Return to Transcripts main page

Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown

Istanbul. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired November 08, 2015 - 21:00   ET


ANTHONY BOURDAIN, CNN HOST (voice-over): Modern Turkey was founded in 1923 on the principles of secular, democratic statehood after centuries of empire.

[21:00:34] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has been the most turbulent year in a decade of Turkey's political history.

BOURDAIN: Turkey has set a new course, one that many hoped would carry it into the European Union.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's clearly a significant portion of the Turkish population that's not happy with the policies of the democratically-elected government.

BOURDAIN: But things have changed. They are changing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You get clashes erupting, demonstrators throwing rocks.

BOURDAIN: And what happens next has implications far beyond Turkey.


BOURDAIN: It has been a turbulent year for Turkey. And I arrive in Istanbul at the moment of a critical election.

The question on everyone's mind is whether the current president and his ruling party will win a large enough majority to change the constitution, potentially allowing him to stay in power indefinitely.

These have been good times for some, particularly in the construction and development business. And fearful ones for others. They are particularly concerned about what happens next, for instance, in the Kurdish parts of town.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our polls are opening. Turkey's voters choose a new parliament, which could lead to big changes in the country's political system.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Ruling Justice and Development Party is expected to take most of the seats.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But how much power the president actually has will be determined by the success or failure of the Kurdish party.

BOURDAIN: The HDP, originally a Kurdish political party, has sought to unite the disparate voices calling for change, in response to 13 years of what has essentially been one-party rule by the AKP. So history, whatever it might be, is about to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just in the past hour, polls have closed in the country's parliamentary elections.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Voters in Turkey have just shaken up the country's political landscape in a major way. They said no to placing Erdogan in push for more power.

BOURDAIN: The ruling AKP party did not win the majority its president had hoped for. In fact, they lost seats in parliament, and for the first time, the pro-Kurdish party gained enough votes to earn a real voice in the government.

[21:05:45] BOURDAIN: We are at the very tip of Istanbul next to the Black Sea, so the ships that are going by here, they're basically going to Russia.

BOURDAIN: I meet an old friend, Esra (ph), for my first meal back in country.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know you like your fish with the head and tail.

BOURDAIN: I do. This is perfect.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I ordered some raki.

BOURDAIN: That makes me so happy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, which is our national drink. It is anise seeds and...

BOURDAIN: I am familiar with this drink, all too familiar. Cheers.


BOURDAIN: So since I last saw you, which was in 2000...


BOURDAIN: 2009. Wow. A long time ago. Istanbul looks a little bit different than last time I was here. It looks a little more like every other city.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Well, construction.

BOURDAIN: There seems to be a lot of that going on.


BOURDAIN: Your president likes to build stuff. He likes to pour concrete.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He keeps the economy going. Turkey's so much politicized since the last time you came, like after 2011, the daily life issues, like how many children you should have, advising women not to laugh out loud in public, things like this were actually suggested by the government.

BOURDAIN: Right. Do you think this is coming from genuine ideological religious place or is this a political calculation?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's a genuine...

BOURDAIN: You're telling me that the current leadership is, in his heart, is genuinely opposed to alcohol, women laughing in public?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe I don't feel comfortable answering that question.


(voice-over): Turkey's most famous politician, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he is the power and has been the power in one form or another for more than a decade. He's the face of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP.

Erdogan has, in recent years, made Islamist politics mainstream, and while remaining very, very popular in this extremely polarized nation, cracked down hard on media, political opposition, free speech, and, of course, demonstrations.

In 2013, the almost revolution in Turkey happened, a protest to contest the demolition of Istanbul's Gezi Park resulted in a brutal crackdown by police.

In response, ordinary Turks unconnected by any particular ideology poured into the streets. With the whole world watching on social media, they, too, were met with force.

In the end, Erdogan remained firmly in control, and there were repercussions for many who had supported the protests. From that point on, media, social media, even open discussion of issues or events, became treated as hostile acts by foreign enemies.

Autocrats in general are not famous for their sense of humor, so it's no surprise that comedians in Turkey like Denise (ph) and her fiancee Han (ph), walk a perilous line.

(on camera): Are these good times to be a comedian in Turkey?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It definitely is one of the best times because our former prime minister, support for them...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't use the names. We just call him the Greatness or, you know...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess they're running the finals. BOURDAIN: The finals.


[21:10:08] BOURDAIN: But all weight classes. But it's basically Greco-Roman wrestling. Just get greased up.

