Tuesday 13 January 2015

An Unusual Sheep in the Middle of a Blizzard - Winter in Istanbul

Last week, in January 2015, cold weather and heavy snowstorms descended upon Istanbul. For one week, the city was covered with a blanket of snow. 

During one such snowstorm, I went out on a walk to Istanbul's now-famous Gezi Park, which was the flashpoint of massive public protests two years ago.

Under blizzard-like conditions, the park was transformed into a surreal place - a winter woodland dropped in the middle of a chaotic megalopolis. After walking around the park for a while, I had a bizarre encounter with this guy, accompanied by a cute, friendly-looking sheep, dyed with bright coat of orange henna paint.  

The sheep looked like it was very well cared-for. It was also acting quite intelligently, following its owner like a pet dog.

The guy then let Arab tourists take pictures with the sheep in exchange for a little cash.


It is a rural Anatolian tradition to dye a sheep with henna and parade it around before slaughtering it for its meat. I first thought the man was doing the same with his pet. However, it seemed a bit strange to do the henna-parade in the middle of a blizzard, in the busiest part of the city. At any rate, the sheep and the guy seemed too happy and too well-accustomed to each other for their relation to be a purely dietary one.

A brief web search confirmed my theory - the sheep and its eccentric owner were photographed by another expat blogger in Istanbul a few months before. I was happy that this cute animal was not destined for ritual slaughter.

Update (2016):

I later learnt that this gentleman's name was Lokman Kürşat - and in July 2016, he sacrificed his longtime companion "amid sounds of prayers to honour the survival of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and Chief-of-Staff Hulusi Akar" after the cryptic and brutal coup attempt that summer. According to a local news report Kürşat said the following about his cathartic decision:

"My henna-sheep was my closest friend. I had four children, and she was the fifth. For more than five years, we were together on our travels. When the coup took place, I was at the airport. I said to myself: 'If we make it through this coup, if our statesmen survive, I will sacrifice her'. The coup was then averted, and I sacrificed my friend as a gift to everyone who died that night."

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