From Gezi Park

A protester runs through tents covered by tear gas in Gezi park in Istanbul's Taksim square June 15, 2013. Turkish riot police stormed a central Istanbul park on Saturday firing tear gas and water cannon to evict hundreds of anti-government protesters, hours after an ultimatum from Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis

I've been attending the Gezi Park protests since arriving in Turkey on June 6.

Thousands of people have camped at the park in Taksim Square, traditionally a gathering place for all kinds of meetings and protests, to prevent Prime Minister Erdoğan from razing the park to remove the place of assembly and erase some of the last green space in Istanbul to turn it into an Ottoman barracks shopping mall.

On the morning of the 11th, the protesters in the park were peaceful; in Taksim Square below, they were throwing fireworks and rocks and it was being responded to with tear gas and sonic booms and water canon blasts.

By nightfall, the square was becoming filled with people coming home from work, and at 7:30PM, the police gassed the square, driving the protesters into the park. I retreated into the center of the park, at which point the police completely surrounded the park, so that nobody could leave. Then they gassed the whole park.

People were passing out, puking, crying, and nobody was able to breathe or see. The police no longer were trying to get people to disperse - they were torturing them. They even gassed the ambulances outside waiting to carry away the injured protesters.

Although I was gassed several times, the final assault was so thorough that there was nowhere to go to get breathable air. In addition to the burning in my eyes and mouth, it felt like drowning.

But the crazy thing is that even after all that, I've become addicted to going to Gezi Park. Maybe it's the sense of community and purpose there - with free food, cigarettes, music, accommodations, books, education, and healthcare.

Maybe it's the joyous, resilient mood of the Turks - who, the second the gas attacks stopped, were cheering and applauding the fact that they held their ground, even while people were gagging and vomiting and it was bleak and horrible. Maybe it's because in the protests, the biggest cultural differences and partisan conflicts are forgotten, as arch political enemies and rival soccer teams are joined together in song, arm around arm.

Maybe it's because it's a rare opportunity for genuine, protracted conversation and interaction between people from all walks of life - rather than the small, unrepresentative group of looters and thugs as Erdogan characterized, the "capulcus" came from all classes, ages, political parties, and sexual orientations.

And maybe it's that I find it surreal to be walking around yesterday's battle zone as if it were a movie or stage set. But probably the real reason I keep coming back, even after being tear gassed and hearing Erdogan's "final warning" to the protestors, is that there's probably nothing more emblematic of the human condition than to be dancing in the street with a gas mask around your neck.


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