EVENTS / HISTORY / istanbulogy / June 13, 2013

#Resistanbul Diaries #1 Sleepless in Istanbul

IMG_2694     IMG_2649



Three weeks ago; I had a nightmare. We are in a post-apocalyptic city… Abandoned buildings, dead silence in deserted streets, no soul around. We find shelter in an old, empty plant… More people pour in. A friend holds my hand. Chemical gases are sprayed on us; we shrink, and turn into ashes on the ground. And you know there is this final moment you usually have when you are having a nightmare; the mind tries to wake you up saying “this is a dream!!” Unfortunately mine was: “this is not a dream, nihan, this is reality” just before I die. I wake up soaked in sweating, could not shake off the feeling for a couple of days. I tried to interpret it in the best way I could; hmm something is coming to an end, something spectacular is about to happen. Every death is like a rebirth? Hmm? Still creepy. A few days later, the Gezi Park protest broke out.

(1st Photo: a pun on the word Istanbul; isyan means resist. resistanbul)


IMG_2673     IMG_2574



I do yoga, and meditation. There is not much room for alcohol, smoking or meat in my life. That weekend, I had wine on two different occasions; I had to have some mind-altering substance for the reality was too much too bear. I saw it coming but had no idea how it would unravel itself. The tension in the country was escalating, the general discontent with the government policies dictating us how to lead our lives was growing. All the while, I was thinking whether I have put enough emphasis on the concept of fascism as a teacher in my classes.

We felt more trapped every single day, because we were made to believe we were just a minority. We have been constantly insulted and told off by the pm like small kids. We were told what to watch on TV, how many kids to have, what color lipstick to wear, when to drink alcohol, what kind of birth giving to have, how to observe Islam according to the mainstream Sunni tradition while my country has become the world’s biggest prison for journalists, as Chomsky observed, the figure being more than China and Russia combined. All the while, so many high rank army officers have been jailed on the accusation of being involved in an alleged plan for a military coup d’etat against the government. All the while, the Turkish judicial system failed to prevent violation of fundamental human rights. All the while, our pangs of conscious swelled as a result of keeping silent in the face of injustice done to other people. All the while the public places and buildings and the valuable land in the city center and around the Bosphorus have been handed over to private companies with close ties to the government for the construction of shopping malls, luxury condos, and exclusive hotels disregarding the communities living in those areas. All the while, the society has been polarized by manipulation.

What we had was a bullying big brother instead of a leader who would embrace us all. One of the tweets I remember was “We liked the possibility of your being a true democrat”, which I believe was the general sentiment among the secular populace, which has or has not voted for him.






It all started with a tree (video) in a small park, called Gezi… where the homeless take shelter at nights in Taksim, the hub of Istanbul jungle. It is amazing in the fall, when the leaves change color, and I always felt it is so underrated as we usually go for the Bosphorus culture over the park culture. But aren’t we quick to learn? Do you know this is not the first time Istanbullites claim their trees against urban transformation projects? During the Menderes government of 1950s, which is responsible for the demolition of old Istanbul for the sake of urban development, in some neighborhoods people resisted  cutting down of the century-old maple and gum trees in their neighborhoods for months by hugging them.



In the beginning, there were a hundred people protesting the demolition of the park for the construction of a faux-Ottoman barracks planned to be used as a shopping mall. With the excessive use of force and chemicals by the police, the crowd swelled in to a thousand. Then, hundreds of thousands people have taken to the streets in Istanbul and other cities around the country to pressure the government to resign within a few days. And the woman in red has become the symbol of the resistance over a night. (Photo credit: Osman Orsal-Reuters)


symbolofgezi      disproportionate wit



Everybody went out for a different reason. Some people could not put up with the extreme violence exerted on the peaceful protestors staying in tents at the park as early as the morning prayer at 5. Some could not put up with the arrogant and bullying discourse of the pm. What compelled me to go out and join the masses was this photo I saw on FB: the guy reading Maxim Gorky to the policemen. Not the disproportionate use of force and chemicals by the police but the use of wit by the activists! I felt this is gonna be a totally different one. A brand new discourse. (Photo credit: anonymous)

On the first evening of the violent attacks to the park, I saw hundreds of thousands of people marching to the square, among which were so many of my former students. I felt so proud of them. Upon the teargas thrown upon the crowd, we started running back. I saw one of my students shouting “Don’t you ever run back and escape!” he didn’t see me, I was wearing a thin dust mask, as it was the first day of the protests. I felt embarrassed. Then, I realized I taught the word, fascism, well enough.


thebus     yannisbehrakisreuters2



On the very same night, I saw a public bus parked in the middle of the road. The driver was clumsily lying about his key being lost… It was parked in such a way that no ambulances could head to the hospital a few hundred meters away. Or it was meant to trap the protestors to taksim? He was not lynched; dozens of people moved away the bus to open the road. I felt terrorized, “Do they hate us so much?” Is this the movie, “Sleeping with the enemy”? I thought this was the end of humanity. Then, within a few days, I realized this was just the beginning.

