“Citizens” focuses on people born and raised in Istanbul and who are masters of their domains. In this section, described as unsung heroes of Istanbul, we talk about citizens’ Istanbul, profession, yesterday and today.
The early years of the painter and sculptor Mevlut Akyıldız spent in İstanbul has a big part in his humorous style of painting which portrays the contradictory life style of modernity. We first take the tramway and then metrobus together as we talk.
Words: Sidni Karavil
Images: Işık Kaya

I already begin to travel in time as I walk on the Kurtuluş streets heading to Mevlut Akyıldız’s house. It has been a while since I visited that part of the city. There is marvelous smell of historical bakeries on the streets and a warmness between the shopkeepers and clients; this is the atmosphere of the old İstanbul… I go in one of those İstanbul apartments as it begins to drizzle. His wife Aşkım Akyıldız meets me at the door. It is a very warm welcome. They have just bought fresh puff pastry to serve.

I ask him about his first memories in İstanbul.


“We moved to İstanbul from Ankara when I was 12. We lived in Fatih for six years and came to Kurtuluş in 1973, the year I got into the Academy. I had friends from all walks of life in our neighborhood. I had a Jewish friend called Moshe, an Armenian friend, Erol and a Muslim friend called Vasil. The father of one of my friends, Yavuz from Sivas, owned bordellos in the city. Burning with the energy of youth, we would go to Tünel, the back streets of Beyoğlu where night clubs were. We would go to a friend in Gültepe, drink with the minibus drivers, listen to arabesque and chat. Academy was different of course, we listened to classical music there. So, I was in the midst of a fuse of different cultures that year. Now I can see how I was impressed by all those people I had met in those years. It was inspiring to see how those hopeless people from such walks of life had an aspiration to hold on to life, they had a circle of relationships of their own. In later years, I identified their motivation to hold on to life with my own aspiration in life.”

I look at the numerous paintings, sculptures and glass-bottom paintings around me. I am sitting in an enchanting room. All those scenes he witnessed in his early years and how he identified himself with them speak to me enthusiastically through all these works of art, yet I still want to listen it from him.


“I decided to paint after graduating from the Academy. I did not take part in any educational institution, I only worked and strived to be a professional artist. And I did try to hold on to life too, during that period started in 80s in Turkey. I tried to bring things that I could enjoy into my life. The lives of those people I had met when I was young, which somehow seemed absurd, have helped me to gain a totally different perspective in life. And I did not just observe these people from a different stance then; I became good friends with them, I had a humane communication with each of them. I think I kept those memories alive by painting these people I had met.”

I ask him to share some memories and tell how he related to a call girl for example.


“There a was a luxurious brothel called Gülizar in Kireçburnu, which we would visit in the afternoons. They would serve bulgur pilaf and we would eat it. Everything was just so natural. The women who worked there were never the subject of our conversation, we would talk about ordinary stuff. The call girl Nurdan was our neighbor. She lived with her mother. We would go to their house where they would do coffee reading. They would reveal their life tragedies as we talked.

Moshe had bought a car to womanize. Yavuz was already quite free because of his father. Moshe took me to a by-street around the train station in Sirkeci once. They were doing two hour-gatherings of entertainment to cheer up the soldiers in daytime. We paid 15 TL and went in. They were shouting “open, open”. We just found ourselves to be a part of it.”


“I was sent to Aydın as a reserve officer. I saw camels coming when we went up to hills one morning to exercise. I then learnt that they had camel wrestling there. So, I went after it and illustrated them in my paintings. I was in the midst of life then. I immediately went after what attracted me, just like a bee that makes honey, portrayed what I saw and tried to learn them better in every way.”


“I now paint everything I experience naturally, yet from a higher perspective. The night life in İstanbul, the neon lights in Beyoğlu, the butcher that sold sweetbread at the corner of the Galatasaray Lycée… We once met someone there, the society man Kemal. We first made fun of him but later learnt that he was Gönül Yazar’s mother’s lover, one of these old rakes. You go into that period when you begin to question life, after a certain age. I feel anxious to go out at night now. We used to have softer relationships in the past. Everything builds on earning money today. People were more honest in the past; they would behave in more humane manners.”

