I have been living in Istanbul for over six years now. I can remember how excited I was arriving in the city in the early morning hours and thinking how beautiful and alive it was. I was surprised by how liberal the people I began to meet were, which was the opposite of what I had expected before I came. As the years went on those liberal friends of mine, Turk and expat alike, began to complain about what they saw as a dark cloud rolling over their country. Little by little things were changing. A friend who wrote a satirical comedy talk show with a political spin (shown at 6AM I might add) had his show cancelled. Seeing the destruction in Sulukule where just days before a vibrant gypsy community had lived for over 500 years, was the beginning of the massive gentrification projects all over the city. Proposed law changes about abortion, the removal of tables so one would not be seen drinking outside, regulations on where and when alcohol can be sold, and most recently the proposed plans to build over Gezi Park. My friends who had been content with just grumbling to one another had had enough.
All Friday the 31st I had heard reports coming in at work that the police were cracking down on the peaceful protesters that were sitting in Gezi Park. Not realizing how serious it was, my fiancé and I did not cancel our plans to go to Taksim to meet friends at our favourite hangout. It was there that we got cornered by police firing tear gas down two of the three surrounding streets and basically cornering us in the bar. We were gassed very heavily that night and had to make a run for it to finally escape when the firing had slowed down.
The next day, Saturday the 1st, we heard the police had cleared out of the area and it was safe to return. The atmosphere was completely different in Taksim and full of positivity and excitement. Tens of thousands of people were dancing, drinking, and having a party in the streets all while chanting their slogans of change. No violence or looting to be seen.
On Sunday we decided to visit Besiktas to see what was happening there. People were blocking traffic outside the PM’s Istanbul office chanting for him to resign, but again we saw no violence. Not even a stone thrown. 15 minutes later the TOMA water cannon vehicles opened up on the crowd and a few minutes after that the gas began. Only after we were being gassed again did a few (and I do mean few) people begin to throw rocks at them. The fiancé and I could not believe how aggressive the police were in their gassing of protestors doing nothing but chanting their opinion.
Sunday was the last day of terrible fighting we witnessed and we have since joined the protests in Taksim and Gezi Park four more times. We have witnessed first-hand the picking up of rubbish, handing out of free supplies, and the dancing in the streets of very young children to elderly men and women, and other kindnesses of strangers to their fellow human beings. But supposedly we are all just looters, terrorists, and alcoholics according to the PM. I for one did not see any evidence to support this. While now seems to be a time of waiting and watching, I am so proud of the Turkish people who have not been afraid to stand up for what they believe in. I hope you will win the future you all deserve.
Agent K, signing out.
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