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A Trailblazing Arts Festival Changing Global Perceptions of Turkey

How Alphan Eseli and his wife Demet are shifting the paradigm with the Istanbul Arts & Culture Festival.

Courtesy of Istanbul '74

For centuries, Istanbul, Turkey has been a cosmopolitan port attracting global citizens from all walks of life, and an incubator for thought-provoking discourse, inspiring everyone from Rumi to Rimbaud. Despite this legacy of sophistication, many evening-news watchers tend to lump Istanbul, and, for that matter, all of Turkey, under the misleading title of “conflict area” due to its proximity to several embattled neighbor-nations. Situated perfectly between Europe and Asia, with Syria to the South and Iran to the East, many in the West, particularly those unfamiliar with the region, are worried that the country will be next in line to fall prey to ISIS, which in the last year has grown from fringe movement to formidable force.

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The Most Isolated People on Earth Want to Stay That Way

Would-be visitors, intruders, and hapless shipwreck survivors are often murdered, and that’s probably why this tribe continues to thrive.

North Sentinel Island, part of India’s Andaman and Nicobar archipelagos in the Bay of Bengal, sits just 25 miles off the coast of South Andaman Island and 30 miles away from its developed, globally connected provincial capital of Port Blair. About 28 square miles of forest, the island is roughly one-fifth larger than Manhattan. All of the other islands in the chain have been explored and their respective native peoples have developed relations with the central government, but no outsider ever sets foot on North Sentinel Island. In fact, New Delhi has set up a three-mile exclusion zone around the island to protect its inhabitants, known as the Sentinelese, who through violent seclusion have remained possibly the most genuinely isolated peoples in the world, likely for thousands of years. And in their isolation, they provide a stark and illuminating contrast with other societies.

The Sentinelese are one of about 100 uncontacted tribes left in the world, most of which live clustered in remote West Papua and the Amazon rainforests of Brazil and Peru. But many of these other uncontacted tribes are not totally isolated, as cultural rights organization Survival International points out, over time, most peoples will learn something about their modern neighbors no matter what. However, many uncontacted tribes, either due to past atrocities visited upon them or a lack of interest in what they see of our modern world, choose to remain disengaged. They’re not “pristine” or primitive peoples, but rather shifting and dynamic cultures that preserve unique languages, systems of knowledge, and skills. And because they are not completely separated, they’re often subject to those who wish to contact them, either to attempt to evangelize and modernize them, or even eradicate them to clear land for development. As such, the Sentinelese are unique even among uncontacted tribes in their isolation from other cultures and external threats.

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