Istanbul has had enough and takes to the streets for the trees and freedom

June 1, 2013

The protests in Istanbul from my tiny viewpoint

 

I’m sitting here finally back at the Chill Out Hostel It’s 5:30 AM or 6.   There is gorgeous light from the sun shinning through the window, all is very calm for the moment.

 

Yesterday it wasn’t so. I started the day with a few plans in mind, get a Turkish phone number, go for a lesson then a concert at TRT (Turkish Radio & Television) and in between I was planning to do some exploring.

 

I got ready to go, the sun shines, it’s pretty hot and a bit humid. Istikal street is full of people of all creeds, races, colors, religions walking down this beautiful street. I first saw a surgical mask on the ground then another. It did not register at the moment. I smelled something, I thought it was some sort of glue or chemical someone was using somewhere. I kept walking and then saw that the crowd had thickened. I was on my way to Taksım Square to get on the metro to go for a saz lesson. But I could not continue. I heard some chanting, then I saw in the distance massive police trucks and when they’d move the people would boo. I had no idea whatsoever what was going on. Then chanting started. A strange emotion rose in me. I took out my camera and shot some of what was going on. I’ve never been in a protest and certainly nothing that looked so ominous. Suddenly the crowds started to run away from the police trucks. They were spraying water out of very powerful hoses on the people. Then I heard the first one of the day

 

“Pofff! Pshhhhh…!!! and object went flying like a missile followed by a trail of smoke, now people were really running. Tear gas.

 

“What the hell??”

 

I retreated some and the running subsided and the chanting started again. I realized there was no way I was going to get to Taksım Square this way. I debated taking the ferry but did not know the way once in Kadıköy I sent a text to my teacher, letting him know that I could take the metro because of this protest. At this point I have no idea what this is all about.

 

Friday 1 PM Istikal St.  it's getting started

Friday 1 PM Istikal St. it’s getting started

I returned to the hotel and practiced the saz for a couple of hours then headed out to the concert at TRT. I took another road, something is in the air, lots of police trucks around, people seem different but I hurry on so not to be late. When I get to Taksım Square from the other direction I see a very large contingent of police. Riot suits, batons, trucks with something that looks like a snowplow attached to the front as if to plow whatever would be in the way. There are fences built up around the park and the whole thing looks like a staging area for a battle to come. My hair rose in the back of my neck. I kept walking on, more and more police… On Cumhuriet street its not so dramatic, yet, but there are a LOT of people. I get to TRT to see the rehearsal. I call Özkan and he comes to get me. It’s now 5 PM.

 

I get to see the group rehearse, there are 4 sazes, 3 percussionists, 4 women singers, 4 male singers, a ney, a clarinet, an oud, a bass player, a kanun. It’s beautiful music. I finally relax a bit, I had been sweating with this fast pace walk. When rehearsal ends, Özkan comes to join me.

 

“Come, come!” We go out, he wants to drink something before the concert. Now Cumhuriet street is packed with people chanting. It’s unbelievable. We stop at the same cafe we had been to a couple of days earlier for our first meeting and order drinks. We chat, all is well. Suddenly we hear police sirens, the crowd like the tide moved back, the patio we’re on fills up with people moving with this shifting tide.

 

“Come! Come!” Özkan says, the bar owner comes by to invite us inside to be safe but Özkan elects to go back to TRT. The chanting rises stronger still. There is something incredibly powerful about this. More sirens.

 

“Pofff! Pshhhhh…!!! In the distance I see the white smoke rise. Tear gas. People were actually peaceful, why this brutality?

 

“Run! Run!”

 

We run towards TRT, climb up the stairs 2 by 2 and the doors shut behind us.

