A nation split along fault line of national identity, belief and ethnicity is merged by one thing: a enjoy of felines

Selim can often be spotted surveying his neighborhood, a stone’s throw away from the Galata tower and down the hill from bustling Istiklal avenue. He appears content, his expanding belly and long orange mane neatly combed.

A resident of historic Istanbul, he tolerates with mild distaste the sightseers who every day photograph him as he mills about in his store, a handmade leather store called Moria.

Selim is a cat, and of course he thinks he owns the neighbourhood. All of Istanbul, its winding hilly roads and back alleys and cafe could be said to belong to its hundreds of stray felines, emblems of a city steeped in history.

But it is winter now, and they begrudgingly have to accept help from the humans who often interrupt their sleeps on the chairs of busy coffeeshops. As the harsh cold, rain and snowfall of Istanbul draws near, wintertime cat mansions pop up all over the city, some provided by local municipalities, others by citizens.

Tuana
Tuana Ekin Sahin playing the violin to raise money for stray cats in Istanbul. Photograph: Kareem Shaheen

Turkey is a polarised nation, one split along fault lines of national identity, belief and secularism, and ethnicity. Half of the two countries recently voted against granting sweeping new presidential powers to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the other half voted for the proposal. But one thing that unites Turks of all stripes is affinity for cats.One activist, frustrated by the polarisation of Turkey’s political scene, mused that the only thing that could make an Islamist, a secularist and a socialist agree on anything was to kick a feline and wait for the inevitable beating.

Mustafa Efe has gone one step further than a mere cat house, typically a painted wooden arrangement akin to an oversized dollhouse, with space in it for three or four strays. Across the Bosphorus on the Asian side of the city, the imam of the Aziz Mahmud Hudayi mosque in Uskudar has opened the gates of his house of worship for the strays to take shelter, becoming a social media sensation in the process. In one viral video on his Instagram account, he playfully wags his finger at a kitten as he sits inside the mosque in mock admonishment, and she leaps and bites it.