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WikiLeaks: 2006-11-02: 06ISTANBUL2015: Istanbul's Ecumenical Ramazan: Borek, Bardakoglu and Burlesque

by WikiLeaks. 06ISTANBUL2015: November 02, 2006.

Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2012 at 06:56 PM UT


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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06ISTANBUL2015 2006-11-02 14:05 2011-08-30 01:44 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Consulate Istanbul
DE RUEHIT #2015/01 3061405
P 021405Z NOV 06
E.O. 12958: N/A 
REF: A. ANKARA 5851 
     B. ISTANBUL 1669 
ISTANBUL 00002015  001.2 OF 002 
1. (U) Summary: Turkey's lively diversity and internal 
contradictions are no more apparent than in Istanbul during 
the month of Ramazan.  While nearly 70% of Turks as a whole 
are reported to fast during this period, the evenings' 
numerous iftars are often more social and political than they 
are spiritual in nature.  The Pope's recent comments on Islam 
and his upcoming visit was a common theme, as was the French 
parliament's vote on the Armenian "genocide."  Meanwhile, 
glitzy -- and decidedly secular -- cultural and commercial 
events continued apace in this sparkling, somewhat 
"arriviste" metropolis.  End summary. 
2. (SBU) The Ramazan season began literally with a splash -- 
that of American burlesque artiste "Dita von Tease" (nee 
Heather Renee Sweet) wearing nothing but two tassels and some 
strategically placed sequins as she swirled in a giant Lucite 
champagne glass filled with bubbles in front of several 
hundred of Istanbul's "Bosphorus elite" at a black-tie event 
marking the new partnership between Turkey's flagship fashion 
house VAKKO and American designer Zac Posen.  The reaction to 
Miss von Tease and her impressive physique ranged from the 
predictable wide-eyed grins of the tuxedoed crowd (and catty 
remarks from the bejeweled but relatively less comely and 
more seasoned distaff side of the audience) to hushed 
expressions that this was inappropriate for the Ramazan 
season and would bring criticism to VAKKO's Jewish-Turkish 
owners, the Hakko family.  Meanwhile, following a five-course 
dinner, the hundred or so Manhattan-based fashionistas 
accompanying Mr. Posen took to the dance floor, tossing back 
champagne and va 
rious shots of vodka and Jack Daniels, exclaiming, "Wow -- 
this place is just like New York!" 
3. (U) Other events were generally more sedate and 
conventional.  The Istanbul AKP chairman hosted his 
traditional iftar for 2000 of his closest friends in honor of 
PM Erdogan and visiting German Chancellor Merkel.  This was 
the second year in a row that the Istanbul AKP hosted the 
Prime Minister and prominent notice was given on the 
invitation and throughout the venue of the serial nature of 
the event.  PM Erdogan and Chancellor Merkel both spoke to 
the assembled group, with Erdogan highlighting Turkey's 
commitment to join the European Union and Merkel focusing on 
concrete examples of cooperation between the two governments, 
notably plans to open a Turkish-German university. 
4. (SBU) We hosted an iftar on October 16 for a group of AKP 
Istanbul party board members who despite decrying "media 
bias" in reporting on recent tarikat scandals (reftel) were 
confident that the AKP's strong grassroots organization would 
enable the party to retain a Parliamentary majority in next 
year's elections.  Still, a party youth leader told us that 
he and his young AKP colleagues would prefer PM Erdogan not 
pursue the presidency next year; a sign that they believe the 
Prime Minister's star-appeal could make a difference during 
the parliamentary election. 
5. (SBU) The Jewish community also hosted its annual iftar, a 
tradition begun nearly 5-6 years ago at the suggestion of 
Fetullah Gulen.  While many in the community have become 
increasingly suspicious of the Gulenists and their larger 
motives, the tradition continues, with many of Istanbul's 
prominent politicians and business figures attending a dinner 
that routinely begins with an imam's call to prayer, includes 
a cantor's chant following the main course, and ends with 
both Muslim and Jewish benedictions.  With the guest list 
topping 500, several prominent Istanbul district mayors were 
in attendance, including Beyoglu mayor Demircan and Sisli 
mayor Sarigul.  The ecumenical nature of the event was 
underlined by the presence of minority religious leaders from 
