Breathing Gezi C H R O N I C L ES F R OM I STA N BU L’S U P R I S I N G
published in Istanbul, Barcelona, New York and Lima, 2014. text and artwork by Kevin Buckland editing and design by Selj creative commons: BY-NC-SA 4.0 twitter: @change_of_art email@example.com www.artivists.net
Prologue On May 28, 2013, a small group gathered together in Gezi Park, the last public greenspace in central Istanbul. An illegal construction had begun that planned to turn the public park into a privately owned recreation of a 19th century army barracks, rumors said it would be a shopping center. The bulldozers came early, and by the time 5 trees were destroyed a resistance had gathered. What happened in the next 3 weeks was unpredictable and unforgettable. We are reminded of how swiftly and easily social change comes when it is needed. A pot of water sits on a flame, for ages it appears that nothing is happening â€”you canâ€™t see the heat radicalizing the H2O molecules, the water looks the same as always. Then seemingly out of nowhere, bubbles rise at increasing speeds until the water reaches a roaring boil. At such temperatures the structure of molecules may change. Water becomes air; it is about this air that I write. I arrived in Istanbul, by chance, on June 2nd, the fourth day of the insurrection. I was, and am, an outsider in Istanbul â€”so all that I tell here is an attempt to capture and share what was unfurling before my curious eyes. I have hoped that precisely my cultural unfamiliarity may lend itself useful to the reader, as I grappled with trying to understand what was happening around and inside me. This was (almost entirely) written in realtime, as blog posts and journal entries, never knowing what the next day would write. I could only write what I saw or heard, so this is only one side of the story; but one side of a story that is worth telling.
This is a story that spans the continents, and is spreading. The recent occupation of Gezi Park in Istanbul and the ripples it has had throughout 48 cities in Turkey is filling a political space that exists between Occupy and the Arab Spring; linking them like the bridges of Istanbul that span the continents. This week we have seen the violent repression of expression that marks the fine line between democracy and dictatorship, the domination of private financial interests over the common good. We are learning each year that all of our grievances are connected.
A single tree, in a small park, at the crossroads of the world. It began.
Power is a rebel force, and here in Turkey the Prime Minister Erdoğan is armed with the conviction of a religious man who has been elected. He has recently passed a series of deeply unpopular but tolerated laws. He pushed his people into a corner, and has kept pushing. Like many leaders, he is acting as if the national power is his, because the millions of people in this representational democracy had given their power to him. He has played their power like a violin —so loud he couldn’t hear there wasn’t any applause, and so long he didn’t notice the rest of the orchestra had dropped out. Maybe he is afraid of what could happen in that silence. Saturday night the silence was filled. From any open window you heard people playing pots and pans as if these utensils were finally freed to be the joyful instruments they had always wanted to be —singing their metal hymns for a good life. This is that sound that comes to fill the silence. People who had nothing in their hands used their hands, and leaned from car windows and balconies clapping. The people had retaken the park, and it was Saturday night, so there would be too many people tonight for the police to do unseen violences as they had in the past nights. Saturday night felt like a celebration —in some places. In other places the violence was still building like friction in any unoiled machine. Violence was encouraged by Erdoğan himself, who had broken the media blackout and had gone on TV and asked his supporters to personally stop “the terrorists”. A friend had seen teenagers attack a group of students because they were carrying gas-masks. Erdoğan is mixing strong ingredients,
concocting dangerous politics in an earthquake zone. 3
The First Days These stories I share were told to me by a friend who noticed he was still trembling to speak of them. He arrived late to dinner, because he had been teargassed again, and so had to go home to shower the chemicals from him. He told me these stories, recounting the days of the same week like legends. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. Today. Tuesday, May 28. It started with machines. The supreme court had ruled that Gezi Park, the last green space in the center of the sprawling megalopolis of Istanbul, would not be razed to make way for a new shopping center. The rogue Prime Minister ignored the law and sent the excavators anyway, but by the time they had ripped out the first of the trees, some 20 or 50 people had gathered. Some hugged the trees (perhaps the most pacifist of all possible acts), others tied themselves to the trees. They set up tents, read to the police and shared food. They called it Diren Gezi (Resist Gezi). Wednesday, May 29. At 4am the police came and filled the air with teargas. They didn’t fire the metal gas canisters at the ground, they fired it at the people, at their faces, smashing holes in skulls. They burned down their tents. They kicked people from the trees they held on to. The police expected to have the park cleared by morning, but by morning 5’000 people were there. A line had been crossed — if people are not allowed to peacefully demonstrate their beliefs, or if their expression is met with such brutality — then this is not a democracy.
