art of resistance, Turkey

The Last Dance of Tarlabasi.


This week, Istanbul on my mind. So much change in the last couple of years. In Istanbul, in Turkey, in countries around Turkey. A terrifying game of dominos, it seems.

I thought about Rena Effendi’s work The Last Dance of Tarlabasidone in 2011. It makes me nostalgic because that is when and where I first time fell in love with Istanbul.  With Effendi’s great work, Tarlabasi and its magic remain captured in time.

In spite of its run-down looks and reputation for widespread crime, Tarlabasi was a culturally vibrant neighborhood kaleidoscope – populated by Kurdish migrant workers from Anatolia, Roma gypsies, Greeks and African immigrants – from devout Muslims to trans-gender sex workers.


But a big change happened – in 2011, Beyoglu municipality began a series of forced evictions – following the government’s plan for city “beautification”. Effendi described how as a result of this urban development initiative, many of the current Tarlabasi residents were being “bought out” and ordered to leave, as their homes are demolished to accommodate the construction of upscale residences.

Entire building blocks in Tarlabasi have been sold off to private companies, transforming the streets into ghostly barracks, pending reconstruction. Many of the neighborhood’s residents, their faces and lifestyles did not fit in with the new, “modern”, mandated look of Tarlabasi.


Last Dance of Tarlabasi is a visual tale of this neighborhood and the way it struggled to survive the ruthless pace of Istanbul’s urban change.

All of this is captured very well in a sentence told by Ali Ber, a 45-year-old Kurdish migrant from Mardin. “I’ve lived here for more than 20 years; all my children grew up here. Why should I leave? If they want to make Tarlabasi better, why can’t I be part of it?”, Ber asked.


How is the story of Tarlabasi revelant today, five years later? How is it relevant after the recent terrorist attacks in Instabul?

It is relevant because it shows what today’s world values, what capitalism values. Most of the people are getting eaten by the machine of capitalism, we are being crushed and squeezed, with very little place to breathe, to live decent lives.

We live in a time of crisis that cannot be fixed within the capitalist framework. Creating more and more fear is the method that is being used  – since most of the world’s leaders and politicians don’t seem to care for (long-term) solutions.


People being pushed out of their homes, people dying in terrorist attacks, people being forced to work for way less than a minimum wage (it is slavery, so call it slavery), people jumping off bridges because they can’t pay the rent, people begging on streets, people selling kidneys to pay for their children’s education, people who dare to cross the sea in boats that look like walnut shells because there’s no safe ground for them, people who still don’t know where their children (their bodies) are because they happened to be at a wrong corner, at a wrong time, with wrong skin on their bodies and wrong language coming out of their mouth, people who live and die each day to see what wars (war on terror, war on drugs, war on war) look like on the ground, in reality – all of these people are the victims, and all of their stories are connected.

We are being forced to see these problems in a deeply fragmented way (which is exactly how the ruling classes of our time want us to see it),  but we need to move beyond fragments and see how things are connected, how we are connected.

And when you think about things that way, it is easy to realize that we are all (well, 99 percent of us at least) dancing the last dance of Tarlabasi.

//all photos © Rena Effendi//

For more on Effendi and her work, go to her official website.

art of resistance, Israeli - Palestinian conflict, Jordan, Syria

The Women of Zaatari Refugee Camp.

I already posted about Rena Effendi and her project Pipe Dreams. She is definitely a photographer to follow, with many great projects behind her.

One of them is The Women of Zaatari Refugee Camp.

Artist statement:

“Of the 124,000 people living in Zaatari, Jordan, the world’s second largest refugee camp, 54% are women and 42% of the families there are headed by women. The life of Syrian women in Zaatari is harsh and potentially dangerous – harassment is a reality and rape a nighttime possibility. The refugee women I encountered there told stories of death, deprivation, suffering and sacrifice. All of them went through major trauma of losing their homes and family members in the war. However, they refused to be portrayed as victims. As they struggle with the stigma of being refugees and cope with a loss of place and belonging these women showed remarkable resilience, definite dignity and an astounding ability to hope. They each had different ways to achieve some sort of normalcy in an inhumane situation – some by opening businesses, others by serving their community while always supporting each other. One woman I met there had even recreated – to the best of her ability – her kitchen from Syria in a small shipping container, where she lived in cramped spaces. It was the act of remembering that gave her the strength to survive.”

