Thanks to the dedicated work of its founder Mehmet Naci Akoz, 63, who has been making and collecting kites and paraphernalia for decades, the unique Istanbul Kite Museum in Uskudar offers visitors a special experience for visitors young and old.
On a quiet backstreet in Istanbul’s Uskudar neighbourhood on the Asian side, sits the Istanbul Kite Museum. The museum operates by appointment only, so if you’re there, chances are you already know a little bit about it.
TRT World talked to its founder, Mehmet Naci Akoz, 63, about his lifelong dedication to anything kite-related.
“I was born in Toygar Tepe, in Uskudar. I found out about kites, marbles, and spinning tops there, when I was six or seven years old. Our generation grew up playing games on the street. My acquaintance with kites goes back to those times,” Akoz says.
Akoz points out that establishing the kite museum is “not a sudden decision I made.” He says he has been working with kites since 1980 professionally, making and selling kites to stationery stores and toy stores in the 1980s.
“I participated in a kite festival a newspaper had organised in 1983. I came in first at the kite festival. The newspaper wrote “He came in first – no competition!” But they didn’t give me a prize,” he reminisces, still slightly sore about it. “I asked them why they wouldn’t give me a prize. I mention this specifically because it was a breaking point in my life. I believe it is also a breaking point in Turkish kite history. Everything began there.”
He thought that this was not good practice, and decided to forge his own path: “I asked them why they didn’t give me a prize, and they told me it was a kite festival, and not a competition. Three to five months later it still stuck in my mind, that I came first, and somebody else came second and third, and there should be a competition for kites. So a year later, a week before the newspaper’s kite festival, on April 22, 1984, I organised the first kite competition in Turkey.”
Two years later in 1986, Akoz established the Kite Society. “I wanted to establish an association but I couldn’t [right away] because of procedures,” he says. He notes that he wrote to many international associations asking for help to start his own in Turkey, and received a warm response.
“Ten years later I established the Kite Fliers Association, Eyup Kardes Ucurtmacilar Dernegi, in 1996. We functioned as an NGO. Two years after the association was established I started the Kite Volunteers Club because I was going to schools, giving workshops there.”
In 1998 Akoz submitted a petition to the Ministry of Education, pointing out that kite culture is important and should not be forgotten, that “we were carrying out activities as a club but that was not enough, that it should be part of the curriculum in schools. The governorship got back to us, saying in art classes, that kitemaking could be part of the curriculum within the borders of Istanbul. I gave classes in pilot schools for seven years, about how kites are made, and the history of kite making.”
The Kite Volunteers Club was established in 1998. “And seven years after that, I established the Istanbul Kite Museum,” Akoz says with a smile. “So you may say that the road to the kite museum was a loooong way. When I established the kite museum in 2005 I had been a collector for 19 years. The idea to establish the kite museum did not come to me in 2005, it goes back at least seven eight years.”
“When I first heard there was a kite museum in Japan, I was intrigued,” Akoz says. “I said ‘Wow, these guys have established a kite museum!’ Then I realised other countries also had them. In this time period, I made overseas trips, taking part in international festivals, trying to gather everything I could about kites. Then I realised I had a collection in my hands, however modest it was.”
Akoz decided to start a museum with the materials he had at hand. Even so it took him a few years to do so. In 2005 as the Istanbul Kite Association he and his colleagues made a decision to establish a kite museum. He proudly says that “When I established the museum I had material from six countries and about 500 pieces. Now we have six continents and 39 countries [represented in the collection]. Approximately 3000 pieces.”
Akoz says that the Istanbul Kite Museum is one of the 18 in the world. “It’s the only kite museum in Turkey,” he says proudly. The kite museum has two different display rooms, and a basement space of 350 square metres that accommodates 200 students at a time. According to Akoz, this number was reduced to 60 students during the pandemic.
In addition to the kite museum, there is a kite school, and a kite library on the premises. Akoz notes that they provide half-hour to one-hour programmes for everyone who visits. Visitors have to book ahead, and “we impart our knowledge to them, in an age-appropriate manner, in their reserved time slot.”
Akoz talks about the history of kites to older audiences, high school students and older, “all 2,500 years of it.” He says “We discuss the kites’ origin in China 500 years BCE, how they spread in the Far East, how they were used in wars, how they were used in religious affairs, how they affected the public… In the 13th century kites arrived in the West. They were the subject of scientific exploration. The kite is the forefather of planes, of drones. The ambient electrical charge of lightning was found via kites [by Benjamin Franklin].”
Akoz points out they also have a YouTube channel as well, where he shows how to make kites by breaking the process down for preteens and above.
He says it’s easy for people in Istanbul to schedule a visit and look at the kites at the museum. “But there is much more to Turkey than that. I hear back from people saying ‘We made kites based on your videos for the kids, they had a lot of fun.’ I really appreciate this [feedback].” Akoz also distributes 50,000 sheets of A4 paper ready to cut and assemble into small kites as an activity kit for young children through schools and NGOs.
Akoz says sometimes a faraway school teacher will write to the kite museum asking for supplies: “We immediately send back a response to the teacher, saying this should be taught as a class, the aim is to teach kids how to fish instead of giving them fish, to paraphrase the Japanese proverb, that when taught as a class the kid can make his or her own toy and that will, in turn, will give him or her more self-confidence. We ask for no compensation for this. We can send packages like this to the farthest corners of Turkey for 20-25 TL (approx $2.50). They can also watch our videos while making the kites. That’s how we work.”
According to Akoz the Istanbul Kite Museum boasts about 3,000 items from 6 continents and 39 countries, of which 1,300 are kites. “Some 1,000 [published, textual] items are part of our library. The rest are objects and materials. For example someone more interested in the technical side comes along and asks about a specific piece [of a kite]. We immediately pull that object from our collection and explain it fully to the visitor.”
Akoz says first time visitors usually come to see the kites. “But the more technical people, people who know how to make kites, want to see the materials section. People who want to do research want access to the library.”
The museum, Akoz emphasises, is free of charge: “ We haven’t charged anyone since we were established in 2005.” He explains that university students or members of the press come in to use the library, looking for something historical, technical or else.
Akoz is also willing to help adult kite enthusiasts: “For example someone has bought a kite overseas but doesn’t know how to put it together, or it doesn’t fly when put together. We help people with that too, telling them to bring it over, or if they are far away, using other means [such as videoconferencing].”
Akoz says the Kite Library was established In 2015, to commemorate their 10th anniversary. “This is the only kite library in the world. Which does not mean that we have all the publications, and no one else does. In most kite museums, they have a publications section – I went to Malaysia, China, India and they had publications but none of them had called it a library. We had publications but we hadn’t named them as a library, which we did later on.”
When traveling for competitions and festivals to other countries, Akoz asks the organisers who else is coming. “Then we contact them through their websites and ask them to bring kites, and publications. We say we’ll pay you, but mostly it’s free, we trade on a goodwill system. So in a couple of years our library will become a significant source.”
The Istanbul Kite Museum in Uskudar is open Monday to Saturday from 9 am to 6 pm. Appointments are required.
Thumbnail photo: The biggest kite in the Istanbul Kite Museum is shaped like a stingray and is 130 sq metres. (Photo courtesy of Mehmet Naci Akoz)
Headline photo: Kites from Brunei are displayed at the Istanbul Kite Museum. (Melis Alemdar/TRT World)