Galatasaray, an Institution of Institutions | Besim F. Dellaloğlu

17 June 2020

Is Istanbul a single city? Will Istanbul too, be one day one day divided into different sections, and numbered like the arrondisements of Paris? These are tough questions indeed! In my childhood, though, phone numbers in Istanbul came in three separate categories: those that began with “one” indicated the “new” part of the European side, namely Pera and beyond; those that began with “three” indicated the Anatolian side; and those that began with “five” the “old” part of the European side, which corresponded to Eminönü and the historic peninsula. The three Istanbuls! In fact, there is even a novel bearing the same name in our literature... This novel, belonging to Mithat Cemal Kuntay has even sparked a television series. What is meant by “three Istanbuls” in this novel is the Istanbul under the reign of Abdulhamid II, that of the 2nd constitutional period and that of the occupation years. These three separate Istanbuls are layered and told by the stories of three different mansions. Sometimes the best way of tracking time ends up being focusing on a single place; for time always leaves its mark upon space.

Istanbul is, as a matter of fact, spatially divided into three parts as well. First of all, the Bosphorus cleaves the city in half. This is more of a geographical split. The divide between Asia and Europe! Is there any other such city, that stretches across two different continents? The European side, in turn, is divided into two by the Golden Horn. This is as much a temporal split as a spatial one. Or should I have said cultural? On the two sides lie the old and the new cities: the traditional and modern Istanbuls. It is not only in the geographical sense that the Galata Bridge connects these two sides. The bridge is also a link between two separate time periods: The historic peninsula on one side, Pera on the other. Have some called Pera “Gâvur Istanbul” (The Infidel Istanbul)? Let me say that the Galatasaray High School, in which I spent eight years of my life, is the school at the heart of Pera - of “Gâvur Istanbul” - that is.

Galatasaray High School is an institution of the Tanzimat period of reorganization. It is an official school of Turkey’s modernization process – perhaps the most important one. A late politician of ours had once termed the imam hatip (religious vocational) high schools their “backyard”. Galatasaray High School is thus, in a sense, a sort of “backyard school” for Turkish Westernization and moderniza­tion! Galatasaray is undeniably one of the most important institutions Turkey has brought into being. Surely the pros and cons, successes and weaknesses of this institution are all open to debate. Yet, in my opinion, the fact that it is an institution is indisputable. The Galatasaray High School is truly on a level that justifies the “institutional swagger” of its graduates!

Among the things those experiencing this institution hear most often is that the Galatasaray High School is “a window to the West”. Every window reveals an interior and an exterior, rendering each side transparent to each other. It is true that for those looking at it from the inside, the Galatasaray High School is a window to the West. But for those looking in, the same institution may also be per­ceived as a Western embassy! The representative offices of Western countries, now consulates, used to be embassies before Ankara became the capital of Turkey. A great majority of these were located in Pera. It may merit mention here that the only diplomatic mission on the historic peninsula is the Iranian Consulate. The Galatasaray High School can be chiefly seen as a Turkish outpost, first and foremost of France; but also of the West in general. It is quite difficult for high school students to wrap their heads around this.

The Galatasaray High School is, in Yahya Kemal’s words, the school of “a neighbourhood where the call to prayer isn’t heard”. For years its students have woken up in the wee hours of the morning to the sound of the bells of the nearby St. Antoine Church. The school’s location, Pera, is cosmopolitan and in this sense does not quite represent Turkey, because Turkey is not cosmopolitan. It would be wrong to think that Turkey’s lack of cosmopolitanism is a contemporary development, for Turkey has never been cosmopolitan. A graduate of the Galatasaray High School on the other hand, was and is cosmopolitan, just like Pera! This is so, because their personalities are moulded by Pera itself, as the students are between and 11 and 19 years of age. Hence, Galatasaray students are not familiar with Turkey, and are shocked especially by the political developments of recent years despite the first-class education they received. Being from Galatasaray, they think all of Turkey is like Pera!

It is not the knowledge of “foreign languages” that makes Galatasaray alumni cosmopolitan, but rather their familiarity with the “foreign languages – Greek, Armenian, and otherwise, that they heard being spoken at the next table in Lebon, Markiz or Saray – famous establishments in Pera - throughout their childhood and youth. These languages are in fact not “foreign”, but on the contrary quite “local”. These are the long-standing autochthonous languages of Istanbul, of old Constantinople. Perhaps this is why I’m still able to tell Greek from Armenian, even though I don’t know a single word either language! I became accustomed to hearing them spoken as a child growing up in the streets of Pera. Neither those places, nor those people exist any longer. I know of only one spot where I still hear those languages being spoken - albeit seldomly - and that is the clubhouse of the Yeniköy Sports Club – which, of course, is in the far-off district of Yeniköy.

