Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Bayram and Republic Day

We've just wrapped up a glorious six-day holiday here in Turkey -- Eid al-Adha, the "feast of sacrifice" commemorating the faith that Abraham put into God by offering up his son, started last Wednesday, and then by chance, the secular Republic Day capped the holiday week off on Monday. We didn't do all that much, as we learned last year that trying to sightsee during the holiday is just an exercise in frustration.

The main Eid day was Thursday this year, and usually Turks spend that day visiting family and friends, and eating. We actually ended up going to a tennis event-- as it happened, the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) 2012 Championships were being held here, and Thursday was the third day of the event. The top 8 women in the world had qualified, and on Thursday, there were three matches: Li Na versus Angelique Kerber, Victoria Azarenka versus Serena Williams, and Sara Errani versus Sam Stoser. (Petra Kvitova wasn't playing in the tournament for some reason, which allowed Stoser in, and on Thursday, Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska just didn't play.) The coin-tosser was, oddly enough, Skyler Gordy from LMFAO. I never figured out if he just happened to be in Istanbul or they brought him in especially for the event, but I thought he was a good choice -- he seemed like a natually fun guy, it was amusing watching him dance around to his own music:

Our day wasn't very holiday-like, but it was fun. The only indication of Eid that I really saw, besides all the families walking around together, was a large animal pen where people could buy sheep. (In the Abraham and Isaac/Ishmael story, God sends in a lamb at the last second, and in keeping with that, Muslims around the world sacrifice livestock.) But since it was late in the afternoon, those sheep were probably safe, at least temporarily. I have yet to see any sacrificing, and hopefully I never will -- my friend told me that when she goes to visit her in-laws in Gebze on the train, you just see all this blood in the backyards that you pass. (Though it's probably not all animal blood -- one of the newspapers reported that 3,000 amateur butchers had been to the hospital before noon; no word on how many animals escaped, also a yearly custom.)

As it happened, Republic Day fell right after the bayram. (Republic Day is always on Oct. 29, whereas the religious holiday moves around based on a lunar calendar.) Unfortunately, it was marked by controversy as the Islamic-leaning government becomes more opposed to the secular state and its history. (It's such a complicated issue and worthy of its own post -- this is probably the simplest, and hopefully most neutral, way to say it.) Last year, the government cancelled all of the public Republic Day celebrations and said it was out of respect for the victims of the Van earthquake, which had just happened, though we did go to a large parade on Bagdat Street. This year, the prime minister allegedly justified the cancellations by saying that people wanted to protest, not celebrate. And so, on Monday morning in the Turkish capital of Ankara, when some 50,000 people tried to walk to Ataturk's tomb, they were initially blocked by police, who used pepper spray and water cannons. (At some point, someone in the government told the police to unblock the way, which in turn has caused a new controversy about a possible rift between the president and prime minister. Never a dull moment here, folks.)

So even though no public celebrations were allowed, there was still a huge fireworks display in Istanbul on Monday night. (How this works, I don't know; I was equally confused last year on how the parade managed to happen.) Cagatay and I went to see an early showing of Looper and had dinner at Kanyon, a mall near us -- where, interestingly, there was a woman handing out small Turkish flags at the main entrance -- and after, we made our way down to the waterfront. I'm not sure exactly where we were, but it was a park with a splendid view of the first bridge. First there was a light show, and then there was a HUGE fireworks display set to music -- I think Cagatay said it was 42,000 fireworks. It was amazing. :)

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