This article appeared in our local newspaper ‘Hürriyet’ this morning. I couldn’t find anything in English, so I’m translating it for you. You can read the whole article here (but you can’t rely on Google translation).
A Little Damascus in the Heart of Istanbul
A mere 250,000 of the 2.2 million refugees who have fled the civil war in Syria have found a place in camps. About 330,000 are living in Istanbul. It’s unclear when the war in Syria will end, so they are settling in as though they will never return. There are schools, radio stations, arts and cultural groups. Just like London’s China Town, Syrians have established their own settlement in the district of Fatih. Desserts from Aleppo, döner from Damascus, coffee from Lattakia . . . bookshops and cafés, poetry readings and music are adding a new dimension to the city’s culture.
In this district there are places where the only language you will hear is Arabic. Especially after 4 pm, the streets come to life. Syrian students, girls and boys, families, men and women, flock into the streets. In one small area there are eighteen restaurants. We dropped into one called ‘Tarbush’. It was so crowded we couldn’t find a seat. While we were there, people were constantly coming and going. There were families, businessmen and students – but all were Syrian. Even the street-vendor outside was Syrian.
The proprietor, Muhammed Nizar Bitar, came to Turkey when the war broke out in 2011 and started a small operation making hummus. He explains how similar Syrian and Turkish cultures are:
“When we first opened, 90 per cent of our customers were Syrian and 10 per cent Arab. As time went by, Turks began to come, and now they make up 35 per cent of our clientele. The main topic of conversation among Syrian families is their new life. Old-timers say to new-comers, ‘Turks go to bed early, so don’t use the washing machine or the vacuum cleaner at night.’
“Turkish restaurateurs come and ask for recipes. Some of them are looking for Syrian chefs. We have no trouble finding ingredients. We can easily find the vegetables and spices we need. For example, we were looking for ‘mulubiye’, which you call ‘nane’ (mint). What we call ‘keshke’ is known as ‘tarhana’ here. Turkey is like a dream for us.”