If one is obedient, silent or waits in hope that it will pass, then power is the only one who has freedom. 4
Thursday, May 30th — Friday, May 31st. These days were battles of bravery and violence. The police surrounded the park, attacked, and refused to let anyone leave; later they wouldn’t let anyone enter. Water cannons threw people off their feet and onto their thin necks, batons cracked skulls of anyone within range, the teargas canisters littered the ground like confetti. Police fired gas into residential buildings that were helping the wounded and housing those who were hiding from the acid smoke. Police fired gas into a Starbucks full of people and into the Hilton Hotel. Every photograph from these days is wrapped in that tyrannical gas. But opposites attract; and the people who lived in the area began to leave out baskets of lemons to help soothe the teargas. Old ladies lowered baskets of food from their windows by rope to support the people below —doing what they could to support those doing what they could not. Restaurants left bags of food outside their windows. The state’s violence was countered by the people’s kindness. Lovers led their gas-blinded love through the smoke-filled streets to safety; strangers did the same. Turkish flags with their floating moon and star sprang up everywhere. The bridge across the Bosphorus that you cannot walk across, was filled with people walking in the space between two continents. What was 50 people in tents became 5’000, became the hundreds of thousands that surrounded the park yesterday until they so outnumbered the police that they were let back into park, and back into the shade of the trees that were still standing. Saturday, June 1st. In this small park, a great many conflicts are colliding. There are the trees that started this, and the fight for the rights of nature against the cold machinery of progress. There is the fight to protect the commons: to save one of the few public spaces from being transformed into a private space dedicated to the production of personal capital. There is the issue of democracy: that the people have the right to speak out, and the necessity to be heard by those they have empowered. 5
This is history, after all, and people know that if they cannot speak their mind then it is not their story.
This is no longer a story about a tree, a park, a politics or a cause. It is a story of a people, all over, knowing that they are standing on the global frontline of history. It is not a struggle to change the story, its the struggle to be allowed to write it. Tomorrow. No one knows what will happen in the coming days, but some of that will be determined by us. We need to make sure the world is watching the trees and people of Gezi Park and Taksim Square, and that ErdoÄ&#x;an knows they are watching. Where do you draw the line?
Barricades on Fertile Ground
The barricades of Istanbul twist up from the street like the aftermath of a hurricane,
sewn into lines of neatly piled chaos placed at 20 meter intervals around the park and on the entrance to every side street. Stop signs stab thru wrought iron railings ripped from their places, and street bricks are piled into ridges —sculpting a new geography of rubble mountains to hide behind. This is not an image of destruction, it’s the creation of something new; as the street bricks are removed we can see the hints of fertile ground. Many of the barricades have POLİS written on them; they are the cops’ own barricades that have been composted into this concoction of resistance with other steel and cement ingredients. Another ingredient is cars, flipped onto their side and with polite signs asking you not to throw your cigarettes on them —for there may still be explosive diesel lurking in their tanks. Two of the barricades are whole buses, where heroic drivers turned their steering wheels hard and pulled their giant rectangles perpendicularly across the street next to Gezi park; and then they left, returning to their houses and dissapearing into history. In the sunlight we walked these streets - it was like an amusement park in the aftermath of a war. For miles around Gezi the streets were lined with joyous faces. People stood atop the barricades and took photos, victorious cars honked contagiously and everywhere hands clapped when they did not have pots to bang. Flags hung from apartment windows, and from balconies; and around the necks of beau7
tiful girls that stood out of the sunroof of cars. In this new wind, the flag around her neck became a superhero’s cape, flowing red and the Turkish moon into the moving air. Her arms stretched out with hands folded into delicate peace signs. I didn’t see a policeman all day, it wouldn’t have been safe for them. In Gezi Park itself there was hardly space to sit. Protest marches pushed through the masses of people at only slightly swifter speeds, like where the current in a river runs deep. It wasn’t clear if this was a protest, a picnic, a march or a revolution. Anywhere there was an elevated platform people filled it like a stage, and below them the ground was packed with a crowd that stared up glowingly at a crowd. This is politics without the podium, with the center pulled out and the public gazing up only at their gazing selves. It functioned like two mirrors facing each other; every cheer, every smile and every clap was multiplied exponentially onwards. Nearby the Ataturk Cultural Center — a public opera house that had also been slated for demolition — had been occupied, and the horizon of its roof was littered with silhouettes and a sign that read BOYUN EĞME (“Don’t bow your head”). A young man sat triumphantly atop this all waving a wide black flag —a crowd was staring up and down at itself everywhere.
