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Olay: Turkey’s years of strife through the lens of a Magnum photographer

Turkish soldiers gathered for the funeral ceremony of Birhan Er, killed among 33 soldiers during an air attack by regime forces near Idlib, Syria on 27 February 2020 (Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos)
Turkish soldiers gathered for the funeral ceremony of Birhan Er, killed among 33 soldiers during an air attack by regime forces near Idlib, Syria on 27 February 2020 (Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos)

A tumultuous decade in Turkey is captured in a vivid and fast-paced series of photographs, in the highly anticipated first book of Magnum photographer, Emin Ozmen.

Olay, meaning event or incident, is a retrospective of Ozmen’s work to date, recounting the years of his homeland in a ceaseless state of turmoil, hit by dramatic events: a failed coup d’etat, popular uprisings, natural disasters, political purges, economic turbulence and ongoing military operations.

The photographer says: “We are constantly being tossed around between violence and quiet daily life. Turkey gives no respite. Never a week without a drama, never a month without a major event.

Police use water canon to disperse the crowd near Taksim Square in Istanbul. The civil unrest began in May 2013 after the violent eviction of a sit-in at Gezi park protesting an urban development plan (Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos)
Police use water canon to disperse the crowd near Taksim Square in Istanbul. The civil unrest began in May 2013 after the violent eviction of a sit-in at Gezi park protesting an urban development plan (Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos)
A car seen damaged on the broken highway road during the powerful earthquake on 8 February 2023 (Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos)
A car seen damaged on the broken highway road during the powerful earthquake on 8 February 2023 (Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos)

Olay is a documentation of Turkey, on the brink of violence and grace. Here, nothing is simple, everything intertwines and clashes, the beautiful as well as the ugly, sadness as well as joy.”

The book includes an extensive timeline introduced by Piotr Zalewski, Turkey correspondent for The Economist, as well as personal texts written by Ozmen, and is co-edited with Cloe Kerhoas.

A member of the PKK linked Civilian Protection Unit uses a hole in a wall to cross a street controlled by Turkish special military forces in Nusaybin in 2015 (Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos)
A member of the PKK linked Civilian Protection Unit uses a hole in a wall to cross a street controlled by Turkish special military forces in Nusaybin in 2015 (Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos)
Exhausted refugees who failed to cross the sea from the Turkish coast to the Greek island of Kos head back to Bodrum city centre by bus before trying to cross again later in July 2015 (Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos)
Exhausted refugees who failed to cross the sea from the Turkish coast to the Greek island of Kos head back to Bodrum city centre by bus before trying to cross again later in July 2015 (Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos)

Emin Ozmen, born in 1985 in Turkey, is a Magnum photographer based in Istanbul.

He joined the prestigious photography collective in 2017 and became a full member in 2022.

The minaret of a sunken mosque emerges from the reservoir of the Birecik dam in Gaziantep. For several decades now, dozens of villages and towns have disappeared under water as a result of the numerous hydroelectric power plant projects of successive governments under the Southeast Anatolia Project (Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos)
The minaret of a sunken mosque emerges from the reservoir of the Birecik dam in Gaziantep. For several decades now, dozens of villages and towns have disappeared under water as a result of the numerous hydroelectric power plant projects of successive governments under the Southeast Anatolia Project (Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos)
Syrian children play in Istasyon neighbourhood of Mardin in October 2020. Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, who constitute the vast majority of the over 4 million refugees and asylum seekers that make the country the world’s largest host of refugees (Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos)
Syrian children play in Istasyon neighbourhood of Mardin in October 2020. Turkey is home to more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, who constitute the vast majority of the over 4 million refugees and asylum seekers that make the country the world’s largest host of refugees (Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos)

For more than fifteen years, he has undertaken a long project of photographic documentation of the social, climatic, and civil troubles around the world, and in his country in particular.

His work has been published by Time magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Der Spiegel, Le Monde magazine M, Paris Match and Newsweek, among others.

People gathered as security forces collect bodies after deadly twin car bombings that  killed 53 and injured 146 in Reyhanli, a Turkish town on the Syrian border, on 11 May 2013 (Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos)
People gathered as security forces collect bodies after deadly twin car bombings that killed 53 and injured 146 in Reyhanli, a Turkish town on the Syrian border, on 11 May 2013 (Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos)
Smoke and tear gas fill the sky as Turkish police and protesters clash near Taksim Square in Istanbul on the first day of the Gezi park protests in June 2013 (Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos)
Smoke and tear gas fill the sky as Turkish police and protesters clash near Taksim Square in Istanbul on the first day of the Gezi park protests in June 2013 (Emin Ozmen/Magnum Photos)

“For me, there is something more important than good or bad photography. It’s about the quality of your character, it’s about your soul.

“I believe photography follows this and is already a reflection of who you are,” Ozmen said.