New walking tour app spotlights multicultural Istanbul

By Handan Kazanci

ISTANBUL (AA) – Going beyond well-trodden hotspots, a new smartphone app will help visitors to Turkey’s largest city discover the metropolis’ rich multicultural legacy through guided walking tours.

The app, called KarDes (“kardesh”) — meaning “map” in Armenian and “sibling” in Turkish — was launched last week by the Istanbul-based Hrant Dink Foundation.

The app was designed as a personal tour guide in both Turkish and English, allowing users to learn more about the 15 million-strong city’s history through curated walking tours, each lasting for around two hours.

Behind KarDes is a trio of energetic twentysomethings: Narod Avci, the project coordinator; Rudi Sayat Pulatyan, the research coordinator; and Atom Saskal, the project editor.

The group worked for over a year to make the project a reality, and with evident success: Since it went live last Thursday, the free app has already been downloaded by over 7,000 people.

KarDes took its inspiration from the earlier Turkey Cultural Heritage Map, an online map of Turkey’s Armenian, Greek, Syriac, and Jewish cultural heritage, Pulatyan told Anadolu Agency at the foundation building, which also hosts Agos, a Turkish-Armenian weekly newspaper.

The Hrant Dink Foundation was founded to honor Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink — the founder and editor of Agos — after he was shot dead on an Istanbul street in 2007.

“When we decided to work on KarDes, we wanted to make an Istanbul-focused project,” Pulatyan said.

The app currently features 12 walking tours with nearly 900 sites including local mosques, synagogues, schools, and cemeteries.

Istanbul’s minority population fell significantly after the first half of the 20th century. The year 1915 saw mass relocations, which then-Prime Minister and current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed condolences for in 2014; 1923 saw the post-World War I population exchange between Turkey and Greece; 1942 witnessed a “wealth tax” hit non-Muslim communities; and violence in September 1955 led many minority citizens to leave the country.

Avci said that although most buildings or sites included in the app were established before the 19th century, there are some exceptions.

“We aimed to show Istanbul’s multicultural structure, so sometimes a hamam [Turkish bath] or a sports complex or even a stone might be our stop,” she explained.

Places where prominent poets and artists lived are also included on the tour route, said Saskal, so as to highlight those who helped the city’s multiculturalism.

The app also features 40 oral history videos where locals tell the history of their neighborhoods.

One of those locals also helped Istanbul native Turkish-Armenian Avci find out the real story of an old building in the mainly Armenian-inhabited Samatya district, where her grandparents lived for many years.

“There’s a tea house on the corner of the street where my grandparents live,” she said.

“It was there since my childhood. When we carried out the oral history interviews in Samatya, one of the locals told us that the building used to be public housing for nuns.”

“I was thinking I knew Samatya, and I was so surprised also after reading it in a history book,” she added.

– Thematic tours to be added in-app

To prepare each tour program, the team held workshops and consulted with professional tour guides as well as experts on the issue.

To offer a fuller picture of Istanbul’s cultural richness, they decided to include districts such as Samatya, Buyukdere, and Balat, areas not as well known as tourist hotspots like Ortakoy.

One of the difficulties of creating the tour programs was figuring out which stops to include on each tour.

“For example there’s Pera tour [in Istanbul’s historic Beyoglu district], where there are hundreds of historic buildings from one side to the other, and it was very difficult deciding which sites to include,” Pulatyan said.

In the end, for their general tours they decided to include an example of one of each type of building, such as out of 10 churches they included just one, and decided later to have thematic tours of theaters or churches in the district.

“We don’t have a tour of the historical peninsula in Istanbul such as the Fatih district,” said Pulatyan.

“We’ll add that tour but also add other areas such as the neighborhoods of Baglarbasi and Cengelkoy, which are not very well known.”

The app features narration by various actors and singers, including Turkish-Armenian rock star Hayko Cepkin and actors Ercan Kesal, Nejat Isler, Songul Oden, and Tulin Ozen.

