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Tuesday, June 04, 2013

We Never Walk Alone

It felt strange walking through Luton Airport, coming back from the airport at Sabiha Gökçen International this morning. Although it was busy, it seemed quiet to me as I walked through customs. I guess it's because the hubbub of Istanbul's Taksim is still ringing in my head. Luton's ambience seemed as hushed as a library by comparison to the last few day's vigil at Taksim's Gezi Park.

Gezi Park is an urban park in Taksim Square, in Istanbul's Beyoğlu district. It is one of the smallest public parks of Istanbul, but became witness to one of Turkey's biggest public protests in years.

Now sitting in my office, trying to write this post - instigated by the mails I've received during my few days away - and I don't know how to begin. One moment last week I was in my office, the next I found myself in Istanbul; the journey is still awhir in my mind.

Surreal is not the word to describe it. Sixteen hours before this posting, Murat Gür, who has been very prolific on his own social network pages, had this to say about how the protests began. I put it here because as a Turkish citizen with a first-hand account, he explains it better than I can.

It started as a non-violent sit in to protest the destruction of the only green area at the center of the biggest square at the center of the city. The police intervention started harshly by burning down tents, using excessive force and tear gas. Now it is not just about a park but a civil resistance against tyranny. The government keeps ignoring what is going on and forces the media to apply a blockage. We have no means to be heard from our media so we need the international media support and worldwide awareness. Be aware, spread the word and support us. We need to know that we are not alone!

For me it all began while in my office at work, reading a BBC report, and seeing a photograph of a defenceless woman being pepper sprayed by riot police in Taksim's Gezi Park during a peaceful protest. As I have family in Turkey - my sister-in-law is a teacher currently stationed in Antalya - I called to ask about the severe crackdown. She explained that she had already taken her two daughters out to march in support over what had happened in Istanbul. Theirs was a peaceful protest - a far cry from the violence playing out in Istanbul, where the protests had began.

Protesters and police in Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park last week
May 28, 2013/REUTERS/Osman Orsal
I left the office, and headed for Luton, found a ticket via a budget airline. It was a first for me, but I was in a hurry to reach Istanbul. If my experience is anything to go by, I can highly recommend budget airlines for last minute flights; the one I chose was very helpful. I had to take a redirected flight as well, but where there's human will, there's always a way. If the protests are an illustration of anything, it is that.

There will be those factions that will attempt to hijack the protests for their own political ends, it's the way of the world. No doubt there will be a proliferation of lies and fake reports, thanks in part to Twitter and the thoughtless trolls and their tweets of mass murders, bombs and goodness knows what else.

But I can't write about any of that, I can only write about what I saw on Sunday and Monday. I saw genuine peaceful protests. I saw people calmly refuse to be provoked into more violence. I saw hospitals open their doors to those that required medical attention. I saw shops hand out food and water. I saw people singing. I watched some people dance. I danced with a few. But what really moved me was how, on Monday morning, everyone got together to clear up the debris caused by some of the violent protesters and police interventions.

Is that the kind of story that makes news headlines? I don't know. The cynical side of me thinks not. But the sight of the country's younger generation showing so much care by cleaning up the devastation that is always the aftermath of mindless violence filled me with hope.

There has been a conscious shift in Turkey, of what kind and to what extent only history and greater minds than mine can say. I feel an awakening, though, as a new consciousness has arrived to a country long maligned by its neighbours, and long misunderstood by the rest.

The sad thing, or maybe the emboldening thing is, that the scenes playing out in Istanbul, and other cities in support, could be just about anywhere in the world at the moment. Most notably the Swedish riots of last May, which had thrown a spotlight on Swedish inequality. I remember how I had followed via BBC Online the six nights of rioting in Sweden's capital, Stockholm, despite police reinforcements being deployed.

As the riots spread out of Stockholm, the British papers had begun to ask if instability can happen in Sweden, can it happen elsewhere? I remember thinking how this smacked of xenophobic snobbery to me, notwithstanding the Swedish public image of being a transparent and tolerant society.

