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wedding_day_feeding_syrian_refugees
One Turkish couple’s wedding celebration has gone viral on social media — but not for the reasons you might think.

Fethullah Üzümcüoğlu and Esra Polat tied the knot in Turkey’s Kilis province on July 30. While their families had saved money for a traditional post-wedding banquet, the couple decided to spend their wedding day feeding Syrian refugees.

Tens of thousands of war-battered Syrians have taken refuge in Kilis in the wake of Syria’s ongoing civil war. Moved to respond to the crisis, Üzümcüoğlu and Polat spent their reception feeding 4,000 Syrian refugees.

Wedding guests helped the newlyweds distribute dinners from food trucks and even organized a party for the refugees.

According to the International Rescue Committee, Syria’s ongoing civil war has fueled the world’s worst refugee crisis in a quarter-century. More than four million Syrians have fled the fighting, leaving the neighboring countries of Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon struggling to support the wave of displaced persons. The UNHCR reports that there are more than 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey alone.

Kimse Yok Mu (KYM), the Turkey-based nonprofit that hosted the event, reported that the groom’s father, Ali Üzümcüoğlu, first suggested the idea.

“I thought that sharing a big delicious dinner with our family and friends was unnecessary, knowing that there are so many people in need living next door,” the father explained.

He presented the idea of a charitable celebration to the couple, who accepted.

“I was shocked when Fethullah first told me about the idea,” said bride Esra Polat, “but afterwards I was won over by it. It was such a wonderful experience.”

Photos of the selfless event have spread across social media, with many wishing the newlyweds happiness and blessings in their married life.

Üzümcüoğlu said that sharing their banquet with the refugees was “priceless.”

“We started our journey to happiness with making others happy,” he shared. “That’s a great feeling.”

Caitlin Harrison

Sources: UNHCR, Washington Post, The Independent, International Rescue Committee
Photo: Elite Daily

syria_aid

After years of stalled negotiations, eight international aid organizations have finally been granted legal status in Turkey. The decision, announced in the days leading up to Turkey’s parliamentary elections last month, will allow the NGOs to more efficiently conduct humanitarian work in neighboring Syria.

The international NGOs, including the Norwegian Refugee Council and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), provide assistance to Syrians affected by the ongoing civil war. The groups distribute much-needed food, water, medical aid and housing materials. With Turkish legal status, aid workers can more easily cross the border into Syria.

Most NGOs working in Syria have their offices “for legal and security reasons” inside the southern Turkish border. For many of these organizations, bureaucratic technicalities have slowed the registration process. MSF says that the Turkish government took eight years to review its application.

Tensions between the government and rival parties could also be to blame for the delays. MSF representative Aitor Zabalgogeazkoa explains, “We’ve been perceived as supporting the Kurdish agenda, for working in the southeast, but we simply worked there because more difficult displacements were happening in the east of the country.”

A Turkish government official reported that 42 international NGOs working in Syria are now legally registered in Turkey. Organization leaders hope that the recent changes will lead to improved relations with Turkish authorities.

Legal recognition ensures that the NGOs receive tax bonuses and waived export fees for goods bought in Turkey. It also allows the groups to more easily rent office space and handle bank transactions.

The newly registered NGOs will also be cleared to work, for the first time, with Turkey’s rapidly growing refugee population. As the civil war in Syria drags on, the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey is expected to reach two million by the end of the year.

The international humanitarian community has praised the recognition of the eight NGOs as a “step in the right direction” for Turkey. Many believe that the announcement signals a change in Turkey’s management of the humanitarian crisis.

The NGO decision comes at a transitional time for Turkish politics. In the recent general elections, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its parliamentary majority for the first time in 13 years. The loss has effectively destroyed the president’s attempts to amend the constitution and expand his executive powers. In the coming weeks, his party will attempt to form a coalition government.