I learn that Mevlut Akyıldız spends most of his time in his house and around his neighborhood as we conclude our conversation. Living in Kurtuluş feels like being a world citizen. It is walking on the Kurtuluş streets, chatting with Patriarch in Patriarchate in Balat, communicating with the people in the Jewish Museum…


Ayla Erduran is telling us about her life and Istanbul childhood, which she had to give up in order to become a world-famous violin virtuoso. 
Words: Sidni Karavil
Images: Işık Kaya
I was very excited when I made my way to Gümüşsuyu for an interview with the world-famous violin virtuoso Ayla Erduran. I was about to listen the story of a life that extends from a seaside mansion in İstinye over Gümüşsuyu, Paris, New York, and even Moscow; a life that is full of art, music and literature.

Considering my previous research, I wrote down what I could ask about İstanbul. A childhood that is spent in İstanbul until 11-years-old, home visits by Ayla Erduran’s father Professor-in-Ordinary Doctor Behçet Sabit Erduran’s friends from the literature world and politics, music lessons from the Hungarian virtuoso Karl Berger who settled in İstanbul in 1920’s, violin education she took while traveling all over the world with her mother and hence, longing for İstanbul. All those subjects to talk about…

I am climbing to the third floor of an old İstanbul building with a bouquet of flowers in my hand. A pretty and a well-groomed lady - who absolutely does not look in her 80’s - opens the door to me. We hug each other immediately.

“How did you know I like flowers? That’s very kind of you.”

“You are very kind to welcome us at your home.”

In the living room there are old pictures, a piano, Bosporus view and us. The first thing that hits my eye is Ayla’s photograph with her African nanny. She starts to tell immediately.


“My nanny raised me. My mother didn’t care if I brushed my teeth, took a shower or ate my food. My father used to take care of his patients at his clinic. No one was engaged with me. I cried a lot when my nanny went back to her country when I was 7. My mother was born in Büyükada and studied with the violinist Ekrem Zeki Ün. She especially wanted me to play the violin. She was a good woman, but she was despotic. She put me through the wringer all my life, but I am glad that she did, otherwise I could not bear this life.”

She mentions that her mother was a very beautiful woman, she talks about her mother’s connection with violin and that she could not play it so well. Then we start to talk about Karl Berger.

“Berger was the teacher of all İstanbul. He was a great violinist. He used to make all the women fall in love with him, he was a good-looking man. I listened him playing once in my life. I used to go to Narmanlı to take lessons from him. Cigarettes, cigarettes, cigarettes… I am waiting for the lesson. He used to make a five-year-old kid wait for hours. I hated to go to his lessons. Later, he quitted playing the violin. He didn’t give any concerts either. He had two students: Remzi Atak and I. He didn’t teach us technique, he taught us music. Then, my mother insisted that I should give a concert; so I gave my first concert for the Turkish Child Protection Institution at age 11. Before I got on stage I cried my eyes out because of fear. Yet I played Mozart’ D Major Concerto and Beethoven’s Spring Sonata beautifully.”


“In my childhood, we were well endowed. I was learning to play the violin by myself. Sundays were guest days and for me, they were my childhood nightmare. Among our guests, there were Princess Fahrelnissa Zeid, Yahya Kemal, Yunus Nadi, princes and doctors. ‘Bonjour Madame, Bonjour Monsieur’ and they used to put me forward to play the violin like some kind of monkey. My mother used to pressure me so much for not making any mistakes, I used to go wrong immediately.”

I was getting more and more surprised hearing the challenges such an important artist had to struggle with. I guess people who achieve high success always go through hard ways…

“I didn’t have any friends in my childhood. I didn’t go to school either. A private tutor used to come to our house. Berger told my mother that I could break my arm in the school, and this could prevent me from playing the violin. I was captive at home, I used to look at Taksim Garden and envy the kids who play freely. I used to read the dictionaries at home. In fact, that’s how I learned French. I used to listen to the records in the house. I loved doing that. I tried to educate myself. Later, we moved into a seaside mansion in İstinye. I had no friends there, yet I learned how to swim. Cemal Reşit lived nearby. He used to come to our house. I played the Spring Sonata with him.”


