Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar is a mesmerizing caleidoscope, a never- yet ever-changing home to the colors, patterns, products and people of the world. One of the world’s largest and oldest covered markets, it is one of few places where religions, cultures and backgrounds come together in boisterous and beautiful harmony. Here you’ll find various denominations of Muslims, Jews, and Christians, living and working together. They share meals, arguments, stories and friendships, as if they had cracked the code to peace and unity among men. I’ve been coming here for many years and am convinced of its magical properties. In some strange and mystical way, it always delivers what I’m looking for. Except this time!
I arrived in Istanbul to visit our production facility. My flight had been ridiculously cheap, which came as no surprise. The country of my childhood had seen rough times. A failed coup, regional unrest, and several terrorist attacks had taken their toll on the all-important tourism industry. Kremlins ban on charter flights and tours to Turkey all but killed it, following the downing of a Russian military jet on the Turkish-Syrian border.
I had my doubts on whether it was safe for me to go. But I have friends and family in Turkey. Not going felt like a betrayal – like abandoning them in enemy territory. I knew I had to go. I also knew security concerns were having an impact on the livelihood of families across the country. How great that impact was, didn’t hit home until I arrived at the Grand Bazaar.
Walking in, I found one of the world’s most visited tourist destinations nearly empty – with several shops closed or wearing ’for rent’ signs. In all the years I’ve visited the Gand Bazaar, I have never experienced anything like this. One of the vendors told me, ”we are Muslims, Jews, Ermen, Suryani – everyone working side by side. We respect each other's differences, where else do you find this? But we have all families we need to support and we don’t know how to survive this crisis. "
Another vendor told me."We are so proud of the fact that the Grand Bazaar has all the religions represented. Everyone is welcome here – and people used to come here from all over the world. Now, we have few customers and our income is gone.”
It felt sad, significant, and symbolic, to see this centuries-old place of peaceful co-existence, forced to its knees by the very fear and the terror we so often vow will not change our lives. I realized that day that while it may not change my life whether I shift destination from Turkey to Spain or Tunisia to Italy, in order to avoid the next terrorist attack – it does change others' lives and ultimately, it will change our world.