Despite President Erdoğan’s seemingly autocratic tendencies, the AKP has been the most pro-refugee of the four parties in parliament. While in power, the AKP has spent close to $6 billion accommodating the Syrian refugees. However, the president’s “open door policy” for Syrians has become increasingly unpopular as Turkey’s economy has declined. Some anti-Syrian demonstrations have even turned violent, with Turks attacking refugees with knives and sticks.

While the Syrian refugees could not vote in last month’s elections, they have a lot riding on the impending government changes. Experts say that the turning tide of public opinion will likely force the new government to tighten restrictions on the Syrians.

Caitlin Harrison

Sources: Vice News, IRIN News, IRIN News 2, The Guardian
Photo: IRIN News

Turkey's-poisonous-honey

It’s a substance that would raise an eyebrow or two for its potentially deathly effects, but for some natives in Turkey, poisonous honey is a treat worth “dying for.”

Dating back to 401 B.C., Greek philosopher Socrates’ pupil Xenophon detailed his fascination with and discovery of a honeycomb that had inflicted the jittering in soldiers’ legs and a “fit of madness” among those who had consumed a large amount of the substance.

The pain-causing honey would be known as “mad honey,” and upon further discoveries, in 67 B.C., it proved useful as a lethal weapon for the Persians’ fight against Roman treachery, when opposing forces mistakenly “gobbled it up” and fell into an extreme state of hysteria.

Centuries later, the Black Sea would serve as an abundant harvesting zone for the honey, initiating trade with European regions in the 1700s for infusing the toxin with alcoholic beverages for high risk-taking drinkers. Since the exportation, mad honey has found its way into outside countries like Japan, Germany and Switzerland.

It wouldn’t be brought into the public eye until two centuries later: the toxic-coated honey made its rounds at public health clinics throughout the mid- to late 1980s, when 11 patients were admitted for poisoning pertaining to the intake of mad honey.

Determined by health analysts, the poisonous substance is typically found in the eastern Black Sea region of Turkey, where nearby northern Turkey-bred bees roam rhododendron flower beds retaining grayanotoxin, the offsetting poison trigger thriving within the nectar of mad honey. Although in earlier studies it was always noted for its hazardous aftereffects, the alleged benefits of consuming mad honey include treating diabetes and improving sexual performance.

The benefits have since then ignited forms of debate by fellow travelers and “honey experts,” who proclaim that such allegations are only marketed as “belief” tools to contribute to further purchases of the substance.

Every now and then, the product will be requested by a large number of consumers, especially adventurous travelers visiting Turkey.

In 2011, British publication The Guardian warned readers that no more than one teaspoon of mad honey should be consumed at a time, as it will immediately trigger an irregular heartbeat (yet “rarely” cause fatal damage).

Although the news source reported that one would have to track down rare, hard-to-find carriers if one wished to try the toxic delight, mad honey has been serviced via online purchase at prices over USD$160.

Though it is remotely legal upon purchase in Turkey, and may be viewed to some degree as a “responsible” intake substance, some are wary of the potential consequences it could have on the misinformed.

In a 2012 public health study conducted by lead researcher Suze A. Jansen, if cattle are to ingest the mad honey, they will be prone to an assortment of neurological side effects; their response is more hazardous than that of humans.

Unearthed, Jansen found that cattle were more susceptible to lethal aftereffects if they consumed large quantities of mad honey. Among humans, it is rare for there to be a case where more than a drop is ingested.

As research continues to develop, analysts are currently placing the proposed claims of increased sexual performance into clear perspective. They are also determining whether or not mad honey should be pulled off the shelves of selected Turkish stores, and if doing so will lead to the end of underground purchases from online vendors.

