Friday, January 16, 2015

Taksim Gezi Park Riots, Istanbul, Turkey

My guide Mehmet Tetik pointed out Gezi Park when he first showed me Taksim Square.  I was more interested in the incredible monument to the truly amazing Ataturk one of history’s greatest soldiers and visionaries, a true statesman.  Ataturk was Turkey’s first president.
“This was where the riots occurred between the police and developers and students. Did you not see it in the news,”
Indeed, yes ,  I had. I’d followed the BBC filming of this, amazed at the numbers of people involved and the police with tear gas cannons.  “That was here!” I said somewhat.
Mehmet nodded.  I felt like I was at the site of modern history, a place like that in Berlin where the wall came down. Mehmet had been showing so much ancient history and yet here I was being showed in passing a bit of history of my own time. We walked on to the main street of New Town.
The park was so serene today with locals and tourists, women, children and old people enjoying this little oasis of green and tranquility in the midst of a bustling noisy city centre.

I thought of the urban developer I knew who studied what he described as ‘third spaces’. I remember him telling me that crime and discord could be directly related to the lack or presence of ’third spaces’ in a city.  A third space is different from the ‘first place’ or ‘home and the ‘second space’ or workplace in a city.  The third space were these other spaces that were the ‘anchors of community because they facilitated and fostered broader creative interaction. Oldenberg in his famous book, “The Great Good Place’ articulated this all. Obviously Gezi Park was just such a third space.
The Istanbul Modern Art Museum had an amazing black and white video of the Gezi Park riots.
My new friend, Deborah, a college professor, living hear Taksim Square had been kind enough to walk me through the conflict.  “The students were there but it was these politicians who couldn’t be arrested that were instant heroes as they stood before the bull dozers."
“It wasn’t radicals. Tens of thousands of ordinary people came out. There’s no other green space in Beyoglu like Gezi Park.  There was a sense that this government was like the bulldozers here so it was as much a metaphor.  There’s tremendous fear now about the government’s perceived destructiveness. Everyone loved Ataturk and Turkish people want democracy but there was a feeling that Turkey was becoming a police state. The Gezi Park Riots were at the centre of all this.  Then suddenly the police left, it was over and today we still have this park.  People saw this as a sign that the government could still hear the voice of the majority and wasn’t deaf as people had feared. “
We sat in a cafe enjoying coffee.  Some men came up wanting to interview us about the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris. Deborah said how sad she was at  the loss of life and the tragedy of it all. I, typically , answered their questions with more vehemence.  “I don’t think murdering innocent people can be justified.  I think the murderers are just common criminals, sociopaths and psychopaths who have a desire to kill and use religion or whatever else is handy to justify their lack of civilization or social maturity.”  Deborah said she thought the young men had difficulty with translating words like “psychopath’ and ‘sociopaths’.  They did look a little befuddled after I’d spoken.
Gezi Park really was a lovely place. Deborah and I talked about our pasts and what had brought us to Istanbul.
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