Meet the boys of Yillar Ziyan, the Istanbul-based skate collective

The skaters turned models for Maryam Nassir Zadeh's menswear capsule share challenges faced by Turkey's creative youth and their hopes for the future.

by Nicole DeMarco
|
19 November 2020, 5:05pm

Photography Cengizhan “Cengo” Bayir

If you visit Besiktas Meydan in Istanbul, you’re likely to find the square filled with skateboarders, their friends lounging and looking on from the steps as they turn tricks on the concrete. “You know, how they have Tompkins Square and Southbank, and all these big skate spots that have people hanging out there?” Cengizhan “Cengo” Bayir, who’s part of the skate collective Yillar Ziyan, asks over the phone. “We have the same exact thing in Istanbul. We call it Meydan, which translates to the square. We always hang out there and there are random street kids, gypsies, rappers, musicians… of all ages. There's a new young generation coming up with us right now.”

Skateboarding has been a thing in Istanbul since the 90s, but it wasn’t until 2010 that it became more of a social activity among teenagers, who’d buy a board, throw on some skinny jeans, maybe a band T-shirt, and then hit the square with their friends. Over the years, as the Turkish economy took a hard hit and the prices of boards — which are largely imported — began to skyrocket, the sport started to decline. Luckily in 2018, in hopes of reenergizing the skating community, which has become a welcoming space for young artists and creatives in an otherwise conservative culture, Fatih Yilmaz, a famous Turkish skateboarder founded Yillar Ziyan. The Istanbul-based skate collective’s name translates to “wasted years”, and although the boys who make up the crew joke about the time they’ve wasted on their boards, instead of pursuing a “normal job”, they have faith in Turkey’s young, progressive population to turn their country around.

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Photography Esther Theaker.
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Photography Cengizhan “Cengo” Bayir.

“A lot of the shit that we do is still taboo,” Cengo says. “There have always been punk rock groups and artists, but outside of Istanbul it hasn't really caught on because education and accessibility is low compared here. But in the last three to four years, everything is coming together… If someone here does something and it catches on abroad, then our people start paying attention to it. That's happening right now. Turkey is made mostly of young people, the population. They're super innovative and open minded.”

If these young skaters look familiar to you, perhaps it’s because you’ve seen them model Maryam Nassir Zadeh’s new menswear capsule, which dropped as part of her spring/summer 21 collection. If not, best get familiar with these boys anyway, because we’re sure you’ll be seeing more and more of them.

Here, we ask Cengo, Kutberk Kaya, Izzet Biçer and Adem Ustaoğlu all about the skate scene in Istanbul, what it’s like pursuing a creative field in Turkey and what’s the most exciting thing happening in their country right now.

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Cengizhan “Cengo” Bayir, 22

When did you start skating and what do you love most about it?
I started skating when I was 14. The thing I love most about it is how it gives you a platform to be and express yourself — from the tricks you choose to do to the way you dress, et cetera. It also helps me evade/meditate on the bad shit going on in my life.

How would you describe the skate scene in Istanbul?
It felt as if it was getting smaller every year with the economy not being so good since all boards are imported. But lately, with skating becoming more popular worldwide and more skateparks being built here, it's getting back on its feet again and we have some sick people coming up. Also, it being not so big definitely gives it a much more sincere vibe with everyone.

What are some of your interests outside of skateboarding?
I'm into photography, movies, video editing and making music.

Do you feel like there's an overlap between the skate community and young people pursuing the arts/creative fields?
There is. Just like skating, I feel they're coming together with people realising we're only a handful of people here doing similar shit. People from those scenes have come up to us saying they like our shit and it's sick that now we can have a conversation about it and maybe collaborate between the subcultures here.

What is the most challenging aspect of pursuing a creative field in Turkey?
From what I see, it seems as if you gotta sell out a little bit and do commercial stuff to earn some money, if you're not pursuing a white-collar or ''normal'' job. Which is fine, but for some people that only want to do the stuff they're interested in, it doesn't work because there just aren't enough people or money in the arts here for them to create an industry on their own. But as I've said, a lot of people are being exposed and getting into these scenes, so who knows what happens in the future.