tumblr_n2ezbv5ANQ1rouua1o1_1280Schoolteacher Amal Hourani, 28 in Zatari refugee camp in Jordan. Hourani turned her volunteer teacher position into a paid job and now earns $310 a month. The first thing she bought with her paycheck was a washing machine.

tumblr_n2ezbv5ANQ1rouua1o5_500Zeinab Dagher, 20. “I came here with my family, there are six of us. I used to study, to read, then I stopped and started doing this work.” She works in a tailor workshop from 8am to 6pm, five days a week. She gets paid $4 a day. “I didn’t want to do this in my life, I wanted to just continue reading and studying… Our house was hit 3 days after we left it. I wish I brought so many things with me, I wish I brought everything. I left everything behind and came here.”

tumblr_n2ezbv5ANQ1rouua1o6_1280Hadiyee Malak, 27, sits in a beauty salon, waiting to have her eyebrows threaded. She used to be a hairdresser in Syria but is not working in Zaatari. “It takes a lot of money to set a place like this up,” Malak says, explaining why she isn’t working in her trade. “It’s for financial reasons, to be honest with you.”

tumblr_n2ezbv5ANQ1rouua1o7_1280Em Odai, the owner of a beauty salon in the camp, with her two-year-old son, Odai. “Here, there is nothing,” she says. “We try and recreate some things from our past, we try, but it can’t be done. It is not the same. It’s just that when you remember, when you think back to Syria, everything about it is better, even its air. That’s enough for me – just to breathe its air again.”

MCX030114_341Rana Mokdad, 24, works as an assistant in a beauty salon run by a fellow refugee.

tumblr_n2ezbv5ANQ1rouua1o10_1280Asil, 22, Nada, 22, and Siba, 24. The friends are Syrians who have been living in Jordan for years. They are university students, part of a group of 90, who are helping Syrian refugees living outside Zaatari adjust to their new lives. They rely on donations from family friends, and they also contribute $10 a month from their own pockets. They offer rent assistance to some families, gather and donate clothes, blankets and other essentials, as well as organize day trips for children to parks.

// all photos © Rena Effendi/INSTITUTE //

For more on this project, go to the INSTITUTE.

For more on Effendi and her work, go to her official website.

Azerbaijan, Turkey

Pipe Dreams: The oil stories from Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.

Rena Effendi is a photographer who keeps on bringing great stories for a decade now. In Pipe Dreams, she  followed an oil pipeline from her native Azerbaijan through Georgia to Turkey. Along the way she met scores of people and unfulfilled dreams. She spent years taking photos and following the story, and Pipe Dreams developed into a book later on:

A pipe dream is a fantastic hope that is regarded as being impossible to achieve. This book is dedicated to the people of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey, linked by the oil pipeline and their fading hopes for a better future. Besides corporate public relations campaigns, little photographic evidence exists about the impact the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline had had on Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. This book portrays life as it is lived, with no commercial or public relations agenda. It ‘un-smiles’ the calendar smiles of corporate propaganda and sheds fresh journalistic light on this geopolitically important region.

90View of Otagli village, 2km of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, Turkey 2007. ©Rena Effendi

awLittle bride. Djandarsky village along the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline is predominantly populated by ethnic Azerbaijanis. Some of the residents here complained that they had not received compensation for their land in connection with the pipeline construction. Marneuli, Georgia, 2006. ©Rena Effendi

568Snow in Otagli village, Turkey 2007. ©Rena Effendi

asdIlyas Alban with his family at home in Otagli village. Due to BTC construction, his family’s plot of land was degraded and is expected to recover its fertility only after 12 years. Ilyas applied to local courts against Botash and is still waiting for results. “Before BTC, I had everything. Now my roof is collapsing and I have no money to fix it.” – Ilyas says. ©Rena Effendi

11Children of the Tolstoy street, Mahalla, Baku. Azerbaijan, 2003. ©Rena Effendi

1233sIlyas Alban’s two sons at their dilapidated home, Otagli, Turkey 2007. Mesheti Turk refugee and onion farmer, Meshedi Gara village along the pipeline, Azerbaijan, 2006. ©Rena Effendi

24455Refugee woman at home, Agjabedi, Azerbaijan, 2005. ©Rena Effendi

For more of Effendi’s great work, go to her official website.