I awoke Sunday morning to news I expected but hoped wouldn’t occur. With a heavy heart I read various accounts of yet another Saturday night of police action against Turks assembling…in this case to lay carnations in memory of those who lost their lives in the protests of the prior weeks.
I also read one of my favorite blogs. If you follow the link at the bottom of this post you will be rewarded with an intimate, poignant review of years of life in Istanbul and of steadfast, indefatigable ink drawings of the streets, people — and in this case, trees — by artist Trici Venola. Her post Gezi Park: Trees of Istanbul is her loving tribute to a place during challenging and painful times.
I saw it coming. Late Saturday afternoon, a visiting American friend and I were walking on Istiklal Caddesi towards Taksim Square. We enjoyed the city’s central promenade and hunted for her close friend’s childhood landmarks…two Greek Orthodox churches and a high school. One church and the school are essentially in Taksim Square.
The red trolley ran down the center of the boulevard, this time pulling a flatbed with a singing Turkish pop band. The magnificent Turkish tourism marketing machine was in high gear. After almost a month of abnormality… lower Istiklal felt normal for a Saturday afternoon.
As we approached Taksim, the energy abruptly changed. Clapping, chanting and shrill whistles of protest accompanied a suddenly dense crowd, many carrying large white “Taksim Solidarity” flags. The “Taksim Solidarity Platform” is a group of architects, academics, and environmentalists. Formed to save Gezi Park from development, it presented demands to end the original protest. I found the streamers interesting…other than the rainbow banners of LGBT groups, I saw no established opposition party flags, rather, all marched under Taksim Solidarity.
Julia asked what I thought would happen. My worry was not the crowd, but what the police would do when (not if) they began to act. Before the events of the last three weeks, I would have assumed that the tourists in the crowd would be protected. Now I sadly marvel at the force being exerted against what I understand are constitutionally legal rights of democratic assembly.
Julia and I diverted to a small street parallel to Istiklal and found the buildings we were looking for. Turning again toward Taksim Square we met an American couple who said the TOMA (water cannons) and police were there, out of our view.
It was thrilling and I wanted to see what was going on, but I also knew it was time to get out while we could. If the crowd turned, it would funnel into narrow streets. Living in Cihangir in December, I knew the back way to the Bosphorus ferry, so we discarded our plan to reach the metro by wading into the crowd in the square.
For many years, Trici has been documenting what disappears during the massive changes Istanbul has undergone. In this post she presents drawings of varying vintages to share her story:
Gezi Park, Drawing Trees in Istanbul, Trici Venola: http://tricivenola.wordpress.com