Friday, June 7, 2013

A Bit Of Çapulation

Look, here's the deal. I couldn't take it anymore and yesterday I went a-çapulling. University faculty and staff from various schools staged a march in Taksim yesterday and a few of us from my department, both foreign and Turkish, joined in. I took a scarf and goggles just in case, but I wouldn't have gone if I thought it was going to go bad.

You can see me about a block and half back, on the left.
One of my co-workers was handing out those small, disposable gas masks. I took one, but shoved it into my back pocket because I'm so not a joiner and I didn't want to be a part of the latest fashion accessory for Taksim by wearing it around my neck, but I wasn't going to say no to a gas mask. It never hurts to have a gas mask, after all.

Other people joined the march till there were thousands of people. I couldn't see where it started.
I didn't join the chants either, except I did say "Öğrencime dokunma" softly because a lot of our students have been out there since the beginning and I don't want them to get hurt. I'm so afraid for them and insanely, crazy proud of them and everyone else at the same time it's like I could burst.

Or where it ended.
It was fun being in the demonstration for once. Usually I try to stay away from them. We always get scary warnings from the embassy about demonstrations.

Lots of people came out of windows and businesses to watch and cheer.

We took pictures and video of each other.

Even the guys at Hilfiger.
I don't suppose there's any reason to go into the summary of all that's gone one here lately. If you're reading this blog, you are probably also reading everything else Turkey-related.

I can't stop reading everything. I've been running down my phone batteries several times a day obsessively checking FB for news when I'm not at home in front of the computer. My friend was urging me to finally go on Twitter, which I've resisted this whole time, but it ended up being okay because on the first night of the police attacks, we were on the phone to each other while watching our computers and he was reading me everything from Twitter and I was reading him everything from FB and we were sharing and reposting everything new.

I learned yesterday it's okay to call this Internet çapulling.

My friend and I both had the DHA live feed on for the first night of protests. A line of police was in front of the French Consulate firing round after round of gas at a crowd of people you couldn't see for the smoke. We watched it for over 2 hours, trying to figure out what was going on. Why were there so many people with cameras behind the police lines? When is that cutie in the plaid shirt going to pass by the camera again? Why were they firing SO MUCH gas? The trash on the ground was all the same color, and we realized is was spent teargas cannisters, so many you couldn't see the gray of the sidewalk underneath. Taksim looked destroyed.

Yesterday it was business as usual. Despite government and media claims of all this vandalism, the only broken windows I saw on businesses were broken by teargas canisters. You could tell by the shape and size of the hit in the safety glass. In Tünel, there were more tourists than Turks. I was expecting devastation. Part of the reason I went was just to check on Taksim. Except for some graffiti as you near the Meydan, Taksim seems okay.
This is the only destruction on İstiklal that was probably caused by demonstrators. The streets and the Meydan and park are sparkling clean, cleaner than when the Belediye is in charge. The protestors clean it every morning.
Later, I heard police were chasing people up the side streets, then trapping and attacking them more there. In videos you can see police doing stuff like firing teargas into houses where people have gone to hide, not to mention all the beating and other types of brutality. The water cannons had pepper spray and tear gas mixed in so it would hurt people more. They were aiming for people's heads and faces and genitalia. It became apparent the police were not trying to disperse the crowds, but instead were doing everything they could to hurt the protestors as much as possible without actually shooting them with real bullets.

An abandoned building where protestors took shelter from the police.
I don't know when this teargassing of every gathering started exactly, but over the last few months it's become normal. People gather peacefully, police come and attack them with pepper spray and teargas, a few people get beaten or detained, and life goes on. On May 1, police attacked the fuck out of demonstrators, and it's just gotten worse since then.

The French Consulate is still pretty well occupied out front.
There is actually no way that what's happening here can be described as police keeping the peace because the demonstrations where police don't turn up are completely peaceful.

And don't get me wrong-- I feel sad for the police too, at least for the ones who don't make the choice to brutalize people.

I love how they're pleased and trying not to be but they can't stop being people.
I saw a video last night where a protestor asked a cop how long it had been since he'd slept. He said 66 hours. The protestor asked him why he was doing this. The cop said it was his orders. Why was he in this job? Bread money. Why was he doing this to people? He didn't know.

"Please, pay attention, this is very important: You guys, the police haven't slept for 5 days. Tomorrow let's be sensitive and everyone bring your own pepper spray and spray it on yourself."

