About twenty minutes ago the protests reached my neighborhood (7 kilometers from Taksim, where Gezi Park is located). Tonight it takes the form of noise. People banging on pots and pans, yelling, whistling, cheering, playing music. At some moments I cannot tell if it is angry or a party. But coupled with live footage streaming on the computer from Besiktas of tear-gas still being set off, and streets being destroyed it begins to take on the sound of protest. Last night it was the flickering of lights, moving from apartment to apartment, up and down the coastline.
Here’s the story, as far as I can tell:
There is a park in the center of Taksim, called Gezi Park. It is an iconic park in Istanbul, perhaps the only large area of greenery up in Taksim. The city decided that it would tear down the park in order to build a shopping center of some sort. Of course some people must have liked the idea, but the people who live there didn’t, and over the past few days a sit-in type protest has been arranged at the park, under the name occupy Gezi. Thursday evening we heard light sounds of protest in our neighborhood, but didn’t really understand what was going on. By Friday things had taken a turn for the worse. Friday morning (from what a friend told me) there were protesters in the metro station at Taksim. At one point they were told by the police that it was safe to come up. When they reached the top of the stairs tear gas was thrown down into the metro and the door was shut on their face, leaving protesters trapped with tear gas. The government responded to the protests by saying that the people could do whatever they wanted, the decision had been made and would not be changed. At that point the protests shifted to a more general protest, and people from all sorts of groups (football fans being a large number) joined together in Taksim, Besiktas, and Kadikoy to protest.
Friday night I met with Nikola at his work, while things were just beginning, and I talked with one of his co-workers who planned to go down to the protests. When I asked him why he told me that nothing like this had happened in years, and that he needed to be a part of it. He needed to do something. He needed to shout and scream and throw things. When I asked him if he thought anything would change he said absolutely not, without a second thought. After work Nikola and I had dinner with his boss and his bosses wife at their home, and throughout the evening we kept the television turned to the station controlled by the opposition party in Turkey, where they showed footage of protesters being sprayed with water cannons and tear gas. We continuously checked Twitter for updates, of where people were and what the police were doing. Apparently they were using jammers on the 3G networks to limit communication but people and businesses had opened their wifi networks for people to be able to post updates and communicate, as well as left out food and water for the protesters. Sometime during the evening the flickering of the lights started and his boss’ wife turned out the lights to show her solidarity. I asked them why, and whether they thought anything would change, and they said the same thing- that there used to be large protests in Turkey in the 80’s, but this generation was raised not to protest. They needed to be part of it, for it was the first really large protest under this regime, but, no, they didn’t think things would change.
In the morning we saw that a group had taken over the bridge to kadikoy, where pedestrians are no longer allowed due to a large amount of suicides in previous years. There are very few events during the year when pedestrians are allowed on the bridge, and it was amazing to see so many people walking across the channel. Nikola’s boss dropped us off at the metro, and we learned that the last two stations of the metro, Taksim and Osmanbay, had been closed due to the protests. The metro, which is almost always full to capacity, was nearly empty on a saturday afternoon. We took the metro two stops where we could catch a bus home, in a roundabout way. We considered going down to the center, just to see, but it seems like a morbid thing to just watch, if you aren’t going to participate, and I am not sure that I could or should participate.
When we got home we met up with our flatmate, who had been at the protests all night, uploading pictures to facebook. He excitedly told us that we should go- that it is fun. He seemed to actually hope that something would change, but that did not seem to be his focus as much as the excitement of the actual event. From him we learned that people who had been protesting all over the country, in Ankara and Izmir, were on their way to join the protests. Tonight was slated to be much more intense, with more protesters, and more police. All I know is that it is definitely loud, and the pictures are intense.
I am not sure how long this will continue. Will it last the weekend and then fizzle out? Will it continue until the people get a response from their government? I don’t think that anyone knows. This has gone beyond being a protest. It seems to be about participation- about taking part in something, and making your voice heard. I see the windows on my street open, people leaning out of their houses, connecting together, if only for a moment, through the banging of pots and pans and flickering of lights. The energy swells throughout the city, ripples through neighborhood in waves, like some sort of festival of protest. It is bizarre. Just a second ago I saw a group of about 30 women outside my window, going down the streets, banging on pots and shouting. Just women, all together. The sound echoing out of the houses in support of them, and the sight of these women made me cry.
I wonder what my role in all of this is as a foreigner. I have not attached to Istanbul in the past year, and I don’t feel engaged in these events. But at the same time I feel a deep sense of sympathy for this city that is rising up these past nights, and I feel the desire to support them.
While usually I am opposed to all of the voices that clamor for attention on the internet tonight I understand the need to post these pictures, write these blogs and let the world know what is happening here. I might not be out on the streets, but at least I can act as a witness, and send my voice out into the noise, to join into some sense of history and awareness. That the people of Istanbul are here, are alive, and are acting today.