Jeff Varner

Sources: NCBI, The Guardian, NCBI, Modern Farmer, SFGate
Photo: Deep Roots At Home

Angelina Jolie and Daughter Shiloh Visit Turkey for World Refugee Day

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, Turkey is the top refugee-hosting country in the world, with just under two million asylum seekers. A vast majority of the refugees are Syrians, Kurds and Iraqis fleeing the violence of the Syrian Civil War and the ongoing crisis involving the Islamic State. In an effort to bring awareness to one of the largest refugee crises in history, Angelina Jolie embarked on a U.N. tour of the affected region. The movie star and long-time humanitarian was joined by her daughter, Shiloh, and stopped at the Midyat Refugee Camp in Turkey on June 20th to commemorate World Refugee Day. Jolie was also accompanied by U.N. Special Envoy Antonio Guterres. The group met with Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to discuss the challenges that Turkey faces given an unprecedented number of refugees.

Jolie issued a statement at the camp in which she calls on the world to act. She said, “we are here for a simple reason: This region is at the epicenter of a global crisis. Nearly 60 million people are displaced from their homes. That is one in every 122 people on our planet. Our world has never been richer or healthier or more advanced. Yet never before have so many people been dispossessed and stripped of their basic human rights.”

Later in her speech, Jolie stressed the impact that refugee camps have on the people that house them. While providing more security than war torn cities and villages, the camps more often than not make the poor even worse off. Jolie mentioned “Familes like the six young people I met yesterday, living in Lebanon without parents, on half food rations and paying $100 a month to live in a tent because UNHCR does not have the funds or capability to take full care of everyone.” Already with limited resources, and away from home, refugees have the burden of coming up with funds to keep their temporary shelter even though, as refugees, they “cannot legally work in their host countries.”

There is hope, however. Jolie made her speech on a key day, one dedicated to bringing light to the very issues at the core of her delivery. Her celebrity status will ensure that more people listen to her message, and in turn act to help. Jolie and other media figure have even inspired governments to act. Jolie thanked the governments of Turkey and other refugee-hosting nations for taking in millions who are fleeing. To finish, the actress wished all the families she spoke to, and by extension the refugee families across the globe, a good Ramadan with “Ramadan Kareem.”

Joe Kitaj

Sources: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, US Magazine
Photo: People

Angelina-Jolie-and-Shiloh-World-Refugee-Day
According to the UN Refugee Agency, Turkey is the top refugee-hosting country in the world with just under 2 million asylum seekers. A vast majority of the refugees are Syrians, Kurds and Iraqis fleeing the violence of the Syrian Civil War and ongoing crisis involving the Islamic State.

In an effort to bring awareness to one of the largest refugee crises in history, Angelina Jolie embarked on a UN tour of the affected region. The movie star and long-time humanitarian was joined by her daughter, Shiloh, and stopped at the Midyat Refugee Camp in Turkey on June 20th to commemorate World Refugee Day. Jolie was also accompanied by UN Special Envoy Antonio Guterres. The group met with Turkish officials, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to discuss the challenges that Turkey faces given an unprecedented number of refugees.

Jolie issued a statement at the camp in which she calls on the world to act. She said, “We are here for a simple reason: This region is at the epicenter of a global crisis. Nearly 60 million people are displaced from their homes. That is one in every 122 people on our planet. Our world has never been richer or healthier or more advanced. Yet never before have so many people been dispossessed and stripped of their basic human rights.”

Later in her speech Jolie stressed the impact that refugee camps have on the people that house them. While providing more security than war torn cities and villages, the camps more often than not make the poor even worse off. Jolie stated, “Families like the six young people I met yesterday, living in Lebanon without parents, on half food rations and paying US$100 a month to live in a tent because UNHCR does not have the funds or capability to take full care of everyone.” Already with limited resources and away from home, refugees have the burden of coming up with funds to keep their temporary shelter even though, as refugees, they “cannot legally work in their host-countries.”

There is hope, however. Jolie made her speech on a key day, a day dedicated to bringing light to the very issues at the core of her delivery. Her celebrity status will ensure that more people listen to her message, and in turn act to help. Jolie and other media figures have even inspired governments to act. Jolie thanked the governments of Turkey and other refugee hosting nations for taking in millions. To finish, the actress wished all the families she spoke to, and by extension the refugee families across the globe, a good Ramadan with “Ramadan Kareem.”

