Resist Istanbul: Or how I got teargassed again and started losing hope that this government will ever stop the violence

Deniz Erkmen

Here we go: I have been attacked; yet again, tear-gassed brutally by my own government. By my government, which is supposed to protect me. By my government which is supposed to work for me. By police officers whose salaries, armors, batons and ammunition is paid by my friends’, by our families’, and by my taxes.

Make no mistake. We were not exactly protesting when the police started attacking us. Not that it is illegal to protest democratically in Turkey – though you would be hard pressed to believe that seeing how we are treated. We were just a lot of people standing together at the Taksim Square. We were not even chanting. I was talking to two friends standing next to me; an architect and a historian. The square was full with people arriving after work. We were in a good mood; worried, as there have been continuous police interventions during the day after police moved in onto the square, claiming they wanted to take some banners down; but with friends, running into people we know, just chatting; debating if we should move into the park where more friends were hanging out.

That’s when the gas canisters appeared, without any warning, like comets in the sky. I saw the white cloud afar on the other side of the square; I saw some commotion. But by now, we, the protestors of Turkey, are very much familiar with this particular sight and sound; tear gas canisters being fired – so I didn’t start moving immediately.

See, it is not too bad if there is only one and the wind is blowing the other way. But people were moving, in fact, running. Unlike the streets on which I have been teargassed before, here, on the square, the effect was like a stone thrown into water – ripples of people – moving, fast; which in and of itself is very scary when you are in the middle of it. I did what I learned to do last week: I shouted with my hands in the air, “do not run, remain calm”, stepping back slowly, while trying to do what I preach; that is, remain calm. I looked around only to realize that I was already separated from my friends… I tried to shout at them “don’t move too fast, lets see what is going on” but it was too loud, and they were already far. In my mind I was going “maybe the shooting will stop, maybe it is not too bad, no need to run” when a gas canister landed next to my feet. I stepped back, looked up and saw, well, a shower of gas canisters landing left and right. As I started stepping back faster and faster, one landed in front of me, one to my left; I turned to run and another landed in my way… Turns out that I was mistaken; I was the naive one to think that the police would not attack a city square full of peaceful people; not after the governor has announced that they were not planning to attack. Really, how stupid am I to trust what the governor says at this point? We were under what looks like a tear-gas storm.

Dear friends who have been lucky enough not to have experienced tear-gas until this point in their lives; let me tell you; it hurts. It burns your eyes, your nose, and your lungs. You can’t breathe and you wanna tear your lungs out, you cough and cough and cough. You feel sick to your stomach; I was in so much pain that I was pretty sure I was going to throw up. It is really not pretty.

It was a white-out, I couldn’t see my friends at all and I just kept on walking; I was too afraid to run in case I stumble and fall; plus, I couldn’t breathe. I concentrated; one step after another, reminding myself “Do not panic, it is going to be over soon”, trying to put my googles on, not being able to breathe, worrying if my contacts are going to melt into my eyes like some people have been claiming they do. Worrying if my lungs are actually burning, what if they are? What if they are damaged? They are still shooting canisters in my way, what if I can’t make it out? Will I faint? Will I be stuck here? No no, don’t panic. Just walk. One step. After another.

How long did that walk take from the square to Sýraselviler? It is a very short distance we are talking about. Not even a few minutes. But I was afraid. I was very afraid.

Yet, as many of us have learned by experience in these past 10 days in Istanbul, the effects of the tear-gas do not last long. The danger really is the canisters hitting you in the head, cracking your skull, or taking your eye out. If you are lucky and get out in the fresh air without being hit, things keep on hurting for awhile but then slowly, the pain wears off. After all the attacks, the backstreets of Istiklal and Galatasaray are full with people, sitting around, coughing, waiting for the pain to pass, sharing their antihistamine mixtures. Then, at one point, you forget that you were in pain. And of course, the adrenaline, the fear; you have to wait for those to wear off, too.

