram to Eminonu and walk towards the entrance of the Spice Bazaar. Bankacilar Caddesi (road) is the first cobblestone road on your left as you face the main entrance of the Spice Bazaar. You’ll find the museum opposite the New Mosque (Yeni Cami).

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2015 ANZAC Appeal

Red remembrance poppies are available from Fuego Café & Restaurant in Sultanahmet for you to take to Gallipoli to place against the names of the fallen who lay peacefully on our shores. All proceeds go to the RSL ANZAC Appeal in Australia. The ANZAC Appeal aims to give back to past and present servicemen and women who sacrificed their lives for Australia. For more information visit www.anzacappeal.com.au.

Together in Istanbul

Fuego Cafe & Restaurant is also hosting an informal, “Together in Istanbul for our ANZACS” from 22 – 27 April. The gathering is for modern-day Johnnys and Mehmets to meet and share their ANZAC stories and continue the friendship that started 100 years ago. Go along and enjoy a drink or dinner with new and old mates and soak up the ANZAC spirit. Drop-ins are accepted but bookings are advised to ensure you get a table. More information and how to get there is on the Fuego website.

Previous posts in the ANZAC Series:

16 tips for visiting Istanbul for the ANZAC centenary

A lesson on ANZAC Day

Tomorrow’s post – My ANZAC Day diary at Gallipoli.

16 tips for visiting Istanbul for the ANZAC centenary

This is off the normal topic of writing for expats in Istanbul, but I’ve been dishing out a few tips to Australians and New Zealanders coming to Istanbul for the ANZAC centenary. I thought I would write a blog article summarising the questions and answers given to date.

To know what the ANZAC century is, then check out my previous posts about ANZAC Day and Gallipoli.

Firstly, to those venturing to Turkish shores for the first time, know that Turkey is a modern first-world country full of modern-day conveniences to serve its population of over 70 million. Istanbul alone has over 14 million nestled in its boundaries, so, expect convenient public transport; shops open all day, every day ’til late; an abundance of ATMs; and basically a lot of conveniences that you will wish Australia and New Zealand had themselves.

On the flipside, Istanbul can be like your uber cool, chaotic and often unpredictable friend. They’re not always organised but they’re charming and fun to be around. In other words, don’t expect things to always go to plan. What you might be told, might be different to what you get….and most of the time that’s ok because sometimes plans change for good reasons. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and ask again to validate your understanding.

If you are coming to Istanbul for ANZAC Day (or any other time) then firstly:

Hoşgeldiniz! (Welcome) You’re about to holiday in one of the most hospitable countries in the world!

Here are a few tips that might help you have a great time.

1. Do I take Euro, American dollars or Lira?

There is no need for Euros and American dollars if you don’t want to exchange your Australian and New Zealand dollars. Turkish Lira (TL) is the local currency and is used in Turkey to pay for everything.

In Turkey’s tourism sector, however, “money is money” and most hotels, tour operators, hamams (Turkish baths) and shops will promote prices in Euro or (less often) US dollars. They do this partly believing it’s convenient for the majority of travellers to Istanbul. It’s not for Aussies and Kiwis who don’t use these currencies. Check with your vendor with what they prefer you to pay them in, but know you should be able to pay them in Turkish Lira too. Make sure you’re not losing out on the exchange rate first.

Other than paying for these tourism services, do shop, barter, eat, and pay for transportation in Turkish Lira. Do as the locals do.

2. Shall I take Turkish Lira with me?

Apparently there’s a shortage of Turkish Lira in exchange bureaus of Australia. Don’t panic. Turkish Lira can be obtained from ATMs throughout Istanbul (and the country) using your VISA card. ATMs are everywhere and have English instructions available to make it easy to complete your transaction just as you would at home.

You can exchange your country’s currency into Turkish Lira at exchange bureaus (called, döviz) around the country too.

