World News The World

Everything you need to know about the tragic earthquake in Turkey

On the 30th of October 2020, at 2:21 PM (local time), a powerful earthquake jolted the Aegean Sea, ravaging the coastal city of Izmir and the Greek island of Samos. The primary brunt of the casualties was born near Izmir, where the shockwaves caused panic and compelled residents to seek refuge under the open sky as neighboring buildings collapsed. A cloud of dust and smoke accumulated in the atmosphere.

[Image Description: Locals look at a damaged building after a strong earthquake struck the Aegean Sea in Turkey where some buildings collapsed in the coastal province of Izmir, Turkey, October 30, 2020. REUTERS/Tuncay Dersinlioglu] via CNN
According to Izmir’s Mayor Tunc Soyer’s report to CNN, 20 buildings multiple stories high were suddenly replaced by the rubble of concrete and debris within a span of minutes. The majority of these were located in the Bayrakli district. The Disaster and Emergency Management in Turkey reported 1009 injured and a steadily rising death toll of 116 as of Wednesday, 4th November. In Samos, a collapsing wall killed two teenagers who were returning home from school, in response to which Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis stated: “Words fail when children are lost. In these difficult hours, our thoughts turn to their families and Samos experiencing unbearable pain”.

Turkey is no stranger to violent earthquakes. It is a seismic hot zone sitting atop fault lines. The 1999 Izmir earthquake, for instance, resulted in about 17, 000 casualties. Yet many buildings are old, lacking in the resilient infrastructure required to withstand seismic waves of high magnitudes. Regulations for urban renewal are underway but have simply not been quick enough to be able to cope with the fury of nature.

There has been some debate about the magnitude of the Izmir earthquake. AFAD (the disaster management authority in Turkey) said it was a magnitude of 6.6, while the US Geological Survey calibrated it at 7.0 on the Richter scale. Either way, the epicenter of the quake was a shallow 13 miles below ground level Northeast of Samos. The jolts were felt in their full force on the ground level as far as Athens and Istanbul, though there have not been any reported damage in those regions.

The shifting of the tectonic plates also triggered a mini tsunami, as tidal waves from the Aegean sea slashed the shore of Samos and the Seferihisar district of Izmir flooding streets and drowning one elderly woman in the latter.

[Image Description: The streets of the Greek Island of Samos are flooded by the mini tsunami triggered by the earthquake.] via BBC
In the aftermath of the calamity in Izmir (which is the third-largest city of Turkey with a population of 3 million), rescue operations ensued. Rescuers continued to dig through the rubble frantically, still wary of the tremors and aftershocks (about 900 continued to shake Western Turkey, about 42 of them with a Richter scale of 4.0) with bare hands hoping to find survivors under the wreckage.

[Image Description: Rescuers and residents stand atop of the rubble searching for survivors.] via CNN
Many distraught families were buried underneath blocs of concrete; bodies of some family members were extricated from the wreckage. The devastation was broken up by brief moments of joy as rescue teams found unlikely survivors, some of them shockingly unscathed with only minor injuries. The 107 survivors, found in the rubble included a 70-year-old man Ahmed Citim, a three-year-old, Elif Perincek discovered 65 hours after the calamity and a four-year-old Ayda Gezgin found 91 hours into the rescue operations. Ayda was dubbed “the miracle of the 91st hour” in a tweet by Mayor Soyer.

According to the disaster management authority in Turkey, currently, over 3500 tents and 13,000 beds have been deployed for temporary shelters with about 8000 personnel to conduct relief efforts. With many buildings damaged and the fear of aftershocks, thousands of people in Izmir spent their fourth night in the aftermath in makeshift shelter tents. The catastrophe has also entailed many missing victims.

In the wake of the tragedy, relations between the two nations, previously tense due to a conflict of interest over eastern Mediterranean energy rights, now eased. According to diplomatic sources, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias offered his support in a phone call to his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu. Both extended their goodwill and offered resources to mitigate the effects of the disaster.


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World News The World

Hagia Sophia will become a place of worship for Muslims once again

On July 10th, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the Hagia Sophia, Istanbul’s iconic landmark, will once again become a mosque. The news has caused uproar and raised controversy across the international community as it is the latest major step Erdogan has taken towards a process of de-secularization in Turkey.

The Hagia Sophia was first built in Constantinople in the 537 CE upon orders from the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, and stood as a symbol to Orthodox Christianity for centuries. Conceived by the architects Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus, it remains a masterpiece. The base of the dome is pierced by windows: when the day is bright, the light obscures the supports, giving the impression that the canopy floats on air. The cathedral was turned into a mosque after the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1453, and made into a museum nearly 500 years later, in 1934, by Ataturk’s secular government. A decision made last Friday by Turkey’s highest court has annulled Ataturk’s decree.

This ruling has been denounced by the international community at large. UNESCO has said that the World Heritage Committee will review the monument’s status as a World Heritage Site, and called for the universal value of World Heritage to be preserved.

“Hagia Sophia is an architectural masterpiece and a unique testimony to interactions between Europe and Asia over the centuries. Its status as a museum reflects the universal nature of its heritage, and makes it a powerful symbol for dialogue,” said Director-General of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay.