When the demonstrations first started, I wanted to go. I *really* wanted to go. Then I saw how violent they were getting and I still really wanted to go. I went back and forth in all kinds of contortions justifying two very bad choices to myself.

Choice A: Stay home like I don't care, even though I really, really do care and I wanted to go and help support the people I know who are down there.

Choice B: Put myself at risk.

See? It's not very good. But deciding not to go came down to two things. One, I'm yabancı and my being yabancı could potentially complicate things or cause extra problems for other people. Two, if I got hurt or arrested, someone might take my kid.

And as a yabancı, this is not my fight. I don't want to be some imperialist asshole acting like I'm telling people how their country should be run, but because I'm American, I'm automatically sort of this asshole.

On the other hand, it's not like I don't have a stake here. I'm an in-between yabancı. My dad is freaking out trying to get me to make evacuation plans.

On the other hand, I want to be the kind of mom who goes out and stands for stuff and believes in things. I want my son to be proud of me, and be proud of who he is someday.

On the other hand, if something happened to me, it would scare my son to death and I wouldn't be a cool revolution mom. I'd just be a selfish mom.

On the other hand... No, as Tevye says in Fiddler On The Roof, there is no other hand. It's an impossible situation.

So I was sort of paralyzed and scared. Everything has changed and no matter the outcome of this thing, nothing will ever be the same. My stomach is in knots and I can't really eat or sleep well. I live in a place where heavily armed police attack non-violent protestors, where the news pretends it's not happening, where the politicians seem to be inciting it. Of course, I knew this all along, but like everyone else, I managed to get on with it and keep my head down and focus on the daily stuff. Now the veil has been lifted. There is absolutely no way to know what's going to happen. Sometimes it looks good and sometimes it doesn't look good at all.

I declare him the hottest of the protestors.
At the same time, I'm completely amazed. These people doing this are amazing, how they've controlled their tempers and for the most part, refrained from making it worse. There is an explosion of anger and joy and creativity and irony and love, in this self-effacing yet subtly brilliant way Turks are so good at.

"Pepper spray beautifies your skin"
I knew something was going to explode soon. It's been building up for years. And it's exploded like this, in a way that has brought out the very best in Turkish people and society, all the kindness and strength and brotherhood (sisterhood? everyone-hood?) and knowledge and pride and enterprise. A lot of people are suddenly expressing themselves in a way they haven't, or were too scared to before. Even the language on FB is changing, and in the pictures and ideas that are suddenly flying around all over the place.

"It's been 5 days. Where are you, Gandolf, you bastard?"
It feels like the stopper has blown off. It feels like all these divisions we were supposed to believe in turned out not to be true. The big division of course was religious versus secularist. Then there are all the ethnic ones. Then there are the age ones and the class ones. These were gone at first, like when the rival football teams all joined together and when everyone in the park quiets down for ezan and when they celebrated Kandil together.

Besides the environmental destruction the new 3rd bridge will cause, His Arrogance decided to name the bridge after Yavuz the Grim, a Sultan who was particularly fond of Alevi slaughter. You can see Ali on the bus stop.
This all made me feel really good, especially the religious thing. Religion is so deeply rooted in the culture no matter a person's degree of piousness, and it seemed like people on the secularist side maybe are taking some comfort in openly enjoying religious traditions because for so long it's seemed like they could only do it in private, or else be labelled one of "them." That barrier seemed to drop a little bit.

Some of the worst of Turkish convention (I can't call it culture) is also coming into play. Our Dear Leader is trying to fan those flames of fear and division again. Both Turkish and Western media have started characterizing the protestors as a bunch of rich spoiled kids out having a big party and vandalizing everything for fun. According to the press (here especially but mentioned internationally) is that they're all Leftists and Communists and Fascist Nationalists and Kurdish Separatists and Terrorists, with a dose of foreign provocateurs, just to mix things up.

It's not just kids occupying the park.
But it's not. It's just people. Most of it is just people. However, like the US Occupy movement, no one has come up with a list of viable, specific demands. It's just that the people who are doing everything from joining the protests to banging pots and pans to giving food and medical supplies to the protestors to posting and tweeting each video and scrap of information, these people are fed up with everything. Everything everything everything. I feel it, too. I could come up with a list of things I'm fed up with, but it's not enough. It's not meaningful to people outside Turkey, like why folks would be so mad about not being able to buy alcohol from shops between 22.00 and 6.00, or why the whole nation is up in arms about some trees getting ripped out of a park that, quite frankly, was never really all that nice and I never would have gone in there at night.