 

We look out the window, people wear scarves over their noses and mouths, many smiling still. I don’t really quite understand. The protest is for Taksım Square. The government has decided to build a big box commercial center there and the Istanbulites do not want it. I hear there was also a new law to forbid drinking and the sale of alcohol after 10 PM at night. On both issues, the government proceeded without any public consultation and bulldozing their way through. I am used to Canadian protests which usually are quite civilized affairs, there may be skirmishes but nothing too crazy (unless it’s after a Stanley Cup final game loss, but that’s another subject all together…)

 

I had seen people protesting with signs and drivers would honk their horns in a show of support. Something that seemed quite normal in a democratic society…

 

We head to the back of the building, I had to go to the bathroom. I go in, go wash my hands and then again: “Pofff! Pshhhhh…!!! tear gas, I see the can fly parallel to the building, inches from the window the little silver bullet flies by leaving a trail of smoke and that is enough to send me in a fit of coughing eyes and nose burning. I rush out of there coughing.

 

We head for the concert hall. Lights off. Within a few minutes we all forgot what was going on outside. The music rose and lifted us all. It was a gorgeous concert of South Eastern Turkish music.

 

Lights on. People file for the exit but we are kept inside. Voices rise, and I cannot understand anything that’s being said aside from a number here, a “şimdi” there. When you don’t have the words to get understanding you really focus on the body language, the eyes… people look at each other eyes wider than they should, they move from right to left, indecision. We sit and wait. Özkan shows up.

 

“Come Dani.” we go in the hall, we can see the street from the window. It looks like a war zone. Chanting, tear gas, police, the tide of bodies shifting one way or the other…

 

We are ordered to move away from the windows. One young man approaches the window anyways and the security man just gets furious, yelling at him, pushing him by putting a hand on his chest. We walk away. I am amazed at the relative general calm of all the people. They’ve seen much more of this sort of thing than any regular Canadian would… We go outside, to the cars, but there’s no way out as there are vehicles parked everywhere. We wait.

 

I’m feeling quite tired at this point. I am longing to be back at the hostel winding down… I am looking at the map, maybe I can walk back? Find an alternate route? I really have no clue as to the magnitude of this. In my mind it’s located close to Taksım and if I take the same sort of route I took to get here I should get around the troubled zone. We keep waiting, chatting a bit. It’s looking a bit calmer. Özkan says: “ Wanna try walking?”

 

“Yeah, sure”

 

We get out of the car, walk about 100 feet, turn the corner behind the building.. Tear gas. We run back to the car. The theater of action has now shifted to the side and back area of TRT beyond the parking lot. Red shiny projectiles are shot at the people by the police, then tear gas, the long stream of white smoke that then spreads to engulf anything in its path. What was just a quiet area is now covered in gas lit by these red burning projectiles, people run in every direction. We just sit in the car with the windows up shaking our heads. War and an unfair one at that.

 

We keep waiting. After a while, Özkan gets a call.

 

“Come!” We run out of the car towards the building, when we turn the corner my mouth, nose eyes burn madly. I can’t keep my eyes open, I stop breathing, holy crap, that is nasty, nasty, nasty stuff. I start coughing, and try to run towards the door as best I can with my eyes almost shut. I make it inside, the security guard rushes to close the door behind us. My throat swells and hurt, I try not to cough, someone says something to me, I don’t understand then: “Water! Put water on hands and face!” I get into the washroom that is filled with a stench of sewage that makes things kind of more unreal.

 

Once I do that they rush me to the elevator, I still can’t quite open my eyes. We walk into a room with a bunch of TVs and none of them shows anything about what is going on right now. Zilch, Nada. There’s music, a football game, some talk show, commercials for one thing or another. It’s kind of shocking. You’d think it came from another planet.

 

There stood all the musicians from the concert still in their black stage garb. Everyone has something to say. I just stay silent taking all this in. I’m very much OK actually. It is just incredibly powerful. Hard to describe, but to see people stand shoulder to shoulder like this with such determination in the face of such brutality and all this in the name of trees… in the name of what they believe in. It makes me very humble and very proud of the Turkish people. To see how they handle this mayhem…

 

Finally we all head out, get in the cars.

 

“I’m best driver!” Says Özkan with a grin. I laugh. When head out on Cumhuriet street and the view is astounding. Rocks, detritus, garbage, tires, stuff all over the road like an obstacle course, our two lanes heading towards the bridge are fairly open, on the other two lanes heading towards Taksım, clouds of tear gas, police, protesters, madness. We slalom between the detritus and yes, Özkan is “best driver” bending that tired old musician’s car around any obstacle, tight street, 90 degree turns with amazing skill.