What happened on the first week of the Gezi Park protests? Here is the story. (Photo credit: Yannis Behrakis-Reuters above & below)




In the past two weeks, we have witnessed excessive use of force, chemical weapons and police brutality against hundreds of thousands of peaceful activists. For more photos right from the day one, have a look at here: Occupy Gezi Pics. There was one thing that surpassed the unprecedented violence, which was the unprecedented solidarity. Under the heavy attacks, both Taksim and Beşiktas displayed epic resistance. I was amazed by the solidarity of football clubs, whose brotherhood I have always looked down on, especially that of Çarşı, Beşiktaş’ supporter club. I deeply apologize.  We needed their solidarity as much as the idealism of the young who resisted determinedly in a non-violent way at the forefront. (Photo credit: Yannis Behrakis-Reuters)


direngezicoming       turkishdarthvader



The only weapon used by the protestors has been humor all along, that’s all we have got. The amount of humor that cracked me up in the last 2 weeks could add up to a decade of laughter. No exaggeration, I swear! Most of the time, I had no idea why I was crying. Out of sadness, out of pride, out of rage, out of joy? If it weren’t for the humor, we could not have endured so much police terror and oppression. A sample of how we are protesting a la turca since May 28, 2013.

Photos above: Anonymous (#resist Gezi park, I am coming!%95)


protestingalaturca1      fbstatus



When I received mails from my friends living abroad saying they are watching it on TV and asking worriedly if  I am doing okay, our mainstream media is as silent as ever, except for ulusalkanal.  If you want to see what’s going on at Taksim square online, here is the dha link.

Do you know what CNN Turk broadcasted while people have been brutally attacked by the police? A documentary on the penguins:) So the penguin has become another symbol for resistance. #resistantartica


penguinsresisting     IMG_2704



I am surprised that the betrayal of the mainstream media, which has been systematically silenced over the last decade, provided no news coverage of the protests taking place over 60 cities. I have never trusted or followed the mainstream media; but it was definitely a wake-up call for many of us about how pathetic the media cartels are. I remember the beautiful prophetic poem and song by Gil-Scott Heron, the revolution will not be televised. Yes, whatever has happened here in the last few weeks has been tweeted, posted on FB, instagrammed, but televised,  so no wonder why the Twitter bird has become a symbol for freedom and resistance during occupy events and the arab spring in the past few years. #resistgezipark

My beautiful home city has turned into a big construction site over the last two decades. There is always this humming of bulldozers, cranes, trucks, construction debris and dust in the background. The construction projects are all moving in full speed ahead. All in the name for development. All are providing benefits to people and companies that have close ties with the current government. Unfortunately, the construction boom overshadowed many of our social problems, and the media here and abroad have put too much emphasis on the so-called “economic success” while disregarding the violation of human rights on many fronts.



In the past weeks, I saw some of the neighborhoods in Istanbul turning into a war zone. The hovering helicopters and the sirens of ambulances replaced the noise of the bulldozers. I admit we can never empathize with people who live in war-torn areas in the Middle East unless we have a first-hand experience. It is nerve-breaking; on the other hand, I am amazed by the persistence of my people to demand the right to the freedom of assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of the press; our fundamental rights under the constitution.


charlesemirrichards1      construction



Love in the time of revolution… The air is thick not only with gas but also with love. A friend of mine said “It is so easy to fall in love nowadays” Yes, he is absolutely right! Every evening, when I watch couples of all ages walking hand in hand determinedly to the square, I feel hopeful. I don’t know how many times I have exchanged smiles with total strangers in the past 2 weeks.

I remember a girl at the metro station singing one of the poems of the great Turkish poet, Nazim Hikmet.

” We will see good days children,

we will ride to the blue horizon,

believe me we will see sunny days…”

(Photo credit: Charles Emir Richards)





(Photo credit: Daniel Etter ) This land is the left-over from a big Empire that stretched from the Eastern Europe to Arab Peninsula, from the Caucasus to North Africa. A world power for 500 years. The citizens of today’s Turkey more or less represent the multi-ethnic subjects of the empire albeit  along the lines of Turkish or Muslim identity. With so many ethnic groups and religious sects, one method employed to control the masses was to bring everybody under an umbrella, one identity. The other method was to polarize the society, as it happened in the last few decades. Yet, with the winds of change, it is time to realize we are as rich and colorful as the mosaics in Hagia Sophia and the picture we have had at Gezi Park protests reflects the urge to have an embracing attitude for all. As the sufi mystic poet Rumi said, “Come, come, whoever you are!” People of all beliefs, ethnic backgrounds, status, physical abilities, and sexual orientation have been there supporting the cause right from the beginning and demanding a more  democratic Turkey.