What if this was politics? The politics of a public looking into each other’s eyes.
In Gezi Park, self-appointed crews had already picked up every piece of trash to be found. Still others scoured the ground with plastic gloves searching for more. Searching for a way to help; for this was their place. Above us all the trees showered shade. How happy they must have been to still be standing, with us. From many of the trees hung photos of the first tree that had been lost when the construction vehicles began to break ground. 8
On that far edge of the park where those thin trees died, there is a place where the land drops off. You can see the topsoil and roots fall away into a rough slab of concrete. This is where the sidewalk ends. Construction had already begun with the destruction that accompanies modern “progress”- steel poles speared out of the half-smashed concrete buildings that had lined the park. We can imagine that somewhere there were very wealthy men making phone calls to politicians inquiring on the status of their potential investment. But they weren’t here in the park, in the soft shade of history. A sign leaning against a tree sang:
“first we were terrorists then we were protestors then we became people.”
History starts as a spark and spreads, time doesn’t roll out like a carpet before us; we push it until it goes on its own or stops. There is an inertia to movements and a contagion in history. There are times when everything speeds up in the spinning barricades of teargas streets, there are times when history runs deep. But on Sunday afternoon, Gezi Park was the still center of the world. History’s breeze blew through the branches of the trees that will still be standing 10 years from now. Mahir’s wife told him “Gezi is like falling in love. When you aren’t there, all you can think about is being there. When you are there, you don’t want to be anywhere else in the world.” In the evening, the fighting broke out again in Beşiktaş; the smoke reflected in the Bosphorus. And in the capital of Ankara the fighting never stopped. In 90 cities across Turkey people breathe the intoxicating oxygen that the trees of Gezi Park are producing. The air is everywhere, clearing away the tear gas from the lungs of a people finally breathing together.
The Men Who Sell Tears Gezi Park is now alive. Its paths are canals flooded with the currents of people moving, they circle, swirl; dance. This is movement boundless in its aspirations, because it has nothing other than this moment.
No one knows where this will go, but you can feel there is no going back. These are people who have been too long divided, now together, in a place that is all of theirs.
The park is a place governed by the people inside it. Laws bend or hide. Graffiti writers have never been happier, they take their time in daylight on the walls of the center of the city. Street vendors sell cheap spray paint in the evenings. Police and those who wield power and uniforms cannot enter here. Physically, every entrance to Taksim is barricaded and guarded, each is a fuse to an endless explosion of emancipation. Genies let loose from their bottles rarely return. The front line holds its ground each night. Mahir tells me nothing like this has happened here in 1’600 years. At the entrance to the park a burnt police car flipped on its side serves as a message board, it is photographed continuously. Everything is photographed, for there will be grandchildren to hear these stories and see these pictures —they may be legends by then. There are other burnt-out police vehicles scattered around, teenage boys play on them and everyone poses inside the blackened shell of a burnt police station. On one of the cars is written in Turkish: “Less skyscrapers, more love.” A mural proclaims “Taksim belongs to the people” —even the walls are speaking.
During the day there is dancing and music. The trees are the guests of honor, because it is they who inspired this. Countless new trees have been planted in the rust colored soil above the ruins of so many layers of years. May these young trees become monuments and may the years grow rings around their slim centers! —rings as riches that will never be seen, for these trees will never be cut down. The people are settling into their place. A kitchen has been formed from pieces of police barricades and a gift wall of needs is littered with cookies, water and cigarettes. A sign reads “For the people who will stay here overnight.” Not everyone stays, for the nights here are still violent —though the frontline has been pushed away from the park and down towards the Bosphorus. Our presence in the park is still uncertain, like a bird who has left the nest but cannot yet fly. All day everyone had been smiling as their eyes met, as we heard speeches or as clapping caught like fire through a crowded forest. All eyes wide, almost unbelieving. But dusk falls with darkness, and the shadows stretch out from the places where they have been hiding. Cobblestones are still thrown in the night. There are men who mix cruel recipes, like black magic, like poison potions.
