NB- the following is not to be mistaken for astute political analysis. It is not. It is the frustrated rantings of very tired protesters. Agent L realizes her analogies are rather fraught.
Today 250,000 members of the KESK union went on strike and many marched to Taksim.
I had to work.
After work I grabbed a pack of smokes from a tekel in (fuck my life) Bakırköy. The man behind the counter asked if I was going to the meeting.
“Be careful,” he said. “When they see you’re foreign they’ll shoot you.”
“Um, no they won’t.”
I was then treated to a rant about how the whole problem with the country was the Kemalists, which I finally interrupted by saying,
“I see your point but that really isn’t what this is about. But thank you, good night.”
“You’re welcome,” he said reflexively, in a confused voice.
(I know I keep my feelings well hidden, but I really don’t like Bakırköy.)
I grabbed a dolmuş from (fuck my life) Bakırköy and got to Taksim at ten after ten. Taksim was a big party- families with children, kids, old people, various workers from the union wearing their uniforms… Gezi Park was so packed there was no room to sit.
There was rubble everywhere, and graffiti. Sidewalks were torn up, and at one point on the walk from where the dolmuş from (fuck my life) Bakırköy let me out to Taksim, I passed through a sort of gulley that definitely had tear gas hanging about, but otherwise it was no different from a raucus Saturday night in Taksim, minus cops, with a lot of people wearing those V for Vendetta masks, and everyone had come prepared with gas masks and lemons. Other than that- just a party. For me, because I was meeting my pals from work, and my Turkish friends seem adverse to moving and have a much higher threshold for boredom than I do, boring.
I wandered off at one point to check on Beşiktaş, which did not have a good night two nights ago. The barricades were much more impressive and impassible than the last time I saw them. The sidewalks were gone. I passed through a couple barricades and just hung around. It’s a bummer to not have anyone to translate, but my general sense was that though there were lots of tense young people waiting, the cops weren’t coming. I wandered back. Everyone from work was right where I left them. I sighed, inwardly.
I left as soon as it was polite.
I grabbed a dolmuş home and sat next to another yabanci, and we chit chatted, as yabanci do, trading work stories and stories of where we were when what happened.
“I’m really there, not to watch, but ’cause the last six months have been terrifying for me, politically,” I finally said, somewhat infuriated with her west-coast liberal grasp of the facts. (She was not, in fact, west coast liberal. Just a good embodiment of the “I read three articles in The Nation once, so I know what’s going on” type.)
“What do you mean?”
I didn’t roll my eyes.
“Well this whole thing with the abortion ban and the alcohol ban- he rushed those through parliament without consulting people. In the east? Fine. Here, in Istanbul, where folks are still largely secular, you should tread lightly when you try to pass a bill like that. He didn’t.”
“What do you mean about abortion? He had an abortion bill?”
“How long have you been here?”
I shook my head and carried on, perfectly comfortable on my soapbox.
“He has an incredible amount of power now because there isn’t a viable opponent. The left, as we think of it, is shattered into a hundred fucking parties, all infighting. You were right, earlier. This movement lacks focus. It lacks a figurehead and a message. The best case scenario is we give opposition party ministers the gumption to oppose him from time to time. That’s a pretty good outcome, ’cause right now he has free reign, and anybody who doesn’t believe exactly as he believes has no voice, no voice at all, in government. When he came into power, the country was a mess. He made the trains run on time, he improved the economy. On paper, anyway, but that’s another story. He became popular, lots of people voted for him because of the improvements they saw, and he’s been using his popularity to slowly chip away certain important freedoms and rights. I have a fair number of journalist friends, and a fair number of Kurdish friends. I know someone whose Kurdish father in law has been sentenced to what we would consider cruel and unusual punishment, for going on a hunger strike against conditions that we would consider cruel and unusual punishment. It’s fucking TERRIFYING if you look at the progression of events. First he jailed the…”
“No. First he jailed the journalists. This country has more journalists jailed for no reason than any other on earth. Then he jailed the generals. And the army, you know, has always been the check and balance to the government. Then he went further and started jailing the intellectuals, artists, writers for…”
“Insulting the Prophet Mohammed.”
“Precisely. And that’s terrifying. No one cared much when it was just Kurdish intellectuals, but now that it’s spread… It whiffs too much of Argentina for my taste. And when he accomplished all that he started doing whatever the fuck he wanted. And his rhetorric- his divisive us-them talk. Jesus. Miloseviç, anyone? Anyway, that’s why I’m here. That’s why I’ll be here tomorrow. Tonight might have been the sign of a ceasefire between police and protesters. Or it might have been a reprieve. There were a lot of cameras there, and kids, and old people. Same as Saturday. But after Saturday came Sunday when just the college kids were left, and Sunday was brutal. So we’ll see. But tomorrow is the night it’s important to be there, even if we’re tired and not sure what we’re fighting for.”
“Excuse me,” Said the Turkish lady with perfect English on the other side of my new yabanci friend, “I couldn’t help overhearing. What you said- perfectly summarized everything. Everything we’ve been fighting for. So many Turkish people don’t know this-”
“Oh tell me about it. I worked in (fuck my life) Bakırköy tonight and it took all my will not to let my head explode.”
“How do you know all this?”
“How do people not, is the better question.”
“Why do you know this? Why do you care so much?”
“Because I want to live here. And if he keeps on keeping on, I can’t. His policies have started to affect my life, and my friends’ lives, so fuck him. Fuck. Him.”
“Say that again, it sounds so good!”
We chatted on for a while about credible and not credible news sources, that kind of thing, and then about how peaceful the night had been.
“I talked to the police,” my new Turkish friend said.
“Brave woman,” I said.
“I asked why they were just standing there tonight, not doing anything. They said they won’t interfere anymore.”
“Who knows if it’s true,but that’s what they said.”
“Very interesting. Shit. I missed my stop.”
Update: Of course, an hour after I left the police started gassing again. So much for not interfering.