As I understand it, you can't choke with two hands, only one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can just slip your hands...

BOURDAIN: Right into some greasy ass crack. That's OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And grab. That's fine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me something. I want to know, what are the rules of the game.

BOURDAIN: Turkish oil wrestling. A big freaking salad covered with oiled men in leather pants giving each other spirited and prolonged reach-arounds. Oh, geez.

Can we get rights to the Barry White greatest hits record or Diana Ross "Love Hangover," or is that too obvious? I like to be respectful of ancient tradition, but I mean, the jokes write themselves. And they have, what, there's, like, ropes inside or handles? Where do I get a pair of those pants? Those are some super freaky pants.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you see the golden belts?

BOURDAIN: Well, look, it's got to be because I mean, the pants are awesome. Imagine what the belt looks like.


BOURDAIN: Does he stop yelling at some point?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The announcer called jaskar (ph)...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And in slang, jaskar (ph) means person who talks too much.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's too loud. It's time for political end. Lots changed since your last visit.

BOURDAIN: Obviously, the mood has changed a lot, which is weird, because everything seemed to be going so well. Things seemed to be getting more tolerant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tolerance level is so low these days. BOURDAIN: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People taking sides don't like the other one. These people don't like our kind.

BOURDAIN: So what happens if someone doesn't like your joke? Somebody in a powerful position does not like your comedy? What happens?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Depending on the degree how much he doesn't like you, how much he's offended.

BOURDAIN: Let's say he's really offended.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You go to jail for being, you know, terrorist or...

BOURDAIN: Aiding and abetting the enemies of the state.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Enemy of the state. Being enemy of the state is the most common thing you can do right now in Turkey.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're asking for more oil.

BOURDAIN: More oil.



BOURDAIN (voice-over): Building boom or building bubble. Architect and city planner Luda Garman (ph) has been capturing Istanbul's construction boom with his camera. He employs a unique method of compressing panoramas to create a striking reimagining of cityscapes reflecting, perhaps, more of the reality than a straight photo could.

LUDA GARMAN (PH), PHOTOGRAPHER: I've been following what's happening in Istanbul, because it's my hometown, and what's happening is that the new government is basing the supposedly booming economy totally on construction.

So what they did is they started to build high-rise housing, shopping malls, roads, and all that, but not necessarily buildings that are related to the making of culture. So all this construction is related to consumption.

BOURDAIN: Well, are these spaces needed? At whatever income level, will somebody be living in these buildings?

GARMAN (ph): That's a very good question. I'm asking the same question.

BOURDAIN: Yes. First things first.

GARMAN (ph): Yes.

BOURDAIN: We'll save the world later.

GARMAN (ph): This is, like, the Turkish version of pizza, let's say.

BOURDAIN: Pita has some similarities. I mean, there's cheese in it. Dough. But it's more like a calzone maybe. I don't know. It's an efficient delivery vehicle for this case ground meat, cheese, and onions, a not-so-little torpedo straight from flavor town, but no, that would be wrong.

I want to see what you do with this. I want to see how you eat this. What do you do with that -- you dip in the egg? Pour it in?

GARMAN (ph): Yes. Yes. Exactly.

BOURDAIN: Mm. This is...

GARMAN (ph): Cholesterol bomb we call it.

BOURDAIN: There's a remarkable lack of sentimentality about, really, one of the most uniquely glorious looking spaces anywhere. Why don't they care?

GARMAN (ph): I agree. There's a lack of sentimentality, and there's also a lack of vision, I believe, hometown vision. We have very short-term visions. Mostly based on money making.

BOURDAIN: When people look at the work you do, based on this city, what do you want them to see?

GARMAN (ph): First of all, I really value the sustainability of our political culture. I want my work to show, "Hey, look, this is what we had." I think we are already losing it, so why don't we stop here and maybe consider doing something else?


[21:20:37] BOURDAIN (voice-over): Nachambe Pozer (ph), long home to tradesmen, Greeks, Jews, and Armenians. Groups whose populations are these days a tiny fraction of once they once were. This neighborhood, like many in Istanbul, is slated for redevelopment in the name of urban renewal.

(on camera): Wow. Look at that. It's a lot of food.

(voice-over): Cesar and his family have been running a restaurant here for nearly 20 years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The way that we make the food, it's our own language. That's the whole idea about it.

BOURDAIN: So your family's Armenian.