If there is one thing that does not seem to wear off – it is the anger. It is the disbelief that you, as a citizen of this country, someone who tries to voice her concerns, be open, negotiate, deliberate; someone who at one point actually believed that this country could democratise, is walking the streets of your city, tears streaming your face; eyes and lungs burning, in pain, because your government is attacking you, repeatedly. There is no question that none of us deserves this. No one deserves treatment like this. Even if we were marginals and radicals, as our PM claims that we are, we wouldn’t have deserved this. Silly me; I know I shouldn’t be surprised; this has been going on for a long time; this time it is us, other times it was other people. Logically, I am not surprised. But emotionally, I am. It is one thing to know of government violence when it is happening to others in far away places. You speak against it, you feel its’ injustice. Yet, somehow, I find out, it is another thing to actually face it. To be there when the gas canister is flying towards you. To wonder, in a millisecond, whether it is going to hit you, or not. To hear that your friends have been taken to custody. To feel helpless. If this is what is happening to us – to the most educated, most connected crowd that this country has produced, imagine what has happened to others who were not connected, who were not heard.

It is time to dispel the notion that Tayyip Erdogan is the “democratically elected leader” of a “democratic” country. While he might have been elected democratically, the actions, reactions, and the language of the prime-minister have been text-book authoritarian. These protests, which have started off as demonstrations to protect Gezi Parký, have peacefully voiced very legitimate concerns against the JDP government. As I and many others have talked about before, the concerns are about the neoliberal-conservatism of the JDP government and about its authoritarian politics; the protests are about democracy, about our right to live as dignified human beings. They are shared by a very heterogenous group of people; this movement has brought many groups together that previously did not quite realize they were fighting similar fights; ecologist, neighborhood movements against urban transformation projects, feminists, urban planners, artists, students, secularists…The reason they are protesting is that there are no other channels to affect the government – the government rules with no opposition in the parliament, has silenced the media, coopted the judiciary, and does not care about any opposition that comes from the society.

Now, the demands of the protests have been voiced clearly – they are no secrets. They are not hard to understand. In fact, they are pretty minimal considering all the complaints against the JDP government.Yet, there has been no acceptable response from the government. The opportunity to negotiate, the opportunity to back off, the opportunity to grow, the opportunity to listen – there were many of those opportunities. But there seems to be no will by the government to do any of those. The prime-minister seems to have gone mad by his hunger for power; and the ministers and governors look like confused puppets. They do not want to negotiate; they want to wipe us out and continue as they please. For this, they are using very provocative language in their speeches, demonizing and targeting us, and they are putting on a PR show which largely consists of blatant lies, in fact, even staging police interventions where police fights undercover cops to air in the media. — Thus, just to clarify one more time:

◾ This is a genuine voluntary and spontaneous citizen's movement; it was not planned by a party or by some foreign power to weaken the JDP government;
◾ The people who are participating in it are not “radicals” or “marginals” as the prime-minister claims they are, whatever that means;
◾ There have been no violence whatsoever in or around the park until the police attacked. The protestors have not attacked anyone, did not loot anything. There was nothing violent going on today when the police attacked us cruelly. The park has become a peaceful self-sustaining commune with many tents, a health-center, and a library, with workshops going on through the day, with people hanging out. Of course, it is destroyed now.
◾ The content of prime-minister’s speeches are mostly made up of lies which are aimed at provoking people and making the interventions look legitimate.
◾ There has been no efforts from the government at negotiating, or solving the issue besides violence. The word was out that the prime-minister was going to meet with the representatives of the movement; turns out no one from the Taksim Solidarity Platform who have been organizing and talking for the protests until this point have been invited. I am not sure who the PM is going to talk to, but they are not the representativeness of the movement. It is just a PR show to make it look as if the PM is taking steps.

At this point, I am back home. I got thrown onto the other side of the square and could not make my way back to the park because of the police. I am extremely afraid for everyone, for my friends and countless others who I don’t know personally, who are still in and around the park. I am afraid for the future of this country. I can’t see this end well. Not with this government; not with the way they have been acting. I wish to be proven wrong. I so wish to be proven wrong. But I’ve already been shown that I am naive when it comes to the limits of government brutality in Turkey.

Article published here: İnsanlik Hali
Photo 1: Russia Today. Photo 2+3: Occupy Gezi’s Facebook Page. More photos here


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