Esa Ylijaasko: November is a Beginning
13.04.2019 - 19.05.2019
Vernissage Fri 12.4. at 5pm
“I’m in Istanbul, sitting in a 32 square meter apartment that has no toilet or shower. The curtains reach from the ceiling to the floor, and the hue-less walls are full of spots where the paint has chipped. The air is moist.
Kasim family has gathered together for dinner. Brothers and sisters. Wives and kids.
Scrambled eggs, white bread, tomatoes, and tea are served. Men eat first while children and women wait for their turn. Cigarette smoke floats in the air. A TV in the corner of a small room, along with phone calls from relatives still left in Syria, tell a sad story of the war. The kids are playing; simple things make them laugh easily.”
Esa Ylijaasko spent four years documenting the life of a Syrian refugee community in Süleymaniye neighbourhood in Istanbul, Turkey. Previous tenants had left the rundown residential area years earlier. Ylijaasko photographed his project on black and white superior instant film. The raindrops and scratches of the film surface merge with the wear and tear of the environment.
“Süleymaniye is one of the historical districts in Istanbul, Turkey. It’s patrolled by packs of street dogs that bark at each other to protect their territories. The air fills with prayer calls from minarets five times a day. Somewhere in the distance, you can hear the sounds of someone cooking and kids playing. Once, this neighbourhood was a perfect place to live. Today, it’s abandoned and in ruins. New inhabitants have settled—new inhabitants like the Kasim family.”
Kasims are Syrian Kurds from the countryside around the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Homs. Their journey began when the civil war in the country escalated. As the war came too close, Kasim family left their home, a small olive farm near Aleppo. In February 2013 they headed on foot to the Turkish border and crossed it with the help of smugglers. All they carried with them were their children and some cash. It was 9 am when Keles Kasim called his siblings to come to pick them up by car as they were now at the Turkish side of the border. The last thing that Keles remembers from the journey is the sight of a garden glistening in the sunrise.
Today in Istanbul, there are at least 560,000 registered Syrian refugees. Municipalities have been particularly innovate in their efforts to accommodate refugees by running free language courses, instituting social support programs, permitting a degree of legal flexibility for Syrians opening a business, and in the case of at least one district, Bagvilar, encouraging Syrians to participate in advisory citizens’ councils.
Despite the efforts it’s hard if not impossible to find a job with limited language skills and missing official refugee documents. Men spend days hanging around, drinking tea, watching TV and smoking. Kind-hearted locals bring food and clothes to refugees, helping them to survive. But life stands still. Regardless of all the despair, guests with good intentions are welcomed and offered tea, food, and cigarettes. From time to time, the air is filled with jokes and laughter.”
Ylijaasko created his project between years 2013 and 2017. One story of the Syrian refugees became to an end on the final year of the project when the government of Turkey cleared them out of the Süleymaniye neighbourhood. Syrians exiled out of the city to find a new home to settle in. November is a beginning is the first chapter in the story of the world’s biggest refugee crisis.