Istanbul Gezi Park

Istanbul Gezi Park

Wilco van HERPEN
Istanbul Gezi Park

People gather in Taksim’s Gezi Park to protest the latest desicion on its demolition.

December 2012. It is a cold winter’s day. For my television program I go to Taksim Square. There is a meeting to “save” Gezi Park from being transformed into another shopping mall. Gezi Park is a small piece of green trapped in between all the buildings near Taksim Square in Beyoğlu. About 50 people are present and some of them show some beautiful Gezi Park pictures; a park that they do not want to lose because it is one of the few remaining green places in the overcrowded area of Beyoğlu. The aim is to get as many signatures from the people who are visiting Taksim and together with these signatures they want to hand over a petition to the mayor of Istanbul in order to save Gezi Park. In just a couple of hours time they collect thousands of signatures. Two days later there is good news; they will not cut down or remove the trees.

Five months later; a small group of environmentalists gather in the park to prevent workers from cutting the trees in Gezi Park. The police move in, start using incredible amounts of tear gas in order to chase away the demonstrators and a battle starts. Of all the media there is in Turkey, there are just two or three television stations that show in detail what is happening.

‘This cannot be true’

For days I am trapped in my house. I want to go to Taksim, to see what is happening but I am scared. At home I have my wife and child; I do not want to take the risk of losing them. For hours, days, I am in front of the television following the news and am frozen. This cannot be true… Because of a “small” park Istanbul is on fire. The number of demonstrators is growing hour by hour, day by day. There is no reaction from the prime minister. Once Recep Tayyip Erdoğan gives a press conference it is already too late. Things went completely out of control. The protests spread via Ankara and Izmir to more and more cities and this all because of a park.

Istanbul Gezi ParkWell, to be honest, the park is not the reason for the demonstrations anymore; the protests are against one person in particular: The prime minister. Many people are very much disappointed about how the prime minister is ruling the country. Ok, he has done a lot of good things for Turkey but, according to the people, he is losing himself. If he just would have opened a dialogue when the protests about the Gezi Park turned bitter then things might have been different, is what I hear from all the people I speak to while walking around in Taksim, but he just wants to continue with the project and does not respect the peaceful protests of the nation.

When I arrive at Taksim square it is busy. There is an interesting atmosphere everywhere I walk; it is as if I am walking around at a pop festival. If I were a foreigner who was just visiting Istanbul for a couple of days I would actually like the atmosphere there is here. But being aware of the situation I feel respect. I run towards the place where the sound is coming from and the first thing I see is a rainbow flag. .

Two realities in Istanbul

At the moment there are two different realities in Istanbul I think: the dark Istanbul and the light Istanbul. With the darkness the bad things come out; teargas; heaps of teargas and water that is so powerful it can blow a man to the ground. This is a bad and heavy feeling. Police attacking the demonstrators who are waiting for the things to come. As far as I have seen, the demonstrators are unarmed. No guns, no bombs. In a desperate move to protect themselves they throw stones, make barricades. When the teargas or water canon comes people run away in panic.

The light Istanbul is a loving sharing place where people are making music, dancing and respecting each other. A Turkish friend of mine told me that this was the first time that he had seen such an emphatic Istanbul. Nobody bothering anyone; on the contrary, people are helping each other, respecting each other and sharing with each other. Although there are no people of the municipality around to clean up the garbage I do not see one piece of garbage. There are no police in Taksim Square (of course there are civilian police but I cannot see the difference between the “normal” people and the civil police), but not one single time was there a fight amongst the people. It is strange not to see any police, police car or hear the siren Turkish police like to use constantly. For the first time in 14 years, I see a police-free Taksim and it gives me a nice feeling. It is not about being young or old; being homosexual or heterosexual, being rich or poor; it is about being respected. Respected as a human being and being respected for the lifestyle you believe in. Respect; a very important word for all the people in Turkey. Here and now people respect each other. At the moment all the “developed” countries are giving negative travel warnings about Turkey. Do NOT go to Taksim Square, it is dangerous. I hereby do exactly the opposite: GO to Taksim. Taste the atmosphere, walk around with the people and chat with them about why they are there. Before it gets dark you have to make a move. Leave the place because in the darkness there is another darkness. Darkness I have seen now but hope not to see anymore during the rest of my life.

For me it was time to go back home. I enter the metro and walk towards the platform. When I want to put the coin in the tourniquet the security tells me that it is for free now. Everybody in his or her way tries to add something. The Metro arrives and people start shouting slogans; Recep, resign. The sound is ear-splitting but people keep on shouting the slogan over and over. Once the metro leaves the platform people start talking with each other. Everybody has something to tell and finds a willing ear that listens to the stories. This is the first time I see all people in the metro talking to each other. They are sharing; sharing an unforgettable historical milestone in the history of the modern republic of Turkey.