Saturday, 1 June 2013

Cumartesi : Saturday

Last Thursday afternoon I walked home through Gezi Park  after my lessons at the American hospital. I always walk through this park after my lessons. It's a nice little green lung with shady trees, lounging, happy dogs and men frying köfte to feed passers-by.  On Thursday it was a little more busy than usual. People had congregated in small groups to play tavla, read books, sing songs and chat. Young people, old people, people in suits,  men with pony tails that L'Oreal would most definitely asserted were 'worth it'.  It was a peaceful, happy place. Some had erected cute tents and were cooking tea on small fires. As I left the park I saw a bus of young serious-looking policemen arrive, they disembarked and disappeared into a fenced off area near the park.
Istanbul, it seemed, was as quirky and contradictory as ever.
Fast-forward Friday  and that happy little gathering was no more. Instead the streets where I live ( and yes unfortunately I actually do live right next to Taksim Square) were thick with gas and the sound of  chants and blasts.  Helicopters were circling overhead and my street was filling up with disoriented people clutching their eyes and their faces, hurt but not defeated. I went out looking for Three-Paw who seemed undisturbed by the gas but a little perturbed by the masses. Still no amount of coaxing could encourage him into my house ( my accident really must have done a number of him). At one stage I even grabbed him but he was of the opinion that the streets were far safer than the-house-of-the-morning-head-smasher. Or perhaps he really is just a street cat after all and I have to learn not to project my fears onto such a wise and all-knowing beast. Either way,  eventually I had to retreat inside, my skin and eyes on fire.
I went to bed around 1 am to the sound of circling helicopters, random  blasts and the banging of pots by my neighbors. (Apparently they bang pots out their windows to show solidarity to the protesters passing below them. I am such a great assimilator I even joined in a bit of pot banging as well.)
When I woke up the street was quieter, Three-Paw was even lounging on a step much to my enormous relief. (Cats I have discovered really do not seem to mind tear gas and dogs like protests because they can run along side the protesters on one giant walkies.) Anyway I decided to go up my road to get some water and soon discovered that not only were all the shops closed but the street was deserted apart from a column of police and a few burning bins. I was quickly dragged into a doorway and offered water and lemon spray while the police marched by and 'cleared' the street once more.  Just down the road I could see black acrid smoke billowing out of Taksim Square and the familiar smell of tear gas.
When the trouble passed I went back down my road and decided to head for The Bosphorus. I didn't want to sit in my apartment like a caged bird all day. Over the next few hours I encountered various armies of marching folk, a nest of police buses and the odd whiff of gas and smoke. But as the day progressed the spirit seemed to change. People started marching towards Taksim Square. The police did not stop them. Old people young people, couples, dogs. These weren't anarchists or extremists just people trying to speak their minds.
Later in the evening - and the whole of Istiklal Street and Taksim Square belonged to the people once more. They seemed perversely determined to consume as many beers as they could  but not in a drunken way...just in a I-am-choosing-to-have-a beer kind of way. There was a not a police person in sight. Istiklal Street looked destroyed. Glass everywhere, torn up pavement, graffiti...but filled with people walking and chanting and eating ice cream, enjoying the freedom they feel they have earned. Had they got their freedom? I wasn't sure yet. There were no police about but how long would they be able to mass in the square without supervision.
Finally I went home, relieved it was quiet if not fully at peace.
I think my watching friends were happy for the quiet too.

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