As previously reported on this blog, bar and cafe owners in Istanbul's bustling Beyoglu district have been locked in an ongoing battle with municipal authorities, who recently initiated a crackdown on outdoor seating in the area. Although authorities are now planning a new "master plan" for the district, one that's supposed to provide new guidelines for outdoor seating, local business owners say the current ban has left them in dire straits. From the Tarlabasi Istanbul blog:
Mehmet Aktaş, who works in a traditional meyhane on Sofyalı Sokak says the restaurant is having serious trouble staying open: “We used to have about 18 tables outside, with room for 40 to 50 people. Now we have three tables left. Five out of eight employees are on unpaid leave, we are really struggling.” Like many bars and restaurants on Sofyalı Sokak, they, too, have seen their revenues fall by almost 80percent. “At this rate, we won’t survive very long. Restaurants and bars will start to close. This street will be dead without them.” Aktaş points out that the restaurants will not be the only businesses affected by the municipality’s policy: “We buy from fishermen, butchers and green grocers. Our restaurant used to buy 150TL to 200TL worth of fish daily from a local fisherman. Now we can only afford to buy fish for 20TL to 30TL every day.” He shrugs. “This will affect a much broader local economy. Even the children selling Kleenex on the streets will make less money.”
The owners of two small corner shops on Sofyalı Sokak agree; both have seen their business drop by about 80 percent. Many wonder why the Beyoğlu Municipality deliberately risks such economic loss, and the loss of so many jobs: According to bianet.org, the number of layoffs stands at 2,000 after only one month.
[UPDATE - Whoops! I completely failed to notice that Eurasianet had previously published a far superior and photo-rich story about this exact same subject. That story, with Justyna Mielnikiewicz's superb photos, can be found here. Check it out.]
Countries have all kinds of schemes to attract both foreign capitol and high-value migrants, but the government of Georgia may have come up with the most unusual plan of them all. According to AFP, the Georgian government has set up a program to attract white South African farmers who have decided to leave their homeland due to political and economic pressures. From the article:
A long way from his South African birthplace, amid the sweeping wheat fields of eastern Georgia, farmer Piet Kemp says that he has found a new home in this former Soviet republic.
And if the government gets its wish, hundreds more like Mr. Kemp will follow to help revive Georgia’s ailing agricultural sector, bringing in both cash and expertise.
The narrow backstreets of Istanbul's historic Beyoglu district have long been the haunt of revelers, drawn to the area by its profusion of bars, cafes and restaurants. In summer, these establishments move the fun outdoors, setting up tables that often end up spilling into the street. But now it appears that Beyoglu authorities have decided to rein in the outdoor fun. From Hurriyet:
Members of the municipal patrol acted extremely rudely and abused restaurant owners and customers as they removed outdoor tables and chairs over the weekend in Beyoğlu’s Cihangir and Galata neighborhoods, according to restaurant operators.
Officers appeared without an official warning in prominent places throughout Cihangir, removing tables by force while customers were still sitting there and eating, Gökçe Bedo, the owner of a tavern told the Hürriyet Daily News.
“More than 20 officers suddenly gathered here and hit one of the customers who refused to stand up as she did not understand the reason for the operation,” said Bedo, adding that she was considering filing a complaint against the officers.
The owners have blamed the municipality for the attitude of the officers who carried out the operation; many have also added that they had not violated the rule that bans chairs and tables in front of their facilities.
Last Tuesday, the owners of cafes and restaurants in Galata neighborhood received a notice from the municipal patrol, saying tables and chairs outside restaurants and cafes should be removed.
Istanbul Eats, meanwhile, went down to Beyoglu's hopping Asmalimescit district (pictured above), usually filled with people drinking and smoking outdoors by early afternoon, only to find it eerily silent:
A year ago, Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin made waves when he published a book that claimed that immigrants were making Germany a dumber society and accused them of having lower levels of education, perhaps even due to hereditary reasons. The publication of the book, "Germany Does Itself In," led to his resignation and to widespread condemnation.
Sarrazin may have moved on, but it appears that Berlin's large Turkish community has not forgotten him and his book. From Der Spiegel:
"Get lost!" and "Nazis out!" were among the epithets lobbed at controversial author Thilo Sarrazin during a recent trip to Berlin's Kreuzberg district, according to newspaper reports on Monday. The city's former finance senator had taken a trip to the area with broadcaster ZDF to film a TV special ahead of the one-year anniversary of the publication of his controversial book "Deutschland schafft sich ab" ("Germany Does Itself In").
The memory of the book's content, which sparked massive controversy in Germany for what many called its anti-immigrant sentiments, was apparently still fresh in the minds of some residents of the district, known for its high concentration of Muslim immigrants.
Accompanied by Turkish-German journalist Güner Balci, Sarrazin took a tour of the district, stopping by a Turkish market where he wrote in Die Welt he was yelled at by an "angry man in his fifties" whom he dubbed "the squaller," before a group of other "politically correct" market patrons joined in, calling him a racist until he and the camera team left.
