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LOCAL > Gezi Park is now a utopic ‘Freetown’

ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News

Istanbul’s city center is now a timeless place after the police withdrawal. Closed by barricades, Gezi Park and Taksim now belong solely to people and ideologies previously deemed closed to the mainstream

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Two people walk beside a wrecked police car left on Taksim Square. Istanbul’s city center is now a surreal, timeless place, completely occupied by people following the police withdrawal. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL

Two people walk beside a wrecked police car left on Taksim Square. Istanbul’s city center is now a surreal, timeless place, completely occupied by people following the police withdrawal. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL

Çetin Cem Yılmaz Çetin Cem Yılmaz cetincem.yilmaz@hdn.com.tr

At the entrance of Copenhagen’s famous Freetown Christiania, visitors are greeted with a hand-painted sign reading “You are now leaving the EU.” Right now, something similar can be said for the Gezi Park – it’s no longer Istanbul as you know it.

Since the police withdrawal from the city center on June 1 as a result of clashes with protesters, the Taksim district has been occupied as could never have been predicted. Closed with barricades, the central district now solely belongs to the people, and to ideologies that were previously deemed completely closed to the mainstream.

Bright lights and loud music coming from İstiklal Avenue are not there. Shops are closed, and graffiti fills their windows. On Taksim Square, it feels like the post-apocalypse has met the day after revolution. A wrecked NTV van and a crashed police car have been left like remnants of the Berlin Wall, open for photographing. The iconic Atatürk Cultural Center (AKM) has been covered with flags: Legendary 1970’s revolutionary Deniz Gezmiş looks down on the area, while next to him are posters of left-wing groups and a “shut up” call to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Just a week ago, even the thought of such a scene was impossible. Now, with the occupation, it has become the reality.

Forty-nine percent

Make no mistake, even though it has a passing resemblance to the “Occupy” movement, this is not a “We are the 99 percent” action. It is more like, “We are the 49 percent.” It is the mobilization of thousands who do not find themselves represented in the Parliament. The protests were more about people, mostly youths, making themselves heard by a government that enjoys too much comfort from its majority and forgets to hear the concerns of the minority.

As a crowd that was complaining of discrimination, the Gezi people are embracing their differences beautifully. On June 1, slogans were silenced when a prayer call was heard. “From now on, respect for every belief will prevail,” one said. That approach was again used yesterday, when they asked people not to drink alcohol out of respect to the sacred night of Lailat al–Mi’raj.

Inside the Gezi Park, the utopian feeling is multiplied. There are open buffets for people feeding themselves, yoga sessions in the morning and now, a library. Every morning, after the police withdrawal, protesters got the area squeaky clean. People have fun in their own way and nobody intervenes: Kurds dance their halays, Laz people do their horon dance, and a group with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk flags chant their slogans - All this happens within a few meters’ distance.

There are lots of differences, but no conflict. There are no police, but it’s safe. No hierarchy, but a humane order.
 
For a country where the democratic tradition is about rights being given from the top to bottom, it is about reversing the order.

It is about sharing, kindness, and reasoning. So romantic, for sure; but it is there.

We know that it won’t be forever. Enjoy it while it lasts.

June/06/2013

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