What's something cool happening in Istanbul or Turkey that everyone should know about?
There is a cultural change going on here now. People used to live in bubbles with people like them, so stereotypes were/still somewhat are a big deal here. But with social media and acceptance growing here, people are more interested in each others cultures and forming a new one in the process.

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Kutberk Kaya, 26

When did you start skating and what do you love most about it?
I started when I was around 16 years old. Skateboarding pushes you both mentally and physically in its own ways and I love that it introduced me to so many people that helped me get through everything around me.

How would you describe the skate scene in Istanbul?
It is a very small circle even though it is in such a crowded city. We are all together vibing each other. I’d say [it’s] very accepting.

What are some of your interests outside of skateboarding?
I am working as a graphic designer and I am very into painting these days.

Do you feel like there's an overlap between the skate community and young people pursuing the arts/creative fields?
Yes, you are always exposed to art with skateboarding, whether it is documenting your friends skating, being impressed by a board graphic or many other things. I think it helps you to find your own ways in creative fields earlier in your life if you are into it. 

What is the most challenging aspect of pursuing a creative field in Turkey?
It is hard to get by with our crashing economy and standards, so trying to balance it with your life by doing it commercially or doing it the way you really want it to be. 

What's something cool happening in Istanbul or Turkey that everyone should know about?
Well, I don’t know, 2020’s been a mess. See our crew, Yillar Ziyan’s videos, it is very cool because it documents how skating mixes with Istanbul’s madness in such weird way.

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Adem Ustaoğlu, 25

When did you start skating and what do you love most about it?
I started skating when I was 11 years old. The feeling of excitement and freedom is what I love most.

How would you describe the skate scene in Istanbul?
The skate scene in Istanbul is very small and everybody more or less knows each other. Yet if you compare the 90s and now, it has grown and the skateboarders are getting better.

What are some of your interests outside of skateboarding?
I am a videographer, editing videos, and when [I’m] not skating I also work out.

Do you feel like there's an overlap between the skate community and young people pursuing the arts/creative fields?
Actually, I think that skateboarding and creativity go hand in hand, because skateboarding improves your way of thinking. You need to think creatively doing tricks while checking out suitable spots in the city, as well as watching and reading to bring new ideas. More or less all of my skateboard friends are working or involved in create jobs.   

What is the most challenging aspect of pursuing a creative field in Turkey?
Some people are really narrow-sighted and can’t help judging and giving their opinions on how people dress and behave. Therefore I think sometimes you don’t have this thing called freedom, and without that freedom your creativity is restricted.

What's something cool happening in Istanbul or Turkey right now that everyone should know about?
Due to the pandemic for the moment everything regarding events and public arrangement is on hold, so nothing cool about that.

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Izzet Biçer, 21

When did you start skating and what do you love most about it?
When I started high school, when I was around 14 or 15 years old. I like the feeling of movement I think. It helps clear my mind, escape from my troubles and bad thoughts, focus only on the moment and being present there. 

How would you describe the skate scene in Istanbul?
There's actually a pleasant skate seen in Istanbul, especially when compared to other cities in Turkey where there is not much. But one thing I love the most from this scene in Istanbul is the strong friendship bond we have, which is more than enough of a reason I think.  

What are some of your interests outside of skateboarding?
I like to draw, especially manga. Political, emotional and dark drawings interest me. I also enjoy music and play the guitar on my own. These kinds of things.

Do you feel like there's an overlap between the skate community and young people pursuing the arts/creative fields?
Yes, there is an overlap. The crew does not only consist of skateboarders. They play the guitar, draw, shoot videos, take photographs and make editing. And [when] we combine these with skateboarding, we get great outcomes.

What is the most challenging aspect of pursuing a creative field in Turkey?
There is definitely an interest in the creative industry in Turkey, but never the support. Of course, this is something everybody would say, as people in the creative scene are in a real rivalry with the government. There is also a community of people who are named as “artists,” who do not really appreciate art. This may sound a bit harsh, but unfortunately this is the situation through my eyes. 

What's something cool happening in Istanbul or Turkey that everyone should know about?
There is Yillar Ziyan, which reflects our own skate scene. There are music groups, new ones like Sunset Stream and more established ones like Cemiyette Pisiyorum.

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Tagged:
Art
skating
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