According to Avci, KarDes is “the first step” of a long trek, and the team is working to evaluate proposals for new tours, and they are open to suggestions.

“Istanbul is a city with endless stories,” she said. “In Istanbul, every street, every neighborhood, every district has a story to tell.”

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By Handan Kazanci

ANKARA (AA) - Anadolu Agency is here with a rundown of the latest developments on the coronavirus pandemic and other news in Turkey and around the world.

- Coronavirus in Turkey

Turkey on Thursday confirmed 926 additional recoveries as the country began easing measures against the novel coronavirus, according to the country’s health minister.

The total number of recoveries from the disease hit 131,778 as 926 more patients were discharged from hospitals over the past day, Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter, citing Health Ministry data.

The country's death toll from the outbreak rose to 4,630 as Turkey reported 21 new fatalities over the last 24 hours.

Turkey conducted over 54,000 COVID-19 tests in the past 24 hours, bringing the total tally to more than 2.2 million, said Koca.

Meanwhile, Turkey plans to resume international flights to 40 countries gradually as of June 10, Transport and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismailoglu said Thursday.

International flights from Turkey will carry passengers first to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Qatar and Greece, Karaismailoglu said in a statement.

Turkey suspended all international flights on March 28 amid COVID-19-related travel restrictions worldwide.

- Global coronavirus developments

A low death toll was once again recorded Thursday as France recovers from the coronavirus pandemic which plagued the country over the last three months, according to the latest statistics reported by the Health Ministry.

The country registered a total of 46 deaths in hospitals Thursday, a drop of 39 cases over those reported Wednesday.

Italy on Thursday reported 88 more fatalities from the pandemic, bringing the death toll to 33,689 as authorities unveiled new guidelines to prevent crowded summer spots like beach resorts from becoming new virus hotbeds.

The slowing trend in the number of deaths registered in May continued in early June, confirming that the peak of the crisis has been passed.

Face masks on English public transport will be mandatory from June 15, the British government announced Thursday, as a further 176 people died from the coronavirus over the past 24 hours.

British authorities announced that the UK-wide death toll from COVID-19 is now 39,904.

As Spain prepares for its state of emergency over COVID-19 to last until June 21, the Health Ministry reported Thursday that 195 more people were infected with the coronavirus and five more had died.

The number of infections diagnosed Wednesday was down slightly from the 219 people who tested positive Tuesday but up from Monday and Sunday. In total, 240,660 infections have been confirmed in the country.

Health officials in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza announced Thursday the arrival of medical supplies sent by Turkey to help fight the novel coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement, Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra confirmed that two polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines had been delivered for detecting the virus.

- George Floyd Memorial service

Hundreds of mourners on Thursday attended the first of several memorials for George Floyd – an unarmed black man who was killed in police custody on May 25.

The service at North Central University in Minneapolis, Minnesota was attended by Floyd's family and Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney representing the family, as well as celebrity guests.

Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday urged demonstrators joining protests over the death of George Floyd to get tested for the novel coronavirus.

Speaking at his daily press briefing, Cuomo said around 30,000 people have taken part in the statewide protests demanding justice for the killing of the unarmed black man in police custody.

Of them, 20,000 were involved in rallies in New York City.

In Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged citizens not to overlook the racism problem in Germany while intensely discussing racism and police brutality in the US after the death of George Floyd.

"This murder of George Floyd is very, very terrible. Racism is something terrible,” Merkel said Thursday evening in an exclusive interview with public broadcaster ZDF.

“Racism has always been present, but sadly we also have this [problem]. We should first sweep in front of our own door,” she stressed.

- Other developments

Turkey and Libya plan to advance cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean, including exploration and drilling activities, to further benefit from natural resources, Turkey’s president said in a meeting with Libya’s prime minister Thursday.

The meeting between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Fayez al-Sarraj took place at the presidential palace in the Turkish capital Ankara.

Erdogan said Turkey and Libya have reached a consensus on expanding their cooperation areas on the territory of Libya.