Author: Zhuorui Fu

Editor: Allison Chan


Photo: Sunset by Bosporus

To speak of hüzün, one has to mention Istanbul. Hüzün in its original Arabic means sadness, the prolonged pain of not being able to reach God’s true learning in one’s limited life. In Turkish, hüzün is sorrow. The term is significantly inscribed by the Turkish Nobel laureate, Orhan Pamuk, to express the sense of loss after the breakup of Ottoman Empire.

In search of this mysterious feeling, I set my foot to Istanbul the third time. In my memories, the city was lively with its cultures and permanent noises. Yet the hüzün of Pamuk had its magic. It may not influence a visitor, but it has laid the seeds of unhappiness in its residents. After a while, when one stands under the gilded sun dusts approaching Bosphorus, one feels that shivering coldness of hüzün.


Photo: Sahand in Istanbul

When Sahand and I just arrived to Istanbul, we changed multiple places from Nisantasi to Beyoglu, then finally settled into the Istiklal Street. The apartment hovers above Istiklal. Sahand shouted,  “This place is filled with energy!” Seeing tourists and vendors walking day-and-night down our building can hardly relate me to hüzün.

We landed during a period of sharp lira fall. The depreciation of Turkish currency attracted more people to visit the country and go shopping. We spent the first days walking around in Karakoy and hopping on the boats crossing the Golden Horn.


Photo: On the boat

Istanbul at the end of the summer is pleasant, especially close to the end of the day. The sun is no longer scorching. People at the train stations or the ferry piers have just finished a fruitful day on the European side and now are set to return to the cheaper Asian side.


Photo: Street-strolling downhill from Cihangir

Days for us, a young couple in love, are everything but hüzün. We dined in different places and wrapped up in muhallebicisi, pudding shops that coated Istanbul in honey. A few days passed, one morning, I woke up and felt the laziness landing on my shoulder. Hüzün opened its wings and caught me during these ordinary days.

Suddenly, the cats in Istanbul started dozing off on streets. The city was besieged by extreme heats. Old men on the streets chatted over çay, idly, as the beautiful girls passing by.


Photo: A smiling cat on the street of Istanbul

The weight of history grew layer by layer on the pavements I had walked on. I saw the Ottoman Empire, the Byzantine, sighing under the lamps. Their emotions evaporated. Countless of poets, writers, European expats, had been here admiring the Istanbuli commerce, transportation, and opportunities. In contract, today’s tasks seemed boring: vendors yelling over the same Dondurma, Turkish money no longer powerful.

During this time, I walked into Auni’s world by chance. His place tugged away on the tiny side street that is under construction. Yet the content is mind-blowing.

Art studio in Istanbul

Photo: Inside Auni’s studio

Auni Ahkmehmetoglu came from Erzurum, the Armenian city that has seen too much of war-torn stories caught among Ottomans, Christians, and Russians. When did Auni come to Istanbul and why? No one knows. He has a book of commentaries by visitors around the world, in which most people said, “Although I only walked pass this studio, it left me long impressions.” His lifetime pieces stood in the dark studio, lit by lamps. The smell of oil colours mingled with the dampness of the place.

His painting expressed nothing but one: agony. Taking a peep at all of his frames, whether a woman, a bird, a group of men and women, they are all turbulent. Portraits come in silhouettes – dark silhouettes stroked by deep colours with no specific face. I found one big painting with many ghostly men and women. He said it was his favourite painting, the Turkish Guernica, and the painting that speaks of his life. What a life, for all I see is sadness, like the tortured hüzün from once beautiful now gone.


Photo: Me and Auni’s Guernica life

Auni smokes, probably too heavily. It reminds me how genius director Serge Gainsbourg had never left his cigarettes and died in his apartment lonely due to heart attack.

I had an awesome conversation with Auni, for we were two aloof artistic souls. Despite of the lack of languages, we connected over the transcendental nature of humanity, aided by Google Translate. I made promises to come back to learn how to paint.

Hüzün resided in the rich texture of history and cultures. The more a culture has, the more hüzün one may perceive, as the effort today may never retouch the glamour of the past.

As I pondered over the surprise encounter with Auni, I stumbled into A Hidden Bee, which largely changed my perspective on hüzün, due to the landscape described by a young Turkey.

Aylin and Alptug always laugh, as their brand. A Hidden Bee is a new fashion boutique in the chic Karakoy area. The difference of the brand is obvious – soaked with positive energy and sustainable practice. A female clothing brand, A Hidden Bee made its clothes with conscious in Istanbul. Two young couples in creative field, Sahand and I connected with them immediately. For us in the new generation, we share too many interests in fashion and travels. Aylin mentioned how her flights had to postpone when she was travelling to New York, which I can well relate.


Photo:  In A Hidden Bee trouser

“My ears can move.” Alptug also proudly showed us his special skills of moving his ears with ease.

Their positivity is like the summer dandelion, flying afar and brings smiles on everyone’s face. I also made promises with them to shoot my Istanbul video at their place later in search of an answer surrounding the hüzün theme.

While wearing their clothes everywhere, for I purchased their clothes as a fervent customer, I encountered many cats on the way. People that know me will call me by cats for our resemblance. Seeing all these kitties on the street sleeping most of their lives away in the most adorable manners melts my heart, since in many parts of the worlds, cats and dogs are still under-appreciated or even slaughtered.


Photo: Eating the best baklava from Guluoglu

The day of shooting also meant the day of saying goodbye, as our expedition had to end earlier.

On the way, I asked Aylin and Alptug, who were born and raised in Istanbul, about their opinions on the city.

Alptug said, the history and cultures covered Istanbul layer by layer. That is why the city is charming, for one can spend much time studying the past humans have lived, in similarly different forms, in this city.


Photo: Alptug in the cistern

I asked Aylin, what is the one thing Istanbul has while elsewhere does not. She smiled, “Cats!”

I also smiled. It was great to see them happy and grateful for the little things this city has to offer. Walking pass Bosphorus, I often wonder what the situation was in 1453 when the Turkish army broke down Constantinople and sacked the city. Historians recorded floating bodies that filled the tiny strait. Istanbul became an empty city. Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror had to command mass immigration from elsewhere to fill the void.

Now the ghosting image of the past sorrow and glamour all passed. I came in terms with the hüzün of Istanbul. The feeling essentially describes a sense of loss but being alive itself already fulfils happiness. Loss is relative. When one sees a rising state from zero, one may not see hüzün.

I went back to Auni. He gifted me with my portrait, saying he was surprised to see he had painted a nice painting like this amidst all of his other sad paintings. Unfortunately, I later lost the painting in the airport. I blamed myself in an extreme manner and went crazily trying to find the masterpiece. Auni said he seldom drew for people, but he made an exception for me. The painting was named Pupil and Tears, although the construction was positive. He gave me a rose, but I lost it due to my careless habit.


Photo: Me with my portrait

For some time, I blamed myself and felt the arm of hüzün has grasped my throat so firm. Seeing a great art and losing it can be depressing.

Until a while later, with a heavy heart, I reconciled with the fact that I lost the painting. All the remainder I have is the picture of the painting and our jointed memories.

I remembered I had left Auni a box of candies before I left Istanbul. I wish he will enjoy the sweetness and continue to laugh in his life, despite the hüzün he had in his anguish living. I will keep smiling for I had made his life slightly more beautiful, despite of the hüzün of my unachieved and unpossessed Pupil and Tears. I am grateful.


Photo: View of Hagia Sophia

Watch my video on Istanbul here:

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4 thoughts on “ISTANBUL: HÜZÜN

      1. No problem! I always wanted to go to Istanbul! Thank you for sharing


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