Later Ayla Erduran and her mother made their way abroad: First Paris conservatory, then New York and Moscow. She used to see her father once in a year. She had so much difficulty at this process. However, she had the chance to study with many world-famous violin teachers. Oistrakh, Francescatti, Galamian, Benvenuti…

Her permanent return to İstanbul happened after a 17-years teaching adventure in Switzerland. Her aunt and her beloved cousin were murdered in the apartment that is upstairs of the one that Erduran currently lives in. She lost her mother due to cancer. She had to sell the Stradivarius to which she was very attached. Finally, at the recommendations, she came back to her home country. She is here for the last 25 years. While she was here in İstanbul, her records were released. Erhan Karaesmen wrote a book about Ayla Erduran which is titled as “Evlerimizi İç Işıklarıyla Aydınlatanlar Müzik ve Keman” (The Ones that Illuminate Our Homes with Their Inner Lights: Music and Violin).  She made a trio concert with Alexander Rudin. Now, she still studies violin four hours a day. When we come across in the hall, her helper at home whispers me in the ear: “I cannot tell you how well she plays.”


Ayla Erduran’s eyes shine and she seems like she leaks art all over the living room. I still insistently ask her about what she remembers from her childhood in İstanbul.

“The red and green streetcar I used to get on when I went to the lessons of Berger, Abdullah Restaurant, Markiz Bakery…”

I wonder if she is pleased with the road she followed in her life, no matter what.

“When I look back if they had asked me my opinion about this sort of a career, I wouldn’t accept it. Becoming a soloist in an orchestra by the time you are 20 years old and moving your career forward mean waving goodbye to a happy family life.” Indeed, 84-year-old Erduran lives in her beautiful house in Taksim with her helper. In the frames, there are monochrome pictures of the violinists she played together and her nanny.

The venues she has created echoed that era’s İstanbul spirit and introduced us the “hidden” streets. The source of inspiration for all of these is Lal Dedeoğlu’s very personal Istanbul story.
Words: Ali Tufan Koç
Images: Işık Kaya
She always seeks for innovation. Her definition of ‘innovation’ is a bit different than other restaurateurs. Rather than, adopting a popular formula that already exists in abroad or creating venues inspired by latest trends, she always creates something original that blends her unique taste, lifestyle choices and know-how.

With her venues which have shaped the city’s culture for the last 25 years, Lal Dedeoğlu is one of the unsung but profound heroes of İstanbul.

She knows ‘neighborhood’ culture, the city spirit, the ‘environment’ and the shift in understanding of ‘neighborhood’ in İstanbul, very well. Each venue she created has always been in deep and profound connections with the neighborhood in which it was located. Let’s take a moment and refreshen our memories: ‘Buz’ and Nişantaşı, ‘Bej’ and Karaköy, ‘buzADA’ and the Bosphorus line, ‘Mahalle’ and Topağacı, and now ‘Daire 1’ and Küçük Bebek.

She is an Istanbulite who knows and adores İstanbul in every way. Until she became an adult, she touched every part of İstanbul by way of the sports contests, school and family trips in which she participated; even talking about that excites her. Istanbul of her youth is both a metropolis and a resort; it is both crowded and fresh. She’s not one of those people who complain all the time; “Since I chose to stay and live here, it is better for me to find better ways to live here instead of complaining” she’s able to say. For example, she can see the traffic in Bosphorus at two o’clock in the midnight she can get excited and feel grateful, saying “Oh vow, this is life!”

Famous Sunday tables

Although she was born in Yeşilköy, she has spent her childhood and teenage years in Etiler; she defines herself as a ‘Çamlık (Pine Grove) kid’. She went to Hasan Ali Yücel Primary school. Even her going to school and coming back home accompanied by the cats and dogs of the neighborhood, makes us say “When did that old neighborhood feeling has disappear?” That house in the Çamlık Buildings, those tables, and the guests, all have a lot of impact on her life. Her mom is a figure whose elegant tables were praised, and who prepares such ‘original’ menus that didn’t exist in most of the restaurants in İstanbul. She’s the one in charge of ‘extravaganza’ tables that were always adorned with flowers and ornaments while her father was known for his ‘friendly conversations’. “In winter, they used to set a great breakfast table on Sunday afternoons. This was a table where appetizers and delicatessens predominated. The table harbored good conversations and guests all evening.” In those days, people bought delicatessens from the buffet in Topağacı, from Çerkezköy, and from ‘Kiraz’ in Etiler. In this photograph, Lal is neither in the preparation nor in the setting phase. She takes the stage after all the guests are gone, and she loves to get in the kitchen to fill her plate with the ‘remaining’ food. From time to time, she visited the addresses where people of that period ‘go to try a certain food’; people used to eat soufflé in Yekta, ‘club sandwich’ in Divan Hotel, and ‘Çamlıca Salad’ in Divan Pub.