VISA, Mastercard and often American Express are accepted at most shops, restaurants, bars and hotels so you can earn those reward points whilst buying for goods and services in Turkey.

Avoid using traveler’s cheques if you can. They’re time consuming to exchange in Turkey and should only be used in an absolute emergency. Western Union have branches here for emergencies too.

turkish money

Image: Turkish coins and notes

3. Where are the best money exchange bureaus?

Locals will tell you the best exchange rates are in the Grand Bazaar. But like all money exchange dealings do shop around for the best deal – and look for ones without commission.

4. Is it safe in Istanbul?

Is it safe in your own hometown? It’s a difficult question to answer. Istanbul is a big city and not immune to crime. But one thing that is different is its huge population. There is always a high degree of natural surveillance around you – many eyes on the street.

As a woman, I can usually take public transport at night by myself – which I do not feel safe doing in Australia. Of course I assess the risks and make a judgement call, but being a Muslim country, there is far less people afflicted by alcohol and drugs than Australia and New Zealand which generally makes me feel safer.

Crowded areas can sometimes be problematic, such as peak hour on public transport and in the bazaar areas. Crowds make for easy prey for pick pocketers – as they do in other big cities.

There is a heightened threat of terrorism as the Australian and New Zealand governments have warned. However, as the events in Sydney and Paris recently showed us, sadly terrorism can occur anywhere around the world. The best thing to do, is follow the information from your country’s traveller advice website. Stay vigilant, avoid high-risk areas and ultimately trust your instincts.

Do know that Istiklal Street/Taksim Square are the venues for protests almost on a daily basis. These are usually peaceful demonstrations about a broad range of topics from animal welfare to legal injustices. Armed police complete with sizable guns are normally on stand-by which can be daunting to most, but it’s just precautionary. If you feel unsafe at any time retreat and get a taxi to your hotel or another safe destination.

5. What’s the weather like in April?

Being in the northern hemisphere, Turkey is coming out of a cold winter so expect the evenings to be chilly and the days, inshallah (god willing), to be sunny. It’s possible to get sunburnt on a cloudless day so remember to slip, slop, slap and throw on a hat!

Pharmacies are called Eczane (signposted with a large “E” in lights) . You can pick up sunscreen there. Pharmacies are again located on many streets in the city.

No need to pack bulky umbrellas too. If it rains people will come out on the street to sell them for 5-10TL ($AUD5)! They won’t last a lifetime but they’ll do the trick for a few days…or less.

…and don’t forget to celebrate our springtime and check out the tulips! Gulhane Park is likely to be your closest location.

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Photo: The tulip is celebrated in its country of origin at the International Istanbul Tulip Festival every April.

6. What should I wear?

It’s not quite weather for wearing shorts every day in April so pack jeans, a few long sleeved shirts and a winter jacket or two. Scarfs / pashminas are more common than apple tea so make the most of the “2 for 1” deals (I mean the $AUD1:2.02TL exchange rate) and buy up if you get cold. Thermals may be useful on the night of April 24 at Gallipoli – but unlikely to be needed in Istanbul at this time of year.

7. Do I need to cover when entering mosques?

Yes. When visiting mosques, make sure your shoulders and legs are covered and ladies do cover your head with a scarf. It’s respectful to do so. Some of the bigger mosques will have scarfs for you but best to use your own.

Take your shoes off before entering any mosque and take them with you using the plastic bags provided.

Also avoid walking in front of people praying, and know mosques will close for 30 minutes after the call to prayer five times a day for local worshippers. Expect major delays to get inside mosques around lunchtimes when Friday prayers take place.

Mosque

8. What’s the shopping like?

You’ve come to the right place. Turkey is one of the biggest producers and exporters of textiles so shopping for clothes is great. Sultanahment and the bazaar district in the old city is the place for genuine fakes but the range of shops for modern fashions, especially for women, is light-on.

