Archive for September, 2013

Lady in Red

I wrote this piece back in May, but thought maybe I should wait until the dust cleared a bit.  It has.  Things still continue, but not with the same force as before.  Things are still uncertain as to how it will all unravel with RTE still at the helm but life in Istanbul has resumed. Only time will tell how the Gezi Park protest will make its mark on history.

Where to start?  The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of images, videos, Facebook posts, office chats, speculation, worry, humor.  The first night it all went down, I stayed up well after 1 am to watch my FB feed, the only source of information at that time, stunned at what I was seeing happen in the streets where some of the most important moments of my life have played out.  CNN Turk aired a documentary on penguins.

The image that is seared into my mind is the image of the woman in the red dress– hair billowing in the air from the pressure of the tear gas being sprayed directly into her face while other protesters scatter around her in shock and disbelief. Earlier they had been reading and enjoying the grass and sun.  The image appeared in my FB feed and being busy with work, I didn’t really stop to process what that now iconic image represented.

So what does it represent?  To me it represents passive resistance in the face of police brutality.  It represents a significant amount of people of this country rising up against a narrow-minded government that wants to rid the country of diversity and freedom and open-mindedness.  It represents the power of the people.  It represents the gentleness and pureness at the root of the protest. It represents the spirit and pride of the Turkish people. It represents all that I want in a country where I am raising my twin boys.

I haven’t joined in the protests myself, but that is only because of the goings on in daily life.  But K. has gone and was there to witness history as the people rose up against an increasingly oppressive regime. Wanting the boys to experience first hand this historical time period in Turkish history we waited until the dust settled a bit and brought the boys into the park one Sunday morning. Without getting into the politics of the situation, K. explained what was happening at the park in terms of the story of The Lorax.  Angered by the idea of trees being cut to build something, A. shouted, “But why do we need more buildings?”  My thoughts exactly.

Upon entering Gezi, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Occupying the park were hoards of college-aged kids and what they had set up was extraordinary.  A tent city complete with a library, museum, garden, cafe, lawyer stand, first aid stand, free food stands (donated by the people of Istanbul), a sound stage, children’s art corner, and clean up crews (one of whom I taught in grade 9).  Signs of peace and resistance were spray painted everywhere.  Barricades comprised of rubble blocked the roads around the park giving it all a very Mad Maxian festival feel.  We walked around like tourists, taking it all in snapping a few photos here and there.  What was overwhelmingly obvious though was the spirit behind the protest.  It isn’t just about trees, it is about freedom to think and do as one likes. It means having a choice to buy alcohol after 10:00 or wear a head scarf or not or choose your religion or have access to a good school or have  the control of your body or exercise your right to free speech or live your life the way you see fit.

What has been the most extraordinary to me has been the resilience of the Gezi protesters.  The police may clear out a street with a water gun or tear gas, but five minutes later the people are all back. RTE calls the protesters marauders (capulcu) and they embrace the word and it goes viral.  The police say clear the square and thousands more pile in. RTE accuses them of being violent and they respond with music, yoga, and ballet. Tear gas canisters are launched into crowds of unarmed protesters who shove them into buckets of water, stifling the gas. RTE calls for mothers to come and get their children from the park and in droves mothers go to the square to form a protective barrier between their children and the police. Public transportation is stopped so protesters attempt to walk across the bridge. The police prevent protesters from crossing the bridge so they sit there until the wee hours of the morning waiting until they can pass. Even after last night’s increased police aggression, the protesters have not given up.

Even the people who do not make it up to the square to protest join in.  Every night at 9:00 the city of Istanbul comes alive with the tink-tinkering sounds of thousands of people banging pots and blinking lights. The Monday after the first police attacks we all wore black.  Last week a man played a piano all night in protest; when it rained they held a tarp over him.

Some people are worried for the future of the country.  I am not sure, but my gut feeling is that this is a step forward for Turkey.  The secular Turks have finally put their foot down.  RTE has been shown he can no longer bully the people and rule like a Sultan.  Democracy is embedded deep in the hearts of all the Turkish people I know.  And that gives me hope that this country that I call my home will persevere.


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