The Pope has joined representatives from the Russian Orthodox Church and the World Council of Churches in expressing their concerns of the decision. Archbishop Ieronymos, head of the Greek Orthodox Church, declared that this decision was the “instrumentalization of religion to partisan or geopolitical ends”.

Erdogan has rejected such broad condemnation, arguing that Turkey is simply using its own sovereign rights. Nonetheless, the move opposes the principles of secularism that drove the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in the 1920s, and further symbolizes the turn towards a religious mandate that has characterized Erdogan’s government since he ascended to power in 2002. The timing of this decision raises further questions. The mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamogly, asked whether this issue needed to be brought up at a point when 97% of tourism to Turkey has frozen.

The move additionally shifts the symbolism of the Hagia Sophia from an ideal of common artistic and cultural values, transcending religion, into one that represents a single faith. Erdogan is making a clear claim over his position as a leader Turkey, a country that stands just 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) away from Europe at its closes point in the Aegean, and has the second largest army in NATO. Under his leadership, Turkey is taking a steep turn towards nationalist politics that celebrate the grandeur of the Ottoman Empire, in a way that resonates across the world under the current political climate.

The Washington Post reports that the move appeals to Erdogan’s base and asserts his political brand, as it is representative of a form of nationalism that is anchored in religion, in contrast with the position defended by secular and Christian Turks. According to the Turkish government, the decision to resume prayers in the Hagia Sophia will not limit access to the monument from visitors from all around the world. The AKP, Erdogan’s party, has said that mosaics and other Christian imagery will be covered during prayer, but uncovered for visitors to see and appreciate.

Like most places of worship, a regular flux of traditions underscores the history of this monument: the original church was built on the foundations of a pagan temple. When we read about them in encyclopedias or textbooks, their dialectical oppositions form part of our understanding of the inevitable impact of time. As a student, I would write down dates and memorize them before my tests: 532-537CE, construction years; 1453, the fall of the Byzantine Empire; 1853, Crimean War; 1922, fall of the Ottoman Empire and instauration of the Republic of Turkey. Tectonic movements in history represented by one single number.

It doesn’t escape me that these dates which we are so vehemently taught in school are nothing but symbolic moments that represent a longer struggle within and across nations. I have no way of knowing for sure, but I imagine these radical events seemed transcendent to those who lived through them (even without Twitter or a 24 hour news cycle). The decision to turn the Hagia Sophia into a mosque is the latest case in nearly 20 years of gradual shifts away from secularism in Turkey. It is left for us to determine whether this last transcendence, given the history of the country, is one that should be embraced or feared. Undoubtedly, this will represent a moment in history that is written on timelines and presented in textbooks, as a new form of government gains traction in an old republic.

Fashion Lookbook

Why Tehran and Istanbul are the fashion capitals of the future

When you hear the phrase ‘fashion capital’, you might immediately think of Milan, London, Paris, or New York. After all, some of the most iconic fashion designers of recent times – Coco Chanel, Tommy Hilfiger, Alexander McQueen, and Gianni Versace, to name a few – have emerged from or are strongly affiliated with these cities. 

But there are two cities that are strikingly fashion forward, yet rarely recognized for being so: Tehran and Istanbul. Seemingly different, yet similar, these two cities have one pursuit in common: the breaking of stereotypes through self-expression. 

[Image description: A woman wears a red headscarf and stares into the camera.] Via Milad Shams on Unsplash.
When I traveled to Tehran for the first time, my trip gave me a brand new perspective on what the words ‘fashion statement’ really meant. In Iran, what you wear is more than just the brand name. Your style is a gateway of self-expression and individuality, an attitude that allowed me to embrace my truest self through my wardrobe.

Islamic dress code has in many ways inspired Iranians to create newer, more intricate ideas that fit into this framework for women and men alike. Iranians have mastered the idea of turning a simple look into a unique, chic style tailored to one’s individual personality. Many shop owners travel abroad to different countries, finding the newest, most fashion-forward trends to bring back home. In some cases, sellers open boutiques, called mezon or maison, in their own homes, where they sell only the latest trends. Here, you will find styles that are not yet on the market in many countries, but have been introduced only in cities like Paris or Milan.

Iran has its own set of designers and taste-makers that are redefining street style and Islamic or modest fashion.  For modest, yet fashion-forward styles, designers like Naghmeh Kiumarsi are setting the standards. Breaking free of the traditional black or blue chador, Naghmeh incorporates rich colors, like deep maroons and emerald greens, to pull off a sophisticated look. 

Another designer, Shadi Parand, ensures that her customers have a one-of-a-kind outfit, as she never makes the same design twice. Shadi incorporates traditional Iranian prints and integrates them into more modern styles. She also designs looks that are to be worn both indoors and outdoors.

Recently, Tehran has revamped the tried-and-true trend of pleated skirts paired with traditional loose coats by adding patterned head scarves with just the right pop of color that are tied or arranged in a number of different styles. It should be noted that these styles are complementary for both Muslims and non-Muslims, such as myself, and allow us to access the fashion world and the latest trends on our own terms.