Head to Istiklal Avenue in Taksim for international retailers like H&M, Mango, Zara, Topshop and enjoy other great retailers like Mavi, ADL, OXXO, Koton and Collezione. Istiklal, a street they say millions walk down every day, is two kilometres of shopping and cafes…and a good excuse to venture out of the old city to see another face of the Istanbul.

The neighbourhood of Nişantaşı on the European side or Bağdat Caddesi (Avenue) on the Asian side are where the swankiest shops can be found.

Large shopping malls like Istanbul Forum, Zorlu Centre, and Cevahir are also taking over the city – but will require a few changes in public transport or a taxi ride to get there from the old city.

If you’re in the market for jeans, then I swear you won’t find a better pair than buying them in Turkey. Even designer brands source their denim from here.

Istiklal Street

Photo: Istiklal Avenue, a two-kilometre pedestrian street, runs from Taksim Square to Galata.

9. Do I need a VPN?

People living in Turkey are becoming increasing users of VPNs (Virtual Private Networks). VPNs allow us to tap into servers in other countries to access sites that may be blocked in Turkey. We use them to run our businesses and communications with the outside world if the government blocks Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media sites (which they did in early April). At the moment, these sites are available to access so it is unlikely you need a VPN on your stay here.

Twitter

Cartoon: Turkish humour reacts to Twitter being blocked…

10. What about Turkish SIM cards – should I get one?

You can buy Turkish SIM cards with varying packages (from 29TL) from Turkish phone dealers: Avea, Vodafone or Turkcell. They have dealers in the arrivals halls of the airports. Do be aware, however, that putting a Turkish SIM in a foreign phone can eventually lead to Turkish authorities blocking your phone – unless you register your handset.

At the moment, there is a guide that you can use a Turkish SIM in a foreign phone for up to two months before it becomes blocked. But sometimes in Turkey, what is communicated and what actually happens are two different things. And do you really want to risk having an issue with your phone when there’s so much to see and do in the country?

Speak to the phone dealers in the airport to get their advice. But do know that WIFI is free in MANY places. Cafes, hotels, roadhouses – most places you visit will have reliable and free WIFI available (or somewhere nearby will). Just ask for a password to connect and communicate through apps like FaceTime, Voxer, WhatsApp, Facebook, Viber, Skype – all for free – without the threat of your phone being blocked. Yes, even Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger will now allow you to call your friends for free if they use the app too! Just look for the icon of a telephone handset on the messaging screen.

If you own a business and/or need phone coverage whilst at Gallipoli then also check what your options are for international services from dealers in Australia and New Zealand.

11. What if a stranger approaches me on the street?

In the tourist areas such as Sultanahmet, Gulhane Park, the Blue Mosque etc, would-be-entrepreneurs are on the ready to trip you into unwanted ventures like carpet shopping. If a man randomly approaches you on a street and offers to take you for drink or take you to a carpet shop, decline the offer, unless you wish to buy.

At no time should you hand over money to enter the Blue Mosque. It is free to enter. Donations on exit are appreciated and should be placed in the box marked as such.

Carpets

Photos: Excuse me, would you like to buy a carpet?

12. I heard men can annoy you on the streets? Is it true?

Again in the tourism precincts, expect most restaurant waiters to approach you to dine at their premise. Politely decline unless you wish to eat there. They’re used to rejection and are unlikely to follow you beyond the boundaries of their restaurant.

Ladies, also expect vendors in Sultanahmet and surrounds to try to get your attention by questioning you with, “Excuse me did you drop something…my heart?” and, “Can I ask you something?” or, “Where are you from?” Ignoring them and walking on is acceptable and will save you time and their heartache.

On a side note, do go to Taksim, Galata, the Asian side and other city locations to see the different faces of the city. The old city (Sultanahmet and surrounds) is very much a tourism precinct where many local men work. You may ask, “Where are all the local women!?” They are in Istanbul – you just need venture out of the old city to find them.

