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Cablegate: Istanbul Mezzes: Slices of Life From Turkey's

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

Sensitive but unclassified. Not for internet distribution.

1. (U) This is the third in a series of cables offering a
sampling of political, economic and human rights topics
circulating in Istanbul.

Vatican II ) Muslim Style?

2. (SBU) We recently attended a Koran reading and sermon at
Sehzadebasi Mosque in the Eminonu-Fatih area, the heart of
Istanbul,s devout Muslim community, led by a very young
(30ish), accomplished imam who has won a number of
international competitions for Koran recitation and who )-
rather uniquely -- offers the sermon first in Arabic and then
in Turkish. The invitation to attend came from a group of
Turkish intellectuals, artists and businesspersons who
suggested at a gathering after the service that their hope is
to encourage a natural, non-politicized practice of
traditional Islam; in other words, an Islam that is not
associated with a particular political party (read: AKP), but
rather one which flows naturally from and within its
surrounding Turkish culture, under a secular State,s
protection. The topic of that day,s reading was moderation
and balance in life. Attendees claimed the Imam's Friday
sermons attract up to 5,000 worshippers.

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How Quickly We Forget

3. (U) November marked the second anniversary of the Al
Qa'eda bombings of two Istanbul synagogues (November 15,
2003), and the British Consulate and an HSBC branch (November
20, 2003). The Jewish community marked November 15 with a
low-profile wreath-laying ceremony at a monument erected by
the Beyoglu municipality, while the November 20 commemoration
took place at the British Consulate. Very few Istanbul
residents turned out to memorialize those lost in the four
bombings, and Turkish press quoted British CG Barbara Hay as
expressing disappointment in the low level of participation.
Many of our contacts downplay the November 2003 incidents as
anomalous attacks not directed at the "Turkish people" and
contrast them with PKK activity.

We Shall Always Remember, On The Other Hand

4. (SBU) Istanbul came to a standstill November 10 at
9:05am to commemorate the moment of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's
death sixty-seven years ago. With sirens wailing and the
usually bustling traffic and activity around Taksim Square
immobilized, Istanbul's Governor, Mayor and Land Forces
Commander, surrounded by city notables, stood at attention on
the Square, paying their respects to the founder of modern
Turkey. In a two-hour program following the salute, Istanbul
Governor Muammer Guler praised Ataturk as an "idea man," but
a War Academy representative stole the show with a
well-conceived 23-slide powerpoint presentation about
Ataturk's achievements. Students were featured throughout
the program, reciting poems and performing oratories about
the leader. The only blot on the day was when the Governor
felt obliged to reprimand students -- via an instruction to
the master of ceremonies -- who were unable to keep it down
to a dull roar during performances by Istanbul opera stars.

A Facelift Chez Mme. Tussaud

5. (SBU) Perhaps the most widely publicized event this past
November 10 was the unveiling of a new Ataturk waxwork at
London's Madame Tussaud's museum. An earlier version had
drawn complaints from thousands of Turkish tourists who
complained the waxwork looked nothing like Turkey's hero.
(Note: Indeed, the earlier version as seen on Turkish
television more closely resembled Bob Hope. End note.)
Apparently Turkish diplomats earlier had attempted to address
the issue, but not until the involvement of Koc Holding,
Turkey's leading conglomerate, did a project to replace the
flawed waxwork pick up steam. The Koc group reportedly
employed a team for more than one year to prepare a new
figure. At the unveiling, Koc Chairman Mustafa Koc declared
that "Turkey was progressing in the direction Ataturk
desired" and that it was his firm's duty to promote Turkey
and its history during this important time.

How Quickly We Forget, Part Two

6. (U) After seven years, one of the handful of cases
against contractors and construction engineers responsible
for substandard buildings that collapsed in the 1999 Duzce
earthquake came to an end, not with a bang but with a
whimper. The three men charged were found guilty, but fined
only YTL 50 (USD 37) each. Scandalized press headlines
calculated that the decision valued the 15 lives lost in the
quake and the building in question at YTL 3.3 each.

