- Posted June 3, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Protests across Turkey
FROM ISTANBUL, WITH LOVE (AND PRIDE)
- sarahbrowngb, CNN iReport producer
The time of the mass uprising at Gezi Park in Taksim came on the eve of my departure from Istanbul. I had spent the past two years in the city teaching undergraduate Composition by day, and by night often fussing aimlessly about the rude crowds on the metro, a pedestrian’s endless risk of being run over by cars, the way nothing ever seems to function well, and the general lack of care for one’s fellow human beings. I’ve said more than once to my partner - at times vehemently with a vein popping on my forehead – that I am never coming back to live here once I take off!! Then I left the city - just one day ago and not for the first time. A week earlier we were talking in Taksim about the lost cause that is Turkey; about how “they” have taken over for good. “We” on the other hand had been dispersed: the silent opposers moping in separate corners, sighing day in and day out but too hopeless to even imagine acting. Then the resistance to something small and, by our standards normal, was planted in the heart of the city by those braver than myself and better rooted. I hadn’t had the sort of faith to think it would grow. But here we are seven days later – May 31st marked JDP’s eternal autumn.
It took only three days of protesters gathering at Gezi Park to prevent the cutting of trees, and by Day Four it was I who was transplanted, not the trees: I found myself in sheer awe and embarrassed to have complained, all along, about the people that had been my neighbors. But where were all these likeminded individuals coming from? Where had they been hiding all this time? This was the scattered opposition to JDP: the 50% whose existence had somehow been too imperceptible to matter for the past decade – not an elite or wealthy or poor or extremist assembly of Turks. Not any one class or creed, really, but people from all walks of life who wanted to say no to an antidemocratic government, though they had not discerned their compatriots all this time, staying silent.
In the past week in Istanbul (and all over Turkey) these people have decided to unite upon recognizing that too much has been taken away from them. This year has seen the prime minister telling the public how many kids they should have (3 to 5); the education of these kids would be influenced by a revised system that allowed religious schools to boom in the nation; the right to abortion is of course at stake somewhere down the line; the number of mosques in the country increased from 75,369 to 82,693 in the last decade, data says; and only days ago alcohol sale was banned from ten pm to six am. When the government gave orders, recently, to demolish the only park in the heart of Istanbul, too, (to replace it with a shopping mall!) about fifty protesters headed to the site to refuse the act. By Day Three the number was growing, and on May 31st, 2013, the protest brought in thousands. On June 1st, it had spread from the Taksim area to other parts of Istanbul and tens of cities in Turkey - taken up, also, by Turks abroad. After years of JDP reign, the center could not hold, and with things getting worse, everyone - of the half of Turkey that opposes the regime - had now had one freedom or another limited.
One wonders why the Turkish people waited for so long. Let me backtrack for a minute: I am of a generation that hardly had a chance to be proud of its Turkish nationality. I grew up with prime time news of PKK bombings; the military coups of the 80s are well known; and over the past thirty years, one tepid regime after another has juggled the nation more or less – until there was hardly any hope or energy remaining. Then one fine day, over a decade ago, a man’s man from the rough Kasimpasa neighborhood of Istanbul put his foot down. As a tenth grader in 2002, I heard my parents fretting at the kitchen table over “where” our country would be going as they read the news. As other parents did, they knew that their Turkey was headed downhill, but somehow we all chose to agree that there was nothing to be done; or the danger was not visible through proof just then, and so 50% of the country at their kitchen tables went from one year to the next, noting the harvests and wondering how much worse the changes would grow. The government never did like Turks to protest, after all.
That is the trouble, you see. With the consequent flow of events, the “them” in the picture - supporters of “moderate” Islamism - have banded with ease as the product of one recipe. They have a holy book to follow, along with a comfortable penchant for adhering to a centuries-old, defined way of being. Yet, they are ONE type of Turk (times 50%) whereas the rest of the people do not come from a single mold. The point, then, is that the “us” in this portrait - the other half of Turkey - has no aim of pulling off scarves from the heads of religious women, as feared! “We” are not hateful. ” We” only want our differences to be allowed and are not looking to rid Turkey of any one identity. Rather, it is in our multifariousness that we are Turkey’s identity: we are anyone and everyone, supporting and opposing what we will, as we choose. No one can ignore Turkey’s heterogeneity: the nation has no one face; and the people have had enough with the government claiming to be that face. This resistance movement, therefore, is not a political but a human one.
In regard to Turkish hybridity, I will not be alone if I related that my father’s mother is an immigrant from Kavala, Greece who has always covered her hair, while my mother’s mother is an Izmirite who, as a young woman, swam in the Aegean in a hot-red bathing suit. My father drinks like the Irish eleven months of the year but he fasts for Ramadan. I have agnostic, atheist friends and relatives, and those who pray five times a day. The people who are protesting as I type are those who refuse to bear one same label. They have been called “marginal”; they have been called “anarchists”; but most do not consider themselves even activists - they do not belong to a group. One thing, and one thing alone, has brought them in unison: the desire for freedom. These people are Turks; Kurds; Armenians; rightists and leftists; lovers of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, or no God; ultranationalists; expats; street vendors; gays, lesbians, transsexuals; housewives; professors; bankers; Sunnis; Shiites; kids; the elderly; shopkeepers; doctors; guitar-players; window-cleaners; booklovers; soccer aficionados; or Beliebers, for Pete’s sake! We are people with individual desires and tastes, side by side; this is “us” and we want only the freedom to choose. On Day Seven of the protests – still going strong, though the Turkish media continues to be silent - this is revolution if I’ve ever understood the term.
The catalyst, then, is that we – the 50% of us – have chosen to accept and respect each other’s differences, since we have realized that if we don’t, we may not ever again have that chance to be different. I am proud to say today that the Occupy Gezi resistance in Istanbul has picked me up from a slumber of despairing inaction; for the first time in my adult life, it has made me believe in my fellow citizens and their ability to accept one another’s differences in a united fight for the common cause of sovereignty. For the first time in a long time, Turkey has much reason for pride. I have said to friends that I would never return to Istanbul. I am apologetic; that is not true; I’ve been proven wrong. I am jubilant to feel cared about and looked out for, not by an extremist government but by other free individuals like me, whom I can refer to as “my people” at last. I am proud that, despite our differences and also in celebration of them, we have finally agreed to sit together in the park
To live! Like a tree alone and free
Like a forest in brotherhood
THIS YEARNING IS OURS.