tRADES & CRAFTS
Witnesses to the last half century at BVH mention the presence of occupations such as leatherworkers, carpet dyers, traders of card board, makers of chests, scales and sacks as well as various crafts specialized in textiles and metals. Many of these professions have become obsolete or had to relocate to other sites for a variety of reasons. Chief among them are demands of the market, technological advances, competition from other centers, lack of new master-workers to continue the trades and changing city regulations obstructing their practice. Current workplaces at the Han are focused on trade and manufacture of textiles as well as processing of metals.
The shops located in the first courtyard and by the four sides of the second main courtyard of the Han number slightly more than thirty. The majority of the businesses here is occupied in wholesale of textile and can be grouped in two categories.
The first category of shops is those specialized in cloths of various fabrics. These merchants of textile have a central role in the recent history of BVH. During their heyday from the early 1960’s until the 1980’s, the weaving workshops dominating the upper floor of the Han are said to have been working in two shifts non-stop to complete orders from the merchants below. For some time, it was these businesses that shaped the general outlook of the Han and its apparent commercial attraction.
The typical shop on the ground floor is a show-room and operations center. The traditional customer is a merchant from Anatolia who is accustomed to visiting BVH to make deals and purchases. Some businesses maintain their own workshops in relatively new zones of commerce such as Bayrampaşa and Güneşli. The majority of the businesses employ numerous sub-contractors for weaving, dying and pressing the cloth.
The second category of wholesalers is those involved in ready-made clothing. Businesses in this line of trade have three branches: Men’s apparel, headwear and garments fort the security sector.
The first of these holds the majority with close to fifteen businesses. Included in the men’s apparel category are suits, coats and also children’s school wear. The most senior merchants amongst the owners of these businesses remark that their setting up of shops in BVH a few years later than the wholesalers of cloth had redefined the Han as a center of textiles.
The next category includes the wholesale traders of hats and caps. These family companies have a history of two generations at BVH and have all evolved from a background in the manufacture of hats. For manufacture, they can employ the services of workshops in the Han or work with subcontractors from outside. Their inventory is also made up of a number of items imported from China.
The last group of merchants has a relatively recent history in BVH. Parallel to the growth of the private security sector in the early 2000’s some of the businesses involved in men’s clothing started switching their line of trade to fit the demands of this new sector.
Today, BVH is still considered to be an important commercial center for textiles and the business owners mostly take pride in having a locale here. However, the emergence of new centers of commerce and industry in a number of Anatolian cities has reportedly partially deprived the merchants of BVH from its most important customer, the Anatolian patron. Furthermore, the tenants also stress that for the last two decades; the government and municipality have at various times directed them to the designated sites of commerce and manufacture in the peripheral regions of the city. For those who were reluctant to face new problems there such as transport, higher rents and loss of customer base, conditions to stay were supposedly made harder.
These two factors, coupled with the resented competition from Chinese imports has cut off profits and even bankrupted some of Han’s merchants. Nevertheless, owning a shop in BVH is considered prestigious as well as crucial, because merchants tend to stress that as mid-sized businesses lacking powerful brand names, they need to stay within the reach of their customers, and therefore moving to the new established sites and zones of commerce is currently not feasible for them.
The upper floors of the first and second courtyards have about a hundred and fifty rooms, the majority of which are locked up and deserted. Although there is some circulation with tenants arriving and leaving BVH, the total number of active workshops has not exceeded twenty-five between 2006-2009. The number of active ateliers and businesses in the third courtyard number in forties. Craftsmen specialized in metals and textiles make up the two main categories of labor at BVH.
Turners and polishers currently constitute the predominant group among the master metal-workers of at BVH and their number is close to twenty. Their oldest members who came to work at the Han as apprentices and are now in their seventies and are also amongst the most senior witnesses of BVH’s near history.
It is common for a self-employed craftsman in this category to be proficient in all three of these areas of expertise and to assume these functions at different stations in a single-person workshop. Some of these craftsmen can be seen turning and polishing things as diverse as ash-trays, flagstaffs, minaret’s tips and pipes. They tend to change their work material according to the demands of the market.
Turners Karabey Bey, Sepon Bey and Onnik Bey. When asked to tell about their apprenticeship, numerous artisans tell recollections of their relations with their non-Muslim masters with compassion. In their collective memory, ‘the Armenian master-worker’ is a recurrent and special figure associated with competence, dexterity and justice. Between 2006-2009, about ten Armenian craftsmen were still working at BVH.
Amongst the metal-workers of this category, there are also those with a more specialized line of work. Some of these craftsmen work on water-pipes and when the demand for these get low, these ateliers switch to crafting zamzam cups and trays to cater for the seasonal Hadj tourism. A few others are specialized in accessories for shop displays such as metal shelf and cabinet parts. There are also a couple of those whose main body of work consists of lamps and lanterns. These workshops are also show-rooms aiming to appeal to the tourists visiting the Han.
Rather more traditional craftsmen that work at BVH are an inlayer working on brass and a master-carver of wood. The former applies his designs on decorative objects such as plates and cups, while the latter adorns solid wood pieces such as items of furniture.
A separate category of metal workers are the foundry men who melt brass in blast-furnaces and then pour them into molds. The small foundries number in three and employ one to three craftsmen. They cast decorative objects, parts of water pipes and even small machine parts like iron-presses. The self-employed foundry men remark that contrary to much larger and technologically advanced factories operating elsewhere, their workshops can survive because of their ability to accept orders of only a few hundred pieces.
A sub-branch of foundry men present in BVH is two workshops molding zamac in electric heaters. The output in these workshops ranges from coats of arms and insignia for Turkish and US armed forces, police and fire brigades to badges for schools and sports clubs.
Iron welders and steel benders are members of another branch of metal workers in BVH who work on ‘cold’ metal. Despite the recent popularity of shop shutters made of fiber and operated by remote control, many local shops still use metal rolling shutters for security. The upkeep of such doors in the vicinity is handled by a couple of welders who make daily patrols in and around the Han looking for shutters to fix and window railings to replace.
The steel bender is the maker of the three dimensional letters and numbers in shop signs and although he competes with computerized sign designs and metal cutting machines using laser, the local demand keeps him going.
Jewelers are the final category of metal-workers at BVH. Although accounts of the last fifty years of BVH feature this profession as having an eminent presence here, they have today become almost extinct as workshops on precious metal has been specifically declared unlawful in historic Hans.
The second major category of craftsmen in BVH are those specialized in various fields of textile. Elders of BVH speak of times when the upper floor of the Han was dominated by weaving looms to the extent that conversation was impossible because of their clamor. Likewise, younger tenants recall how scary it was for them as kids to walk around the spinning machines. It’s been a while since weaving has ceased to be the primary line of work at BVH. When city officials deemed manufacture in historic hans against regulations, the majority of the masters quit their jobs or left BVH. Their departure is said to have started in the 1980’s and to have been completed by the mid-nineties.
As of three years earlier, three weaving masters and two active looms were still present here. Although the machines are obsolete, tenants judge that dismantling and transporting them requires expertise and considerable funds.
Within the category of textiles, ateliers of hat makers also have a long history at BVH. The current craftsmen mention their apprenticeship here with masters who are now deceased or retired. The craftsman here work on a variety of models, ranging from “the Anatolian-style” men’s hats with five to eight corners to promotion caps bearing logos of large corporations. The job involves cutting the fabric, sewing and stitching, and finally molding the hat.
Two workshops of ironers at the upper floor of BVH employ about five workers each and provide the finishing press for textiles. These are closely connected with local trade as the merchants of men’s garments find it convenient to employ the services of these conveniently located workshops.