BOURDAIN: Is the food Armenian?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my mom's food. Whatever we eat at home.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): Authentic Hasnas (ph), or tradesmen's restaurants, are getting harder and harder to find. Most are family- owned businesses, the kind of place where you can get a classic home- style meal of traditional dishes.

(on camera): You're clearly a romantic. Do you think there's a place in modern Istanbul for romantics, or will they slowly be crushed by modernity?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Almost all the protestors, they were kidnapped (ph). They were romantics. They killed those people. They used real guns, but they will still continue to protest. Nothing else.

BOURDAIN: So what's the future of Armenians in Turkey? Will there be more Armenians in Istanbul in 20 years or fewer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Much fewer. Less.



BOURDAIN: This turn toward a more conservative, more Islamist, is this a political calculation or do you think this is generally genuinely how people feel now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the way that people feel now. Because of the way that our president, the way that he talks. It's not only political issue; it's a reality.

I don't know what he has in mind, our president, but somehow he let people fight with hate. I believe that hate will be, you know, it will make our end soon. That's what I'm afraid of. That's why I'm telling you that young generation, Armenians, they will definitely leave this country.

BOURDAIN: Wow. I hope you're wrong. I like to be -- I mean, I'm not really an optimistic person, but I hope you're wrong about Istanbul, because it's an amazing place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope you will be the one who's right.


[21:27:10] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold on. Give me help and not crash my car. Not today. Maybe tomorrow. I have to pass this bus. If I don't pass this bus.

BOURDAIN (voice-over): It is a long-held belief that, if you want to know the real deal, what's really good about a town...


BOURDAIN: ... if you want to know where to find the good stuff, you ask a cab driver.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All back, all back. Turn those around. I don't know wrong way, right way. What is what. Take it easy.

BOURDAIN: I don't know if that's true. Not in my town, anyway. But in Istanbul, I know a cab driver. My old friend, Esan (ph).

(on camera): Hello, my friend. Good to see you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After all those years. To meet you again.

BOURDAIN: What a coincidence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What a night. I love that.

BOURDAIN: so how are things in Istanbul? It looks very different. They're building stuff everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know what happened, but a lot of hotels, a lot of shopping center open, more restaurant open, more disco open.

BOURDAIN: More discos?


BOURDAIN: I thought this was a conservative government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Government conservative, but the people, and they have to shake, they have to drink. Life too short.

(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) Relax. Most people ask me, did you make an accident? And I say, yes, I take two people, three people hospital and then I pass cemetery. I said, "This is Esan's (ph) section." They are scared.


How can you ask a taxi driver, did you make an accident?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going across the Galata (ph) Bridge. I love it here. Look at this city. Centers of (UNINTELLIGIBLE), moss- covered (UNINTELLIGIBLE). New mosque. Today (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Golden horn. I love this city.

Yahoo! Come on, everybody! Esan (ph) is not crazy!

Taxi driver is nice job. I love this job because you meet every time new people.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And on the way, you never get upset.


I wish I dance, but I don't belly dance.


TAXI DRIVER: Wha! (wha me ah) (Come on.) Everybody say this not normal. I study about Ottoman. How to read learning Ottoman languages. When you ask why is (son) to learn this? Because I want to read history original.

BOURDAIN: Probably not while driving though.

DRIVER: Yah, yah, not driving, but the traffic already stop. (speaking foreign language) Maybe I talk too much and you boring and I go. Take another taxi because I talk too much. (speaking foreign language) This is my home area.

BOURDAIN: Oh, yeh? You live in this neighborhood?

DRIVER: Yeh. We call this area (Locanta).

BOURDAIN: So this is a local favorite of yours, this restaurant?

DRIVER: This restaurant I know since 30 years.

BOURDAIN: So it's cow, cow foot, tripes.

DRIVER: Tripes.

BOURDAIN: Very nice. That looks good. Man, this is just delicious.

Are the young people more conservative or less conservative?

DRIVER: My daughter married, religious person, and she has a scarf. Another daughter, young, 18 years old, short and modern. They walk together, one is scarf, one is not.


DRIVER: Maybe one day you invite me America and will be make belly dance on the American main road, shaking my body.

BOURDAIN: Probably get arrested for that.