Despite the heritage of her mother and father, the beautiful tables, generous hospitality for the guests, and the passion for being a host for long meals, Dedeoğlu says “I never thought that I could do this as a job one day when I grew up.”

First steps always hurt

Another common point of Lal Dedeoğlu projects is the passion for ‘untried’ streets. “Of course, it could be a result of my ability to read İstanbul properly. Those side streets attract me somehow. Following the other way, namely choosing a street which is more popular and familiar to people, feels a little bit like cutting corners. Shooting for the moon is the summary of my life.”

All these venues require time, and the first steps always hurt. However, even though she knows all these, she takes firm steps on the way “not to be commercial”. Some of her venues (buzADA in the Galatasaray Island) were places where she saw when passing by and say “This place lies there with no purpose. I am going to make an offer on it.” Of course, she had losses, failures, downs but eventually, she is rewarded with happiness that is the result of creating her own playground.

Although all the venues are a little bit İstanbulite in their soul, none of them exaggerates; none of them introduce itself as an Istanbul café/pub/disco. “I strove to create venues that fit İstanbul’s make up,” says Lal. For example, she does not bring an olive tree from a different city and plant it in the middle of İstanbul or her venue, merely to adjust it to suit the concept. Instead, she prefers to decorate with magnolias and hydrangeas. There are lots of details regarding İstanbul which she observed and collected since her childhood. She still travels all around İstanbul, takes trips to Mısır Çarşısı (Spice Bazaar), and in Saturday midnights she gets up and plunders the Kastamonu Bazaar in Kasımpaşa.

Timeless, surrounded

As one of the regular visitors recently said: Her last wonder ‘Daire 1’ in Küçük Bebek feels like a solo/acoustic/prime Eric Clapton who once shattered the lists and packed the stadiums: Timeless; ‘no-with an open agenda. Just like a reflection of Lal’s current mood: “Delightful and down-to-earth...”

Together with the writer and one of the most renown people in the diplomacy and the business world Aaron Nommaz, we are dreaming of Istanbul, our eyes closed.
Words: Ali Tufan Koç
Images: Işık Kaya
When you move past Kabataş is ‘Setüstü’ neighborhood, on the range of new generation local cafes … Floor is İstanbul, and the apartment Portugal Consulate. Behind the table overlooking the Bosphorus’ pure beauty with the smell of the sea, is a ‘secret’ Istanbul hero who speaks with a warm smile beneath his reading glasses: Aaron Nommaz.

When you move past Kabataş is ‘Setüstü’ neighborhood, on the range of new generation local cafes … Floor is İstanbul, and the apartment Portugal Consulate. Behind the table overlooking the Bosphorus’ pure beauty with the smell of the sea, is a ‘secret’ Istanbul hero who speaks with a warm smile beneath his reading glasses: Aaron Nommaz.

Today, the fact that he has a separate office as a private counselor in the Istanbul Consulate of Portugal which he referred to as his ‘grandfather’s country’ is only one part of his identity. Similarly is the fact that he wrote historically and culturally precious books about Jewish mark in Ottoman History even though he is not a writer (‘Yahudi Casus: Josef Nasi (The Jewish Spy: Josef Nasi)’ and ‘‘Kanuni’nin Yahudi Bankeri: Dona Gracia (The Jewish Banker of ‘Kanuni’: Dona Gracia))… Diplomat, engineer, entrepreneur, a child raised in ‘Büyükada’ and above all, an Istanbul lover.

