Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What does Gezi mean to Me?

Photo of teargas and fire barricades in Kadikoy (photo circulating on net,
 please contact me for accreditation)
Last week, following the death of Ahmet Atakan, a protester in the Turkish southern province of Hatay, people took to the streets in different cities in Turkey including Istanbul.  For the first time since the Gezi protests, the Turkish police crossed the Bosphorus and decided to take on protesters in Kadikoy; a known secular neighborhood, with a history of leftists protests taking place. While the government often tries to characterize the protesters as provocateurs, it should be stated that the Turkish police’s violent clampdown on this neighborhood was blatant provocation; until now, Kadikoy’s protests had been left alone, and its residents often frequented the protests in Taksim. Indeed, the intensity of the police actions on the new turf can only be interpreted as a “payback” for their enduring support of the Gezi Park protests.

During last week, on any given afternoon, my computer was receiving live feeds from Kadikoy, and I was tweeting the information to the best of my knowledge. It sparked memories of the Gezi protests when my neighborhood was one of the centers of clashes between protesters and the police; in fact, the morning after the police finally took Gezi Park back from the protesters, I returned home from a trip to a TOMA (water cannon) and teargas on my street; it looked and felt like a warzone and I worried greatly for all the parents with children stuck there, and the elderly who occupy a great part of the neighborhood.    

On the side streets of Kadikoy
(contact for accreditation)
Now that I am back in New York, I was able to distance myself somewhat from the events in Kadikoy.  This was important since it gave me the chance to ponder on the question why the Gezi Protests occupied most of my summer; indeed, the protests were like a massive wave crashing down on me. Day-in-and-day-out I was living Gezi.      

The most obvious reason I was so fixated on Gezi is the fact that Istanbul has been my home for over a decade; almost a quarter-of-my-life.  Even if I have been commuting back and forth from New York, and at times from Israel (making it a lot easier in terms of distance), my four-walls in Istanbul are my home. They include memories of my child’s first years (her first shoes), a collection of pointless memorabilia (magnets from cities of the world), and artifacts from the past (the long forgotten photo albums). Indeed, this is a personal side that few know about, save for close friends, and of course my neighbors, who see me come and go every few months, as I lug my suitcases up-and-down the 5-floor walk-up.  They have long become use to me, and me to them.

Not like past years however, Gezi happened just as I had been over a year in Istanbul, making only two brief trips to Israel. For someone who has spent his life in a constant nomadic state this truly was one of my most relaxed periods of my life; a year filled with plenty of love and happiness; and, the Gezi protests broke this calm and serenity. 

By chance just before all hell broke loose during the evening of May 31, I found myself on Istiklal, Taksim’s main pedestrian avenue, trying to find a route home and every side street I went down seemed to be drenched with teargas. I know the streets of Istanbul even better than the ones in Tel Aviv, a city I adore, and much better than the ones in New York, a place where I randomly ended up due to employment; a love for the streets is not bound by law and belonging is not based one’s passport or by a resident permit. The same streets I saw under massive clouds of teargas are the very these same streets where I pushed my daughter’s stroller, and where I taught her to ride a bicycle. It is in also these streets I forged love and said farewell to other loves. It is in these streets I regularly take a stroll on semi-serene Sunday evenings. These streets are mine, and I share them with all who walk them.

A surprise to me was that where I encountered the violence up close was actually at my favorite bar in Taksim; perhaps not a second-home but a regular hangout for me. During the protests, it served at times as a makeshift hospital; on weekends, as teargas poured in, so did the injured-a woman injured by a plastic bullet on her back, an activist beaten black-and-blue by police, and a leg injury due to a teargas canister. And, once everyone was in safely the barman quickly brought the shutters down, turned out lights fearing a police raid that could lead to arrests.  Twice I met tourists who took cover there, and once I led an Egyptian mother and her panicking daughter from the bar once the gas settled and across police lines in the midst of battles taking place on Istiklal. For me, this side showed me that when push came to shove the protesters were left powerless, left with wounds, fear, and anger, but nevertheless defiant.  

For me, the politics of Turkey have very little to do with my stance on Gezi; it is much more about a personal conviction that every person has the right to express dissent unhindered; it is about freedom of expression, it is about defending the innocent people who were injured, it is about helping the elderly who fell down due to teargas, it is about standing up against excessive force used by police, it is so that the death of the protesters will not be in vain. Even if I am not a citizen of Turkey, Gezi showed me that I have invested way too much in the country to remain indifferent.

Yes, for me Gezi is personal, very personal.

For my articles on Gezi Park Protests see the following links:


"With One Voice they yelled: Erdogan Resign!" (artilcle appears in entirety on my blog, or Haaretz's website) 


"Erdoğan istifa diyenler ne istiyor" (Haaretz'den tercumesi)  http://www.radikal.com.tr/yorum/erdogan_istifa_diyenler_ne_istiyor-1136142

Todays Zaman

Istanbul-Tel Aviv-New York (my blog)

"A Monday night Stroll from Besiktas to Gezi Park," http://louisfishman.blogspot.com/2013/06/a-monday-night-stroll-from-besiktas-to.html 

"Update from Istanbul: Has teargas become a Saturday Night Ritual," http://louisfishman.blogspot.com/2013/07/update-from-istanbul-has-teargas-become.html


http://www.haaretz.co.il/news/world/middle-east/.premium-1.2035196  "זה לא רק הפארק: המפגינים באיסטנבול רוצים דמוקרטיה"


FOLLOW ME on TWITTER @istanbultelaviv for more on whats happening in Turkey and Israel/Palestine, the uprising in Syria, and the Middle East at large.


  1. I know this is going to sound like one of those spam comments, but your article reflects the blog entry I wrote about Gezi while the events were still going on (http://sinefilmelisb.blogspot.com/2013/06/living-in-taksim-daily-report-june-7.html). It makes me strangely proud that Istanbul has this effect on someone who hasn't grown up here.

  2. thanks for your comment, I will have a look! Louis

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