NARRATOR: The voice of Istanbul. I've had at least 30 names from New Rome to Islambol. Now they say I'm between the East and the West, an identity crisis. I knew theirs. Enough of this nonsense. Take the labels off and just look at me. You won't need a guide book. Like all cities, I have my own sense of time. I'm a labyrinth of layers that only make sense without a compass. If you're hesitant, not sure which way to go as you walk about, follow one of my cats. They will lead you to places, introduce you to people, point out secrets they keep even from me. They, more than anyone, are the longest continuing residents of this city. A challenge to those who see the future in my paths, I'm an obstacle for those who see only the future. I see change with the patience of centuries. Look at silhouette on the bridge on the Golden Horn. Time has not passed me by, it has protected me. I ask of you the same.

BOURDAIN: An hour ferry ride and a world away are the Princes' Islands in the Sea of Marmara. Gunduz Vassaf and his friend, Serra Yilmaz, have invited me for lunch. Actor, translator?


BOURDAIN: Philosopher, poet. Are these good times to be a poet in Turkey/

GUNDUZ VASSAF, PH.D., PSYCHOLOGIST AND AUTHOR: It is actually, because it's a way to bring down the noise in a way. Because so much words are exchanged, especially in heated political discussions.

BOURDAIN: I have become very used to and fond of this drink, by the way. Maybe too used to it and too fond of it.

VASSAF: They used to call it lion's milk. And a famous Turkish poet is knowing for saying I wish I could be a fish in a bottle of Raki.

BOURDAIN: Serra prepares a traditional spread of meze. Turkish meze are an extremely tasty, very diverse assortment of dishes originating in every corner of the former Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans liked to eat and entertain, and they employed armies of cooks to dazzle them with ever-changing menus, variety being key. Circassian chicken, fava beans, rice with mussels, eggplant, stuffed grape leaves, poached eggs with yogurt, all classic and all delicious.

YILMAZ: What shall I give you? A few of everything?

BOURDAIN: Yes, please.

YILMAZ: I'll put some -- oh, maybe I could give you some chicken already.

BOURDAIN: I can make room for that I think. Here we go. Wow, it's really pretty. Am I getting a distorted picture of Turkey by spending all of my time in Istanbul? It's very different than the rest of the country, yeh? How different.

YILMAZ: Mmm, but I think in Istanbul you have all the different parts of Turkey also.

BOURDAIN: What does it mean to be Turkish? What do you think?

VASSAF: Serra, are you Turkish?

YILMAZ: Yes, but it's not my fault.

BOURDAIN: Man, this is so... Let me say, this food is extraordinary. I mean really, really, really amazing. But when I was here last it was very different mood. Now at least the tenor of the things said by the government are increasingly ugly and intolerant. And you've got this social activism that's very unusual. Certainly the government is sort of appealing to traditional Islamic values. Whether it's for show or not, there seems to be some reevaluation of how much of a party town do we want to be.

VASSAF: These days the powers that be don't like it. And...

BOURDAIN: Do they genuinely not like it or are they appealing to a political base?

VASSAF: Oh, no, no. It's (populism), it's a political base. And lots of people are supposed to play along, saying that they don't want to drink, et cetera, because that's the way you get your contracts, that's the way you get things done.

BOURDAIN: But I mean nationalism seems to be working internally. Nationalism and xenophobia, it's a vote-getter almost anywhere.

VASSAF: Well, it's a vote getter, but it's a vote loser as well in the sense that there's so much back lash.

BOURDAIN: What do -- what do you think's going to happen?

VASSAF: It'll get back to normal.

BOURDAIN: You think it'll go...

VASSAF: Oh, yeh.


BOURDAIN: Walking down Istanbul's streets, it's easy to forget or not take seriously the slow but certain change in attitude towards this kind of freedom. The right, for lack of a better term, to party. The AKP is in power because a majority of voters put them there. Their attitudes, for better or worse, reflect that attitudes of a great number of Turks. This is (Nouri), a Turkish businessman. I'm glad we met you because you are an AKP supporter. You voted for AKP?

(NOURI): Yeh, I did.

BOURDAIN: Right. Why?

(NOURI): Before the economy was so bad. No foreign investment, interest rates were so high, inflation was about 100 percent per, per (year), so it's very hard to make business in such circumstances. In 2002 I had 70 employees. Now it's 250.

BOURDAIN: Since I got here I've been talking to a lot of people who are very upset about the environment, they're upset about the destruction of old, beautiful buildings. To a great extent they do not like what much of the world would call progress. So when you say people running out in the streets to demonstrate, what was your feeling?

