Hidrellez is a religious-inspired festival celebrated May 5-6 in Turkey and the Turkic-speaking world. Roma in Istanbul celebrate it with particular gusto.
The festival has taken on increasing importance for the Roma community in Istanbul in recent years as the Roma's cultural profile in the city has come under threat. A historic Roma neighborhood along the Theodosian Wall in Istanbul's Sulukule District was, until recently, believed to be the oldest such settlement in Europe. Two years ago, however, Roma began leaving the neighborhood, as the district experienced sweeping redevelopment.
In the old days, Roma would mark the Hidrellez festival in the back streets of Sulukule and other Istanbul districts. Musicians with drums, pipes and tambourines would belt out traditional music amid raucous dancing. At midnight, brave souls would make wishes as they leapt over fires burning in the middle of the streets.
These days a similar spirit of enthusiasm infuses Hidrellez, although the venue has shifted. Municipal authorities have organized an officially sanctioned celebration along the the Marmara seashore.
Increasing numbers of non-Roma residents in Istanbul now attend the Roma-led festivities. It reached a point this year that the only noticeable Roma at the municipality-sponsored event were the musicians themselves.
Jonathan Lewis is a freelance reporter and photographer based in Istanbul.