Photographers' Blog

Prayers during wartime

Midyat, Turkey

By Umit Bektas

Sunday mass has just begun in Mort Shmuni Syriac Orthodox Church. It is seven o’clock in the morning and the streets of Midyat, where the majority of the population is Muslim Kurdish, are empty.

But despite the calm outside, the historical church is overcrowded with a community of three hundred people, mostly children. Candles are lit, hymns are sung and prayers are made.

The reason that the mass is so crowded today is not because it is the festival of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. It is because for over two years now, Syriac Christian families escaping the bloody war in Syria just across the border have been joining the congregation, adding to the Turkish Christian citizens of Midyat.

Since then, Sunday masses have become more crowded, more enthusiastic.

Ibrahim (not his real name) is one of those who pray and sing hymns along with his family at Sunday mass. He is a 45-year-old Syrian citizen, a carpenter.

For eight months, Ibrahim has been living with his wife and seven children in Midyat, in Turkey’s southeastern Mardin Province. The family has been staying in a refugee camp established by the Turkish authorities.

How would you like your doner, with or without a gas mask?

Istanbul, Turkey

By Marko Djurica

Everyone who has ever been to Istanbul knows their famed Turkish fast food restaurants, especially in Taksim Square. Doners, kebabs and other delicacies are on offer 24/7. The competition is vast and every vendor fights to lure customers. You can’t really go wrong: most of the places have friendly staff and tasty morsels of food. But in one restaurant I experienced a kind of service I could never have dreamed of.

Namely, on June 22 I was in Taksim Square covering the protests that had begun 20 days earlier when the government of Prime Minister Erdogan announced it would build a new shopping mall on Gezi Park, the last large green space in the city. A large number of protesters faced down a line of riot police armed with water cannons. No one needed to tell me what was going to happen; I have been in similar situations many times. The demonstrators shouted anti-government slogans, the police asked them to disperse because rallies are forbidden. Naturally, after a few hours, tensions rose and the police began to use water cannons and tear gas to evict the masses – now a common sight at Taksim.

Even though at first glance it was frightening, it seemed that both sides could get used to this. Tear gas rained down on all sides and so many canisters landed in front of the mass of kebab stands, the open kind which lack windows and doors to hide from the gas burning your eyes and throat. I decided to go inside and take photos, expecting empty tables, chairs flung pell-mell and charred food abandoned on the grill. But what I saw instead stunned me.

Dispatch from Taksim Square

Istanbul, Turkey

By Murad Sezer

Taksim Square is the heart of Istanbul. It’s the meeting point for lovers, tourists and protesters.

On the weekends if you stroll around the square and crowded Istiklal street, a hub for shopping and bars, you can witness various political demonstrations. Women protest against domestic violence, soccer fans gather, anti-government far leftists groups rally and on Saturdays mothers demand to know the fate of their missing relatives. Riot police are never far away, so it’s no big surprise if you smell tear gas all of a sudden in the middle of Taksim.

This time-lapse video shows demonstrators at Taksim Square, Istanbul, over a 24-hour period on June 5, 2013.

In the face of tear gas

Istanbul, Turkey

By Osman Orsal

I am always prepared for these kind of protests before I arrive.

I wear shirts that cover my arms and of course I carry a gas mask. After all, during protests I can safely predict through my experience when police will use tear gas.

So, I took a secure, good position for shooting images. After taking 3-4 photos it is hard for everyone (even if you have a gas mask) to continue taking pictures because of the tear gas. I followed exactly this procedure with this protest.

After the demonstration was over I saw other people affected by tear gas pouring fresh lemon in their eyes. It is believed to be a kind of a healer after tear gas. But I couldn’t see this woman around. She probably went somewhere to wash her face and refresh herself for the next battle. The protesters said they wouldn’t let destruction crews cut down the trees.

A river out of Syria

By Osman Orsal

It was early on Wednesday morning when I arrived at Hacipasa, a village just across the border from Syria in Turkey’s southern Hatay province. Set among rolling hills lined with olive trees, the village sits right across from the Syrian town of Azmarin, where heavy clashes had been taking place between Syrian government forces and rebels. The army had been shelling Azmarin and I was taking pictures of the shells landing in and around the town which sent plumes of dust and smoke rising above the town.

As the fighting intensified throughout the morning, villagers from Hacipasa told me Syrians were starting to flee across the Orontes river in the valley below me, some of them wounded. The river forms a natural frontier between Turkey and Syria along this part of the border.

Grabbing my cameras, I jumped into the car with a Reuters reporter and drove quickly down the narrow dirt road to the river to where the refugees were. As we neared the river the sound of the shelling became louder and louder. We could not drive our car right up to the river as villagers from Hacipasa had already moved dozens of cars and minibuses down the narrow track to help ferry the people away.

Dreams of their Syrian homes

By Umit Bektas

Only a half hour’s walk from the hundreds of tents lined up in the camp would take them to the banks of the Orontes River, the natural boundary between Turkey and Syria. When they cross the river they would be back in the land where they were born and grew up, among the people speaking the same language – their homeland. From the border it is only a short journey to their town or village and their own homes. Yes, the distance is short but what keeps children away from their homes is not always distance. Sometimes it is politics and the conflicts born of politics. And it is precisely this strife that forces the children to live a life in tents in bleak territory. There are reasons behind all conflicts, they have their antagonists, those in the right and those in the wrong, the strong and the weak. Who is right and who is wrong may change according to everyone’s way of thinking but there can be no doubt that the most innocent and the most vulnerable victims of all conflicts are the children.

