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
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
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.