Could this be the most civil of civil uprisings? Not that I have a great deal of experience with such happenings, but indulge me if I’m inclined to think so. With the exception of insults hurled at Turkey’s Prime Minister, everyone behind the Occupy Gezi Park movement is being remarkably kind and relaxed. Before entering the AKM Building (Atatürk Cultural Centre) through a break in the hoarding, a dangling cardboard sign warns that the structure is not strong and you might think twice about entering. Incidentally, this building was once used as a vantage point for snipers in the 1970s to target left-wing protestors and is now being used for this generation’s resistance to hang banners and host jazz performances aimed at uplifting today’s protestors — a nice bit of irony. Not that there’s much need. Nothing seems able to stop this jubilant crowd. All around Taksim their are people of every political stripe and ideology, along with the apolitical and simply fed-up, doing something remarkable. They’re sharing a space, and not grudgingly, but willingly.
Istanbul’s graffiti-splattered centre of Taksim is something to behold. Beside the insults aimed at Turkey’s Prime Minister, there is some praise. One message is a heartfelt thanks to the Prime Minister for giving the unsigned the time of her life. It’s entirely un-ironic, too, because this protest movement really has energized Turkey’s disparate and “wasted” youth like nothing before. Armed with smartphones and Twitter, which Turkey’s Prime Minister has denounced as a menace to society, 20-something hip-chicks stand tank-topped and bare-shoulder to shoulder with working class men with wife-beaters gleaming beneath their short sleeved dress shirts. People from all strata of society are celebrating, or participating somehow in the celebrations. A woman in an a-la-Turca headscarf vends Guy Fawkes masks while she sports one strapped to the back of her headdress. Hard hats are being sold for 10TL (approx. $6US). Fortunately last night the air was thick with köfte smoke, and not tear gas, until about 8:30PM when the troubles seemed to resume. From below the hillside of Gezi Park a great billowing of smoke issued and the assembled lounging on the grass suddenly leapt to their feet. However it was a false alarm and only a well timed prank by the only serious hooligans of this movement, Çarsı, the Beşiktaş football fan club, who have served as the front line soldiers of the real civil insurrection. Once it became clear that the cloud billowing toward the park was nothing more than smoke from their fireworks, they were greeted like victorious war heroes, and by many people with affiliations to rival football clubs such as Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray. I have never heard or seen anything like it. The mood was palpable. Perhaps in an unjust society, it’s only the outlaws who feel free to come to the rescue. In fact, one of the reasons for last night’s relative calm on the streets, one of the Gezi Park protest organizers told me, was that Çarsı and the police had made a gentleman’s agreement not to encroach on one another’s positions near the Prime Minister’s office.
At Gezi Park there’s a broad base of different people with widely varying ideals who are well organized and equipped. They are anything but a rag-tag group of looters as Mr Erdogan would have his voters believe. There are first-aid centres and people on megaphones keeping routes clear in the event of injuries. No rock concert was ever so well planned or so civil. People who bump into one another apologize and clap each other on the back. People clean up their own trash —even cigarette butts. People pass around savoury cookies. When I ask an exhausted looking man sitting in a chair by the makeshift Gümüşsuyu barricades if he minds me taking a picture which includes him, he says “No, no more, please.” When I respond, “Cover your eyes then,” he replies, “Okay.”
You could say that Mr Erdogan has made a lot of people’s day. He’s turned hundreds of thousands of people from the petty everyday grievances and the stresses of city living, and given them something they might not have felt they had in a long time, if ever: purpose. And with it, even better, perhaps, is the accompanying sense of hope, unity and kindness that’s made this movement so successful so far. So perhaps everyone should thank Mr Erdogan. He’s given a broad group of disenfranchised people their opportunity to earn something they didn’t feel before, from within and without. That’s respect.