The fact that Galatasaray’s cosmopolitanism has failed result in intellectual depth or diversity due to the excess teleological baggage it carried. Galatasaray’s implicit “telos” has been to raise cadres to serve Turkey’s project towards modernization. This was, of course, meaningful during the Period of Reorganization (Tanzimat) and the early years of the Turkish Republic. What, then, about today? I don’t know if principals of the Galatasaray High School, or the deans of Galatasaray University still proclaim in graduation ceremonies that they are raising “elites”, and that their graduates will govern Turkey, and even the world. I guess that by now, it has become more important to lay down a sturdy and high-quality foundation for education, and then leave children free to choose what they will be in the future.

For the student of the Galatasaray High School, Turkey is not “what is”; but “what should be”. The student feels responsible, as if laden with the mission to uplift Turkey to the level it should be on. Members of the Galatasaray community are altruistic. Self-sacrificing. They think of, and care for Turkey more than most others do. But yet they still do not truly understand it. Their minds remain unable to penetrate it. Their cosmopolitan minds, shaped in the streets and venues of Pera, see Tur­key through the perpetual lens of deficiency, as always lacking something. The Enlightenment-style, Cartesian education they have received condemn them to a life-long vortex of comparison, which they may never escape: The West has so and so. We don’t. Even if we do, it is somehow incomplete or crooked. The Galatasaray student is forever surrounded by an air of anxiety.

In my time there, the Galatasaray in Pera was a boy’s school and the campus in Ortaköy, which has now become a university, a girl’s school. When the Ortaköy campus was allotted to the university, the facility in Beyoğlu became mixed. I was a boarding student at the Galatasaray Boys’ High School. A boarding school for boys in the heart of Beyoğlu! How very brutal, isn’t it? Are you surprised? It seems so very colourful and interesting on the outside, but in fact it was not at all easy growing up in Beyoğlu. Perhaps this is why Galatasaray alumni never quite grow up, why they bizarrely always remain some­thing of a teenager at heart. They have so many stories to tell from their childhoods and youths, that they are never able to become proper adults. For every student of the Galatasaray High School, their high school years are their “golden age”. I hope that by now you have a better understanding of what I mean when I speak of Galatasaray as an institution. This may be why friendships forged at the School are powerful. Our friends and we were the witnesses of our golden age. Just as we cannot turn our backs on our golden age, we also can’t leave behind our friends from those days. Yet for the very same reason some friendships just can’t manage to come to an end. In truth, they have long died out. Some classmates have changed so radically and in such opposite directions from each other that nothing remains in common. It is hard for this to sink in with any Galatasaray graduate. They just love saying, “let’s pick up where we left off,” even when there isn’t much of anything left.

Back in our day, the majority of students were boarders at the Galatasaray High School. I guess this must have changed significantly by now. Their status as boarding schools contributed greatly to the identities of institutions such as Galatasaray. An important part of “being from Galatasaray” is in fact about being a boarding student. Boarding is a very particular form of “confinement” in the Foucauld­ian sense. The most important feature of studying at Galatasaray is that it has fortress-like walls and gates. You cannot leave school whenever you wish. It is, however, impossible not to notice the vibrant life outside is upon approaching the fences of the high school located right on the İstiklal Avenue. Perhaps this is why Galatasaray alumni are never able to leave behind the vibrant life of that avenue, always and forever yearning to return. They have, after all, spent their entire childhood wistfully gazing out of those fences, looking at Pera, Beyoğlu and dreaming of the time they would be able to walk out of the school gates. The traditions of the Galatasaray High School allow only seniors to leave school. Maybe this last year at school is considered a kind of demo run of “civilian” life.

The tall walls of Galatasaray High School are reminiscent of feudal castles. They isolate the interior from the exterior. This also means that the school is dramatically different from the outside. The Galatasaray High School is an altogether ‘other’ Turkey, wholly different from the Turkey outside its walls. Yet the young high-school students could never quite be contained within the bounds of that castle. Someone always transgresses and crosses over to the other side. This little detail is one of the secrets that enrich the life experiences of Galatasaray alumni.