Joe Kitaj

Sources: UNHCR, US Magazine
Photo: Women’s Day

poverty in ankara
Ankara is Turkey’s capital and its second-largest city, second only to Istanbul. As more refugees from Syria seek refuge in Turkey, poverty rates increase.

Ankara’s skyscrapers and views make it a popular tourist destination, yet, evidence of poverty is littered throughout the city. The poverty line for Turkey is $4 USD per day. The number of individuals and families living below the poverty line is increasing as more and more Syrians cross into Turkey. Food is scarce among the poor and sanitary living conditions are growing increasingly rare. Approximately 20 percent of people in Ankara are living in poverty.

Poverty is connected with the level of education a person has, and in Ankara, education is a rare opportunity for many, particularly girls and women. Women do not usually work in Ankara, and if they do, they are limited to low-paying jobs such as babysitting or housecleaning. Women’s duties are primarily childcare and taking care of sick or elderly family members. In many cases, mothers pass duties down to their young daughters, who are then forced to quit school in order to maintain the household. Poverty has become cyclical in Ankara.

In Ankara, 13.1 percent of women are illiterate, while 5.1 percent of men are illiterate. In nearly all cases of poverty and migration, the reasons why women migrated from rural to urban areas are due to marriage or husband’s job, while men mostly migrate because they are searching for a job.

The a lack of adequate shelters and sanitary environments in Ankara further contribute to the dire circumstances of the urban poor. Health is also a growing concern in poor neighborhoods, which are often overcrowded, allowing diseases spread easily among individuals.

For Ankara, Turkey, the key to reducing and eliminating poverty may lie in education. As children are educated, a stronger foundation for Turkey is laid, and the road out of poverty begins to be paved.

Alaina Grote

Sources: NCBI, SESRIC
Photo: UNICEF

poverty_in_Istanbul
In the sprawling metropolis of Istanbul, which over 14 million people call home, there is a sense of progress and modernity. The city, the largest in Turkey, sits at the crossroads of Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and claims thousands of years of history.

Istanbul is one of the more diverse cities in Turkey. It is home to not only Turks, but also Kurds, the Romani people and immigrants from Europe, the Middle East, Asia, the Americas and Africa. While the tourist and central areas seem modern, safe and progressive, there is another side of the city.

Poverty in Istanbul is pocketed. About an hour bus ride out of the central city, there are two neighborhoods that are some of Istanbul’s poorest and most violent: Gazi Mahallesi and Karayollari. The first, Gazi Mahallesi, is a multiethnic neighborhood. The neighborhood sports anti-government vandalism and leftover destruction from riots by anarchist, Kurdish and leftist groups that reside there.

Karayollari, separated from Gazi Mahallesi by a highway overpass, is a primarily Kurdish neighborhood. Many of the Kurds who call the neighborhood home have been displaced by the violence in southeastern Turkey, where Turkey’s Kurds are the most populous. Karayollari seems to be stuck in a cycle of violence, encouraged by poverty and unemployment. Residents say the police no longer even venture near the neighborhood unless to break up riots.

Because of rapid and unplanned migration to the city, 70 percent of housing in Istanbul was built in 30 years. At first, housing was built wherever land could be found. These settlements are Istanbul’s version of shantytowns or squatter towns and are called gacekondu. The gacekondu originally were accepted by the city because they passed the costs of urbanization from the government to the migrants. The gecekondus were the homes of the poorest migrants who found work in the industrial parts of Istanbul.

The make-shift neighborhoods were accepted as a solution to urbanization through 1980s, but are now being razed in an attempt modernize the city. Forced evictions have occurred, putting already poor families into the streets of sometimes violent, dangerous parts of Istanbul. Early last year, a group of 30 Roma families, previously evicted from their homes, was in danger of being forcibly evicted again, this time from their makeshift shack camp. The group included children and elderly persons. Amnesty International reported that the group was “living in conditions of extreme poverty since their forced eviction” and was “without access to…electricity, clean water and basic sanitation.”