Their concoctions turn everyone’s smiles into tears.
The gas came from nowhere and everywhere and bit our eyes like an invisible sadness invading the park. Most had masks by now but still most left, draining from the park like liquid. Everyone’s eyes watered from the cold truth of power. It made everyone cry. We fixed our masks on and everyone tasted the bitterness, but we tasted it together. Eyes water to wash away what shouldn’t be there, like a rain. We wept from invisible enemies who had wronged us. For years; keeping us apart.
On a wall it was painted: “I am 19 and I think the only good thing you’ve done is unite us.” On a tear gas canister it was written: “Non Lethal Technologies — Made in USA”. I come from a nation that exports tears for profit.
So we put lemon in our eyes and stare hard past the burning. Through the blur of our salt tears mixed with their pepper smoke we still see. All their gas and capital has not blinded us. Through the tears we see blurred visions — strangers holding stranger’s hands, leading them through the smoke as we journey through this great and unseen present — breathing the future through its branches and leaves. The trees of Gezi Park, everyday more plentiful, are breathing fresh air out into the same wind that sweeps our whole world clean. Through the haze we glimpse something our eyes had never imagined, but our hearts have always dreamed. The walls tell us, “Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere resistance.” You are not alone. 13
Excavating Time On Tuesday the garden grew in the small corner of the park they had first tried to destroy. Seedlings and saplings had been carefully planted and wriggled upwards from the rich soil. They looked like they could grow forever, in love with the sun. On Wednesday the tents expanded, they were almost covering everywhere and almost all written upon. The armor of the peoples of Turkey, it seems, is made of jokes and jeers. Children had returned to the park and played. They would remember this time always. Ankara was still a battle as politics plays its games in the bodies of a species that makes life so unbearably difficult for itself. Still people limped, still they hobbled their fresh wounds around the park they had won. They should never have been injured for what they did: sitting in a park, standing in the street. Violence of the mind is the enemy of freedom. The Gezi commune is covered in words now, scrawled hard and in the rough but inexperienced letters of truth: a foreign language screaming from every surface of the place; singing. As history writes itself deeper we discover we are excavating. There are stories beneath the stories, and as we sink in we find them â€”braiding the long hairs of our ancestors. The earth like a loom, weaving. Beneath Taksim there is an Armenian cemetery. In these days of joy and struggle, what must they think â€”those who see without time? Those bones heard the shots of Bloody May Day, when in 1977 snipers opened fire on crowds such as this in Taksim, stirring chaos into an already boiling pot. Many were trampled to their deaths. The blood then, as now, soaked through the cobblestones and into their earth re14
mains, reminding them of their own mortality —Oh! What love it was to be flesh and bone and all on fire. If you could start to dig from the inside of the earth out, but disturbing nothing, then below Gezi but above the cemetery you would find an army barracks where young soldiers sharpened their pistols and eyes to point. Then dig farther up, through the tree-roots and soil, through the cobblestones and there is a thin layer that is alive and dancing. A woman in a cafe finishes her coffee, and with a casual hand lights her cigarette as she speaks into her cellphone, “I’m so surprised. They built a whole other world in there.” It isn’t just Gezi anymore, or Taksim, or any place. It is an idea you feel;
a politics that inhabits you.
It is the antidote to the laws the government tries to bring to its people: a politics for you to inhabit —telling you what to wear and what to drink, where you might sit and say and when. And so we swell; crowds upon crowds, in this ever moving fleet of galleons of bodies unleashed into history’s ocean.
The center of the earth changes, depending on where you are. So for today let that center be the fountain at the heart of Gezi Park, where someone is always leaning back half asleep into the soft stones. From that center lies a wooden plank, that connects across the water heart of that fountain to the rest of this breathing world. Some people come to this park just to sleep, just for the joy it brings them to dream together, and to know that in their dreaming they are protecting its possibility. A banner reads:
â€œBefore our lives get stolen, lets collectivize our dreams.â€?
