The role Hayri Öztürk has played in his neighbourhood has been two-fold. Most of the day, he sits in his Bakkal, a shop that’s a cornerstone of Istanbul’s city life, serving his customers, smoking cigarettes and fingering his Tespih [prayer beads]. Every day, from 8am to 10pm, neighbours drop in for a chat, to buy milk, bread, sweets, cigarettes, or things they forgot to buy at the supermarket. He has a credit book which is used daily, so people can pay at the end of the month, or when they have the money.
Hayri often keeps an eye on his grandson and other children in the neighbourhood, and whilst there for the convenience of others, he seems content with his lot. He owns the shop and the room next door, and lives in the block across the street. “I make ten lira a day and I spend ten lira an evening, at the local club”, he says.
Though when asked about politics in this quiet backstreet of the religiously conservative Üsküdar, a large and densely populated district on Istanbul's Asian side, he spoke of another part of his life. He described this as a low-income area and he does what he can do to help others out, such as give 5 loaves of bread a day to some Roma families nearby.
Before now he may well have been in a position to do a little bit more. Fifteen years ago he retired from the police force. Since then he’s been the elected head of the neighbourhood or Muhtar, but lost the election this year. As Muhtar he was responsible for government activity at the local level, and authorised, amongst other things, to issue copies of official papers: ID Cards, certificate’s of domicile, etc. He took us to his room next door.
This room is the Muhtar’s office, home to all the records of his activities (and that of his successor), with the walls covered in photographs of every man in the neighbourhood, a few photos of him and some press clippings. It feels like a museum, overlooked by a large photo of Ataturk.
Sidestepping the large bottles of Coke stored here, he pulled out a logbook detailing everyone in the neighbourhood and any official actions taken. Next he produced a book of deeds he’d done, a sort of register of assistance. But it was the 100’s of head shots of men that was the most compelling record. He explained they are used to help identify suspects of crimes, but if they were dead he’d write that on their photo. He pointed out one photo he’d tried, but failed, to pull off the wall to blow up to make a large print for the man's funeral.
When asked ‘why men only?’ he said if he put women’s photos up, they would argue and be jealous with each other about who was the most attractive. He introduced us to a woman from the neighbourhood, who was a lawyer, and answered the same question. She said it was because men were the head of the families and the more public face of each family. "So men would be the ones doing the formal, administrative things of public life."
Our local guide, Gunes said the photo wall system was, at least in her experience, unique.