Overall poverty in Turkey is a diminishing problem. Over the last ten years, the number of people living on less than $4.30 per day decreased from 20 million to 1.7 million. In Istanbul, the percent of people living in poverty has decreased 2.2 percent over the last eight years. The government claims that this reduction is due to government support programs to poorer citizens.

There is some contest as the whether the government’s attitude towards poverty and the poor can really lead to effective policy. Dr. Ebru Soytemel, of the Oxford Program for the Future of Cities, says that the “current government regards poverty as a temporary, individual problem that can be fixed, not a structural problem.They say that your religion or your family should provide you with help.”

Distribution of poverty is a problem for Turkey. While overall inequality has diminished, the distribution of poverty is a stark reminder of the discrepancies among living standards within the country. When looking at a map of regional poverty rates in Turkey, eastern regions, where most of Turkey’s ethnic minority groups live, are severely disadvantaged. Istanbul, which is the most western region of Turkey, is the most well off. Istanbul is a microcosm of this map: minority neighborhoods are generally far worse off than primarily Turkish neighborhoods.

Caitlin Huber

Sources: Oxford, Today’s Zaman, Daily Sabah, Hurriyet Daily News Non-Descrimination Time Pulitzer Center LSE Cities
Photo: Telegraph U.K.

Erdogan Wins Election
Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, won the presidential election on Aug. 10 — defeating rival Ekmeleddin Ihsangoglu with 52 percent of the votes and a difference of 13 points. Despite a December corruption investigation and massive protests last year, the leader has won his ninth consecutive election since coming to power in the early 2000’s. His time in office has been marked with considerable economic growth and questionable regard for freedom of speech and transparency.

“Today is the day we open the doors to a new beginning, the day we establish a new Turkey,” Erdogan vowed in a victory speech that referred often to new cooperation opportunities among old political foes.

But one concern the opposition has already voiced is that the Turkish presidency has traditionally been a ceremonial office with limited power, and Erdogan has already promised to be an active president. Should the Justice and Development Part, to which Erdogan belongs, regain control of Parliament, a new constitution could emerge with increased presidential powers.

Critics, who often compare Erdogan to Russian President Vladimir Putin, see this proposed expansion of power as another example of Erdogan’s authoritarianism. His opposition would suggest his politically active presidency would conflict with Turkish law mandating the president act impartially without partisanship.

In May 2013, 3.5 million Turks partook in demonstrations throughout the country, protesting the governments limits on civil rights and environmental issues stemming from construction projects. Police reacted with tear gas and water guns in the Gezi Park protests, for example.

Yet, as evidenced by his election, Erdogan remains popular among a significant portion of the Turkish people. This popularity is largely due to the economic growth Turkey has experienced with Erdogan’s leadership. The Turkish middle class grew twenty percent from 2002 to 2011 and the Gross Domestic Product per capita rose to almost US$11,000 – freeing millions of Turks from the clutches of poverty.

The Turkish economy grew steadily since Erdogan’s first term with only a slight setback in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis. Erdogan, with sharia law’s ban on usury in mind, enacted policies centered on lowering interest rates.

The lower rates have fostered consumer spending that led to immense growth, but have also, according to certain economists, risked an economic bubble as this spending requires the Turkish population to increase its debt. The growth also depends on a steady influx of foreign capital, which has faltered recently as investors have begun to doubt whether Turkey can sustain its economic growth.

Analysts consider Erdogan’s future popularity at risk as younger generations, accustomed to a steadily improving national economy, question his leadership in a slowing economy. While Erdogan promises to grow the Turkish economy from the 18th to the tenth largest in the world within the decade, observers contend his power will peak with economic growth.

Still, Erdogan remains the most powerful man in Turkey, with the a positive economic track-record and widespread popular support. To balance power and democracy while addressing faults in the economy, will be the new President’s challenge for the world to watch.

