— one of the anonymous videos produced and broadcasted on twitter on the protests in Turkey
I have been physically away from the protests in Istanbul, as a few days prior to all hell breaking loose in my hometown, I traveled down south to work on yet another important project, on the protection of a bay which hosts sensitive species and which is under direct threat from environmental pollutants on its coasts, mostly due to uncontrolled urbanization, a sign of times in “modern” Turkey, as well as the aquaculture practices in the bay which are pumping further organic excess material to the already saturated sensitive marine basin, a proof of fast increasing “capitalism” in Turkey of recent years.
Being away I was a mix ball of feelings, excitement, pride, anger, joy, envy, frustration, and fear for the life of my civilian friends, all around Turkey, standing as one, much like the trees in Gezi Park, and standing strong. This was not an Arab Spring, per say, this was the breaking of a dam against mild but persistent supression in Turkey, of the wish of the young people to be heard and of the old politicians stuffing their ears and going on with business as usual.
Being away helped me look at the forest and not only see a few trees. Social media, although a cacophony of everything and anything being shared, was a fantastic source of news. It still is. I have been an infrequent twitter user since the early beginnings. Now I found myself on twitter everyday, all throughout the day, as I could no longer concentrate on the work at hand, and I was in limbo, neither here, nor there, heart in Istanbul, feet in the South coast, staying up until the wee hours of the morning trying to find out what is going on in the far cities of my country: Antakya, Dersim, Ankara, Izmir, Adana, Mersin, Eskisehir, Istanbul, Turkey. All the international news outlets, having found fresh meat were flocking in on the story, and I was reading everything and anything I could find: the New York Times, the Guardian, Mother Jones, Le Monde, WashingtonPost, you name it. I was reading about “my” identity crisis, what is going on in my country, my city, my park, from the eyes and minds of the foreign press. I watched as they analyzed me, my life, my past, my present and my future. Sometimes, as the cliche ran high, I felt like screaming, “no, that is not how things are!” and sometimes I agreed, as the foreign lens was more accurate than my national press, busy showing documentaries on Hitler and/or the penguins.
As all hell was breaking loose on the streets, up in the news it was all about the “marginalists” in Gezi Park demonstrating for “a few trees.” Yet those few trees had taught us, in a matter of few days, what it means to stand together, what it means to resist together, as well as what it means to stand together against oppression and get gassed until your lungs explode for freedom.
I know that pepper spray and tear gas all too well. It is often and generously used by the Turkish riot police. At the expense of sounding like an old hag recounting war stories, in 2004 during the NATO Summit in Istanbul the amount of tear gas that was used was so generous and at such close range, that if you were a journalist chasing the demonstrations, all you needed was a strong nose to find the clashes, demonstrators v.s. the police, going on in the side alleys of Taksim. The difference between 2004 and 2013 is: back then, none of the policemen aimed to maim or to kill…
For all those of you who were wondering what sparked the demonstrations in Turkey, emailing me and asking me the story behind this massive, nation-wide protest: you heard it right, what sparked them are the trees yes, and Turkish people do follow the lines of legendary Turkish poet Nazim:
This country shaped like the head of a mare
Coming full gallop from far off Asia
To stretch into the Mediterranean
This country is ours.
Bloody wrists, clenched teeth, bare feet,
Land like a precious silk carpet
This hell, this paradise is ours.
Let the doors be shut that belong to others,
Let them never open again
Do away with the enslaving of man by man
This plea is ours.
To live! Like a tree alone and free
Like a forest in brotherhood
This yearning is ours!
What sparked these protests are trees yes, ancient and beautiful, graceful witnesses of time and of the changes that time brings. This is not the first time they are standing tall as gas bombs whiz past them. They were there, back in the day, when tanks rolled in the streets. They offered solace and shelter to those that were running from the sniper bullets fired at them on a sunny May 1st many many years ago. They were there when young couples, just married, stepped out of their wedding ceremony into the park to draw in their first breath as husband and wife. On each occasion, when someone had something to say and all hell broke loose yet again in Taksim because of it, each time TOMAs, the large riot vehicles, turned on their pressure waterhoses to attempt to sweep away the ideas foreign to the governments, therefore fearsome, therefore loathsome, the trees were always there to welcome the injured, the hurt, and give them and their ideas shelter.
And several days ago – in fact since much longer, months, maybe a year, ever since the current government pushed forward with the idea of the trees being removed to “re”-construct the square, much as they are constructing everywhere, tearing up old jasmine gardens to make room for the aluminium and glass high-rises and their small-er gardens hosting perfectly trimmed hedges – people of Istanbul, of Turkey even, stood tall side by side with the trees of Gezi Park. For the first time, in a very long time, people of all color were there. Islamists, environmentalists, left wing, right wing, all sides, all colors, all walks of life – ready to get injured, even to die for them trees. You may call them what you want, hippies, marginals, protesters, tree huggers. I will call them people with a conscience paying their respect to a bunch of trees in a suffocating cosmopolis. The sycamores symbolized everything we lost and are on the brink of losing in Turkey in the recent years: free media, free speech, as well as our jasmine gardens and old but beautiful buildings, our country side looted by the constructors, our green spaces lost to shopping malls, our rivers to dams, our heritage to “modern” investment a.k.a hot money.
Gezi Park thus became the symbol for all the beautiful rolling hills and valleys of this country, under open attack from the capitalist machinery, for the journalists jailed and silenced, and for the rest of the media scared to make a sound in case they get locked up too.
When there is no reliable/credible sources/outlets for journalism, when the investigative reporters are either discredited or in jail, when the slightest criticism towards regime becomes an “ideology”, a taboo to be fought against at all cost, misinformation becomes king.
In a nation whose media is silenced, censored, the trees of Gezi Park, thus, have taught us to find the way and the means, alternate routes, and the light at the end of the tunnel, which we strive to reach, together and in solidarity…