Letter from Taksim – 2

4 June 2013, Taksim

Here’s more: the atmosphere last night was absolutely amazing. As of early evening the whole city seemed to erupt into a festival-like atmosphere of people making noise with pans by their windows/front doors and turning house lights on and off. I packed my speedo swimming goggles, cheap face mask and plenty of water and headed for Taksim via a rather long route to avoid some reported clashes by the PM’s Istanbul office. My excitement, as I was approaching Taksim through the narrow streets, build up and once there what I saw amazed me. It was my first evening there and I really wasn’t expecting such a big crowd. The school I went to is down the Istiklal street nearby and the bus from home used to dropped me on this square every morning as a teenager- a genuine Good for Nothing- so I’m nostalgic about this area and I’ve seen it take all sorts of shapes in all sorts of protests but I have to say I’ve never seen it like this. Tens of thousands were there: young people, men, women alike… calmly and peacefully roaming about and continuing the resistance! People waving a whole variety of flags: Kemalist, LGBT, Revolutionary left, Unions etc. Every now and again the square would erupt in a chant: “Down with AKP”, “Shoulder to shoulder, we are against Fascism” but apart from that this was not a demonstration like i’d seen before, it didn’t seem to be driven by particular politics. It was quieter than a normal protest, it felt almost more personal/individual yet we were together in the same space. I couldn’t make sense of it to start with.

I met up with my friends whilst news and smell of gas started reaching the square from two separate corners. It was tense and electric. Unsure of what the danger is we roamed like most people did occasionally chanting slogans, our small group preferring the simply anti-fascist or “pro-Gezi Park” ones. But tweets about police heading back up to the square was all over and the uncertainty was weighing heavy. All around people would say or be overheard speaking on the phone: “they’re coming up now” “we should go” Some in our group wanted to head back too. “Not much is happening anyway” they said. And I have to admit paranoia got the better of me and I tried to make some excuse to reach the Istiklal part of the square where I know we can be closer to my friend’s house. Another tweet: “they’re coming up with all the white shirt thugs.” Thousands of people and no media vans in sight. It was still calm but scary. Now a text: “false info. all calm”. someone said: “is it worth all this fear. I want to go home”.

A small voice started nagging at me: “What am I doing here? what are we really wanting to say?”  I pressed on my friend “if we’re gonna stay here shouldn’t we protest more actively? and what is our message, anyway?” “This is it!” he responded “We are resisting by staying here despite our fear” Still restless “All right” I said “and please keep reminding me of that!” He was dead right!

It was a tough job and I had real trouble fighting the fear. It’s always sitting as a knot at the bottom of my throat and sadly I feel it’s firmly in my body even in my blood. It’s been there since the moment I realised last week, when police attacked the protesters, I should go down to Taksim and support them; and it’s been there when we walked last year arm in arm for justice for the murdered journalist Hrant Dink; and the knot of fear has been feeding on stories of Lefty friends being beaten in police station and spending time in prisons; and it’s been there since i sat with one of my best friends listening to his mum’s stories of killings during the Armenian Genocide; it’s been there since, having moved to London more than 10 years ago, I’ve become close friends with people from other minorities, Alevis, Kurds and heard of their family’s stories of fear; and of course since, as a kid, I realised my dad’s fear of crowds he inherited from that night of 6-7 September 1955 when as a 10 year old he hid from angry crowds out to massacre Greeks and any other minorities on their way.

So it was a tough job and I admit there’s a whole load of emotional stuff I’m very ready to load on to this Gezi park demo but i’m now convinced of one thing: For me it’s the police violence that’s been happening all over and the state brutality over decades that brings us together, the threats from Erdogan, that if needs be, he’ll muster 1 million people is what brings us together… to simply stand by the trees in resistance to the fear and in solidarity with people who were inhaling a whole load of gas all over cities in turkey last night. Now i understand. The threat is both outside and inside, and that is why, in the poet Nazim Hikmet’s words last night we were:

“alone like trees yet together like a forest”

So in Taksim when i was there was only the smell of gas but plenty of fear. Tonight I’ll go back to Taksim armed with the hope that both the gas and the fear are gone.

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