The banner blows lightly in the same wind that runs through the hair of the girl reading Orwell under a tree. The wind sweeps across the park like a rumor, lightly licking the leaves of the trees that surrounded us. The trees are still standing, breathing, with us. The wind flies then past the kitchen full of fruit and the Kurdish boys who link their littlest fingers and dance circles in their mustaches; it blows thru the drums, and the lovers, and all the cigarette smoke. The wind rushes out to the steps of Taksim and down into the grand plaza it overlooks â€”everywhere covered in color and words, a city speaking its screams in silence, so they may sing. The wind ignites with a match, that lights a candle, that fills a paper lantern with warmth and lifts it high and glowing in the freedom of night. The wind is the breath of the trees of Gezi Park. The wind is rising.
The Piano Player The silence is what surprised you: to find Taksim so quiet at midnight when it is always celebrating or fighting. A crowd was gathered but hushed and peering on tiptoes. Inside the crowd was the music, and hundreds of people seated inside its calm, like the eye of a storm in a whirling and volatile world. At the heart of our gaze was a young man’s hands on a grand piano’s keys. He struck chords inside us. A dream awoke with a piano’s notes and tinkered tunes into the air around us. The whole world gazed wide eyed into the invisible things that unite us. There were no sounds to be heard but music. Opera singers stood up out of a seated crowd and let loose landscapes of melodies, rising and falling like regimes. The crowd, and even the armoured police, smiled soft eyes at the young man in the hat who played in the middle of this battleground square. There are no words for such things, though I will try to tell them to my grandchildren. He sang Imagine but we didn’t have to imagine anything, it was all around us.
Let beauty lure us into the future that wants to be born. They played, taking turns with the moon, in the greatest concert hall in the world. The night sky showered light down upon us, as illuminated paper lanterns filled the sky with new constellations. Inside the park people were dancing their circular dances. Again, as always. It was irresistible. Damla asked the police to dance. “But we cannot dance while in uniform,” they replied, blushing like young boys. They looked ridiculous, armed to the teeth in front of a crowd that hushed strangers when they talked too loudly during a particularly beautiful phrase of Beethoven. 17
We learn that beauty can make violence impossible.
No ruler can maintain power if he attacks a seated crowd listening to classical music —that would be absurd. There are times when beauty can hold a space; freeze it in time. The night held its enchantments like encampments, and hundreds of mothers (who had heard Erdoğan encourage families to summon their deluded children home from the park) decided to instead go for themselves. They held hands. They held the front line. Selçuk told me, laughing, that the media had to call them “women claiming to be mothers.” They were that dangerous. Inside Gezi, the long chains had formed: brigades to disperse the piles of donated food and blankets into the heart of the park. Each hand passed a pillow or box to the next and so on, we saw neither start nor finish just many hands making light work and laughing. We built beds the same ways we built barricades. The night was so peaceful that even the emergency lanes were allowed to thin to a trickle. The night was calm and as we dreamt, the piano’s keys played symphonies to the stars in the eyes of everyone who had seen it. The music lasted until morning. as dawn broke the piano players let the birds relieve them of their guards, for the birds know these dawn songs too —the unwritten notes of a blank page.
The Sky Fall
If the center of this world hinged around some single space, it was here. We clung like babies to their motherâ€™s hips on a ride that could at any moment end. You treasure things more when you know they might be fleeting, you treasure things more when you know that everything is fleeting.
We met at the park, everyone met at the park. It swarmed with ideas and eyes eager to talk about then. Instant conversations were never banal, you struck up a conversation with someone as you waited for food and there were none of the common pleasantries we guard ourselves in â€”there was a desire to dig straight to the truth of matters. We met an older man sharing books. SelĂ§uk talked to him as I listened, understanding nothing. He had spent 2 years in prison decades ago, for his thoughts. He knew the gold-tongued treasure of the words we found ourselves speaking. The park was full of people but felt small, those who had been there a lot began to bump into people they knew everywhere, like a small village bustling past but with enough time to stop and chat or have a cup of tea. It was Friday night and the drummers were luring everyone into their circle dances. We wandered, surprised by this ever-growing exhibition of justice. With more time things had become finer, there were knitted portraits down a small avenue of trees and tarps and tents grew together into little communities. We went to the tent where the radio station was run. It was one of those rare places where everyone seemed magic. Any comment seemed to be made with the utmost of care and humor, you found yourself laugh21
ing with strangers about something deeply ridiculous. There was a culture being born with the highest expectations. I had a beer and offered it around, but people politely refused mentioning that they had been asked not to drink beer in the park, as a raid could come at any minute. No one had told me, and so felt overly ignorant, visibly and slipped my beer into my pocket. I had been told all my life by authorities that I couldn’t drink beer in parks, I never cared —and here I was humbled by the simple mention of a request. No one told us to, but things were asked of all of us.