the Armenian, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Syriac 
Christian communities. 
6. (SBU) The Marmara Group Strategic and Social Research 
Foundation -- a staunchly secularist organization that 
includes former generals and ministers and prides itself on 
faithfully representing "Ataturk's Turkey" -- held its 10th 
Annual "Traditional Peace and Love Iftar" on October 13th. 
Instituted in response to the perceived "political 
Islamization" of Turkish society under Refah, Fazilet and 
later AKP leadership, the Foundation showcases Turkey's 
tolerant, secular nature by bestowing awards on Istanbul's 
various minority religious leaders and other advocates of 
secular governance.  This year's iftar included no fewer than 
three representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, who were 
at pains to underscore the Church's desire for good relations 
with Muslims.  However, there was notable backchatter when 
ISTANBUL 00002015  002.2 OF 002 
the various Catholic representatives spoke, which died down 
for other speakers in the lengthy program.  End note.) 
Showing their true ecumenical stripes, the Marmara Group also 
included an AKP parliamentar 
ian, on whom guests both to our right and left commented with 
a sniff: "Doesn't he just look AKP?!"  This year's guest of 
honor was Turkey's General Director of Religious Affairs, Dr. 
Ali Bardakoglu, who brought the house down with his remarks 
that he'd come dressed in civilian attire to underscore the 
fact that one did not need a long beard, head covering or any 
form of dress to be a good Muslim, and that in Turkey's 
secular society, the common denominators of Islam were 
rationality and love -- unlike what we see on TV.  Bardakoglu 
stressed the importance of religious freedom and civil 
values, while also noting (in an apparent allusion to the 
French "genocide" legislation) that "as Turks we will always 
face accusations, but we cannot afford to be reactionary; we 
must defend and live by the truth." 
7. (SBU) Prime Ministerial advisor and Istanbul MP Egemen 
Bagis addressed a sparsely attended and very informal iftar 
sponsored by the American Business Forum of Turkey (ABFT) at 
a local hotel.  Talk revolved around the PM's recent visit to 
Washington and various trade issues, including recent GSP 
developments and concern about the lack of an effective 
U.S.-based Turkey lobby.  Much to the chagrin of the host, a 
rival business association chairman crashed the party.  In 
the relaxed atmosphere, anecdotes freely circulated regarding 
Turkey's bureaucratic impediments to capital development and 
relative lack of commercial transparency.  One businessman 
recounted his frustrating efforts to have his academic 
credentials earned in the United States certified for 
professional purposes in Turkey.  He was directed to a 
3-person windowless office in which one individual stamped 
"incoming degrees," i.e. from foreign institutions, and the 
other "outgoing."  When he asked the third party what her 
function was, the latter replied: "I manage the other two." 
8. (SBU) Finally, the CG hosted an iftar October 17 for 
prominent Islam-oriented think tanks, commercial 
organization, charities and press, including senior editors 
from Zaman and Yeni Safak.  A news columnist known for her 
hostile views toward the United States later wrote critically 
in Radikal's October 19 edition that both the U.S. and 
Iranian Consul Generals had hosted iftars on the same evening 
and "it appeared that her colleagues preferred the American 
function," despite U.S. actions in the Muslim world.  Much of 
the conversation revolved around Turkish charitable giving 
and support for Lebanon and Gaza (the enthusiasm among Turks 
for the former and the difficulty, given the security 
situation, of the latter). 
9.  (U) Comment.  The multiple sectors that have embraced 
iftar as a means to cement ties within and among Istanbul's 
various social and political groups, not to mention the 
diverse approaches to iftar in Istanbul, underscore the rich 
variety of ideologies, cultural influences and social norms 
of the city. Istanbul, a two-time imperial capital, remains a 
complex and varied tapestry of ideals and behaviors.  Often 
compared to New York by political commentators as well as by 
Manhattan socialites, Istanbul, while reflective of a 
Turkey's "majority Muslim" population at large, is also a 
microcosm of a society with a varied and vibrant population. 


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