No democracy has a monopoly on being "right". The genocide of countless races by ancient Greeks was done in the name of democracy - a word they coined. Nazi Germany was forged from a democracy. America's democracy sits uneasily on the graves of all the indigenous populations it massacred and on the backs of slaves it treated like cattle, all in the name of the land of the free.

A lot has happened in the name of democracy that as a human being I can't be too proud about. None of us should be too proud, or too afraid to lift our cultural blinkers and biases simply because we might not like what we see.

So, why not Sweden, if it is mistreating its minorities? Why not Sweden, if its far-right politicians want to capitalise on the schism we have cleaved into our species, where we have turned our beliefs and cultures into ghettos of hostility? Why not Turkey if the people are not happy with their current situation? As long as it is done peacefully and responsibly, we have a right to protest and to peaceful assembly.

But I can also understand those parts of Turkish society angered or embarrassed by the scenes in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir and beyond. It is another sad actuality that there will be many with an already xenophobic attitude towards Turkey who will hijack the recent events to spread their own propaganda. Well, I say fuck them. You read that right. Fuck them. Let people peacefully protest in Turkey, irrespective of how it might look around the world. The Turkish people will be the better for it. You will be the better for it.

If people in Istanbul today can make their voice heard, if the ordinary individual is able to stir extraordinary circumstances for a cause they believe to be right, then ignore the bigots that would smirk at you. Let them look to their own countries. And those that would support you to express your rights, welcome them.

We live in a world where what happens to one affects us all; this is just as true today, maybe even more so, than it was in times past. I say to everyone from Turkey who reads this, if you haven't done so already, go join the peaceful protests in Gezi Park. The police left days ago, go and show your solidarity, if not for the cause they stand for, then for the simple fact that their right to protest is crucial to YOUR democracy.

We can't help what others see when they look at us, but when I look into the mirror, all I see is a human being. When I look at you, that's what I see, too. Furthermore, I can't speak as a member of any community. I can only speak as myself. But when as a fellow human being you need my help, I add my own small voice to yours.

It's for this reason that despite having to think long and hard about posting on this blog after all this time, I felt I had to write something - especially in response to some of the emails I received.

Therefore before I end, I just want to respond to some of those emails here:

  1. When I get time I will be updating the blog about Tarkan's latest Facebook posts, unless he translates them himself in the meantime. But in short, Tarkan has cancelled his Nature School concert until a later date due to the current situation, but he fully supports the peaceful protests in Istanbul and all across his nation.

    UPDATES: Tarkan support for Gezi Park's peaceful demonstrators >>
    Tarkan cancels Nature concert >>
    Tarkan visits Gezi Park >>
    Tarkan reschedules Nature concert for September >>

  2. Read more new stories on Tarkan >>

  3. Plus, just a quick shout out to my Polish "brother" Pawel, whose deep affection for the Turks and their culture has never wavered. He is an angel put on Earth. He emailed me a petition to sign to support better development plans for Gezi Park. If you feel like you want to add your name to the hundreds and thousands already there, then this is the link [at Change.org].

Finally, those who used to read my posts years ago will know I don't like melodrama; I get embarrassed by it. I was brought up to just do what needs to be done, with the minimal amount of fuss. So I want to clarify this post isn't about some heroic, Turkish part of me feeling the need to wave a banner of solidarity and join the protests in Istanbul. It came from the human part that stems from the sense of duty my father instilled in me.

It is this: When someone calls for help, we don't walk away. A cry for help is our cry for help. We leave no one behind.

However, I can understand that you might feel when you have an emotional investment in your own society, in your own country, it is only human nature to empathise a little more with those you feel share the same beliefs as you do, but we need to start putting that emotional investment in all people, in all countries, no matter their creed or colour.

When we do that, we shall have really created a world where we walk away from no one that needs help, where we leave no one behind. Only then - as Murat Gür and the Gezi Park protesters discovered - do we never truly walk alone.

Read more about the Gezi Park protests >>

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