– Erica Lignell

Sources: Le Monde, New York Times, TIME, Forbes, Foreign Policy
Photo: En.Qantara

us_response_to_syrian_refugee_crisis
CNN reports that the U.S. only accepted 30,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year. Over the past three years, civil war has claimed the lives of 50,000 Syrians and produced 2.3 million refugees, half of them children.  The United Nations High Commission for Refugees wants to settle 30,000 of these people this year.

Yet, in the past, the United States has led the world in resettlement and humanitarian efforts.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said that the United States’ overly broad immigration bars are preventing Syrian refugees from taking asylum here — approximately 135,000 refugees have applied for asylum in the U.S.

The small nations surrounding Syria have welcomed refugees. Lebanon and Jordan began accepting refugees early on with individual families taking friends, family members and even strangers into their homes. Refugee camps were later built to house Syrians.

Lebanon has taken in more than 860,000 asylum seekers, more than 20% of its entire population. The town of Arsal, with a population of only 35,000, had taken in 19,000 refugees when it received an additional 20,000 in November.

Some 700,000 Syrian refugees are residing in Turkey. While 200,000 of these are being housed in 21 refugee camps, the remainder have found shelter in towns and cities.

While these countries have been generous, they do not have the space or resources to house this number of refugees and are beginning to see a rise in social and economic tensions. Schools and hospitals are running out of space and incomes have been dropping as residents compete for work.

The U.S. Department of State and USAID have been major sources of funding for humanitarian programs, providing basic necessities such as food, water, tents and medical supplies.

The United States has provided $300 million to Jordan since 2012. It has helped the country to expand its social services to be able to house Syrian refugees, for example 5 schools were built and 62 others were expanded.

However the U.S. is still lagging behind other countries in resettlement. Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war only 90 Syrians have found asylum in the United States. In contrast, Sweden has accepted 14,700 refugees and Germany has accepted 18,000.

Both Senator Dick Durbin and Senator Lindsay Graham are pushing for immigration reform that will allow for the acceptance of more Syrian refugees into the U.S.

– Elizabeth Brown

Sources: CNN, U.S. Department of State, U.S. News, Think Progress
Photo: UN News Centre

Turkey_Top_Donor_in_Humanitarian_Aid
In 2012, Turkey surprised the world by giving more than $1bn in humanitarian aid, placing 4th on the list of the world’s top donors. Which countries find themselves on this list? The top three are the United States ($3.8bn), the European Union ($1.9bn) and the United Kingdom ($1.2bn). Despite Turkey’s economic crisis a few years ago, the country has managed to recover in record time, allocating a large budget for international humanitarian aid.

A sum of this aid has already been working for developing countries such as Somalia. Turkey’s aid program has promoted growth in a country displaced by war and hunger. Since the implementation of Turkey’s government assistance for Somalia there are new school buildings, several projects for rural villages underway and the possibility of new hospitals. Turkey has provided scholarships for students and have advised the Somalis every step of the way. Turkey has even provided a monthly budget of $4.5m per month of additional aid. Red Crescent, Turkey’s primary humanitarian organization has helped with this development throughout Somalia. They have built new health clinics, decontaminated water supplies and cleared trash to better the health of Samalis. Samali ambassadors have called Turkey, “a savior sent by God to Somalia.”

Now a year later, Turkey continues to offer aid. After Typhoon Haiyan hit the Phillipines, Turkey’s Red Crescent sent an Airbus cargo plane filled with tents, blankets and other vital supplies. In total they have given over 65 tons of aid items. Several of Turkey’s humanitarian aid organizations have also sent rescue teams, food packages and have begun work on aid campaigns.  To believe Turkey once received development assistance after its civil war and now contributes alongside superpowers is truly remarkable.

– Maybelline Martez

Sources: The Guardian, The Guardian Aid Effectiveness, World Policy, World Bulletin
Photo: Key Media