When I started this blog it was with the intention of pointing out things to appreciate, especially with regard to this city which has been my home for eight years. This city has brought me so many good things, and as a result I’ve wanted to pay it back. However, I’ve had something of a philosophical conundrum in the last week. It’s been difficult to go back to that same reality. In the space an hour these days I can find hope in some simple act of kindness from the people of this city, and lose it in the next second. I’m not usually into finger-pointing, but it’s usually in the moments when one of the city’s or country’s democratically elected leaders speaks. In the last hour there’s a man on the TV saying some very frightening things, about minorities, foreign interests, about the abuse of his head scarf-wearing sisters, about people having orgies in mosques. Unfortunately, this loud man is also the most powerful person in the country, the Prime Minister.
I’d already grown disheartened when I saw the Gezi Park protestors last Wednesday when these photos were taken. One minute there was sunshine, then cloud and thunder rumbling overhead. Different people seemed to be arguing within the camp. The previous 24 hours had been especially rough for the protestors when the police cleared Taksim Square and clouds of tear gas kept wafting into the camp which was supposed to be off limits. However, according To Amnesty International, at least 30 teargas canisters were fired into the camp. Support and supplies was still rolling in from around the city Wenesday, but the camp looked severely battered. Then I saw the police encamped around the Atatürk Kültür Merkezi which had been patched over with hundreds of banners a couple of days earlier and now had two large Turkish flags and a portrait of Atatürk draped over its facade. There was however, the assurance by public officials and the governor of Istanbul that Gezi Park’s peaceful encampment of protestors would remain untouched. Still, the exhausted looking police, kept inching closer and closer as a ragged and thin line of protestors looked on from their barricades above.
Last night the stalemate ended. Described as an “evacuation” by Istanbul’s governor, the Gezi Park camp was forcibly cleared with teargas and a mass action of police. Over a hundred people have been arrested and many are still unaccounted for. You can read Amnesty International’s press release for more on this. Hotels were gassed, hospitals hosed and today it seem that even volunteer doctors were being arrested. It would be easy to demonize the police’s excessive force, but several reports have now come out about the appalling working conditions the non-unionized riot police (and the police in general) are forced to serve under. Elif Batuman, who writes for the New Yorker, drew my attention to this when I read her piece, Lost In Taksim. There’s also a piece in The Guardian worth a look.
The question remains, though, about why the Prime Minister, the man ultimately responsible for the tough actions is so adamant and angry about widespread pot-banging and a largely peaceful protest, and why he would spew all this strange rhetoric against foreign media and interests, espousing the idea that there are shadowy circles and envious groups out there not wanting Turkey to succeed. Well for one, it’s often been an effective (not to mention incredibly ugly) tool in Turkey to blame minorities and stir up conspiracy theories when feeling threatened. In addition to the police, somebody else might need a time-out, as he’s demonstrating an inability to think clearly. It might be that he’s too used to hearing, “Yes, sir.” That’s the central premise of Professor Ian Robertson’s compelling theory: Ten Year Illness, a syndrome where the prolonged wielding of great power for a decade or more simply undermines one’s ability to think critically and make good decisions, thanks to a damaging neuro-chemical addiction. There’s also the possibility that Mr Erdogan hasn’t really caught up with the era he’s in, and despite claiming that he’s a servant and not a sultan, he’s still fighting an old battle in his mind. — that of secular elites attacking the Islamic establishment from which he draws his power base. For a compelling read, drop by Hugh Pope’s blog, and read Some old battles never die background on the Ottoman Barracks Mr Erdogan was so inspired to replicate at the expense of one of the city centre’s last green refuges.
Still, there’s hope. All around the city including in Yeniköy, where I now sit many locals, including a woman with a headscarf, are banging pots and pans to show their disapproval about last night’s attack. Everywhere is Taksim, they chant. When a police car rolled by, the officers simply smiled and waved. We may all be a minority, but eventually that minority will make enough noise, and someone in charge could choose to really listen and not react with violence. It’s time.