What the streets told me
“You are a journalist, aren’t you? Tell your channel that what you see around was not done by us. It is the police who did it on purpose in order to accuse us. We did not do anything. We do not want to cause any damage.” The young woman standing in front of me with a gas mask hanging around her neck had come to talk to me among the thick crowd in one of the side streets of Istiklal Caddesi (Grand Rue de Pera) a few hundred meters from Taksim Square.
Saturday late afternoon, the police had withdrawn from the square and the bars of Pera were filled with young people taking their revenge this time through their beer cans. The streets were packed with these jolly beer drinking, singing and shouting young people who a few hours before were among the huge crowd in the square confronted by the heavy tear gassing onslaught of the Turkish police. The girl could easily identify me. I was going around holding a microphone with the logo of my foreign channel on it. People rushed to talk to me. They were defiant and determined. They wanted the Erdoğan government to go and they were going to stay in Taksim until then. They had not slept for several days. “Here in Turkey, we are not all the same. There are Turks there are Kurds, there are Alevis, there are minorities. There are gay people, straight people, there are all sorts. We want everyone to be accepted and respected. This government wants to squeeze us under a Muslim identity. We do not want that. Enough is enough.”
Under the hot sun of early June, with the center of Istanbul taking a rest after a bloody confrontation with the police authorities, the young people I talked to were surprisingly peaceful. Having experienced the violent rage of some similar actions by young people in Athens during the last few years, I was surprised to see how these young, modern looking Turks, mostly students were “going into battle” with such a spirit of innocence. “You are drinking OK,” I said to a group of students who were singing loudly, raising their beer cans in rhythmic unison and calling on everybody to join in. “Of course we are. And we are going to continue until this government goes”, they said.
Hard to talk more specifically about politics in such an atmosphere. However I managed to talk to two young men working in a private company, as they told me. “This is not about party politics. This is not just about AKP. It is about human values. About rights and freedoms. It is a humanistic revolution,” they told me.
Trying to push through the thick crowd of Istiklal, I eventually found myself in Taksim Square. After the drama which had taken place a few hours before, people were now taking a respite. Among the crowd I spotted a middle aged couple looking at a gigantic poster of Erdoğan. “Why are you here?” I asked. “We are here to show with our presence that we have had enough with this authoritarian government and that the time has come for them to go. Actually, the time to go has already passed.” They were looking calm but determined. “Do you support a particular political party?” I asked. “As a matter of fact, yes,” the man said. “But this is beyond politics. It is about human rights, democracy and freedoms”. I asked their profession. The lady was an English teacher. “And you sir?” “I am a professor of Political Science.”
On the boat going to the Asian side of Istanbul late at night, I was perhaps the only one who was not clapping whenever someone shouted “Government Resign.”
And I arrived home with a strong feeling that I had witnessed the start of new social and political process in Turkey the main protagonists of which will be these millions of young Turks open to the world, who are determined to define the fate of their country bypassing traditional party politics.