As I start to write here in northern North America, the headlines from the old heartland of the Ottoman empire far away, between the Mediterranean and Black seas, are not encouraging.
(See : “Police lock down Taksim, PM shows off in Istanbul” ; “Turkish PM says it was his ‘duty’ to oust protestors occupying Istanbul park” ; “Turkish protesters kept away from Taksim Square by police” ; and “Turkish riot police crack down on protesters.”)
I take some solace from “Why Turkey protests are a good thing” by Fareed Zakaria — posted on the CNN website this past Friday. But I can’t pretend to have any idea about what will finally happen. And it seems that, whatever else, things are getting worse before they get better.
The news fills me with a quiet sadness. To start with, I spent two enchanted-tourist days in Turkey not quite half a dozen years ago, in Izmir and Istanbul. Now the current “Descent into confrontation” seems to be stealing some of my warmest recent memories of public spaces in the global village — and even a few upbeat thoughts about the future for our troubled species.
And then if some ultimate (almost religious?) faith in democracy is especially important to you, the current descent in Istanbul and other parts of Turkey is bound to point towards some deeper summer of discontent.
The descent began in the “last week of May 2013” when “a group of people most of whom did not belong to any specific organization or ideology got together in Istanbul’s Gezi Park.” Their immediate object was to “prevent and protest the upcoming demolishing of the park for the sake of building yet another shopping mall at very center of the city.”
Sumandef Hakkinda, a young lady on the spot, has told her version of the story from here: The “police arrived with water cannon vehicles and pepper spray. They chased the crowds out of the park … In the evening of May 31st the number of protesters multiplied. So did the number of police forces around the park. Meanwhile the local government of Istanbul shut down all the ways leading up to Taksim square where the Gezi Park is located. The metro was shut down, ferries were cancelled, roads were blocked … Yet more and more people made their way up to the center of the city by walking … They came from all around Istanbul. They came from all different backgrounds, different ideologies, different religions. They all gathered to prevent the demolition of something bigger than the park: The right to live as honorable citizens of this country … They gathered and continued sitting in the park. The riot police set fire to the demonstrators’ tents and attacked them with pressurized water, pepper and tear gas during a night raid. Two young people were run over by the vehicles and were killed. Another young woman … was hit in the head by one of the incoming tear gas canisters. The police were shooting them straight into the crowd.”
The first North American article I read on the story was “How Democratic Is Turkey? … Not as democratic as Washington thinks it is,” published on the Foreign Policy website on June 3, 2013. Since then the plot has thickened — several times and in various directions. The question now is how much thicker can it get? (And personally, I can’t help asking, how much sadder will I be when it is all over, for the time being at least?)
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