• a strange climate

    June 16th, 2013


    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.

  • a friendly revolution?

    June 5th, 2013







    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.