plus an enchanting field trip on an Istanbulite Island

The interview with Mustafa Jakob Diktas took place on April 23rd , the day when, beyond any cliché one might hear in the news, people of all confessions – Christians, Jews or Muslims – are joining a pilgrimage dedicated to Saint George on Princess Island, one hour away from Istanbul. His PHD thesis was dedicated to the pilgrimage phenomenon at Aya Yorgi and after discovering it first hand, I can see why. The event is rich in symbols: wishful thinking is embedded in the presence of a thread that pilgrims unfold until is done. Tens of thousands follow the ritual, praying for blockages to dissolve and miracles to happen. By the nightfall, the narrow road leading from the base of the hill to the top, where the sacred place is located, is literally transformed into a rug of wishes. Brother Jakob, as the believers are addressing him, shared his opinions on creativity, spirituality and identity.

1.What makes you happy?

Happiness is like drawing a sigh: A short moment of respiration, which lasts for a couple of seconds or minutes. Receiving good news on the phone or opening a mail from someone you have been waiting for or seeing an envelope in my mailbox. 

2. A childhood memory that announced the creative person you are today:

When my friendsfelt down and injured themselves, I was trying to heal their wounds by mixing newly blossomed almond flowers with mud. Nobody taught me that and I don’t even remember if it worked or not. But this imaginary childish therapeutics formula to help the ones in need is one of my creative childhood memories, vivid until nowadays.

3. Best context for inspiration?

Inspiration comes down from above, in a sanctuary, on a hill, in a shrine.

4. The project you loved most:

” Let’s talk about recycling art” is the project I love most. It was a bilateral project between deaf children schools (one Turkish, one Romanian) where hearing-impaired kids were making art from recyclable objects. I was a guide teacher, the translator and the scriptwriter. 

5. The project people around you loved most:

“Things that come with migration” – it was a project funded by EU, about internal migration in Turkey and the materiality of migration phenomena. We were focusing on the objects the migrants brought with them from their hometowns when they moved to Istanbul. Also, another relevant project is “Istanbul- cultural capital of Europe 2010”. I was the curator of the exhibition.

6. Best thing about Turkish creativity:

I don’t believe that creativity belongs to a certain nation or has national flavors attached. But I liked the creative air in the graffiti and street writings during Gezi Park manifestations in 2013.

7. Best statement about Turkish humor:

“Ayrani yok icmeye atlag giders icmaya”, which translates into “He is so poor that he doesn’t even have ayran (yogurt) to drink, but he goes to the toilet on a horse. It is similar in a way to “give me the luxuries and I can do without necessities” by Oscar Wilde.

8. Best advice for headhunters recruiting Turkish creatives:

I would advice international headhunters to help Turkish creatives reveal their local richness. In the end, they will see how “glocal” they can be.

9. Best place in Istanbul:

Tomb (Türbe) of Yahya Efendi.

10. Best place in Turkey:

Abandoned villages of Gökçeada.

11. On Money:

Money is only beautiful when there is no blood, sweat and tears in it, which is almost impossible.

12. On spirituality:

I am scared of the one whose spiritual geography is barren.

13. Recommend an inspiration source for the young creatives:

“DUPĂ DEALURI” – it’s a film about aweird exorcism in a Romanian monastery. Based on a true story, is interwoven meticulously in the hands of genius scriptwriters and turned into a psychosocial documentary, shedding light on the recent dynamics in post-communist Romania. 


Mustafa Jakob Diktas has a PhD degree in Anthropology from École des HautesÉtudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. His research interests are in culture and religion in Levant, Anatolia and Eastern Europe. The topic of his Phd is on two shared pilgrimage sites dedicated to St George in Turkey.

* The photos from the 1st and 3rd questions are documenting the Aya Yorgi pilgrimage, on April, 23rd / Princes Islands.