IMG_2565       geziyoga



I feel hopeful about the resistance when the clock strikes 9 pm every evening. People start clanking their pans and pots, like the casseroles night in Canada, originated from Casserolazo that started in Chile in 1971 to protest the shortages of products. But some of us are professional protestors  #resistizmir

I feel hopeful when we turn insults into a source of pride and keep on resisting with those labels, one of which is Chapulling. The word çapulcu translates as looter in English. When the pm underestimated the protestors by calling them çapulcu, the protestors in turn adopted the word proudly. It now denotes someone who fights for their fundamental rights. (Photo: Tayyip resign!) 

I feel hopeful when I see the Gezi Park commune resisting for weeks so peacefully. Very much in line with the occupy movements around the world, the commune is such a transformative, constructive, creative and interactive place that you admit it is too good to be true! It is surreal at times. With its infirmary, soup kitchen, library, garden, workshops for kids or men, yoga classes (Photo credit: Anonymous. You can’t see me but I am in the back row, looking forward to the warrior pose), tango events, concerts, I wonder whether it is Occupy Istanbul? or #resist gezi park or #resist turkey or is it a brave new world? Of course, there is one Gargamel at every commune:)


gargamel     gezigarden 



I feel hopeful about my life here. When the mayor of Istanbul called out to the moms of protestors to come and pick their children from the park, moms came and formed a human chain between their children and the police. (Photo credit: Anonymous)

I feel hopeful. The medics and the lawyers have been working relentlessly since the start of the protests helping the wounded, and the ones taken into custody. Despite the action the government has taken to open a probe into voluntary health center around the park on the grounds that they were illegal, the Istanbul Chamber of Medicine has refused to give the names of patients who have sought aid and the doctors who have helped them. Despite the fact that lawyers supporting the cause have been taken into custody, thousands of them marched in Ankara. It is a farce being staged here. They even put a very-well staged provocation with molotov cocktails.

A friend said, “If only Orwell and Kubrick were alive to witness this…”


lawyersarrested    resistinginstyle 

busstop      geziconcert


I feel hopeful when it is the people who clean up the streets after a heavy police attack, not the garbage men. I feel hopeful when it is the people who restore the damaged bus stop, not the companies. I feel hopeful when it is the people who cover sexists graffitis on the walls, not the Municipality employees. (photo: Seda Arıcıoğlu)

I feel hopeful when thousands gather around a piano, play and sing all night long. Yes, the police got out of control but so did many other things. In a good way, I mean:) It feels surreal. (Photo credit: Anonymous)

I feel hopeful when we care about not only other people, but also nature and animals. In the past 2 weeks, more than 1000 birds and 70 stray animals died as a result of exposure to pepper and tear gas. (God knows what other gases they have been using?) Vets have always been available to help, and food is always abundant.


IMG_2588      resistankara



It feels quite absurd when it is two hacker groups -Global Anonymous and Local Redhack- which give you a sense of justice, not the judicial system of your country.

“Turkish Medical Association informed public about the health conditions of protestors as of 12th June. In total 4 people have lost their lives, there are 7478 injuries, 5 severely injured with risk of death, 91 head traumas, 55 severely injured and 10 people have lost their eyes.” reports #direngeziparkı.

Nothing has come to a conclusion yet. No resolution. No proper official apology. No resignation. Mostly threats and  a heavy-handed, provocative tone on the part of the government.  Ankara is still bravely resisting. The world media needs to cover the brutality taking place there. (Illustration: Anonymous- Swan is the name of a park where protests are being held in Ankara)  The resistance in Ankara is more significant, I believe, as it is the capital. The message is not park vs shopping mall; it is the government vs the public #resistankara.



I confess I have never felt so connected with my people before. As a result of the self-censorship we employ, you never know what people really think or how they feel. I confess I have fallen in love with my people, with their incredible wit displayed in response to absurd realities of our live here, with their creativity to find ways to deal with the new/ugly tactics of the police and the government. I confess they surprised me when I have considered them to be sheep always in need of a leader. I confess I have never been so proud of the young people of my country who are resisting injustice. Yes, they deserve the credit; it is their revolution.

Welcome to a brave new world…!



Here is your guide to chapulling!

This is the spirit of the times, #occupygezi.

For more photos on Facebook: Nar photos

The destruction of Istanbul by Mike Dunphy

Viva Istanbul   by Pelin Turgut

How Turks stopped worrying and learned to love tear gas? by Ozan Varol

Occupy Istanbul? by Jennifer Hattam

What is happening in Istanbul? by Defne Suman and many other articles by guest bloggers on her blog

Why the turkish protests matter to the West? by Şafak Pavey, a Turkish MP.

The new young Turks by Economist

A letter from a Turk to his country


Tags:  animals Beşiktaş collapse of the empire diaries fascism George Orwell Gezi park Gezi Park protests Gezi spirit graffiti humming inspiration Nazım Hikmet Noam Chomsky Ottoman period penguins poetry political activism politics rally Resistanbul Rumi series Stanley Kubrick Taksim video links

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