 

“Hungry?”

 

Heck I was hungry hours ago, I had not had any lunch or dinner and it’s now … I actually have no idea what time it is. He pulls off the highway into Kadıköy, we roll onto a side street. A man looking pretty ebriated stands on the corner one hand inside his fly a blank look on his face.

 

“Busy man” I said. We both laughed,

 

“Yes, very busy!”

 

He brings me to a restaurant with seats that are actually on the street pavement. He orders çorba (soup) and the waiter brings us bread made like a lattice, with some greens that look like spinach but that are sour. Özkan makes me a kind of sandwich with the greens, the bread and lemon. The sandwich and that bread were just heavenly. The soup came, spicy broth with liver I believe. It was really good. But I was full within a few bites my stomach having shrunk from not eating all day. But it did feel good to eat. My mouth and nose are still tingling from the tear gas.

 

As we sit there, a small group of people were heading towards the street. Then I saw it. One of the girls, not looking in front of her, was almost hit by a car. By some grace, her friend snatched her away grabbing her shoulder and clothes at the very last moment from the car’s trajectory. Then within a few moments, her boyfriend went from terror to rage, yelling at the driver. All his friends were trying to hold him back, the girlfriend, shocked was mumbling, still trying to grasp what she had just avoided. Finally the car took off, the boyfriend managed to kick the vehicle while his friends were restraining him.

 

“You’re gonna hate Turkish people.” Özkan said.

 

“No. Not at all. It’s human. Fear, terror, then rage, normal reaction. Dünya çevrede… ”

 

We headed to the studio. I’m so tired at this point. We turn on the TV and finally something is on. They show righteous politicians and scenes from around town. Özkan gives me the key and leaves.

 

I head for bed immediately. Try to sleep. I look at the time and it’s only 11:30 I can’t believe it. I figure I’ll sleep and wake up early to get to the hostel. I’m thinking of my things there and I am slightly worried about all that stuff sitting there…

 

I wake up.. What is this? Chanting… horns… I look out. The freeway is packed with people, cars, protesting. It’s unreal. To hear the voices, rise, echo on the buildings. Neighbors start chanting along. I wonder if the police with show up and start their nasty work again… A cat on a roof skitters off. I have shivers all over from the intensity of this humanity. So many thoughts assail me. I have no desire to sleep. In a way I’d like to go down there and join them. But I think of all the warnings I’ve been given… I wouldn’t understand what is being said… They finally fade down, their walk continuing. I go back to bed.

 

vıew of the highway from Kadiköy at 1 AM

vıew of the highway from Kadiköy at 1 AM

I wake up again, chanting again. Drums are pounded, things clink and clang, the car horns. I look outside, the freeway is again filled with demonstrators. I see a plume of smoke from tear gas rise. I keep watching. It’s 3 AM. There is light on the horizon. Then across the way, at the mosque, the call for morning prayer rises. And rises again from another mosque. And another.

 

Now what I hear is chanting from multiple sources, the horns endlessly punctuating rhythmically under the massive number of voices… A crow flies right above me, crowing… there is a breeze. It’s surreal. I watch until they disappear, fading in the distance.

 

Once more I get back to bed. It’s hard to fall asleep. When I wake up it’s barely 5 AM. I’m not going to sleep much more. I decide to go when I see that there is no traffic and people visible at the Metro-Bus station. Outside there are men at a cafe, one taxi driver cleaning his car. The throw looks at me, I just keep going. At the Metro Bus, me and other travelers realize that there is no service. I look at the man next to me, he says something I don’t understand. He walks back.

 

From Kadiköy, 3 AM

From Kadiköy, 3 AM

I really want to go back to the hostel. No bus… What to do? I know there is a ferry but I have no idea where it is and of course, my GPS is not giving me my position so I cannot consider walking back… Then I remember: The taxi, just up the street. I go back. The driver is cleaning the windows. In Beyolu, most everyone speaks English but here it’s already less frequent.

