Midnight at Taksim Square

Midnight at Taksim Square

Istanbul is wild and crowded. For me, being there has always been something very much like being in a jungle full of wild beasts. The most beautiful city of not only Turkey but probably the entire world somehow instills in me a very strong sense of insecurity. Doing business in that city, I believe, must be a serious pain, but spending a weekend or holidaying, however, have always been fun.

After a four-hour train travel from Ankara and almost an hour on a cab, we were at our hotel, close to Taksim Square. The late Turkish poet Yahya Kemal Beyatlı was famous for saying that the best part of visiting Ankara was returning to Istanbul. Indeed, the best part of visiting the Istanbul jungle must be the hope of returning to Ankara.

We were in the largest city of Turkey for an “info day” of the EU-financed “Media for democracy, democracy for media” program of the Association of Journalists.

The success of the program, that aims to provide structural support schemes for journalists, particularly the unemployed or young scribes as well as media NGOs, might provide a sense of togetherness and solidarity during this rather traumatic period.

Had I ask the receptionist before leaving the hotel, would he say: “Walking close to the square, down the İstiklal Avenue might not be so risky, but better you stay away from the side roads?” Moments after we left the hotel towards Taksim Square, I was firmly aware that we must forget about such freaky intentions.

The huge shop signs across the hotel were in Russian. The nearby shop had something in Arabic on its sign, and was selling copper-like souvenirs. I presumed on the copper-like souvenirs there was an inscription from the Holy Quran, but I might have been wrong. The communications shop had a placard in English, but I could not see two things on that road: 1- Except our group there were no Turks around; 2- There were no shops with Turkish signs. There were some Russian-speaking people but, not only the street of our hotel, almost all the streets leading to Taksim Square were full of Arabic-speaking men, women and prostitutes of all sorts.

From afar it was as if someone was reciting the Islamic holy book, the Quran. We could not identify at first. Moments later, we figured out that what we were hearing was some sort of an Arabic version of the “Arabesque” music that became famous in Turkey in the 1970s and ‘80s with the massive ruralization of the urban areas because of a grand “migration of tribes.”

After 41 years in journalism it must be a professional deformation, but it was so easy to identify plainclothes. To my shock, after seeing a few of the plainclothes I felt more secure, but still used my seniority as a tool to convince my friends that we sufficiently stretched our legs and perhaps it was better to limit the night walk.

After the short tour of about 45 minutes, on the way back to the hotel, when one member of our group asked if it was possible to buy a bottle of alcoholic drink, a street vendor reminded us that “in democracies everything is possible.” From under the counter beer bottles changed hands, to our shock just a little over the day-time price. Why was he taking the risk of selling alcoholic stuff after 10:00 p.m. (when the ban starts) and charging so little surcharge? He must have good turnover.

The “info day” next morning was great. Besides an exchange of information on an exceptional program offered to journalists in difficulty, the event made some old friends meet…

It was great to be back on the train later in the evening… The best part of being in Istanbul is returning to Ankara, definitely.

Yusuf Kanlı,