The Galatasaray High School is so mighty as an institution that it always “cripples” its children in some manner or another – both in praise and in punishment! For the student, “being from Gal­atasaray” comes before all else. Before one’s lover, spouse, family, job, or country… It’s as if there’s Gal­atasaray, and then there’s the rest of the world. Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar remarked that “Turkey does not allow its children to care for anything besides its own problems.” Galatasaray High School is like Turkey in this sense. It always wants to be star, the chief actor in the eyes of its graduates. And it often succeeds in doing so. For it is an institution. Every member of the Galatasaray community is first and foremost a member of the Galatasaray community. Being anything else comes next.

“Being from Galatasaray” is tough! To begin with, you can’t simply graduate! The school will keep summoning you back in your dreams. I’ve known many a former Galatasaray student who has had this nightmare, including myself: In it, someone tells us: “We shall have to annul your diploma! You are missing one lesson! You must return to complete it!” Perhaps this is why the rice day gatherings – as homecomings or class reunions are called at Galatasaray – have been invented in the first place. The Galatasaray student must always return to their school. Or, in other words, it is impossible to graduate from Galatasaray – if not anything else at least mentally.

When “from Galatasaray”, one can never quite leave Pera-Beyoğlu. The best profiterole is always at İnci. Şampiyon is where you eat kokoreç, (grilled sheep’s intestines). Lades makes the most sumptuous menemen (Turkish-style scrambled eggs with tomato and green pepper). Saray has the best starch pud­ding with rosewater. But what beckons the former student back to Pera-Beyoğlu are not only the tastes of profiterole, kokoreç, menemen or starch pudding. It is also their childhood and youth. Their school. The fact that the Hacı Salih or the Ağa Restaurants no longer exist, that the İnci Patisserie and the Rebul Pharmacy have only been able to survive by relocating may be signs that we are no longer children. It is not only time that leaves its mark; spaces, too make an impression on the consciousness.

It is rare for a place and a time; an institution and a neighbourhood to be so intricately linked to one another. This merging of time and place is the relationship I previously alluded to between the modern­izing mind-set and Pera. Is there any further need for an explanation about what I mean by the relation­ship between an institution and a neighbourhood? The high school and the square before it bear the same name: Galatasaray. Every member of the Galatasaray community belongs to Pera. Each and every one is a child of Beyoğlu. And this will remain so, until the day they die.

Galatasaray is a brand. One of the most important brands of Turkey. Interestingly, under this brand an educational institution, a sports club and a neighbourhood all come together. As an educational institu­tion Galatasaray has both determined the name of the neighbourhood it is located in, and engendered a sports club.

Here we are at 2018. This is the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Galatasaray High School. I graduated in 1984, so I’m from the 116th class. At Galatasaray it’s customary to say what class or term you’re from rather than your year of graduation. Which means that I graduated from Galatasaray High School exactly 116 years after it was founded. So, those graduating this year will be its 150th class! In this sense, the Galatasaray High School even has a calendar of its own. Can there be a more vivid expres­sion of tradition? Indeed, Galatasaray is a tradition – even though its graduates are not greatly fond of “traditions”!

This is precisely where the paradox of “being from Galatasaray” becomes crystallized. Tradition and modernization. What is and what should be. Pera and the country. The high school and the rest of the world. It’s not easy to deal with this. One must stay strong. For this reason, there is always something slightly “browbeaten” about those who are from Galatasaray. After all, every human being would be crushed under this symbolic weight. Yet, oddly enough, many a former or present Galatasaray student is completely unaware of this. Or they really manage to keep it well concealed. Instead, this comes out in the form of haughtiness. With the airs they put on, who dares to approach?

In order to truly come into your own, it is often necessary to succeed in “killing” your father. The Galatasaray High School, however, is a “father” too mighty to be killed. For some, managing to kill such a powerful father must be one of the foundations of their self-consciousness. Even I can’t help but mention it!

When one grows up in a cosmopolitan environment, both their soul and body ends up being open to diversity. Pera has been cosmopolitan perhaps since the construction of the Galata Tower. The student of Galatasaray is cosmopolitan, due more to growing up in Pera than to the lessons of their school. The education and institutional genetics of the school doesn’t quite allow for an intellectual cosmopolitanism in my view. Galatasaray High School has not produced any intellectual diversity save for certain exceptional periods, because the institution’s DNA is unfit for this. Because the Gal­atasaray High School is a school of, and for Modernity. Even with the political aspect aside, the Gal­atasaray alumnus has a truly excellent formation in terms of the mind and the body. Many are solid “mon cher”s, French-influenced dandies – but not in the negative sense this usually implies in Turkey. For instance, they are quite intimate with art, literature, cinema, music, gastronomy, travel and vini­culture. Those from Galatasaray know when something is good. They have taste, because they begin ‘tasting’ life very early on. And not to mention, that all of this is thanks to Pera!

