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Istanbul protests:“Ordinary people, marching everywhere”

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“Here in this district, things are calm. In many districts there are no police because they’ve all gone to the centre of Istanbul—something like 40,000.

“Last night, we kept turning the lights on and off, on and off. Even the housewives are banging pots to make noise. Last night it lasted till 6 am. All night long. Tonight, it has started again. Everywhere, people are walking in the street to support the protesters. The government is calling us terrorists.”


 "Istanbul is awake at 3 AM!" Source: Occupy Istanbul Facebook Page

It’s not about a park. Or is it?

That day, I also manage to talk to organizational consultant Arzum Akduran Koseoglu, on a break from a training she is assisting closer to downtown. First and foremost she wants to let me know that she and the people we know in common are safe. In fact the training will continue uninterrupted on Sunday, and one of the trainers has headed to Taksim Square to join the protestors Saturday evening on her way home.

Even though all of this has come about quite suddenly, one has the sense that people in Turkey have been waiting for a breaking point, and, though they couldn’t have known it would take this form, they don’t seem surprised.

“It was fast and intense,” says Koseoglu. “We didn’t realize it would get so big because Turks were unresponsive and uninvolved. The tipping point was the park and the trees. People were waiting to defend the park the last four days against the government because [the proposed shopping mall] had not yet been approved; it was in the courts. These were peaceful demonstrators."

Then, allegedly, police attacked the park on Friday morning at 5 a.m. and began spraying tear gas at the protesters. 

Koseoglu recounts the events that added to the tension this week, including a new alcohol law and restrictions on smoking. To the West, she explains, it may look like a move towards better public health. But in Turkey, the restrictions are too tight and are one more step away from the tolerant secular society that most Turks are so proud of.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has “started a war against Turkish identity,” she explains.

“I think Erdoğan and his government have tried to create an identity for Turkey based on Islam, and that’s not possible. This land dates way back to the Hittites and Greeks before the Ottomans. Those who came from central Asia brought with them a shamanic tradition, with sky and earth gods and the Tree of Life. Though politically, many became Muslim, the central Asian Turks were in close relationship with Chinese Buddhists, and you can see stone figures of lotus flowers throughout the eastern part of Turkey.”

So attacking a tree is serious business. Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the Ottoman Sultan who conquered Constantinople in 1453 said he would cut off the head “of anyone who cuts a single branch of a tree in my forests.”

“We still tie pieces of cloth to trees to send out our wishes,” says Koseoglu. “You can’t just ignore all that and create an Islamic culture. He is denying all the identities and richness that give this land its identity.”

Vancouverites are meeting in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery Monday evening, June 3 at 7 pm in support of the demonstrators in Turkey. For more information visit the Facebook Event Page #OCCUPYGEZI.

Are you in Istanbul or any of the other cities in Turkey? What are you seeing that we should know about?


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