Kuzguncuk, A Village of Harmony
Kuzguncuk is one of neighborhoods in Istanbul that I highly recommend to visit. Exploring this small village is a must for Istanbul residents in order to escape from the daily routine without having to go too far. Located on the Asian side of Bosphorus, the village is known for its multi-ethnic history, where Jews, Armenians, Greeks and Muslims lived together for many centuries. It is evidenced by the synagogues, churches and mosques stand close to each other in the beautiful neighborhood.
Kuzguncuk was one of the most important Jewish sites in Istanbul. It was known as a Jewish village since the majority of population was Jewish. After the immigration of Sephardi Jews from Spain to Ottoman Empire in 1492, the Jewish population in Anatolia increased significantly in particular areas, such as Balat and Haskoy. However, due to limited available spaces, the new wealthy Jewish class settled in the Bosphorus region, such as: Besiktas, Ortakoy, Arnavutkoy in European side, and Kuzguncuk in Asian side. Jewish Community is the majority in Kuzguncuk, nonetheless the Armenians, Greeks and Muslim Turks lived there too. Even though the unwanted events could occur from time to time, they generally lived in harmony.
Erdem Güvem, a Turkish scholar did some interviews with a Kuzguncuk Jewish residents, for his article.
Mr. Y. N, for example, said, “People lived and integrated to each other in Kuzguncuk. We celebrated all religions’s feast together”.
While the other resident called Mr. Y.O, an Albanian Orthodox who lived in Kuzguncuk with his Jewish wife, narrated his memories on how Muslims and non-Muslims residents lived, grew up and protected each other.
However, class division was inevitable. In Kuzguncuk, two classes were always there: the rich ones who lived by the waterside and the poor ones who lived in the interior areas. The occupations of Jews and other non-Muslims were also differed. The Greeks, for example, were the owners of coffeehouses, barbers and innkeepers. Armenians, at the other side, they were jewelers and drapers. While the Jews worked as fishermen, greengrocers and sea transport experts.
The changes occurred after the fall of Ottoman Empire. The great change along with Turkish War of Independence and the implementation of Wealth Tax had affected the number of Jewish population. Six years after the implementation of Wealth Tax, the state of Israel was founded in 1948. The large number of Turkish and Istanbul Jews immigrated to Israel based on economic reason. Along with the immigrants who left to Israel, most of Jews and the other residents of Kuzguncuk, such as Muslims, Armenians and Greeks also left Kuzguncuk and moved to other areas of Istanbul. The wealthy communities prefer to live in more attracted areas, such as: Nişantaşı, Şişli, etc. In the 1980s, a famous Turkish architect Cengiz Bektas started revitalization program for the neighborhood. With using public participation, about 100 houses were restored. Then, the area became popular among the educated Turkish middle classes, poets, artists, architects and musicians.
Despite its location in the Asian side which is less popular for tourist attractions than the ones in European side, it is not difficult to get there. By crossing the beautiful Bosphorus strait to Uskudar, there are many city busses pass the neighborhood. Once you go to the main street, Icadiye Caddesi to the neighborhood, right on your left, you will find the Bath Ya’akov Synagogue. It is the only synagogue that is still functioned in Kuzguncuk and not opened for public visit. Still in walking distance, you will see the church of Hagios Panteleimon that was built in 1831. While at the other side, the Armenians gave up pieces of their land for Kuzguncuk Mosque that stands next to the Armenian Church. If you will to walk further, you will find the classic Ottoman mansions or yalıs that have been restored and painted in different colors. Along the street, great restaurants and cafes are available with various food options, from vegetarian to meat lovers. To those who love sweets, some chocolate shops offered seasonal products presented as delicious desserts. Customers are allowed to personalize their drinks with different favors such as: cinnamon, lemon, hazelnut, pistachio, coffee, almond, and many more. No matter what I did in this neighborhood, whether to merely walk around, or to drink one or two cup of coffee, or to eat some Turkish breakfast, I always enjoyed the time I spent in Kuzguncuk.
Today, despite its boasting modern cafes and art galleries, Kuzguncuk still shines the sensation of an old village. Seeing from the history of Kuzguncuk, it could be used as a model for people to live side by side with peace and tolerances despite the difference between each other.
This post is written as my participation for Lens-Artist Challenge.
Thank you to Mr. Erdem Güvem for his article, “Kuzguncuk as a village of mutual respect and harmony: Myth or Reality?” where I got important and interesting facts of Kuzguncuk.