This one is certainly going to hurt Greek national pride: According to the Wall Street Journal, famed Athenian baklava seller Epe has not only been importing Turkish baklava for the last decade to sell in its stores, but has now had to be bailed out by its supplier from the east. From the WSJ's article:
Greeks and Turks have bickered for centuries over which nation makes the better baklava, a sticky-sweet dessert of layered pastry devoured in huge quantities across the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. But for the past 10 years, Turkey's best-known producer, businessman Nadir Gullu, has been supplying Greece's closely held Baklavas Epe, which operated five stores in Athens. He provided about two tons of baklava and other Turkish sweets per month.
Old rivalries aside, Athenians lapped them up—until, that is, they ran out of cash.
Baklavas Epe's most profitable shop is on Athens's landmark Syntagma Square. Before the crisis, tourists and locals queued up in droves to buy the pastries. But as the government embarked on a severe austerity program to reduce its debt burden and qualify for international support, demand sank.
Baklavas Epe closed three of its five stores in Athens as sales dropped. Meanwhile, it ratcheted up close to €160,000 (about $226,000) in debt for deliveries of sweets from across the Aegean Sea, according to the company. Plunging revenue made it impossible for Baklavas Epe to finance baklava purchases from Istanbul.
"Baklava has become a luxury. Think about it: Three kilos of minced beef costs the same as one kilo of baklava," said a company spokesman. (A kilogram is about 2.2 pounds.)
In Turkish newspapers, Mr. Gullu, the owner of Karakoy Gulluoglu, a well-known baklava shop near the shores of the Bosporus in Istanbul, said the Greeks should pay their debts within a year and the business relationship was in jeopardy.
[UPDATE: Just noticed that Eurasianet's Justin Vela has a brand new story on the same subject that this post deals with.]
I missed this when it first appeared, but RFE/RL has a very interesting blog post up about the Kyrgyz city of Osh's struggles to regain its status of a gastronomic capitol in the wake of last year's ethnic clashes, which pitted the city's Uzbeks and Kyrgyz against each other. From the blog post:
Osh was once a city of restaurants and cafes -- spacious, welcoming eateries whose owners and cuisine, more often than not, were Uzbek. (In a city of many divisions, Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, even now, are nearly unanimous in agreeing that Uzbeks are far better cooks.)
A year after ethnic clashes left southern Kyrgyzstan in tatters, Osh is laboring to restore its gastronomic reputation.
Throughout the city, and most noticeably along the city's main Kyrgyzstan Street, dozens of the burned-out hulls of businesses destroyed in the 2010 clashes have been rebuilt and reopened.
But there's a difference: this time around, the owners are Kyrgyz. And local Uzbeks blame criminal groups close to the mayor for squeezing them out of their businesses.
One case in point is Nostalzhi, a sleek cafe-hotel complex in a central district of the city, not far from its main bazaar and mosque. The cafe, opened by an Uzbek family in 1997, was soon followed by a sister cafe, Nostalzhi-Plus in the city's Aravan district.
The family took evident pride in its slowly growing empire. "We really put a lot of thought into our designs," says one family member, "Aibek," who refused to give his real name, be photographed, or even have his voice recorded, out of fear for his safety.
"We chose beautiful marble, lovely gates. We even got a patent on the names. We were always very careful with the law."/
A Washington, DC neighborhood blog has a very tantalizing post up about the possibility of Uighur activist and businesswoman Rebiya Kadeer opening a kebab restaurant in the city's historic Anacostia neighborhood. With that neighborhood located just a hop and a skip away from Capitol Hill, it's not hard to imagine that Kadeer's culinary venture (if it opens) will have a a bit more than kebab and lagman on the menu. Politics or no politics, this is a development that DC foodies should definitely keep their eye on. More details here.
PS -- Visitors to Istanbul looking for good Uighur food (sans politics) should visit Mihman, near the Grand Bazaar. An Istanbul Eats review here.
Georgia's The Financial has a great story up about a Georgian company's failed efforts to break into Azerbaijan's banana market. Encouraged by Azeri President llham Aliyev's recent calls to streamline the country's customs procedures, the company registered itself as an importer in Azerbaijan and sent truck laden with bananas to the border, only to be denied entry.
According the the article, Azerbaijan's banana business is controlled by a monopoly. Says a representative of the Georgian company: "We will not be discouraged and will keep our trucks at the Azeri border for as long as it takes to break the monopoly no matter our financial losses; I find it laughable reading a statement from the Azeri Ambassador to Georgia claiming that there are no monopolies in Azerbaijan and that the market is open to everyone.
We will invite all the Georgian and Azeri press next week to the Azeri border to witness how our trucks are prohibited from entering the country; I will also personally invite the Ambassador of Azerbaijan to attend the event along with the media."
[UPDATE -- It's been pointed out to me that this blog may have slipped on a banana peel by quoting The Financial, which doesn't have a very good reputation in Georgia as a news source. Point well taken.]
An intergovernmental meeting between China and Armenia was just wrapped up in Yerevan, with the Chinese expressing their wish to see trade between their two countries grow, specifically through the import of Armenian cognac and wine. More details here.