from "Pazar // Shuk. A journey through the markets of Istanbul and Tel Aviv"
The Turkish word pazar is usually an open-air place set up in a residential area where sellers bring and sell their goods to local customers. It is a weekly event that happens on a specific day of the week in a particular neighbourhood. Pazar derives from the Persian word bazaar بازار
The Hebrew word shuk (שוק) is an open-air street marketplace with numerous stalls and stands of merchants who sell their products to local clients. The term shuk comes from the Arabic word souk سوق
Both the Turkish pazar and Hebrew shuk are words to describe city markets. They are areas designated for trade between merchants, producers, and customers. Economic exchange is the primary purpose of their existence, but they are also theatres of social interactions and hubs for networking. Basic "buying-selling" actions are fundamental to market exchange, but the repertoire of behaviours, choreographies, and relationships between buyers and sellers make the social experience of marketplaces more valuable.
Outsiders very often perceive Turkey and Israel through the lenses of exoticism. Their beauty and charm are spiced with the mystery and excitement of an unknown, far-away world. The street markets of the Middle East are very often seen from an Orientalist point of view, with a specific fascination and desire to experience the “authentic East.” Ancient traders travelled by caravans in search of distant lands with exotic and bizarre goods to deliver to cities—this still describes the stereotypical picture of bazaars of Turkey and Israel. With the Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Bazaar, the most iconic marketplaces in the world, Istanbul successfully keeps the orientalist perspective alive. Similarly, Jerusalem stirs up orientalism in Israel by exposing the ancient character of the ethnic communities at the shuk in Jerusalem's Old City.
The Ottoman Empire, which consisted of a vast territory stretching from the North African coast to the Balkans and including the territory of modern Turkey and Israel, shaped local economies and the distribution of goods. The principle of provisionalism was the most crucial rule of Ottoman economic policy within the entire structure of the empire. The rulers believed that the availability of essential goods at affordable prices in the markets was the most significant factor in preserving social order and political balance. The markets in the Ottoman Empire were a vital source of goods and a fundamental core of social interactions. Today, urban markets have not lost their communal and economic importance.
Pazar // Shuk is our attempt to tell the story of marketplaces in Istanbul and Tel Aviv from a non-colonial and non-orientalist perspective. Every pazar in Istanbul and shuk in Tel Aviv are, first and foremost, meeting points for people, places of cultural negotiations, and venues for establishing new collaborations. They are spots where society can exercise historical and demographic remembrance, rework its pluralism, and comprehend its diversity. They are also spaces of urban exploration for the recognition of the inevitable changes in the city's fabric. Marketplaces have a unique capability to bring diverse groups of people together. Those interactions are not only positive because they can highlight differences over similarities and inequality over tolerance. They can also create an opportunity for redefinition and cultural dynamism.
Especially nowadays, when urban land has become a commodity, and the real estate market dictates the rules of the social life of the citizens, the market spaces in Istanbul and Tel Aviv have gone through massive urban transformations under the neoliberal reconstruction of the cities. Due to an enormous demand for land, forgotten and neglected neighbourhoods have become the target of global capital. In Istanbul, districts such as Sulukule or Tarlabaşı have been subjected to violent structural clearance. The authorities' attempts to eliminate the markets’ dirt, chaos and disorder reflect their attitude and plans toward large-scale urban regeneration programs targeting neighbourhoods with low-income citizens. Many areas lost their original character, and their markets ceased to exist (for example, the fish market in Azapkapı, the flea market in Dolapdere, or the horse market in Edirnekapı in Istanbul). Soft gentrification of historical parts of the cities, the renovation of the public spaces, the opening of coffee shops and restaurants, and massive tourism with extensive Airbnb housing in the Jaffa or Carmel areas of Tel Aviv were also created by the same hunger for land. The ubiquity of supermarkets and shopping centres has affected urban marketplaces and labelled them as places for poor people. For this reason, they are subjected to gentrification and undergo a process of ‘upgrading’ to gain newfound recognition among upper-class citizens. Undoubtedly, the changes benefit some and create anxiety and insecurity for others. Beyond question, marketplaces are like barometers for social, economic, and demographic conditions. Watching their metamorphosis or disappearance can tell a lot about the direction of local politics.
The pazars of Istanbul and the shuks of Tel Aviv are unique and different from each other, but at the same time, very similar. They reflect the cultural, ethnic, culinary, and demographic diversity of these two cities. The number of daily marketplaces in Istanbul is enormous, as every district of the metropolis has several operating pazars during the week. In most cases, they are set up within the natural structure of the city, in the heart of a neighbourhood and between narrow streets in residential areas. They are based on a very light architecture with a sophisticated system of poles and ropes with knots set up every morning and dismantled every evening. Most of the Istanbul pazarcılar or merchants travel daily to other districts and set up their stands there, only to return to the same place again the following week. These ‘urban sailors’ with unique knowledge and experience are the guardians of Turkey's long-lasting tradition of daily bazaars. Some of them offer general goods recognized by everyone. Others sell more indigenous products and represent local cultures (from the Black Sea region, Balkans, or South-Eastern territories) or respond to the needs of marginalized groups or minorities (Christians or Jewish), migrants, or refugees (from Africa, Syria, or Central Asia). Tel Aviv has six markets, which operate every day except Saturdays. Each tells a different story about aliyah (the migration of Jews from the diaspora) and urban transformations. Their historical and demographic contexts reflect a mixture of cultures and traditions. Around 60 ethnic communities make up the Jewish population of Israel. The people from the Jewish diaspora enriched Israel together with communities from all around the world—Europe, Asia, and the Americas in addition to a massive influx of migrants from Middle Eastern countries (like Morocco, Turkey, Iran, Yemen, Iraq) and migrants from Africa (Ethiopia, Somalia, and Eritrea) and Asia (Philippines and China). Both Istanbul and Tel Aviv are home to people of different origins. The markets, pazar and shuk are the best locations to understand this remarkable diversity of the people who call Istanbul and Tel Aviv their homes.
The markets of Istanbul and Tel Aviv fulfil the various needs of many people. They provide impoverished citizens with affordable and fresh products, minorities with their regional food and goods, chefs and foodies with inspiration and culinary know-how, and tourists with a taste of the East.
For us, pazar and shuk are not only the assemblage of people for trading goods. They bring real humans together and create opportunities to be part of a genuine community that cannot be replaced by anything else.
Kornelia Binicewicz and Italo Rondinella