A small number of the millions of displaced children who have fled fighting around the world are the Syrian children who have found refuge at the Boynuyogun refugee camp in Turkey’s southern Antakya province. Hundreds of them now live with their families in the identical tents pitched in the camp. The Turkish administrators of the camp provide food, clothing, shelter and medical care for the refugees. An important part of life which these children miss now that they are away from home is of course their schools. Because no one can predict how long they will have to stay in this camp, Arabic-speaking Turkish teachers have been assigned to conduct classes for them. These teachers have grouped the children into age groups and teach them in tents, turned into makeshift classrooms.

Certainly the education Syrian children receive here is inadequate compared to their regular schools but it is obviously a much better alternative to idleness and at least helps further their learning. New camps are under construction in the same region and school buildings are part of their planned infrastructure, evidence of the importance attached to the continued schooling of these children.

Nothing and no one between us

By Umit Bektas

At 13:41pm on Sunday, October 23 an earthquake measuring 7.2 magnitude hit the eastern Turkish province of Van. Minutes after the quake struck, first reports heralded large numbers of collapsed buildings with many people trapped under the debris. The first available flight to Van was on Monday so I decided to fly to Erzurum instead and from there take a four-hour drive to Van. When I arrived at Ercis, the town which had taken the brunt of the quake, it was just past midnight.

It was difficult in the dark to form a clear picture of the disaster and decide what to look for. I began to walk around the town. I photographed rescue workers making efforts to pluck people from under the rubble, but I could not spend more than a few minutes at each spot as I still had to get an overall picture. I had decided to look around for 45 minutes at the most before starting to transmit my first pictures. That was my plan until I came upon that one collapsed building.

A large crowd had gathered around a big pile of rubble on a small side street. There were many rescuers and a distinctive hum was rising from the crowd. Frantic work was going on around the building which had totally collapsed and was now level with the ground. I came closer. A person shouted, “There is someone alive!” They were trying to bring out a person whose dark hair I could see. I began to take pictures. Then I moved to the other side to try and get a different angle. And then I saw Yunus’s face for the first time.

Goodbye to hell

In the second half of the 2010-2011 Turkish football season Galatasaray moved to its new home ground in Istanbul, the Turk Telekom Arena, a 52,000-seat multi-purpose stadium replacing the Ali Sami Yen Stadium.

The fate of the legendary Ali Sami Yen Stadium is now sealed.

Ali Sami Yen stadium in Istanbul 2010. REUTERS/Sevim Sen

The demolition of Ali Sami Yen, one of the most iconic venues in Turkish football and the home to one of the three oldest Istanbul football clubs Galatsaray for 47 years, started last week. For almost half a century, the yellow-and-red lions hosted their rivals in this temple with the slogan “welcome to hell”. The stadium played host to victories against European giants FC Barcelona, A.Bilbao, AC Milan, Real Madrid, E.Frankfurt, and a historic victory against Neuchatel Xamax. Most notably it was the scene of Galatasaray’s triumphal UEFA Cup campaign in 2000.

Galatasaray soccer fans cheer during the Turkish Super league derby soccer match between Galatasaray and Fenerbahce at Ali Sami Yen stadium in Istanbul March 28, 2010. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

The team played all its home group and qualification matches for the 2000 UEFA Cup at the stadium before winning the final against Arsenal in Copenhagen, the biggest success in the history of Turkish football.
World renowned Italian referee Pierluigi Collina even once admitted: “I love this Hell.” It was witness to unforgettable national and international football matches, hosting world class teams, players, coaches and referees. The stadium witnessed 14 of Galatasaray’s 17 Turkish league titles. Opened in 1964, Ali Sami Yen Stadium has always played a major part in the Turkish football scene, being home to Galatasaray’s heyday and many victories of the Turkish national football team.

Fans, fire and fury

Fenerbahce’s hopes of winning the Turkish league title for the 18th time were all resting on the final round of games in the 2009-2010 Super League. Expectations among their fans were high, with the major Istanbul club knowing a win at home against Trabzonspor was enough to clinch the championship.

Second-placed Bursaspor were one point behind Fenerbahce on 72 points and faced the tough prospect of a match against last year’s champions Besiktas. Some 50,000 Fenerbahce fans wearing navy blue and yellow jerseys took their seats at the Sukru Saracoglu stadium with their attention focused more on celebrating their imminent title triumph than on watching the game.

Fenerbahce's Daniel Guiza of Spain celebrates scoring a goal against Trabzonspor during their Turkish Super League soccer match at Sukru Saracoglu stadium in Istanbul May 16, 2010. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Spanish striker Daniel Guiza scored the opening goal in the 14th minute, but nine minutes later Trabzonspor equalized with a goal from Burak Yilmaz. The first half ended 1-1. Even at that stage, Fenerbahce fans were very confident of victory. There was an atmosphere of celebration in the stadium. In the second half Fenerbahce played more attacking football.

Overtaken by events

It is a bizarre image – the red and white Formula One car hangs in the air above the black and white one in what appears to be an unconventional overtaking manouvre until you notice the loose bits. The caption reads, “Force India Formula One driver Giancarlo Fisichella of Italy (top) and Williams Formula One driver Kazuki Nakajima of Japan crash after the start of  the F1 Grand Prix of Turkey at Istanbul Park May 11, 2008. REUTERS/Karoly Arvai (TURKEY)”.

 Fly Kingfisher

Fisichella took off after shunting Nakajima on the first bend. The collision was dramatic but while it trashed the cars, neither driver was hurt although they couldn’t agree about whose fault it was.  

Fly

It wasn’t a complete disaster. Force India’s sponsors must be very encouraged, their sign says “Fly Kingfisher” and it does guys, it really does.