Photographs and Commentary by Debra Jan Bibel

  Music: Ya Rab El Alam [Seeker of Truth / Yuval Ron Ensemble / YRM]: 3 min excerpt  Live at Fes, Morocco

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"Thus have I heard . . ."  Our final stay in Turkey was in Istanbul. We  stayed for four days. After checking into the hotel, we were free until the evening, when we expected an important concert.  Initial plans called for an Interfaith Concert for Peace with Yuval Ron Ensemble and guests, including Lior Elmaleh, a richly voiced Arabo-Andalusian Sephardic singer from Israel, Imam Hafiz Abdullah Demir from Istanbul, and Murat Icli Nalca of the Armenian Orthodox church of Istanbul.

The concert was to be sponsored by the Intercultural Dialogue Platform of the Journalists and Writers Foundation of Turkey, a coalition of Turkish, Christian, and Jewish communities of Istanbul, and the Israeli Embassy.  Yuval had assumed that an auditorium would be the venue and tickets sold.  As it would have been 'preaching to the choir," another idea was instituted whereby the concert would be open to all free and situated at the small Sultan Ahamet Amphitheatre on the main street near the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.

Such a spiritual concert among musicians of various religions competing with street noise was not appealing. Perhaps some politicians saw the uniting in a different light.  Being a political cynic, it is my speculation that some politicos could have regarded the concert similar to 'Ping Pong Diplomacy', when a small sports match between China and the USA opened a crack in otherwise sour relationships. It led to Nixon visiting China. The once cordial and cooperative relationship between Israel and Turkey had recently decayed into bitterness, compounded by deaths of some radical Gaza-blockade breakers on a Turkish registry ship by defending Israeli troops. Banners about the city advertised the concert, and Yuval went on local television and met local media for interviews, which supported religious understanding and freedoms.  In the early afternoon, decorations and sound equipment were being installed.

But then Geopolitics did indeed rear its ugly head. Yuval is an American citizen. Had the Israeli Embassy not be involved, then perhaps the situation would not have been politicized. Maybe. It was days before the national Turkish election and voters were already tense. Word 'got around' that there would be a protest demonstration at the concert by a radical group, in part an act of political pandering. The Mayor of Istanbul was willing to allow the concert to go ahead, with security being present, but Yuval had serious concerns. Chief among them was safety: they came for peace and spirituality, not be be placed in jeopardy, confronting disruptive minds. Then after Ankara's national leadership weighed in, the concert was officially cancelled, only several hours before its start. Elmaleh returned quickly to Israel, and Israeli diplomats in Istanbul hunkered down.  The news spread from Turkey and Israel to Aljazeera [English broadcast, at least] and thus to the world. The entire Ensemble had arrived for the concert and the remaining Istanbul stay. What would they do? Quick action led to our going upstairs in a restaurant bar and have an ad hoc concert for us and guests.  I told Yuval that full details of this episode would make good reading as a chapter of his memoirs.

Walking down from the hotel, I was greeted with this view of the Blue Mosque. I went to lunch on the fourth floor restaurant of a building and saw this. This was my first view of the Bosporus. One of the entrances to the Grand Bazaar. For me, it wasn't. so grand. Other than jewelry and some leather goods, I found nothing special, even suspecting the "antiques". The main corridor, one of many. Two women are attracted to the gold bangles. So was I.

Fine craftsmanship and complex design, though not my particular style.

A stack of more plain, still expensive bracelets. All the galleries are arched. On the advice of Aziz, Shirley and I go for dinner at the Green Corner. The lamb was tasty.

We had joined Roy and Janice. Photo taken by a charming waiter.


Our hotel, convenient to all the attractions.

Advertising banner for the concert that was not to be. [Marina's photo, edited]] Street scene. [Carmen's photo, edited] We gather on the second floor of a restaurant. Hidden Place. The Ensemble's customary concert attire is white. Music quickly led to . . .


. . . dancing.  Maya's sweet voice soars above the percussion.
The group in movement. Sufi exuberance, at the left. Sufi exultation, at the right. Time for acknowledgment and applause. Maya takes a bow. Hail the percussionists! 

Tomorrow is a full day of sightseeing. We will be exhausted by dinner, but then we will need to refresh, for we have yet to hear some powerful Romani music by one of Istanbul's greatest musicians and his group.

Praise for the entire Ensemble. Bravo, Yuval: "Aw, shucks", or words to that affect. Musical colleagues embrace. Sweet lemonade was created from sour lemons.       

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Appendix: Food