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Cablegate: Istanbul's Ecumenical Ramazan: Borek, Bardakoglu

DE RUEHIT #2015/01 3061405
P 021405Z NOV 06




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ISTANBUL 00002015 001.2 OF 002

1. (U) Summary: Turkey's lively diversity and internal
contradictions are no more apparent than in Istanbul during
the month of Ramazan. While nearly 70% of Turks as a whole
are reported to fast during this period, the evenings'
numerous iftars are often more social and political than they
are spiritual in nature. The Pope's recent comments on Islam
and his upcoming visit was a common theme, as was the French
parliament's vote on the Armenian "genocide." Meanwhile,
glitzy -- and decidedly secular -- cultural and commercial
events continued apace in this sparkling, somewhat
"arriviste" metropolis. End summary.

2. (SBU) The Ramazan season began literally with a splash --
that of American burlesque artiste "Dita von Tease" (nee
Heather Renee Sweet) wearing nothing but two tassels and some
strategically placed sequins as she swirled in a giant Lucite
champagne glass filled with bubbles in front of several
hundred of Istanbul's "Bosphorus elite" at a black-tie event
marking the new partnership between Turkey's flagship fashion
house VAKKO and American designer Zac Posen. The reaction to
Miss von Tease and her impressive physique ranged from the
predictable wide-eyed grins of the tuxedoed crowd (and catty
remarks from the bejeweled but relatively less comely and
more seasoned distaff side of the audience) to hushed
expressions that this was inappropriate for the Ramazan
season and would bring criticism to VAKKO's Jewish-Turkish
owners, the Hakko family. Meanwhile, following a five-course
dinner, the hundred or so Manhattan-based fashionistas
accompanying Mr. Posen took to the dance floor, tossing back
champagne and va
rious shots of vodka and Jack Daniels, exclaiming, "Wow --
this place is just like New York!"

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3. (U) Other events were generally more sedate and
conventional. The Istanbul AKP chairman hosted his
traditional iftar for 2000 of his closest friends in honor of
PM Erdogan and visiting German Chancellor Merkel. This was
the second year in a row that the Istanbul AKP hosted the
Prime Minister and prominent notice was given on the
invitation and throughout the venue of the serial nature of
the event. PM Erdogan and Chancellor Merkel both spoke to
the assembled group, with Erdogan highlighting Turkey's
commitment to join the European Union and Merkel focusing on
concrete examples of cooperation between the two governments,
notably plans to open a Turkish-German university.

4. (SBU) We hosted an iftar on October 16 for a group of AKP
Istanbul party board members who despite decrying "media
bias" in reporting on recent tarikat scandals (reftel) were
confident that the AKP's strong grassroots organization would
enable the party to retain a Parliamentary majority in next
year's elections. Still, a party youth leader told us that
he and his young AKP colleagues would prefer PM Erdogan not
pursue the presidency next year; a sign that they believe the
Prime Minister's star-appeal could make a difference during
the parliamentary election.

5. (SBU) The Jewish community also hosted its annual iftar, a
tradition begun nearly 5-6 years ago at the suggestion of
Fetullah Gulen. While many in the community have become
increasingly suspicious of the Gulenists and their larger
motives, the tradition continues, with many of Istanbul's
prominent politicians and business figures attending a dinner
that routinely begins with an imam's call to prayer, includes
a cantor's chant following the main course, and ends with
both Muslim and Jewish benedictions. With the guest list
topping 500, several prominent Istanbul district mayors were
in attendance, including Beyoglu mayor Demircan and Sisli
mayor Sarigul. The ecumenical nature of the event was
underlined by the presence of minority religious leaders from
the Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Syriac
Christian communities.

6. (SBU) The Marmara Group Strategic and Social Research
Foundation -- a staunchly secularist organization that
includes former generals and ministers and prides itself on
faithfully representing "Ataturk's Turkey" -- held its 10th
Annual "Traditional Peace and Love Iftar" on October 13th.
Instituted in response to the perceived "political
Islamization" of Turkish society under Refah, Fazilet and
later AKP leadership, the Foundation showcases Turkey's
tolerant, secular nature by bestowing awards on Istanbul's
various minority religious leaders and other advocates of
secular governance. This year's iftar included no fewer than
three representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, who were
at pains to underscore the Church's desire for good relations
with Muslims. However, there was notable backchatter when

ISTANBUL 00002015 002.2 OF 002

the various Catholic representatives spoke, which died down
for other speakers in the lengthy program. End note.)
Showing their true ecumenical stripes, the Marmara Group also
included an AKP parliamentar
ian, on whom guests both to our right and left commented with
a sniff: "Doesn't he just look AKP?!" This year's guest of
honor was Turkey's General Director of Religious Affairs, Dr.
Ali Bardakoglu, who brought the house down with his remarks
that he'd come dressed in civilian attire to underscore the
fact that one did not need a long beard, head covering or any
form of dress to be a good Muslim, and that in Turkey's
secular society, the common denominators of Islam were
rationality and love -- unlike what we see on TV. Bardakoglu
stressed the importance of religious freedom and civil
values, while also noting (in an apparent allusion to the
French "genocide" legislation) that "as Turks we will always
face accusations, but we cannot afford to be reactionary; we
must defend and live by the truth."

7. (SBU) Prime Ministerial advisor and Istanbul MP Egemen
Bagis addressed a sparsely attended and very informal iftar
sponsored by the American Business Forum of Turkey (ABFT) at
a local hotel. Talk revolved around the PM's recent visit to
Washington and various trade issues, including recent GSP
developments and concern about the lack of an effective
U.S.-based Turkey lobby. Much to the chagrin of the host, a
rival business association chairman crashed the party. In
the relaxed atmosphere, anecdotes freely circulated regarding
Turkey's bureaucratic impediments to capital development and
relative lack of commercial transparency. One businessman
recounted his frustrating efforts to have his academic
credentials earned in the United States certified for
professional purposes in Turkey. He was directed to a
3-person windowless office in which one individual stamped
"incoming degrees," i.e. from foreign institutions, and the
other "outgoing." When he asked the third party what her
function was, the latter replied: "I manage the other two."

8. (SBU) Finally, the CG hosted an iftar October 17 for
prominent Islam-oriented think tanks, commercial
organization, charities and press, including senior editors
from Zaman and Yeni Safak. A news columnist known for her
hostile views toward the United States later wrote critically
in Radikal's October 19 edition that both the U.S. and
Iranian Consul Generals had hosted iftars on the same evening
and "it appeared that her colleagues preferred the American
function," despite U.S. actions in the Muslim world. Much of
the conversation revolved around Turkish charitable giving
and support for Lebanon and Gaza (the enthusiasm among Turks
for the former and the difficulty, given the security
situation, of the latter).

9. (U) Comment. The multiple sectors that have embraced
iftar as a means to cement ties within and among Istanbul's
various social and political groups, not to mention the
diverse approaches to iftar in Istanbul, underscore the rich
variety of ideologies, cultural influences and social norms
of the city. Istanbul, a two-time imperial capital, remains a
complex and varied tapestry of ideals and behaviors. Often
compared to New York by political commentators as well as by
Manhattan socialites, Istanbul, while reflective of a
Turkey's "majority Muslim" population at large, is also a
microcosm of a society with a varied and vibrant population.

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