The sky became too heavy for its air and fell.
Colossal sheets of warm water on tarpaulin replaced the drummers in a rhythm so full, it sounded like the ocean. We all scrambled about, we were never prepared. Water began collecting here and there and had to be emptied and rivers flowed through camps and had to be diverted and someone’s stuff was getting wet and had to be moved and someone was asleep and needed to be better covered. No one told anyone what to do, but if you saw something that should be done you did it. Anarchy is efficient, if nothing else —and joyful. We were all so content to be useful, that’s all we want sometimes is to know we are making things a little bit better. Why is that so hard to come by in this world, when it seems so simple? In that night it rained for 40 days. The Black Sea filled slowly with the weight of freshwater. This Troy wasn’t burning, it was flooding; too strong a concentration for now, too powerful a magic —it would have to be diluted and stored like seeds so we may use it again. The next evening the waters that had been contained into this park would be let loose, spilled from its container like when the Black Sea let Noah loose into the waters with only seeds of dreams and a hope for land. We all would float from this night on, in the memory of this place and a knowledge of how great trees grow from small seeds. 22
We left the park when the rain had ceased. We would be back tomorrow, we thought.
We didnâ€™t look back to see how it shined after the rain. 23
Lines Drawn On Saturday afternoon the collective decision was made to take down the last of the barricades around Gezi. We didn’t need them anymore, we had proved ourselves to be peaceful. A few hours after they were dismantled the police attacked. A few hours after that new ones were erected. Doors of apartment buildings opened and out flooded a population of a city into the night. When its not just protestors, but people; it changes —a government doesn’t know what to do when it confronts not parties but people. Violence had returned to Gezi, and occupied it with their gases and guns. As I write there are 70’000 people in the street. It’s spreading and flooding in the windows. It’s not the gas, but singing. They are chanting “Government Resign!”. A night gets bigger than itself, there are surges in the songs.
The main streets were arteries and we were the antibodies.
We pushed forwards because there was no other choice. If you climbed anything all you saw was people, facing forwards and holding ground. Groups of men ripped railings from their streets and passed the heavy wrought iron forwards to the frontlines. Flowers were trampled underfoot. I’m sorry. Ahead they shot fireworks at the police, as the police gassed everyone. The police shot gas into the hotel lobby that had become a hospital; they gassed the people they had already injured. They gassed the children who were lost from their parents in the violent eviction. Doctors were arrested. When you are arrested for treating someone but not for 25
shooting them, where do you draw the line? Gas should never be used indoors; no one could see anything. Justice is blind. They arrested even the piano. The barricades sprayed out like the skeletons of whales, jagged boards like a spine across the street. If we could only hold this space long enough, we could build the next barricade, we could advance, back towards Gezi. Lines of people passed rocks into piles, small stones and scrap wood â€”you must forge your defenses from whatever you can find (so build your barricades next to construction sites). Many hands make light work, and the barricades grew inside the safety of our multitudes. Hurriedly we were constructing something, together. The barricades we built were lines that cannot be crossed. Everyone of us has these lines like a barometer of justice inside our own noble souls. We know when it is attacked, blunted; defiled. But justice loads like a spring; you can push it down ever so slowly. Pressure builds in a closed space, there are limits to what we can allow. Journalists, lawyers, and doctors arrested. Children tear gassed in their motherâ€™s arms. 5 Deaths. Pro-government newspapers all with the same headline. Other newspapers censored. A prohibition of drinking tea on the street.
And a park.
do you confront violence such as only weapon is fear, though their
this? When tactics vary.
