Our plane touched down at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport 20 minutes after midnight. As it taxied to the terminal I was peering out the window.
Being a lover of comparisons, I quickly came to the conclusion that this was nothing like our Zvartnots Airport back home in Yerevan. It was the bustle and the size of the place, airplanes from around the world, taking off and landing by this airport by the sea.
The same commotion greeted me inside the airport, even at this late hour. People from a variety of cultural backgrounds were patiently waiting in line at the customs check-out. On the other side of passport control, in the reception area, there was an even bigger throng of people waiting for loved ones and friends. Some were holding up signs with names – looking for unfamiliar faces.
Istanbul greeted us with a strong wind and beating rain. Our escort Sousaye, a woman from Sri Lanka, told us the weather had been like this for the past couple of days and would continue for a few more. I didn’t look forward to it.
Not wasting any more time, our group headed off to Istanbul’s Beyoglu neighbourhood and our new digs.
The five of us, all journalists from Armenia, had come to Istanbul as participants in a program aptly entitled "Armenian –Turkish Dialogue" organized by the Internews NGO and the GPOT (Global Politics Trend Center).
They had rented apartments for us since we were to stay in Turkey for one month.
Our bus hugged the coast of the Sea of Marmara, passing the neighbourhood of Kumkapi the seat of the Patriarchate of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and Aksaray, now a commercial neighbourhood where many traders from Armenia do their wholesale shopping.
We crossed the Golden Horn by the Galata Bridge and headed on to Karakoy and finally reached the neighbourhood of Beyoglu, formerly known as Pera. It’s the focal point of this city of ten million. The main boulevard, Istiklal (Independence) runs straight through, connecting Taksim Square on one end and the famous Galata Tower on the other.
The bus came to a stop at the foot of a narrow cobblestone street that headed upwards called Koja-Agha. The place where we were to stay also had a name – Enver Pasha #6.
A young Turkish lad showed me to my room for the night on the first floor. I would move to my permanent room the following day.
It was an old room with furniture that had seen better days. The walls appeared to have been recently plastered and painted in such a way to impart a sense that the place had a history. Sections of the wall had not been plastered and there were blue and yellow decorations painted about – possibly references to Islamic culture.
Somebody on the floor above had turned on some Turkish music at full blast. Irritated, I nicknamed the unidentified guy "rabiz". A bit later, when I found the noise unbearable, I yelled out a few choice expletives. The Turkish music then turned to rock and then to rap.
Despite the clamour from above, I finally dozed off.
But I was awakened at 5 in the morning from the noise off cars on the street outside my window.
My music loving neighbour had gone to sleep; at least the stereo had been turned off.
Photo: Koja-Agha Street