A Night in Istanbul

English: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister ...

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As night fell over Istanbul, the tear gas drifted across the city and everywhere there was the sound of people banging pots and pans in protest at the government.

I write from a friend’s apartment. On his ancient stereo, The Clash are playing Know Your Rights, which seems appropriate. I have a glass of home-made cider by my side. For much of the evening we have been holed up here, unable to move because of the riot police on the street outside.

They frequently fire tear gas. At one point they fired so much it came down the old disused chimmney and filled the flat. We ran to the windows only to realise it was out in the street as well, so we were forced back inside the flat choking, eyes streaming, tear gassed for no crime other than being in an old flat in a historic part of Istanbul where they still have chimmneys and most of the people aren’t too keen on the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

At another point, the cops came past the window dragging a teenager along the street with them. Presumably he was a protestor. Like the tens of thousands of other protestors who have been tear gassed, sprayed with water cannon, had rubber bullets shot at them, been beaten with clubs, all for daring to sepak their minds and say they don’t like Mr Erdogan.

And still they keep coming, running down the street, some of them with gas masks, others just with old scarves knotted round their faces. They refuse to be cowed. They keep protesting. It feels as if Istanbul has become the world capital of protest.

Earlier today we managed to get out and venture up towards Takism Square, the centre of the protests, where the Turkish police heroically fired tear gas and rubber bullets on a terrifying array of tree hugging environmentalists, feminists, and young people who were sharing out books from a “free library” in Gezi Park.

It’s not so easy travelling around Istanbul these days. You’re going about your business peacably, and then you smell it. Tear gas. They should rename it Eau de Istanbul. The next minute your eyes are streaming and you’re coughing, and all you did was try to walk up the street.

You finally make your way to somewhere there’s no gas, and it looks like Hebron on a bad day. The protestors have torn up the cobbles and made makeshift barrciades across the street of piled up rubble and twisted metal. In the distance an armoured car is making its way ominously towards you.

At the other end of the street are riot police, helmets, sheilds and all, and sitting with them a bunch of thugs in plain clothes: vigilantes or undercover cops, hefting clubs.

On the street there’s a mix of people:  some protestors, some local residents venturing out of their homes to buy food, others just wanting to find out what’s going on. Some of them have children with them.

And then the police decide to fire tear gas at us all. Well I suppose they were scared of the four-year-olds looking wide-eyed up the street at them. One of the protestors picks up a tear gas canister and throws it back, but the rest of us are running back up the street, and dodging into the back streets for another frightening time of trying to find a safe route home.

So it begins, the Istanbul walk, creeping up the street and peering round the corner, then breaking into a sprint when you see the tear gas streaming in, or the vigilante thugs coming your way.

Eventually we spot a taxi and persuade him to stop for us. As we get in another tear gas canister drops nearby, and the gas starts to envelope the taxi just as we speed away.

On the way back we see city buses carrying supporters to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rally on the other side of town. The metro is closed down, the ferries are stopped across the Bosphorus, but there are buses free to take the crowds to cheer on Tayyip.

And on the television, the crowds for him are as vast as the crowds around Taksim calling for hin to resign. And he’s not backing down. And that nakes me fear for this country. Erdogan seems prepared to split it down the middle in order to get his own way, and with so much anger on each side, and such huge numbers of people, I tremble to think what may happen.

It’s quiet here now. I may even go down to the shop and see if we can get some water. But reports keep coming in of trouble elsehwere around the city. Friends call saying they’ve seen buses full of soldiers on the move, though there’s no way of confirming it.

All in all, these are worrying times in Istanbul.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.