Tear Gas and Laughter

erdogan 2012

erdogan 2012 (Photo credit: osipovva)

Quieter days in Istanbul. And while the tear gas clears from the streets, it’s worth mentioning the other side of the protests, that doesn’t always come through on the television pictures: the side that is by turns crazy, weird, absurd and joyful.

The other day, for instance, the police arrested a piano. Its owner, Davide Martello, came all the way from Germany to serenade the protestors in a series of open air recitals in Taksim Square. That was back when the square was full of young people laughing, drinking beer, enjoying their new found freedom to be themselves.

Then Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent the police in to turn the square back into the dreary traffic intersection it’s supposed to be. Poor Mr Martello was caught up in the middle of it. Shoot the piano player? Not in Turkey, they just arrested the piano. Now it seems the piano is stuck in Istanbul, suspected of unspecified crimes against the state, while Mr Martello is free to go.

People have, of course, been arrested for standing still. Told they couldn’t march against the government, Turks took to standing still and silent in peaceful protest. The police arrested them. It’s a good thing the police were there, otherwise all those people might have got away with standing still.

Then there was the woman, a diehard Erdogan supporter interviewed on television at his mass rally in Istanbul, who looked into the camera and announced ecstatically: “I am a hair on Erdogan’s ass!”

Yes, well. Apparently she intended it as a compliment. Who knows what turns on Erdogan and his weird acolytes? The ministers of his own government have been eager to show their own devotion.

“Turkey has the most reformist and strongest government in Europe, and the most charismatic and strongest leader in the world,” the minister for EU affairs announced the other day. “Shoukd anyone have a problem with this, then I am truly sorry.”

But then the same man felt it was necessary to make an official statement that “Turkey is not a banana republic”.

Meanwhile, another minister was disarmingly frank when he told the TV cameras: “No educated person votes for our party”.

Then there was the famous Turkish TV actor Necati Sasmaz, who, for reasons that remain unclear, was selected by the government as a representative of the protestors, even though he had nothing to do with them, rather as if some one had appointed Kim Kardashian spokesperson for the Palestinians.

He emerged from a meeting with the government to give a statement so garbled that Turks asked to translate it shrugged and said: “We have no idea what he said either.”

Graffiti appeared within hours signed by the hackers’ group Redhack, a sort of Turkish Anonymous, clarifying “We didn’t hack Necati Sasmaz”.

Much of the graffiti around Istanbul has been inspired. “You banned alcohol? We sobered up!” said one message, in reference to Mr Erdogan’s new laws restricting alcohol sales.

“I haven’t thought of a slogan yet,” said another. And when police painted over a wall that had been covered in graffiti, te next day there was a new message:

“Yay! New wall to write on!”

Then there’s been the relentless good humour from the protestors, who have greeted the tear gas with jokes and the rubber bullets with laughter. A group calling itself the Young Turks is selling  shirts with a drawing of two glasses of beer on it, and the slogan “Cheers Tayyip!”

Even Mr Erdogan’s supporters have come up with the odd moment of humour. Today some of them turned up to stand and face the protestors who are standing still. They were wearing T shirts that read: “Standing Man against The Standing Man”.

And then, the other day, I saw a dog wearing sunglasses. It was walking down the street, no owner in sight, with a pair of sunglasses perched on its face. But I don’t think that was anything to do with the protests. That was just typical Istanbul


Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Rajeev Srivastava says

    Excellent report Justin. Its always an education reading your reports laced with humour. Looking forward to more.

Leave a Reply

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