Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Walk Around Taksim Square

Yesterday, we went down to Taksim Square and Gezi Park to check out what was going on. While it's a little harder for me to keep up with events considering my Turkish is only intermediate, I think it's fair to say that if you judged the situation here just by the news, you'd think that the protests were over and everything had returned completely back to normal. But as we saw yesterday, that is definitely not the case... The violence has ended, at least in Istanbul, but the large-scale protests continue.

Part of the reason for this, in my opinion, is that the government has not backed down an inch. What they are thinking, I cannot say, but it's undeniable that the protests became what they are because of the police response and the government's aggressive and dismissive statements about the protesters and their motives. So far, three people have been killed and over 4,000 injured. The protesters come from all walks of Turkish life, but government officials have called them drunks, "looters, marginal and members of illegal organizations" and "foreign enemies who envy Turkey." While President Gul and deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc have made conciliatory statements in recent days -- Arinc said two days ago that he would meet with members of the Taksim Platform (the group originally campaigning to save the park) and suggested that a referendum might be held -- the prime minister went on a diplomatic trip to North Africa, which many people saw as a sign that he didn't consider the issue worthy of his attention or time.  Throughout it all and as recently as today, the prime minister has insisted that the Topcu Barracks will be rebuit in Gezi Park; a few days ago, he also added that they would be building a mosque in another part of Taksim Square. "'A mosque will be built in Taksim,' said Erdogan adding that he did not have to receive permission from the main opposition leader or a 'few marauders' for the projects," according to a recent newspaper report. Even though the Turkish stock market and the Turkish lira have taken a hit, I think it's fair to say the message has not gotten through. :(

So, no surprise, people are still out at Taksim and in Gezi Park "occupying."

We first walked down Istiklal Street to check out the graffiti and damage. There were a number of store windows broken, and almost all of the ATM machines we saw had been destroyed.

There was also a TON of graffiti. Some of it was quite funny -- in the photo below, the one to the right that shows part of a red ATM machine, the top piece of graffiti reads, "We will find you, Joffrey the blond! The brave ones are on their way from Winterfell," for all you Game of Thrones fans.

The graffiti showing the man's face portrays Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in a variety of poses. "Kimyasal Tayyip" means "Chemical Tayyip." I assume the penguins are there because over the weekend, CNN Turkey aired a documentary on penguins instead of covering the violent clashes between the protesters and the police, and the penguins have become a bit of a symbol of the local news media's lack of coverage here (which is a whole other story).

There had also been a multi-day public sector strike going on, and while we were there, we saw a number of groups marching.

But despite all the damage and the continued peaceful protests, I was also surprised by how easily everyone was going about their regular business -- while things are not back to normal in the sense that this is still a burning issue, people have cheerfully rebounded from the chaos that was Friday and Saturday. While some people gave away free face masks during the height of the violence (and people continue to give away free food and drinks), we saw some entrepreneurial souls selling cotton candy, drinks, and V is for Vendetta and gas masks around Istiklal.

After our stroll down Istiklal, we walked the perimeter of Taksim Square. There are still a number of damaged and overturned vehicles blocking the roads up to the square, and they've seemingly become photo ops for gawkers like ourselves. There were also a couple of destroyed city buses next to Gezi Park, and those have seemingly turned into hangout areas for local teenagers, teenagers who I suspect aren't much interested in the actual protests. :)

Our last stop was Gezi Park. I was actually shocked by how many people were in the park -- it was absolutely packed, and there were still a lot of tents up, which suggests that there is a permanent group camped out there.

In the area where the trees were taken down, some people had planted a small garden. Some of the little plants had an IV bag attached.

So, that's what's happening here. I'm not sure where or how it will end...stay tuned. But I hope there can be some actual reconciliation on the issue of the park. Because just look at this city -- so much concrete, so few trees...

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  1. Your photos and comments offer some useful insights to those of us who are not there to see for ourselves. 12 days have passed since your last post. I hope you are OK, and look forward to further installments.

  2. Has it really been that long? :( I don't know, I guess I've just felt a little hopeless about it all...


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