I meet “Zeki” in a bar in central Beyoğlu. He’s around thirty. His eyes and face are all red, and when he speaks he sounds like one of those in-movie mob bosses on life support. He tells me all this is due to his participation in four nights of riots around Taksim Square and in the Beşiktaş quarters, his visible medical symptoms the consequences of breathing in and just being around pepper- and tear gas. Despite this, he tells me, he only needed to visit the hospital once, which happened to be the night before I ran into him.
During a tense clash with the police in Beşiktaş the night before, a female friend of his faints, as much out of exhaustion as the tear gas. Without thinking, Zeki picks her up and starts to walk away from the police and the fighting. At that point, he his by a plastic bullet in his rear end. The reason for this brief hospitalization is thus “plastic bullet in the butt.” It could be worse, of course, but at that moment in the bar, it couldn’t be more funny.
After we stop laughing at this, he tells me more about himself. Zekis has an M.A. from UC San Diego, an uncle in Reykjavik, and works as a stock broker in Istanbul’s financial district. In the last election, he voted for Erdoğan and the AK party. He’s thus not your average protester. And Gezi isn’t your average protests.
This is from my notes, written while visiting Istanbul during the Gezi protests last summer. The reason why I was looking through them again was this week’s start of the court case against the police officers allegedly behind the death of Ali Ismail Korkmaz. Seeing the picture of Ali Ismail’s mother sitting with his picture in her lap, it hit me that it’s been more than half a year since the Gezi protests shook Turkey. Since then any illusion of political instability in one of the US (and Sweden’s) key allies in the region has been shattered.
Now, I have this weird knack for accidentally timing my Turkey travel to key political events. I’ve previously managed to accidentally time two Kurdish party closures, once finding myself a bit to close to heavily mustachioed men with knives on Istiklal Cad, and another time in Diyarbakir during that Newroz-that-wasn’t-allowed-to-be-Newroz.
So, of course I was in Istanbul during the Gezi protests.
Despite seeing or understanding but a fraction of everything that happened around me, what I did see and did experience is something I will never forget. I think what struck me most was the diversity and people’s clear frustrations with where their country was headed. That, and what Gezi park looked like before the crackdown.
But I’m not going to talk about that, other people have done that better. Instead, I am going to post this link. It’s a link to a series of photos I took during my days in Istanbul last summer. People in, or those already familiar with, Turkey will likely have seen better photos by actual photographers. This is not meant to convey any political message. Instead it is simply my way of remembering the Gezi protests.
I never thought Gezi park was particularly beautiful or interesting. But with all those people in it, it was magic.