 

“Merhaba, Taksım Meydanı gidiyorum…” Can you take me I think and go blank ’cause I don’t know how to say that.

 

“Taksım… Evet.”

 

“Ne kadar?” (how much?)

 

“Kırk lira” (forty liras)

 

“Tamam” OK

 

He puts away the Windex and the rags and opens the door for me. I’m so thankful. I take a deep breath. We drive for half a block, he makes a call. He turns to me and says that the bridge is closed off. In Turkish, of course but I did understand and that was cool.

 

“Iskele me? Geri mi?” (ferry terminal? Ferryboat?”) I said in my broken Turkish.

 

“Evet! Blah blah blah… he goes on I don’t understand but it’s all good. I started to smile. The sun is gorgeous, the air is sweet. Life is full of blessings. I look around. I’m still not grasping that I am here. I am safe, I was taken care of. And now this driver is doing the same. He drops me off and says something to the effect that we have arrived.

 

“Ne kadar?” (how much?)

 

“Altı lira” (6 liras) I give him 10 and say thank you. The boat is sitting there, a bunch of pigeons eat bread crumbs, the place is downright poetic, empty at this early hour. I use my bus card, get in, run to the boat, they close the gates behind me. All the weariness washes off. We’re on the water. The views are gorgeous. I’m pretty happy to have figured all this out. I’m on my way. I wonder what it will be like in Beyoglu…

 

from the ferry

from the ferry

 

Off the ferry, I have zero clue as to where to go. There are hordes of police, with batons and riot gear, a staging area I guess. It’s unnerving. The trucks sit there and you wonder if one of them would get angry… I hurry through. I see a sign for Taksım, that is the general direction. I turn a street corner and there a taxi driver asks me if I want a ride. Hmm… Might be a good idea, but when comes the time to tell him where I’m going I can’t remember the name of the hotel street, I’m trying to tell him to forget it when a young guy approaches. He asks something to the driver, then after getting the answer turns to me:

 

“Where do you want to go?”

 

“Chill out hostel, up on Istikal and … let me look…” I have the name written in my notebook. They talk together some more while I get the name. Then we all agree to ride together. The young man works at a hotel downtown, he just finished a night shift. He asks me a few questions.

 

“I will take you to the hotel.” he says

 

“Oh you don’t have to… I will find my way..” but he wouldn’t hear it.

 

Beyoglu is destroyed. The roads are full of detritus, broken stuff, bricks, glass, plastic bottles burning piles of stuff. It’s hard to absorb. We again slalom through all this. The driver is really skillful. Some roads are blocked so we ride via really narrow alleys, cars coming in wrong directions, trucks blocking the way, we go up and down steep hills and finally we get to Taksım Square.

 

At first I could not quite recognize where I was. Then I did. Oh my God… War zone. There’s already police amassing there. It makes me nervous.

 

“Thank you for coming with me.” I told my new friend.

 

“Oh, I had to, you are alone.. I could not let you go alone.” Such solicitude. It’s a beautiful thing.

 

“What’s your name?” I ask.

 

“Emre”

 

“Danielle, nice to meet you.”

 

He walks with me all the way to the door. He must be barely twenty years old, already a gentleman.

 

It is quite a relief to get here. The familiar faces at the desk. I’m starving. I make a plate of food from the groceries I bought yesterday: Cheese, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, bread. The guy at the desk asks me if I want tea.

 

Oh yes, evet!!

 

He gets me a glass of tea.

 

“How many sugars?”

 

“today, 2! Usually I don’t but I need it right now!”

 

I take a sip, oh so good.

 

Çay çok güzel!

I sat with them, watched what has transpired from last night on line. Wow. I was right in the middle of this… As Rüya said, I witnessed history last night.

 

Here is a video of some of what I saw.  It didn’t feel right to take photos of all the destruction  so it’s pretty tame.

 

 

 

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One Response to “Istanbul has had enough and takes to the streets for the trees and freedom”

  1. Rachel Codar Says:

    I think your video is being blocked by the censors.


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