Looking through the Grand Bazaar
Istanbul means the Grand Bazaar in a sense. The bazaar was first built by the Byzantine Empire, but the Ottomans carried on and expanded the building further. The bazaar was one of the first covered markets of the world. Nearly 600 years later, the building still stands. The bazaar symbolizes how Istanbul has been a business center of the Middle East and the Balkans. The gloomy entrance leads to hundreds of Anatolian colors on carpets and spices, and dazzling Anatolian smells have been attracting tourists from all over the world, along with the fake shoes and bags of famous brands.
Although the bazaar mostly attracts tourists these days, it was the Wall Street of the Ottoman era. The Ottoman Empire was not just about the sultan, but also Islamic scholars, soldiers and artisans and craftsmen. The bazaar was where the heart of the trade guilds beat. The bazaar meant the economy itself. Even if the bazaar today is mostly for tourists, it’s still a symbol and home for thousands of craftsmen. The bazaar looks still magnificent yet quite empty.
One carpet shop owner looks really troubled. He tells me that he can remember one by one the tourists that came to look at the carpets that day, there are so few of them. There was one French person, a German and a Brazilian. Normally, groups of tourists flock to the 61 streets of the bazaar, he says, noting that they were able to sell hundreds of carpets in a month. He says his neighbor paid an additional 250,000 dollars besides rent, just to be able to rent the shop but simply walked away from the shop after two months.
“Can you imagine the loss he faced in just two months? He didn’t even care about the 250,000 dollars he left behind,” he says with widening eyes.
There are more than 4,000 shops in the building. Shopkeepers in the Grand Bazaar believe that only the big shops and strong chains will be able to remain after this year. The small ones will not be able to withstand this difficult year. The Grand Bazaar is an expensive place to be in. One regular shop goes for between 2,500,000 and 3,000,000 dollars. One can see a lot of shops for sale, but finding a buyer will apparently not be easy.
After the July 15 coup attempt, Turkey is trying to heal its wounds. Although the Justice and Development Party (AKP) cries out to the world that Turkey is still strong and standing, the numbers are not giving much hope.
Exports in July dipped 11.5 percent, or $1.27 billion, from July last year to $9.85 billion, while imports saw an even bigger decline of 19.7 percent, or $3.58 billion, to $14.64 billion.
Tourism is also having probably its toughest year ever. The owner of the Calypso Tourism agency, Tolga Gündüz, tells me, “Tourists have gotten used to bombs; they know that bombs do not explode in Antalya, but they have not gotten used to this coup thing. They do not really know what is going on, so they prefer not to come.”
Antalya, the tourism center of Turkey, was only half full in July, which is the top season.
Turkish businesses are now looking to the government for tax reductions or soft loans. Everybody is yearning for this “hot” summer to end.