Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Carnation March on Taksim--3 Pictures That Speak A Million Words

          Three different pictures from last night's Carnation March seem to sum up the whole situation here in Turkey at the moment. I don't have actual photographs of them--sorry--but the description seems more telling anyway. Please bear with me.


We passed by Gezi Park earlier in the afternoon. The place is pristine nowadays. A herculean effort has been made by someone to beautify the place—new trees fill the park—as a Floridian, the white blossoms of the magnolias stuck out. Wide sidewalks have been laid and lined with brand new benches. Roses bushes and neatly trimmed flower beds festoon the green lawns—color exploding out of every corner. The government has accomplished in one week what no one could do for decades—turn this place into a pedestrian paradise. This Gezi Park has never existed. No space anywhere in Turkey is this clean. The side of the park that faces Taksim Square is lined with oleanders blooming a cheerful cotton candy pink. But it also has a line of police sitting in lawn chairs guarding the entrance behind police tape. They surround the entire perimeter of the park—relaxing in the grass, their heads propped up on their helmets. Billy clubs and riot shields nearby. This fantasy pedestrian park is completely empty of pedestrians. It is not only clean, it is sterile. The police hover like the angels with flaming swords guarding Paradise—it is right here in front of you, everything that you demanded, in fact, we've made it better than before--but you will never touch it again.

Channel NTV reported, ‘Gezi Park has been opened to the public! Police deny entrance.’

I stood at the steps of the park for the longest time staring past the drowsy cops into the bright, open, and empty greenery of the park. There was something deeply unsettling about the picture. Last week the park was overflowing with life and joy and optimism—with an atmosphere that was more than a festival, more than a communal expression of hope, more than anything I have ever witnessed. And now it was like a Moghul tomb, a place for the dead and forgotten, or no, more like one of the grand North Korean squares that remain ominously empty unless the government orchestrates a rally to force people to fill it. It was pretend public space—a grotesque violation of freedom dressed up to look pretty.  A beautiful menace.

Last night, a march on Taksim was organized to leave carnations in Gezi Park to commemorate the four people who have lost their lives in the recent protest—including one policeman. Tens of thousands gathered on the square and because there were too many people to orderly leave flowers anywhere, people threw them forward into the crowd toward a place where a press conference was being held. The sky filled with spinning blossoms of red and pink and white. The usual people were there--an old couple, a man with long hair and shoulder tattoos, a couple of shirtless football fanboys on each other's shoulders, couples, groups of girls in tank tops, middle aged housewives and fathers with sunglasses on their faces and kids on their shoulders. The crowd shouted the usual slogans. ‘Hukumet İstifa’ (Resign government!). Faşizme karşı omuz omuza (Shoulder to shoulder against Fascism) and our favorite, the nonsensical Zıpla zıpla, zıplamayan Tayyip! (Hop! Hop! If you don’t hope you’re a Tayyıp!!’--which is accompanied by everyone jumping merrily up and down). Instead of party flags everyone (except for a few diehard Atatürkçüs) carried neutral white flags that read ‘Taksim Solidarity’. About an hour after the crowd gathered—hundreds of riot cops and two or three TOMA tanks appeared at the top of the steps that led to Gezi. A small group of people marched up toward them with flowers—determined to lay them in the park. We expected no ‘intervention’ that night. The Istanbul mayor had bragged that ‘we won’t even add a bus stop without public approval!’ It seemed the mood of the government if not conciliatory, was at least ‘Let’s lay low a bit.’

I imagine there were insults thrown at the police—this was a march after 21 days of constant police attacks throughout the country. Arrests have started. Some people have disappeared. Hundreds have been hurt. The government is blaming Jews and foreign conspiracies and riling up its followers with outlandish stories of attacks on mosques. The commissioner to the EU Egemen Bağış is arrogant enough to issue threats to Angela Merkel for question police tactics--'People who try to mix in Turkey's affairs,' he said of her, 'Do not meet an auspicious end.' People are desperate--the protests can't just fade away as if nothing was wrong. I think in part people wanted something to happen tonight, something to show to the cameras of the international press that waited on the roof of the Burger King that things had not gone back to normal, that the same government that attacked its own citizens was still in place and eager to attack again.

Flowers were offered. In answer, a batallion of police broke through the crowd at the steps and marched into the square—people scattered in a panic. A TOMA tank appeared pointing its water cannon at random groups. Everyone had seen on the news how police added liquid pepper spray to the tanks, and how that spray caused severe burns. The square emptied--it looked like a stampede—and then the water cannons fired. I was hit in the leg—there was a slight burning sensation in my nose. I think they added gas but not much—and we dashed into the Ottoman Palace hotel. This is where I saw the second picture that symbolizes this whole movement.

In the doors of the hotel, a Saudi woman in black was screaming hysterically at the sight of the TOMA tank coming down the road. She had a chubby little boy in front of her who was crying and looking all around him as if for a way out of the panicked people pressing in on them from the outside. Inside another Saudi woman and a little girl were watching the first woman and sobbing. Someone tried to pull the first woman inside—the doorman I guess—and the woman fought him. ‘Get away from me!’ she shouted in English. ‘Get away from me!’ A crowd managed to pull her back into the lobby and sit her on a couch, and there, the four Saudi tourists gave full into panic, shouting and sobbing and staring fearfully out at the streets. ‘My son is out there!’ the woman started screaming. ‘What’s wrong with you people? I lost my son out there!’ A group of protesters taking shelter from the water cannons tried to calm her. Others went out to look for her little boy. The hotel doorman seemed irritated. ‘Would you please calm down! You’re making a scene.’