13. How do I avoid being ripped off by a taxi driver?

Difficult question to answer but there are a few tips I can offer:

  • When you get into a taxi the flag fall on the taximeter should be 3.20TL – day or night. If it is not just say “problem meter” and if he doesn’t fix it then get out and get another taxi.
  • There is a reliable app for locals called BiTaksi. You can use it to call for taxis using a GPS system, but I’ve used it with limited success in Sultanahmet and Taxim due to the enormity of one-way roads.
  • Avoid taking taxis off the street – unless you want a tour of the city to get to your destination. Instead, ask your hotel or restaurant to order you a taxi from a reputable taxi stand.
  • Avoid using 50TL notes in paying your fare as they look like 5TL notes. A quick switch by the cab driver and your handing over more money than you need. Have 10TL and 20TL notes to avoid this confusion. The government have started issuing purple 5TL to stop this swindle.
  • A taxi to “Topkapi” can lead you to the suburb of that name – not the palace – with the latter costing significantly more. Ask for Topkapi Palace or take the T1 Tram to Gulhane or Sultanamet stops and walk to the palace within five minutes.
  • Use Turkish Lira to pay the price on the taximeter at the end of your trip. Never bargain up front – you’re just asking for trouble if you do!

14. Can I expect discounts?

Yes, it’s possible to obtain discounts on your travels here.

  • If you plan to use public transport than do get an IstanbulKart. Click here for more information.
  • The Museum Pass (MuzeKart) does offer great discounts but make sure you’ll get your money’s worth before purchasing.
  • Turkish hospitality is the best and chances are you’ll enjoy the rewards of being a wonderful guest with complimentary teas and the like. Yes there are dodgy people on the streets, but there are far more considerate local people that are willing to offer you tea and a great conversation.

15. I have food allergies – what can I do?

The Turkish diet is one made from fresh produce, cooked-fresh and rarely uses processed products. Interestingly, in my observations it would seem food allergies are much rarer here. This means most menus won’t be marked with gluten-free or lactose-free meals. When you order your meal always let your host know your allergies and see what they recommend. Also ask your concierge or a Turkish speaker to write a note for you in Turkish to explain your allergies. You can simply hand that over when making your order. Things can get lost in translation otherwise!

And finally my favourite question to answer was…

16. How many Tim Tams do you want me to bring to thank you for your advice?
How many can you fit in your bag? Is there room for champagne too 🙂

(Just joking! On a serious note. Say thank you by donating to the ANZAC Appeal online or in Istanbul at  Fuego Cafe & Restaurant. Fuego has 2,000 RSL red remembrance poppies too. When you make your donation take one with you to Gallipoli to place on the names of the fallen).

tim tam

Iyi yolculuklar (Have a good journey!)

Tomorrow’s post: Honouring our ANZACs in Istanbul – What’s on in Istanbul for the ANZAC centenary.

A lesson on ANZAC Day

The 2015 Gallipoli Ballot has been drawn and 10,000 lucky Australians and New Zealanders now have their tickets in hand to attend a once in a lifetime experience – to be on Turkey’s Gelibolu Yarımadası (Gallipoli Peninsula) for ANZAC Day, April 25. The event will mark the centenary of the ill-fated Allied landings at Gallipoli during the First World War (WW1).

This means Istanbul is about to experience a ground-swell of “Aussies” and “Kiwis” during the latter weeks of April. In previous years, we would predict the coming of ANZAC Day by the sudden presence of casual board shorts in cold conditions, thongs flip-flops, freckled skin and profanity pounding the pavements of Sultanahmet.

Tank tops, tattoos, flags and a barbie (BBQ) - Australians in full patriotic bloom!

Photo: Tank tops, tattoos, Aussie flags and a barbie (BBQ) full of sangas (sausages) – Australians in full patriotic bloom!

