An Insider’s Cultural Guide to Ankara — Guardian UK


In five words

Healthy dose of Anatolian absurdism.

Sound of the city

The sound of knives used to prepare kokoreç is everywhere. Ankara’s signature street delight is traditionally made by wrapping lamb intestines around available offal such as heart, sweetbread and lungs. It’s seasoned with ginger, cumin, chilli and other spices and is roasted slowly over coals.

Around 10 years ago, there were talks of kokoreç being banned due to EU food regulations – in case Turkey eventually became an EU member. But kokoreç fans weren’t happy. Mirkelam, a pop singer, even composed a song dedicated to kokoreç. “No kokoreç, never without you … ”

Everyone’s tuning into …

Radyo ODTÜ was initiated by a group of students at the Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) in the mid-90s. It has quickly become an indispensable Ankara voice – like a friend who has eyes and ears everywhere, and is great at discovering the best gigs. It’s also known as a companion for students pulling all-nighters before their notoriously difficult final exams.

Although Radyo ODTÜ is now a private media company, it’s still affiliated with the radio society at the university, where students are trained to be broadcasters; it’s now one of the most popular radio stations in Turkey.

Best venue

Launched in 2010, CerModern was the answer to the prayers of many art lovers in Ankara, who wanted to see world-class modern art exhibitions on a more regular basis. With a 4,500 sq metre exhibition hall, CerModern is currently Turkey’s largest modern art centre. It also hosts flamenco concerts, literature workshops and Iranian new wave cinema.

Who’s top of the playlist?

Pilli Bebek might have been around since 1993, but it’s only been in the last few years that their loyal fan-base has really grown, as the band produced the soundtrack for the phenomenal TV series, Behzat Ç. An Ankara Detective Story.

Although Pilli Bebek’s music can broadly be defined as alternative Anatolian rock, their style is also influenced by barcarole, Ottoman classical music, heavy metal and Latin music.

Deeply romantic and possessing a bittersweet melancholy, their music captures the spirit of Ankara in a way no other band has managed. Listening to it is like enjoying the warmth of roasted chestnuts bought from a street seller on a cold winter’s night in the city.

Best local artist

Nuri Abaç is one of the most important artists to come from Ankara. Although he passed away in 2008, his paintings are still among the most sought-after in the city’s galleries.

He painted the street sellers, fishermen, pubs, kebab shops and tea gardens, blending the everyday with surreal elements of Anatolian folklore and mythology.

Abaç was also one of the pioneers of art appreciation in Ankara. When Abaç opened his first exhibition here in the 1960s, there were no art galleries so he had to exhibit in a hotel lobby. More than five decades later, Ankara is home to dozens of galleries and has a thriving local art scene.

What’s the look on the street?
In a city that has a varied climate with pronounced temperature differences between day and night, dressing appropriately is a fine art. A coat and good boots are key in winter, as the temperature regularly gets down to around -15C. In fact, unless it’s summer, it’s generally a good idea to have a coat on you at all times – while it can get quite warm during the days, the moment sun goes down Ankara can feel like a city in the polar circle. Hence people dress like onions, layering their clothes to avoid the chill.

Best cultural Instagram account

Ankara’nin Bug’lari literally means “Bugs of Ankara” in Turkish – this satirical account features the absurdities, or “bugs”, of the city’s urban design, from this dinosaur statue to Ankara’s “stairways to heaven” and many other urban epic-fails. It sprouted from a Facebook page of the same name.

Melih Gökçek, Ankara’s mayor since 1994, is responsible for many of these bugs – he always has a project on the go, earning him the nickname “a surrealist in Ankara”.

What’s the big talking point?

Although it happened more than three months ago, the grief caused by the killing of 102 citizens at a peace rally on 10 October 2015 isn’t going anywhere – it was the deadliest such attack in Turkish history.

This bombing robbed a piece of our soul forever. It was a rude awakening for many urban middle-class Turks like myself. Prior to the attacks, it didn’t really occur to us that we could be killed by the dozens, in our hometown and in broad daylight – we were conditioned to believe that it was always “someone else” who had to die. But now we know, and we’ll never unlearn it.

Comedy gold

Çinçin, one of Ankara’s most impoverished neighbourhoods, might not look like prime comedy material, but when the residents of a slum community have their houses demolished and are forced to move into tower blocks, sometimes black humour is the only way to deal with things.

YouTube series Yolunda A.Ş. features three friends from Çinçin navigating the changes in their communities. It became an instant hit.

After its success as a series, the Yolunda A.Ş. team launched a feature-length movie in May 2015. In it the main characters are trying to save their community from mass property development schemes and exploitation. Both the series and the movie were produced in close collaboration with the Çinçin residents – many of the producers and actors are from the neighbourhood.

What does Ankara do better than anywhere else?

Our city is a fusion of Anatolian cultures. Since it became the capital in the 1920s, the population has soared from 75,000 to over five million. Rapid developments, including the ongoing migration from rural areas, have fostered a uniquely Anatolian modernity. The city is modern without being snobby, and is unembarrassed of its provincial origins – many residents of Ankara, including this writer, still have a village somewhere and maintain ties with their rural roots.

You can see these roots in the culture: whilst there are lively rock, metal and trance music scenes, during weddings many people dance to “Ankara Havasi”, a style of central Anatolian psychedelic folk music with very absurd lyrics. The historic opera and ballet hall might be booked out for every single event, but there’s a very good chance those who appreciate Hamlet will also devour their kokoreç with bitter turnip juice after the show at a street stall.

Moment in history

There were few Turkish musicians who were as loved as Barış Manço – a rock legend and one of the pioneers of Anatolian rock. Blending the melodies of Anatolian folk music with 70s psychedelic sounds, and adding a dash of social critique, Barış Manço’s 1985 concert in Ankara is cherished.

Best street art

Dubbed as the “Banksy’s of Ankara”, KÜF Project are a group of guerrilla artists who criticise the top-down urban development projects and their lack of aesthetics. Ankara’s mayor, Melih Gökçek, usually plays a central role in their art.

The project aims to add a dash of colour and social criticism to Ankara’s grey streets. The group describes its aim as “not polluting the streets which is the setting for actions but to colour it by revealing the dormant energy”.

From me

This article originally appeared on Guardian UK. Photograph: Omer Unlu/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0