It's not the thing itself, it's what it might mean. And then it's all the things piled up on each other, one after another. All those things that people didn't like but they were too afraid to say or do much about. I've felt it over the years, how more and more there are certain things you just don't talk about in certain places.

A BDP support area.
Tyranny of the majority. A faceless Anatolian rural majority the press keeps talking about. I've never met them. Apparently their votes can be bought with some charismatic, inflammatory rhetoric and a bag of coal.

Abandoned construction vehicles.
The workers' protest at my school in April was a microcosm of this huge thing that's happening now, I think. Everyone was so mad at the authority and suddenly there were enough people standing up to the authority that it felt okay to be against the authority. At first, the authority (Rektör) came down hard and fired everyone, but when the outcry continued, he started negotiating and most people got their jobs back and everything turned out okay. Rektör turned out to be a person after all.

The university people have been discussing the protests via the facultyserve for the last week, dickering over every little point of the declaration they wanted to read, and where it should be read, and who should sign it. For two days they discussed about what to wear. Regalia? No regalia? Wacky signs? The day of the march, the what-to-wear discussion opened up again and was left undecided. It reminded me of this scene from Life Of Brian.

The only way for this whole thing to turn out okay is if Tayyip starts negotiating. So far, it doesn't seem like this is his plan. Quite the opposite, in fact. He seems like he's trying to open every division he can find, milk every fear there is and escalate it all as much as possible, till there's no choice but to start shooting people.

Rektör even postponed final exams for a few days because of the protests, and now our school is officially on Tayyip's radar.

At first, all the information was flying around social media. It was kind of hard to tell what was true and what wasn't. Then the mainstream media got in on it after a week and the international press got lazy and just started reporting from the Turkish media and the information has become very confusing and now it's almost impossible to tell what's true and what isn't true. The truth has disappeared.

An occupied police van.
There's the stuff you see and the stuff you hear and none of it is the same. I've quit posting stuff until I can confirm it somewhat, and I've stopped posting everything that's scary.

I'm all over the place with this post, chronologically and otherwise. It's the best I can do, okay?

A few days ago, we went to Bodrum. It was when Istanbul traffic was still disrupted and it was hard to know what busses were going to be running and to where. The night before we left, I decided to go stay at the in-laws because they're near the airport and a lot of my angst, as it turned out, was not being next to LE.

I checked the İBB live traffic website. It showed traffic snarls in Taksim and Beşiktaş, but with symbols saying there was roadwork. At the bridge where tens of thousands of people were marching from the Asian side on foot, it showed an accident. I decided that it was not reliable information. BE acted like I was overreacting when I talked to him, and MIL had no idea really what was going on, except, as she put it, a few bad kids had gotten their heads cracked in for rioting.

So I decided to just pack and get on a minibus and ask the driver if the roads and busses were open. Drivers know a lot of stuff. "For now," he said when I asked about the metrobus. I'd thrown some shit into a backpack, not really paying attention to what I was bringing (I managed the swimming stuff and clothes for LE but failed to pack pants for myself), not knowing if I were going to get anywhere or how crowded it would be so I didn't want a suitcase. I wore sneakers in case I had to run.

Clearly, they are marginals up to no good.
It was fine. Less crowded than usual, actually. I held a minor rebellion of my own and bought some beer to drink at the ILs. Nobody liked that but I didn't give a shit. BE sort of talked to me about the protests, but then I got a phone call he didn't care for and after threatening me for awhile he stomped off to join a march outside and he's still being a dick to me. He's also mad I took LE to a little protest in Bodrum, even though that protest was a lot like the march we had at school, but with older people. LE was nervous and when we got there, he wondered where the cops with gas were. The only cops we saw were three fat zabita sprawled over the railings at the back entrance to the Emniyet, smoking cigarettes.

Most of the time in Bodrum, though, we shooed the kids off to play and watched Halk TV and took turns reading FB on the computer. It was a good trip because Bodrum is beautiful and my friend's home is home to whoever is there and we were feeling the same, both of us tense and overcome with trying to figure this all out. Neither of us feel this is the sort of thing you should keep from kids, because kids come up with things scarier than reality when left to fill in their own blanks.