It wasn’t that he was cold or unfeeling I think. But we were all so used to these scenes by now. Nothing struck any of us as all that out of the ordinary. The first question was 'why was she screaming?' The second question was 'Why weren't we?' This panicking Saudi family had the normal reaction—the shrieks and screams and tears were far more reasonable than our urgings for her to calm down.

The boy was found—he was with his father. They came in and joined the women and after hugging each other tightly for a second they went back out into the street—their hotel was elsewhere it seemed. We asked the woman if they had to go—it could be dangerous outside. She started to cry, ‘I don’t know!’ And she went out anyway.

Clashes went back and forth all night. While we sheltered in the hotel, a gas attack came up from the direction of Istiklal Avenue and another wave of people ran into the hotel. The gas was trapped in there, however, and pretty soon we were all choking, our eyes red. We ran outside for the relatively fresh air. By this time, my wife and I just wanted to go home. Line upon line of police blocked every exit to the park. The same ambulance kept circling the square—it went by six times--sirens blaring as if it carried a patient. Later , according to a Twitter report, 12 police were seen climbing out of the back. There were undercover cops everywhere. One boy in a yellow ‘Qatar’ jersey sheltered in the lobby of the hotel we were at. An undercover cop in a black hat was yelling at him. ‘Look at you! You were supposed to wear a Fenerbahce jersey! Take it off and turn it inside out!’ ‘But why?’ the boy protested. ‘If I walk around with a shirt inside out, I’ll stick out even more!’ ‘Do it because I said do it!’ the policeman barked. ‘And wear your undershirt over it!’ ‘They’ll know me,’ the boy said, but did as he was commanded and went out into the streets with an inside-out Qatar journey worn beneath his undershirt. Taxi drivers waited calmly in their cabs as tanks chased protesters and gas plumes billowed around them. Cops, too? Dozens of undercovers reportedly pose as cabbies.
The crowd's chants changed.

'Police, don't betray the people!' they cried
'Don't throw stones!'

At some point, during one of the gas attacks, an aging, moping street dog loped into the hotel and cowered just behind the sliding glass doors. No one chased it out. The doorman called it over away from the door and the brunt of the gas and let it stay inside until the air cleared and the crowd went out again. The dog reluctantly followed them with an air of quiet resignation. I’ve seen pictures of the horrible effects of the gas on street animals. Kittens blinded, cats and dogs choked to death, dead birds.

The police filled the side streets. They were arresting people, according to rumors on the street. Istiklal Avenue—the main shopping artery—was filled with gas a mile down toward Tünel. Police were using rubber bullets again—I saw a rifle in one young officer’s hands. We hesitated going home—not wanting to get rounded up or stuck in a cloud of CS. Then we discovered, strangely, that the metro was still open—and made for the entrance. We reached home without incident--you would never know from the rest of the city the chaos at Taksim.

The final picture I would like to share is one that I wrote about in an entry a week or two ago, but one that keeps coming to mind again and again. A journalist friend said to me today that ‘As crazy as this is, this is still a first world police intervention, not a third world one.’ There were no massacres or disappearances or deliberate murderers. For the most part, no one was using real bullets. ‘But the third world part,’ I said. ‘The really scary part is not necessarily all this police violence, but the arrests that follow. People are starting to disappear into the jails in successive waves—and we know that with all the falsified evidence, the kangaroo courts, the fanatical judges and secret witnesses that they will never come out. Hundreds of people to disappear into Turkish prisons.’

Remember, please, the new courtroom I saw in Silivri during my father-in-law’s trial. In the old courtroom, there were about 80 seats for the press to the right of the prosecutor’s podium. Now the seats for the press are in the back corners, slightly lower than the rest. About 45 seats have been added for defendants—there were already over 200 in the old one. In the old courtroom there were about 150 seats for defense lawyers to the left of the judge—a huge number yes, but in the new courtroom, on each side of the judge are 180 seats for defense lawyers. A total of 360 seats!  This is a symbol of the future as the AKP would have it—gigantic mass trials, with the press given a symbolic but marginal place in the back, out of the way and without dignity. This is the fate awaiting all the doctors and lawyers rounded up by the police for helping protesters (in the government’s increasingly fanatical minds—terrorists helping the ‘interest lobbies’ and ‘dark foreign powers of infidels. Even now the PM is giving a speech in Samsun where he rants at a crowd of true believers about the heathens who go into mosques with shoes and get drunk and attack head scarf women. 'One of our prayers' he shouts. 'Can defeat all of them.)

A sketch I made of the courtroom--cameras are forbidden--three judges up front, the prosecutor (savcı) to the right.
3 defining pictures. A triptych of the State to come. The sterile, empty, newly planted park; the panicking Muslim tourists and jaded locals; the restructured courtroom. We will do our best to look just to the outside, mocking you in the process, and rending all justice forever out of reach of those who oppose us. We will accustom you to this treatment so that you find it normal. You will forget what you are entitled to. And in the end, we will judge you. You will come to our courtrooms and we will lie about you and no one will question us.
And you will never leave.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this very much. We are all becoming victims of domestic violence, this pretty much sums it all up, "We will do our best to look just to the outside, mocking you in the process, We will accustom you to this treatment so that you find it normal. You will forget what you are entitled to. And in the end, we will judge you. You will come to our courtrooms and we will lie about you and no one will question us. And you will never leave."