İyi bayramlar! It's that time of year when it really sucks to be a sheep or cow -- Kurban Bayram (Eid Al-Adha, or the feast of the sacrifice). Today, all good Muslims purchase a cow or sheep according to their resources, ritually slaughter it and distribute the meat to the poor and to their own families. (We were first exposed to Kurban Bayram in Baku, and speculated about one's charitable options in Istanbul last year here and here).
Old Istanbul hands remember when the annual butchery took place in the streets. In deference to oversensitive EU proponents who find the practice of slaughtering animals with axes in the streets barbaric, the Municipality has worked hard to contain the bloodshed to pre-approved Kesım Yerleri (slaughtering places). The good news is that even with Kesım Yerleri, it's still possible to see barbarism committed in a god's name in Istanbul.
We started our Bayram morning at the Kesım Yeri on aptly named Boğazkesen (throatcutter) Caddesi in our neighborhood. On all other days, it serves as a car- and carpet-wash but on Bayram, it opens its easily-hoseable concrete wash bay to butchers and Imams. We watched a single family join an Imam in quiet prayer over a tightly bound heifer then turned our back as the blood swished out of a slit in its throat.
It was pretty civilized, as these things go, and we should have left it at that and gone straight home to the couch. But no. Thinking that we wanted a bit more "earthy" experience, we hiked over to Tarlabaşı, a largely Kurdish neighborhood we fondly refer to as "the ghetto." It did not disappoint!
The Kesım Yeri was smellable before it was visible. A dozen yellow tarp enclosures sheltered hundreds of sheep and cattle in a muddy, trash-strewn hillside lot. Families milled around, poking and prodding sheep, identifying The One (look kids! A petting zoo!). Freelance butchers in bloody jeans dragged the unlucky from the pens to an equally muddy part of the lot, strewn with heads, legs, stomachs and stained red with gallons of blood, where the "sacrifice" took place.
After hanging around long enough, we began to notice all the auxiliary services that kept the process moving. A young man in a brown suit selling matching brown sheep from the sidewalk argued to police that he wasn't operating outside the Kesım Yeri. Women dragged bulging stomachs to the side of the lot, slit them open and dumped out half-digested hay into smelly yellow piles. Knife sharpeners kept the tools -- many of them quite crude - sharp. Cattle butchers hoisted carcasses with mechanized winches. A truck driver offered to drive our live animal wherever we wanted. Taxi drivers with open trunks stood ready to haul plastic garbage bags of fresh meat home (memo to self: double check taxi trunks before loading baggage during Bayram). Since every massacre needs levity, a balloon seller entertained the kids with inflatable spidermen and dalmations.
We've seen plenty of animal slaughters, but we take serious issue with the idea that Kurban sacrifices are humane. With amateur butchers wielding what appeared to be steak knives, this was the most fucking barbaric scene we've ever seen. Not that offering a prayer ever justifies savagery, there didn't even appear to be any ritual accompanying the sacrifice. It was a frantic free-for-all of struggling animals, spurting blood, men whacking away at carcasses with axes and unidentifiable body parts lying in slimy heaps in the mud.
Surely, when sheep and cows talk about genocide, this is what they have in mind. They could have used the Producer there to disarm some of the knife wielders.