Yesterday in Taksim I did not see one single cop.

Normally, I hate crowds but some crowds are okay. This crowd was okay. It's the first time I've been in a Turkish crowd and not been groped, like guys grabbing my crotch from behind as hard as they can and it's so crowded and you can't tell which guy did it and there's nothing you can do anyway because that's what happens if you go to Taksim on New Year's or any other large gathering. So maybe it's best Erdoğan's 51% stayed home, who knows?

There was lots of regional and ethnic dancing.
I wasn't worried any more than usual about my backpack or getting pickpocketed. When people bumped into you, they made eye contact and apologized and often touched your shoulder gently. I found myself doing the same. In fact, I find myself touching people a lot more than I used to and I don't know what that's all about.

The park is a feeling of nervous celebration and it's not just kids. There is every kind of help you might need, even free cigarettes.

As ever in Turkey, there's always someone nearby to sell you something you didn't realize you wanted till that exact moment, like Turkish flags and whistles and swim goggles and Guy Fawkes masks and watermelon and köfte and gas masks.

I love her.
Things are highly organized, yet there is no central organization. I'd brought some food and trash bags with me and we found a place where they were handing out free tea and cookies and tried to give them the food, but they directed us to the yemekhane because that's where they were handing out free food. They didn't even need it anymore, really. If new supplies stopped coming in, it looks like they'd be able to stick it out at least a week or two. Still, I felt like I had to do something.

Pit of halted construction.
The university march was anti-climactic. I'm not sure what happened. The group seemed to get separated in the park and no one read the declaration as far as I know. Another march for Abdullah Cömert started coming the other direction so we moved out of the way and then our banner was coming the other way so we followed it to between two barricades and there were about 30 people left, all unsure what to do.

The bus barricades are now furniture.
Everyone eventually went their separate ways.

They made this barricade with construction scaffolding.
Today, I'm still a bit of a wreck. I went out for breakfast with a friend rather than pacing the house alone. It's like I'm on crank, I just can't stop talking about this or anything else.

A cold wind started blowing and we could see storm clouds coming our way. The waiters started rolling up the umbrellas. My friend felt the direction the wind was blowing and tried to gauge which way the storm was blowing.

We hoped it was blowing the other way, out to sea, but it was really hard to tell.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic account.

peapod said...

Had been thinking about you and this situation. Good to hear from your point of view :)

Joy said...

Great to see some more local posts! I've been glued to my Twitter and FB as well since the protests started. Be safe!

Stranger said...

Thanks, guys :)

Anonymous said...


What do you now think about all this ? Hardly any cop or municipality head or in fact any offical has been held accountable for the police brutality. As far as I know, no official has resigned or been fired ! Most of the murders have been unsolved ! The cop who killed Ethem Sarisuluk is on trial but he is free at least till the trial ends !

I guess a big positive outcome of Gezi would be for it to turn into a political gain for the anti-AKP camp, but will it ?? If AKP come to power again in the 2015 general elections, most people (including me) fear that they will get even more oppressive and they will try to further Islamise the state/society !



Stranger said...

Sigh. I'm afraid it's all ended up like I feared it would. There is still no viable opposition to AKP and now they've established they can do whatever they want to quell dissent, with no repercussions for them or anyone else. The people now have zero protection from the courts (which was probably true before, but now that's out in the open). AKP has the power to ruin any person or entity that comes out against them, and they're doing it now-- somewhat systematically it would seem. This makes the probability of a viable opposition even slimmer.

The murderers of those young men will never be treated as murderers by the state. But I guess we knew that already too.

Further Islamization is also inevitable.

It kind of feels like we're back to that uneasy stasis that was there before the protests-- that either something is about to explode or something very bad is about to happen.

Thanks for your comments.

Anonymous said...

You're welcome; and thanks for the quick reply. I agree with all of what you wrote above. My slight hope is this scenario : I think that AKP will probably come as the no 1 party in the 2015 general elections BUT it might not achieve enough seats to form a government on its own, this time. Then, if, no other party in the parliament agrees to form the government with AKP, then, that might mean 'Bye bye, power' for AKP (if the other parties agree to form a government among themselves).

Is that too optimistic, you think ? :) One can only hope.



Stranger said...

I like your optimism. It's a good a scenario as any.

Fingers crossed!