Beyoğlu is Turkey’s shopfront of modernity. All innovations that come to Turkey, passing through Beyoğlu first. But perhaps now it has become necessary to say so in the past tense. For in this “new” Turkey, Beyoğlu has become old news. Pera, and then Beyoğlu have lost their former elite and avant-garde atmosphere. It is no longer the cultural centre of the country, nor is it a kind of show­ground for new and upcoming lifestyle trends. People now go to shopping malls in order to spend money. They used to come to Beyoğlu.

You may have noticed that I didn’t say “go to Beyoğlu”, but rather “come to Beyoğlu”. Wherever I reside, part of me is still back in Beyoğlu – just like many other Galatasaray alumni, I imagine! In the past, people would go to Beyoğlu when they wished to shop, go to the cinema, to the theatre, to a concert or to eat and drink. The “vagabond”, yet in a sense, the “pioneering” capital of the coun­try would make its first investments in Beyoğlu. The first big beer-halls were opened in Beyoğlu. So were the first cafés, video arcades, then the first internet cafes, the first ‘folk ballad’ bars (türkü bar), even the first gözleme (Turkish pancake) shops… Beyoğlu was the site of trial-and-error capital. What made it in Beyoğlu would make it everywhere.

Now, shopping malls are ubiquitous. Turkey itself has become nothing but a gigantic shopping mall. Perhaps for this reason, Pera, Beyoğlu, no longer has its old charm. This elderly neighbourhood has fallen from grace. In olden days, however, Beyoğlu itself was like a shopping mall. Now there is a Şampiyon in every neighbourhood. Yet kokoreç is still something else at the Şampiyon in Beyoğlu, not to forget zümküfül1 of course. Profiterole may be found everywhere, yet the profiterole served at İnci in Beyoğlu is still one of a kind. This is not only a matter of taste. The fall of its cinemas may be consid­ered a symbol of Beyoğlu’s fall from grace. Back in the day, Beyoğlu was where you would go to if you wanted to see a movie in Istanbul. That was where the most important cinemas were. Yet Beyoğlu’s cinemas have now become the most run-down in Istanbul. They are unable to compete, particularly with multiplex cinemas in shopping halls.

Back in the day, books would be bought from Beyoğlu or Cağaloğlu. In fact I still buy books from these places. Yet they are losing their status as cultural centres. A couple of exceptions aside, it is quite hard for the bookstores of these neighbourhoods to compete with internet sites and the mod­ern bookstores in shopping malls. But there are still very wonderful hangouts in Beyoğlu. These plac­es are receding from the main avenue towards the back streets – this is capitalism, after all! Rents no longer allow for experimentalism on the main street. Great spots to drink tea, coffee, beer or rakı live on in the back alleys of Beyoğlu, but these must be sought and found. The tea shops on Erol Dernek Street where Yeşilçam2 movie extras used to hang out have become cafés today; and I assure you that the best tea and coffee you can possibly have in Istanbul is still to be found on that street. When I go there, from time to time I run into friends from high school, and I say to myself: even the ability to tell good tea from bad tea is a mark of culture!

For a Galatasaray alumnus; Galatasaray, Pera, Beyoğlu, Markiz, Lebon, İnci, Rebul, the Çiçek Pas­sage, Emek, Lades, Saray, Alkazar, Elhamra and Yeni Melek are not mere addresses, brands or sign­boards. They are the loci of our childhood. For most of us, our childhood memories of the places where our parents resided are quite limited. We grew up in a school, in a square, in another neigh­bourhood. Perhaps we are all slightly “devshirme”3, gathered together, recruited and “converted” – figuratively of course. Most of those at Galatasaray think of themselves as “chosen ones” due to the fact that very high entrance scores are required for the school. Yet the devshirme – the conscripted convert or the converted conscript – is also chosen. Or every chosen one is also a devshirme, a kind of recruit. I’m talking about a whole load of children gathered from the four corners of the country and confined within a school in Pera, Beyoğlu.

The Galatasaray High School is not just a school, but also a parent. A mother. A father. Not only are we the children of our own parents, but also of this school. Of Galatasaray, the high and mighty, the institution of institutions!

1 A snack composed of spicy sausage, green pepper and potato.
2 t.n.: Meaning “Green Pine”, once the heart of the Turkish film industry.
3 t.n.: A term denoting an Ottoman system by which Christians were recruited, converted and made to serve the empire as soldiers (janissaries)

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