But this year, we’re expecting a more refined crowd. More dignitaries and less backpackers. More veterans and less beer guzzling world travellers under the age of 25 – due to the ballot’s attempt to manage crowd numbers.

Whilst those attending are more likely to blend in, media attention and heightened security measures will follow as dignitaries and celebrities alike gather for a front row seat at the commemorations.

Prince Charles and (swoonworthy) Prince Harry will be in town. So too will Russel Crowe, who returns to Turkey after doing a sterling job on entwining Australian and Turkish WW1 stories born of the Gallipoli Campaign in, The Water Diviner, known in Turkey as Son Umut (2014).

Prince Harry is hot

Photo: Will having a sign like this earn me a hand in marriage high-five from Prince Harry?

If you’re not an Australian or a New Zealander, then ANZAC Day may be a foreign concept to you. ANZAC Day is like your Veterans Day, Memorial Day, or Remembrance Day – our day “down under” to patriotically honour the men and women who served, fought and died for our countries in the military missions throughout history.

So important is this day, that it’s a declared a national holiday in Australia and New Zealand. In most cities and towns, governments will host memorial services and marches to honour the significance of the day in defining our national identities.

ANZAC Day itself commemorates the crucial events on Turkish soil when the (then) young countries of Australia and New Zealand first engaged in battle on an international front. This occurred in the early hours of April 25, 1915, when a long-awaited ground invasion of Allied forces stormed the Western shores of the Gallipoli Peninsula in an attempt to conquer the Dardanelles – the strategic geographic gateway linking the Aegean and Marmara seas.

Gallipoli

Photo: Location of the Dardanelles and the landing area for ANZAC troops labelled with  “ANZAC Cove”.

Approximately 4,000 ANZAC troops of the 3rd Brigade were first ashore near Ari Burnu as the Allied “covering force” around 4am. By nightfall over 20,000 ANZAC, British and French soldiers were ashore in armed combat on the Gallipoli Peninsula* against the army of the Ottoman Empire, that included one Colonel Mustafa Kemal.

The British Empire, leading the ANZAC troops, believed defeating the Ottomans over the Dardanelles would provide passage to the capital of the Ottoman Empire – Constantinople (today’s Istanbul). First take the land-based forts and batteries lining the Dardanelles, then sail the Royal Navy down the strait to the capital. The strategy, envisioned through rose-coloured glasses, assumed a multi-pronged victory; Capture of the supply routes to Russia via the Bosphorus and Black Sea, and create a new frontier from the east to support existing battles on the Western Front in Europe.

The landings on April 25 were a follow-up to the unsuccessful Anglo-French naval charge to Constantinople at the head of the Dardanelles on March 18, 1915. Victory by the Ottoman Army that day is now celebrated annually in Turkey as Çanakkale Victory Day or Martyr’s Day.

The Gallipoli landings and subsequent nine-month campaign evoked a series of well-documented heroic stories, but, the Gallipoli Campaign in truth was a military failure for the Allies. Many mishaps were brought on by poor planning or execution and an underestimation of the full strength of the Ottoman forces.

The major error pertinent to the ANZAC’s campaign involved their landing boats on the morning of April 25. The pinnaces towing the “covering force” ashore drifted further north than their intended targets at Gaba Tepe and the 4,000 ANZACS troops landed at the foot of soaring sandstone terrain adjacent to the areas now known as Ari Burnu, ANZAC Cove and North Beach. The landscape alone was not the issue, the majority of the covering force troops were greeted by snipers and heavy machine gun fire – many did not survive.

Gallipoli Peninsula

Photo: The terrain that greeted the ANZAC troops.

What followed was utter confusion, dispersed battalions and an abandonment of original plans to take Mal Tepe on the high ground by the end of day one (April 25). Over the following months, soldiers fought largely on foot over the cliffs, ridges and plateaus of the peninsula. Many hours were spent digging trenches to protect soldiers and enable supply routes through the treacherous terrain. The amount of tunnelling and digging that took place earned the ANZAC troops the nickname, “the diggers,” which is a name you’ll hear today to describe Australian armed forces.