He has profound references for his writings. He has knocked the door of many ‘great’ historians including İlber Ortaylı, made long conversations with them about the place of Jewish people in Ottoman history, and every time he asked them “I wish you publish a book about these issues”, he received the same answer: “You would be the best person to write it dear Aaron. You sit down and write; you have my support.”


He is originally from İzmir. His relationship with İstanbul which he moved when he was 9 years old is as strong as to make him say:

“No generation ever had fun as much as we did at Büyükada …” His childhood and high school years were spent in Nişantaşı; he excitedly remembers how he used to go home from school using the trolley. And ofcourse the 17.15 Büyükada Ferry: “It is the time when everyone leaves work and make their way back to Büyükada. Especially if my father had an important guest, I definitely was sent to the ferry earlier so that I can find empty seats. Those ferry rides were details with a lot to say to the spirit of those times of which everyone on it was very well-dressed and had conversations with each other …” We remember the balls where all Turkish, Jewish and Greek friends joined together; with a slightly nostalgic tune in his voice, he says: “My son has not even dreamt of them, let alone seeing them in real life.”

“Here is my country, my city,” he continues his story; he describes the color that a population seen as a ‘minority’ in all Turkey but especially in Istanbul creates, using an İnönü-Atarük anecdote: “İnönü got tired of the conflicts and the disagreements between different groups and he went to Atatürk and snapped saying ‘Let’s throw all these people out of the county ’. At that moment Atatürk, who was taking care of the flowers in the garden, told İnönü that he had a headache and asked him to come back again the next day. The next day x-comes and İnönü finds Atatürk again in the garden. ‘Sir, yesterday we had wonderful and colorful roses. What happened to all of them?’ The answer comes quick: ‘I removed them all. And I planted only tulips instead. What do you think?’“


Although he talks about lines that ‘are not visible but felt deeply’, to Nommaz, this is a kind of red line that has no correspondence among the people of Istanbul, within neighborhoods, on the streets, on the tables and only represented by the government. ‘Hodja’ jokes, food rituals, daily expressions… According to Nommaz all of them are so close, in fact so similar, that it is hard to distinguish which one has influenced the other: “We used to leave the house door open during the holidays. Our Muslim neighbors used to come by and joined our holiday rituals. While they curiously inspected our traditions, they also enjoyed celebrating the holidays with us. We used to like opening the refrigerators of each other’s houses without reserve and discover a different delight.”

The pains of living in a metropole, government policies, the naivety and the natural relationships that got lost over time… Hundreds of ‘cultural’ anecdotes that decay, extinguish, and disappear from the rich culture of the city and from the collective memory… Even though it looks like irreversible erosion, despite everything, is it possible to preserve this cultural wealth by individually holding on to it? “Of course…  The greatest privilege of living in İstanbul was the chance to discover different cultures and experience them without leaving where you are” says Nommaz. And quickly he adds: “This is a city which has so deep layers and is so multicultural that spending an ordinary day here is worth a huge ‘cultural travel’. This is İstanbul. No matter how hard they try, they cannot manage to erase some stories and some qualities from your soul.”


At the meantime we are watching İstanbul which he describes as “the city like a school for life”. The ferry comes into the port, the traffic gets slower, the seagulls enthuse… Here’s Nommaz’ thesis: A person who graduates from this city by experiencing İstanbul with all the cultures and all the colors it contains, can deal with anything. The reason for that is simple and intelligible: “People grow up here as more understanding and more open to interaction. Their perspective and perception get richer. This is an interesting place so that even if you live 100 years on it you can learn something new from a different corner. You only need to know how to look and how to live…”


Why is Zester, a must-have for any cook’s knife case, so important?


After reading “Things I Don’t Want to Know” by Deborah Levy, it is impossible to resist reading another novel by the author.


Sanayi313’s Pre-Fall Men Collection is on view at Milan these days.


“The Magic City” with spectacular sunsets, warm breezes and soft waters…


Painter Alp İşmen declares his love to love with once again a love letter.


The interview we did with Yeşim Gürer Oymak on the "hearing" sense was very different because of her relationship with music.


The early years of the painter and sculptor Mevlut Akyıldız spent in İstanbul has a big part in his humorous style of painting which portrays the contradictory life style of modernity. We first take the tramway and then metrobus together as we talk.