[Image description: Two women in pink and blue coats and sparkling heels walk along a street in Istanbul.] Via negativespace.
Istanbul is equally unique, but for a different reason. Istanbul is on the cusp of the Middle East and Europe. Because of this, it has become noted for its unique take on fashion that is influenced by both East and West. 

In 2018, one of the more prominent fashion shows, MAGIC, held its annual show in Las Vegas, where Istanbul was named as a fashion capital for the first time. There, prominent Turkish designers showcased their newest designs for the American public. Designers from the most notable fashion capitals, like Milan, London, and Paris, have implemented Turkish designs and ideas into their own collections.

Designers like Zeynep Guntas moved to Milan to pursue her fashion line. Zeynep hand-paints all of her clothing, which has grown in popularity in Milan, especially as streetwear. Turkish designer Bora Aksu has grown rapidly popular in London, where he incorporates designs tailored to a more European style. Another Turkish designer, ERDEM, is based in Canada. He creates chic evening wear that is elegant and unique with intricate patterns.

[Image description: A girl in a red sweater and black headscarf is seated on a bench with her back to the camera.] Via Erfan Amiri on Unsplash.
As of late, Istanbul has shifted from mostly purely European styles to integrating more modest looks that incorporate Islamic values and Turkish culture. One notable modest fashion line is  Modanisa, which aims to produce more modest interpretations of the latest fashion trends. 

These designs not only have an ‘East meets West’ element, but also recapture a global discourse that has historically been dominated by the Western world. In a day and age when there are many misconceptions about the Middle East and Islam, designers in both Tehran and Istanbul have been working to break free of stereotypes. They also give new meaning to what it means to be fashionable or on-trend.

Not only are both cities fashion forward, the designs they produce appeal to a large, previously uncatered-to audience. This has allowed them to practice self-expression without compromising their values or preferences. This open-mindedness, creativity and innovation make both cities worthy of being the future fashion capitals of the world.

Love Life Stories

Behold! I entered a mosque through the same entrance as a man – and the world didn’t explode

One day during our visit to Istanbul, as my husband and I headed toward the main city to do touristy things like exploiting the locals and gawk at the grandeur of the local attractions, my husband and I stopped by a stunning, centuries-old mosque just minutes away from our hotel to pray our afternoon prayers.

[bctt tweet=”I started to feel uneasy the minute we walked through the archaic stone archway.” username=”wearethetempest”]

I started to feel uneasy the minute we walked through the archaic stone archway into the mosque’s main courtyard. Going to unfamiliar mosques for a Muslim woman can be quite an unpleasant experience. The question of “how okay with female visibility is this mosque?” and a subset of other maddening thoughts enter our minds right on cue. Will I see signs with a giant, red X over a silhouette of a woman who is dressed like me? If I asked them where the bathroom is, would they consider that immodest? Forget it. I’ll just hold it. I hope I find the women’s entrance quickly. Will there be a mass panic at my accidental entering through the main entrance? Will the male worshippers try to frantically redirect me to the women’s entrance before the scent of my female pheromones taints the main entrance and their prayers become invalid for 3 straight days?*

I hope I find the women’s entrance quickly. Will there be a mass panic at my accidental entering through the main entrance? Will the male worshippers try to frantically redirect me to the women’s entrance before the scent of my female pheromones taints the main entrance and their prayers become invalid for 3 straight days?*

I gripped my husband’s hand as we entered the old mosque’s courtyard. Because I was with him, I knew I had a free pass to make a mistake. He was my ticket out of humiliation.

Although the mosque’s main entrance, adorned with gorgeous, gold Arabic calligraphy at the top and fantastic carved wooden doors, was left of the courtyard, I couldn’t simply walk in. That would be too…simple. Too convenient. Too humanizing. So we looked around for people we could ask for discreet directions to the women’s entrance.

[bctt tweet=”Going to unfamiliar mosques for a Muslim woman can be an unpleasant experience. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

We asked a few teenage boys playing soccer in the courtyard for the direction to the women’s entrance. They only spoke Turkish (how dare they!), so we delved into a game of charades.

My husband pointed at me. I pointed at my scarf. I yelled the word WO-MAN, as if that would help translate. Finally, I made a praying gesture and the man nodded knowingly.

He led us to the spectacular main entrance and pointed toward it.

That’s why those poor, practical-minded, fantastic guys were so confused. The main entrance was the women’s entrance.

For the first time in my life, I entered a mosque to pray through the same entrance as the men.

I wasn’t tucked away into a corner, behind a pillar to whisper my prayers and absorb my shame of being alive. Instead, I saw what they saw when they entered.

Stunning floral tiling lining the walls of the mosque that made me proud of my faith, too. Lanterns with intricate calligraphy displaying words and phrases from the Quran that I knew, too. Stained glass windows decorated with designs of symmetrical and geometric shapes that I could appreciate, too.

[bctt tweet=”The main entrance was the women’s entrance.” username=”wearethetempest”]

My husband and I prayed together and after the prayer, we sat on the mosque carpet and marveled together at the intricate beauty of the mosque that we could both see, touch, and belong in.

*This is the only bit of satire in the piece.