The referee starts attacking the players, and no one in the stands is allowed to watch. Our crowds were pushed back, because the police play without rules. When the laws encroach dangerously close to your body; what you can drink, when, where: where do you draw the line? When you are beaten for holding the flag of the country that pays those who beat you: where do you draw the line? Behind every gas canister shot lingers a line of smoke, these lines tie the sky into knots. It rains tears. After you draw a line you build it. The barricades around Gezi are lines that have been crossed.
3am We could hold the street corner because of the fountain. By now, after two weeks of fighting people had lost their fear of the gas. More people ran towards the canisters than away. Well practiced teams grabbed the smoking tubes and tossed them into water and closed the containers; or just threw the gas back. A burning barricade was kept alight by molotovs so the water cannons couldnâ€™t drive over it; fire stopping water from passing. They had started pouring chemicals into the water they shot at us; it burnt the skin, but we were out of range.
We held a small corner, as all over the city small corners were held. The main streets had been lost by midnight. Our barricade was mostly plants in large cement pots. It could be cleared in minutes. It was a tenuous hold.
For hours the corner was held in a sickly game of back and forth. They shot the gas, we threw it back. They had broken through the main barricade in front of Osmanbey metro station, so now their goal was to keep us back as they dismantled it. We staying in this limbo for hours, alive. At the other end of our block there was no position to hold, so everything was in motion. It was like every one of the four elements was deceived and coerced into violence: the police shot water, the people threw stones, gas filled the air, garbage fires burned as barricades. In this grey landscape of smoke and stones, young men shot pebbles at the police from their slingshots. Police shot their gas guns. Everyone cowered at the sound, then gas arose from somewhere. People returned fire with rocks and then ran on.
When little else is left for a people they throw stones. We live in glass cities, facades reflecting the blue of sky as inside the bankers deal to destroy even it. A pebble puts a crack in a lie. One day, all these glass buildings will be greenhouses, and no one will have to throw stones. 29
Around 3am people started digging up the sidewalk bricks to build up the barricade, prying them out with a stray piece of metal they pulled from a street sign. A chain formed and passed the bricks forward. Quickly the police pushed forward, harder and farther than before. This, they would not allow. People were pushed back and we climbed back inside. Now, from our window we saw the police advancing as dark machines, robotic and heavy in their movements, sweeping the street like a net in the ocean. Everyone became a magician and disappeared, but slowly and all together. The police pulled back â€”they kept close to their vehicles and their vehicles needed the width of main streets. The people returned in their wake.
Sun Day Rain By Sunday morning the police were no longer police. Between the 12 men that drudged below there were 8 uniforms, evenly spread out so that everyone had at least something that looked official. Some had only yellow POLİS vests and rumors were they were deputizing sympathizers —it seemed Erdoğan wanted a war. I saw a policeman throw stones. The sun had risen like molasses, nothing seemed to be advancing. No one had slept and many of the small bands still roaming the city had been there for 12 hours. I hoped the police had rested —they are dangerous enough already. Gas crept in the morning windows, and the explosions of their guns didn’t cease. Old men covered their heads with their newspapers as they ran across open streets on their way back from getting groceries.
The state used gas like a maid uses a broom —pushing everything to some non-existent “away”.
The police stomped through the corner barricade we had held all night, and took the street. Damla told us that in 30 minutes the university exams would let out, there would be thousands more on the streets. “You should get out now” she said, “after the schools let out I don’t know if you will be able to. This will not stop today.”
Heads down, on the street. This is where time is precious. Go. Small streets get blocked easily; their trucks move fast. Gas makes walls you can’t see a c r o s s . L o o k a r o u n d . Yo u a l ways need to know how to get out of there, but you don’t. The streets felt wide after so much time in crowds. Deer in a clearcut forest. Steal a glance at a corner. Osmanbey was still resisting. Keep it in your mind: this is the last you w i l l se e of i t . Wa t c h b e h i n d you, but know where you’re going. Five streets collide. Look around. Good luck. Go! Now it seemed calm. Damla fou n d a t a x i . We we re go n e .
Outside the city center children swung from their parents arms and women wore high heels and chirped into their phones. The metro escalators vomited people onto the bright street endlessly. Cars zoomed by. Everyone waited for the light to change before crossing the road. Madness.
