Tarlabaşı neighbourhood of Istanbul, Turkey. Photograph Sila Yalazan, 2013.
Author: S.T. Lore
Photographer: Sila Yalazan
Client: ELP Journal
Designer: Rob Milne
Format: Postcard, 100 copies
STORM GODS OF SYRIA
Three Syrian Kurdish refugees pose beside a Renault-12 TSW Station Wagon. One child mocks the viewer: his teeth are bared, his hands are in the shape of horns. Another stands forward and offers peace: his arms are held high and open wide. The largest (wearing goggles) stands central: he is benevolent and sturdy and looks prepared for rain. The same model Renault-12 featured in the opening scenes of the 2012 James Bond movie SKYFALL. A motorbike chase raced through Istanbul toward the city of Adana before reaching a tense final shoot-out on the Varda Viaduct. One of 22 train tunnels breaching the Taurus Mountains, they were dug out by Germany in 1912 as part of the Istanbul-Baghdad railway. Crossing the natural territory of the Kurdish people --- steep mountain ranges separating four warring nations --- previously the journey required a treacherous pass through the Cilician Gates using bullock drawn caravans, confronting violent thieves, rock collapses, and death. Now, Renaults and Jeeps merge onto the Class-A European highway called the E-90 which plummets tourists from Istanbul to Cappadocia. The trains are filled with pensioners and the nostalgic. Refugees traverse the territory anyway they can.
In a Turkish only re-branding, the Renault-12 was marketed as the Renault 'Toros'. Named after the symbolic bull of the Taurus Mountains in reference to the mythical transport of the Babylonian storm god Hadad. Also known as Baal, the ancient god of rain and of oracles is depicted on religious cylinder seals 'standing on the back of a bull, brandishing a mace or another weapon in his right hand and a thunderbolt in the other…he is bearded, wears a horned head-dress, and treads the mountain tops at the feet of waves'. Son of the great sky god Anu his temples of worship are secured to the mountaintops and decorated in thunderbolts and bulls. Appearing as a demon in the Marvel Comics, this cartoon image, like all myths, explains the forces beyond our control.
Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) started its 24-hour Kurdish television station with the congenial motto: 'We live under the same sky'. It is a poetic statement, full of inclusive sentiment, yet Kurdish cartoons were banned in Turkey until as recently as 2013, alongside the letters X, Q and W. This draconian political move, designed to curb Kurdish literacy, forced children into the rubble-strewn streets. No longer watching television, they played amongst the rocks and discovered a battered 'Toros'. Permanently sealed inside a photograph, these sky-fallen casualties instinctively mimic the ancient storm gods, yet one child alone remains defiant in the background. Standing atop a pile of rubble, he avoids the playfulness of the others and points directly at the viewer. His action, more menacing than a pose, could be curiosity, yet it could also be hostile: an omen, a premonition, a warning of another storm.