Wednesday, August 16, was an unusually hot day in Istanbul, but Sultanahmet was full of tourists from many countries, visiting the unique sites and the Topkapi palace, one traveller even walking into the little known small mosque behind the Hagia Sophia out of curiosity, which was under renovation.
As hundreds of tourists were getting ready to watch the light and sound show in front of Sultan Ahmet Mosque towards the evening, a different group was making their ways into the Topkapi Palace and gathering in front of Aya Irini Museum (Hagia Irene,) waiting to get inside for a one night concert of classical music.
Aya Irini, built around 410 AD as a church was turned into a museum, the very first one established during the Ottoman period, hosted over a thousand guests that included many distinguished members of the Turkish elite, representatives of the media and ordinary citizens.
The concert, organized by the Istanbul Cultural and Arts Foundation (IKSV) with the sponsorship of CNN Turk, Turkish-Jewish Assembly and Milliyet newspaper, was dubbed as ‘’The musical meeting of east and west.’’
The group, West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, initiated by the pianist-conductor Daniel Barenboim together with Edward Said in 1999, played pieces by Beethoven, Bottesini and Brahms. The orchestra is made up of 110 musicians from 17 countries, ages 14 to 25, including Israel, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey.
The orchestra owes its name to Goethe’s work bearing the same title which brings the culture of the Western and Islamic worlds together. Edward Said, the Palestinian-American was instrumental in organizing a concert in Ramallah, Palestine, who died before seeing his project realized.
The concert was almost cancelled when the Turkish-Jewish Assembly withdrew their sponsorship and support for the concert, due to the criticism of Daniel Barenboim of the war in Lebanon, blaming both sides for the destruction and the death of innocent people.
A declaration prepared by Barenboim and Edward Said’s widow Mariam in Spain had been signed by the conductor and all the members of the orchestra condemning the bombing of civilians in Lebanon as well as Hezbollah’s rocket attacks against Israel.
The declaration, which was not read at the Istanbul concert, where Mariam was also present, states that the Israeli and Palestinian people should live together in the Middle East and that military intervention can never contribute to a solution to the problem, which can only be signed through dialogue.
It was a beautiful evening in Istanbul for everyone who believes in Ataturk’s motto, ‘’Peace at Home, Peace in the World.’’
Yuksel Oktay, PE
17 August 2006, Istanbul