(NOURI): They said they went there for the trees, they went there for the environment. But at the end, they were together with the terrorist people. They have to accept Istanbul like this. You got nothing to do. I cannot change it, no one can change it.

BOURDAIN: No going back.

(NOURI): Fifty years ago they could do some things. But not now.

BOURDAIN: You're not sentimental about the old neighborhoods, the old...

(NOURI): No. I got used to it.

BOURDAIN: This is a party town. This is a night club town. The impression is that there's some ambivalence there. Ten years from now, will we be able to come to this bar or a bar like it and, and, and drink lots of gin drinks and misbehave? No problem?

(NOURI): No problem. This is still a party town. We drink hard.

BOURDAIN: So it's all about money.

(NOURI): It's all about money. Everything is all about money in the world.

BOURDAIN: Who will be Turkey's (best-est) now internationally? Which way are they looking? To the East or the West?

(NOURI): East. Russia, China, Iran, and the Arabic countries. Because the West and Europe is getting weaker and weaker day by day. The next 50 years is going to be the era of the East, not the West.

BOURDAIN: Mm-hmm. So these notions like freedom of the press, these are not Eastern concepts?

(NOURI): No, no, no.

BOURDAIN: They're not. OK, I want to ask you something. Is freedom of the press overrated?

(NOURI): Yeh.

BOURDAIN: (laughing)

(NOURI): Yeh, yeh, yeh. It's overrated.

BOURDAIN: You think it -- tightening up on the press is a sacrifice that you're willing to make for a good economy? I don't want to put words in your mouth. For prosperity for the majority.

(NOURI): That is the same all over the world. It's not typical for Turkey.

BOURDAIN: That's right. So, thank you. Thank you. This is a really bad idea. OK, cheers. (Nosdrovia).


BOURDAIN: (inaudible) Of course, good to see you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome to our park.

BOURDAIN: Oh, man. I'm glad I haven't eaten yet. That is pretty awesome looking.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So have you ever had Turkish breakfast before?

BOURDAIN: With you. I love that we can do eggs in the park. Pretty impressive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This place is (Abbasaga) Park. It's one of the last remaining parks in the vicinity. Since 2013 people have been gathering here in what we call forums to talk about their ideas for different -- how can I say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Debates, chats.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Different people gathering here at night after work, and then talking, trying to find solutions, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't have any other place to go, so we came here.

BOURDAIN: Why is it so important?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not just for us, for future residents of Istanbul.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This space turns into a space of politics, a space of hope against a system which seems to be like impossible to break actually.

BOURDAIN: Is it impossible to break?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was impossible a few weeks ago.

BOURDAIN: A few weeks ago it was impossible. But you, you're feeling optimistic?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The hope is the revolution, you know? If you lose you hope then there's nothing to do. I think the tide is turning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But for the -- if you compare Arab Spring and this park I think -- I mean in the Arab Spring they are protesting against a dictatorship. But in Turkey I think we can say that there is democracy. BOURDAIN: (Essra) and her friends previously unlikely to have known, much less come to like, one another were brought together by circumstances.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you been gassed?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not as much, but yeh.

BOURDAIN: By gassed, you mean -- are you talking about pollution?


BOURDAIN: Oh, tear gas.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you are getting gassed together you really connect through life or death situations. You hold each other and run away together. It was a very actually emotional thing for me because all my life I was taught to keep away from different types of people. Like I never had a Kurdis friend. I never had a -- people around me were all like me, and I was lacking so much richness in my life. Thanks to (Gezi) I saw everybody is the same.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are (inaudible) real democracy in (Gezi). People learn to speak (inaudible) produces tear gas connecting people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tear gas connecting people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (inaudible) just run away together.

BOURDAIN: Democracy is always a fragile thing. Ninety-two years ago modern Turkey was assembled from the fragments of the Ottoman Empire. It always struggled to find a balance between those in power and the consent of its widely-diverse population.

Since the filming of this episode, Turkey's newly-elected parliament failed to form a coalition and President Erdogan quickly called for new elections. At the same time, he's revved up military action against Kurdish opposition forces in both southeastern Turkey and across the border in Kurdish Iran. Many claim that he effectively plunged Turkey into conflict in a bid to take advantage of an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty and improve his party's chances of success. This is not an unreasonable assumption on anyone's part. Fear works. Fear gets votes. The opposition had hoped that the tide was turning. It remains to be seen if they have any reason to hope.