Glass Walls, Not Ceilings

7. (SBU) A 19-year-old Turkish female appeared at Conoff's
window recently seeking a visa to visit friends in New York.
Poised and possessed of fluent English, she came from a
wealthy family long established in Istanbul and was studying
International Relations at Koc University, one of the the
city's premier institutions of higher education. When Conoff
asked if she was interested in becoming a diplomat, the young
lady demurred and said that, because of who she was, she
could not. Assuming the applicant was referring to her
gender and recalling that Turkey had had a female prime
minister, Conoff expressed surprise that such discrimination
persisted in the Foreign Ministry. In response, the woman
smiled and explained that the problem was not related to
gender but to religion and perceived ethnicity. She claimed
that, as a Christian of Armenian descent, she would never
receive an appointment to the Turkish diplomatic corps, which
selected only "true Turks" to represent the Republic abroad.

Make A Wish

8. (U) Demonstrating that they do much more than &lunch,8
a number of Istanbul,s leading socialites (including a
number of successful businesswomen), launched the Istanbul
chapter of &Make a Wish Foundation8 in late November with a
gala dinner at a local 5-star hotel, the highlight of which
was the auctioning of five pieces of jewelry created
especially for the occasion. Within 25 minutes, over 625,000
YTL had been raised (i.e. over half a million dollars). In
an extravagant gesture, the successful bidder on one item of
jewelry donated the piece to be re-auctioned, following which
a number of people in the audience begin donating personal
items of jewelry to be auctioned. &All for show!8 huffed
one Turkish table companion, although clearly in the minority
in his criticism.

A Bar Mitzvah, Istanbul Style

9. (SBU) This metropolitan mosaic, like any mega-city,
offers great contrasts and diverse cultures. A recent Bar
Mitzvah held at the Ciragan Palace showcased both Istanbul's
Jewish elite and its broader (botoxed and bejeweled)
Bosphorus elite. The black-tie evening began with a caviar,
sushi and champagne reception. Guests were then led through
a draped corridor, with dancers in silhouette striking
various poses, to a dining hall where a five-course meal
awaited and more silver-skinned dancers reminiscent of the
Cirque du Soleil pranced on table tops, followed by a risque
floor show. The highlight was a bare-chested, pony-tailed
young man dressed in a dervish-like blue and white diagonally
striped mega-skirt who sang, high on his platform, while half
a dozen similarly scantily clad young men twirled around him,
twisting the skirt into interesting patterns. The absence of
a klezmer band and traditional "hora" notwithstanding )- and
despite the fact that the only yarmulke in the house was worn
by a Jewish friend visiting from New York -- toasts of
"L,chaim" reverberated throughout the evening, and the young
man being feted appropriately honored his large extended
family, personally thanking them one by one, as the guests
danced well into the morning.

Hidden Agendas

10. (U) A common theme of dinner discussion here is whether
or not PM Erdogan and his AKP have a &hidden
(Islamist/shar,ia) agenda8 they are waiting to spring on an
unwitting Turkish populace. At a recent event hosted by a
Western diplomatic colleague, a prominent businessman drew a
bleak picture of Turkey,s future under such a regime, while
acknowledging he had no interest in getting involved in
politics or otherwise positively engaging in civil society to
thwart any such agenda. In response to the question
&What,s the worst case scenario if Erdogan were to prevail
with such an agenda?8 the man replied: &Well, they could
restrict alcohol being served during Ramadan.8 To which his
wife responded: &And so?8

Hamam and Cheese
11. (U) Conoff took advantage of a dreary Sunday afternoon
following Ramadan to indulge in a soak and a scrub at the
centuries-old SultanAhmet Turkish bath in the heart of
historic Istanbul. Lounging on the steaming marble slabs
nearby were two regulars, fifty-something men, one a
native-born Turk and the other an Istanbulite of Greek
heritage. Presaging the next day's headlines concerning the
"souring" of Turkey-Greece relations (note: as the Greek PM
postponed a planned visit to Turkey for the second time this
year), the men carried on a loud and apparently longstanding
argument over the relative merits of feta and beyaz peynir,
the traditional Turkish white cheese. Upon learning that
conoff was American, the two asked which cheese was more
popular in the United States. When conoff replied that feta
is by far the better known, the erstwhile Greek crowed about
feta's transatlantic triumph. In an attempt to shut him up,
the Turk sputtered that while beyaz peynir has an agreeable
smell, feta "stinks no matter how you cut it."

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