Lady luck rarely struck the Allies on the peninsula for the remainder of the campaign.* By November 1915, with deteriorating weather conditions and an increase in Ottoman strength, the British Empire finally succumbed to the enormity of the target and ordered a mass evacuation involving over 140,000 troops, horses and artillery. The majority of troops were evacuated over four nights in December with the last of the British and French soldiers leaving the peninsula on January 9, 1916.  The evacuation to the Aegean Sea was met with little resistance and causalities were minimal – a rare military success in the whole campaign.

Leaving in its wake, an estimated 392,856 causalities of Allied and Ottomans soldiers (130,842 deaths and 262,014 wounded). Almost half of these were Ottoman casualties.  As for Australia, of the 50,000 men who made it to Gallipoli, over half of them were casualties of war (8,709 deaths and 19,441 wounded). New Zealanders, with a smaller contingent of around 14,000 men also suffered a high causality rate with 2,779 killed and 5,212 wounded (almost 8,000 casualties).

Also in the wake of the campaign were thousands of Gallipoli legacies. Stories of Australian and Turkish heroes and of “mateship” that formed across enemy trenches – just metres apart. Stories of bravery and tragedy etched in diaries and letters of those who were there. Photos preserved from the past that tell their own story. Legendary stories of ceasefire days (to bury the dead and collect the injured) where the “Johnnys and Mehmets” (ANZACs and Ottomans) exchanged cigarettes, chocolate and played football (or cricket – depending on which side of the story is told). These words and these legacies, along with the acknowledgement that the Gallipoli Campaign was a bloody battle that should have been avoided, is what binds Australia, New Zealand and Turkey today.

My Australian uncle recently asked me, “Why don’t the Turks dislike Australians? We invaded their lands and killed their people.”  The words of Gallipoli’s Colonel Mustafa Kemal who went onto become Atatürk – the father of modern day Turkey and first President of the Republic of Turkey – came to my mind.

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side now here in this country of ours… you, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.

The ANZACS are Turkish sons too are words of great forgiveness. And, when respected leaders show great forgiveness, their people will follow and friendships are formed.

One of the benefits of living in Turkey as an Australian is hearing the Ottoman side of the war and forming a greater view of what the war meant for all our countries. What most Australians don’t realise is that all three countries began to form their modern-day identities – their national identities – in those eight months at Gallipoli in 1915. It wasn’t just a defining event for Aussies and Kiwis – it was also for the country we now openly visit and love (and call home) called, Türkiye (Turkey).

The thousands of Aussies and Kiwis due to land in Turkey this month will carry their own stories with them. Some may even hold the possessions or replicas of those who fought or served at Gallipoli. I will be joining them and my Turkish friends, some of them descendants of the campaign, are keen to meet them. I will be at Canakkale proudly baring the replica medals of my great granduncle, George Albert Fearn, who was part of the covering force with Western Australian 11th Battalion, B Company.

George came ashore in the second wave of landings – the wave that came under the heaviest fire once the Ottomans were alerted to the ANZAC arrivals. Many of the men he landed with did not make it to the beach, yet he survived the entire campaign, and for this I am extremely proud to represent him and my family near Gallipoli among my friends – the modern day Johnnys and Mehmets – who will be with me as the sun rises behind the peninsula signifying 100 years since our ANZAC “fathers” first touched Turkish soil.

Lest we forget.

* For more information about the whole campaign, including the role of the British, French and other Allies visit the excellent websites: www.gallipoli.gov.au; www.abc.net.auwww.awm.gov.auhttp://discoveringanzacs.naa.gov.au; and www.anzacwebsites.com.

Come back tomorrow to read, 16 tips for visiting Istanbul for the ANZAC centenary– a post for Aussies and Kiwis coming to Istanbul for the ANZAC centenary.