Late that Sunday afternoon a rain came and drew a clear breath into the lungs of Istanbul. Big drops fell and we knew everyone would go home. It was time. The water wiped the gas from the buildings and the smoke from the air. It cleaned the blood from the bruises and watered the flowers that had been trampled underfoot. I’m sorry. It cleared the eyes that had been crying in the gas for so long. People opened their windows, for there was air again. Stray cats curled up inside everywhere and everyone slept soundly. Water rained down on this world we dream.
Suddenly you find yourself without a body. Everything is still there: your love, your ideas and your sight —but you have no body. Where do you go? Gezi was gone, surrounded by thick lines of trained humans. But what had been incubated in that park: in the free meals and the all-night dances, was inoculating the air like pollen. Gezi had given a body to an idea. Indeed, any idea you wished to contribute fit into the park’s strange alchemy, brewing medicine from a precise recipe of outrage. So what was Gezi if not a park? There are as many answers as there are people. But, it was so dangerous it had to be stopped —what were they so afraid of?
Gezi was gone and now it was everywhere. “Everywhere is Taksim, Everywhere resistance.” It filled the air like the oxygen dispersing from its trees. It was a symbol we inhabited, a place for ideas. It was anything we made it. Inside that place — that symbolic space — everything had changed as if a spell had been cast over it and us. Everyone smiled, everyone danced. The tea was free if you wanted and cookies were everywhere. No one wanted for anything except the chance to do more. This was that dangerous space they feared. The infection of freedom. Dangerous like a flower —irresistible.
You breathe it into your body. It becomes you.
So let us! remember that once there was a place called Gezi Park. And in that place there were trees so magic they could make sweet air for you to breathe. And in that place above a cemetery and stones â€”a dream was and so will ever be.
The Return to Memory Weeks later I walked back through the park. After they had reopened it having destroyed everything. After they ripped up the trees we had planted and put in their own. After they wanted it to return to normal. It was midnight or so and the park was empty. We sat on the edge of the fountain at the center of the park with cigarettes and a beer. The city seemed silent, the trees cast long shadows like a slow breeze. The sky limped along after the earth and the cracks in the pavement spilled out at all angles around us. The sound of wind in the trees, like a silent song lifting —nothing is forgotten
But, in the silence, there is invisible music.
The ripe shadows fill with the sharp trill of the high-pitched flute’s memory and the heart-beat low blows of a wide skin drum. The night sky echoes memories at us, turning. In my memory the Kurdish boys are still dancing in circles as they always will dance, holding each other’s pinkies under the turning sky. They dance so long they become stars in time. Every word that had been written on the park was gone but beaming —whispering themselves all at the same invisible time. Each tree knew its purpose and was teaching us by breathing. The air expanded inside everything, and exhaled a perfect night sigh and sky. Gezi Park, it had been decided, would remain a park. Our victory swayed in the breeze more beautifully than any flag. But victories are never finished, a place must always be protected —at any moment the men could return to turn the trees to tears.
But for now, we breathe.
The occupation had spread to our minds. We had seen what was beneath the stones of the city, breathing. Sous les pavés, la plage. We could see what had always been there, and we could see what they wished to be invisible. a city of people a city swept under the bricks; a house of cards on a windy planet. In parks all over the city people were meeting nightly. Feasting for Ramadan, together, then talking. The large amphitheater in Abbasaga park was full of minds, speaking. Full of ideas, listening. One by one people stood up and told their stories. Hands applauded silently. A woman in a headscarf told of how she felt part of both the Muslim Brotherhood and this assembly, she wanted to help them work together. A man told that even those who print the money were on strike. An older generation spoke with calmed rapture of what this all seems like to someone who has been dreaming since ‘68. A man asked for no party flags, many spoke of elections. And an old man stood up in the center of that bright-lit hemisphere and spoke into the microphone. He stood with his hand on the shoulder over a boy half his height. “I will fight till I die, but I will teach my grandson that he must fight as well.” All over Istanbul this was happening. I said nothing. But thought that this gathering: people coming together as people to discuss, decide and do. Is how we prepare for the unforseeable future that we are rushing towards. THE ÆND. 39
when the rug is pulled out from under you all that has been swept beneath R I S E S
Chronicles from Istanbul's Uprising