We’re standing on Istiklal Street, the main street of the Beyoğlu municipality. Although it’s just before 11 am, the sun is heating up well over the usual Lund Spring temperature and forces us to remove our jackets and sweaters. Around 2 million people cross Istiklal per day and today is no exception. The red Istiklal tram is running up and down the street, street sellers selling freshly made bagels to hurrysome businessmen and of course, tourists like myself running around with selfie sticks, baseball caps and disorientated looks.
Istiklal’s characteristic tram
We’re here because we’ve been invited to the Consulate General of Sweden. Purchased in 1757, it’s the Swedish state’s oldest building on foreign ground, representing two and a half century of good diplomatic relations between the two. It’s a majestic building, indeed, with a beautiful garden in front of it and the Swedish flag waving high in the middle of a green grass circle.
Outside the gate, however, a more brutal reality is apparent. Syrian refugees are standing outside the Consulate General, seeking to apply for residence permit in Sweden. My phone, which has been informing me nonstop about the hardships and realities of the war in Syria, is now manifesting itself in flesh and blood unbelievably upclose. Istanbul, being the East-West divide in many different aspects, serves as a port to the Western world and for the many refugees that have given up their lives unwillingly to build a future in the “Swedish paradise”.
It’s now 11 am and we’re greeted by our contact person at the entrance to the Consulate General. The interior is by all means posh, with a 19th century rococo flamboyant atmosphere, associating my thoughts to big British balls for the royalty and aristocracy. We’re seated in the main hall and three members of the staff give us insight in what they do. They talk about their most frequent concerns up to date, regarding the migration situation; Europeans fighting for Daesh; cultural exchange programs between Sweden and Turkey; the establishment of Swedish companies in Turkey and drunk Swedish people losing their passports.
Syrian refugees outside the Consulate General
Outside the entrance to the Consulate General
Question and information round about the staff’s work
The selfie stick in action
After a mandatory selfie stick group photo with ourselves and the staff, we go directly behind the Consulate General building to the Swedish research institute. Here, we’re told, is just as it sounds, research in progress with emphasis on Turkey, the Middle East and Central Asia over a broad range of academic, journalistic, artistic and educational areas in the spheres of Humanities and Social Sciences. The research institute was founded in 1962 as one of three Mediterranean research institutes, who all faced threats of closure last year as the Swedish government sought to make budget cuts. The interior of the research institute differs in every aspect from the Consulate General. Instead of the almost antagonizing grand halls with its diamond rattling chandeliers, the research institute is filled with rooms of typical Scandinavian design, with high ceilings and a white archipelagian touch. When we explored the small maze of different rooms within the research institute I bumped into a psychologist from Uppsala University who invited us to his lecture on religion’s coping mechanisms for Syrian refugees on the Turkish-Syrian border, where he had carried out his field work.
Handing out the mandatory UPF Lund gifts: the latest issue of Utrikesperspektiv and a bag of tea (Lundablandning)
At the research institute
Rickard plans to do his research at the Institute someday in the future
When we left the Consulate General and research institute we all went to grab a shish kebab in a joint across the building and then people were free to do whatever they wanted to. Since most people were still tired from the weekend and the study visits (trust me, they are super interesting but exhausting) we had a calm night with a dinner at a restaurant close to the hostel, that tasted close to nothing (it is very easy to get fooled in the touristy areas of Sultan Ahmet), but was enjoyable all the same with such a fun group as we were.