With news of today's violent crackdown on protestors occupying Taksim Park in Istanbul, the situation in Turkey continues to be unpredictable. Lamis* is a Turkish medical professional from the American midwest who has not previously self-defined as an activist. She just happened to be visiting Turkey when the Occupation of Gezi took off. She wrote this on her cell phone.
I am a first generation Turkish American, and I love both the United States of America and Türkiye. While growing up, I regularly visited Türkiye in the summers to visit my relatives. In fact just recently, I was on my way to kite surf in Türkiye when the protests began. My friend picked me up by the airport. He told me about a park, Gezi Park, located in Taksim that was going to be torn down for a shopping mall. I had been through Gezi Park in the past, because I enjoy visiting Taksim. Taksim Square is the transportation hub of the city and also a historic area. It is where people gather for nightlife, music, food, and also a place where regular protests are held by different groups. Because of these previous friendly protests I have seen, I did not make much of the protests initially from my friend's story. During my ride from the airport, traffic was not moving. Therefore, my friend dropped me off at Kabatas, which is at the bottom of Taksim hill, where I could cross by boat. When I got out of the car, my mouth burned and eyes teared. I looked around and noticed people were covering their mouths, and so I pulled up the collar of my shirt to cover my mouth. I attributed this discomfort to the nearby gas station. When I got to my lodging, I checked out Facebook and read all my friends' comments about the violent protests in Türkiye. They were firing off status updates every few minutes, and I could tell something was really wrong. So, I turned on the news and flipped through all the news channels. There was no news about protests or violent police in Türkiye. I saw that the Ms. Turkiye beauty pageant was on. I did not think too much about it after traveling for a little less than 24 hours by plane. I tried to sleep but awoke to noise. I thought maybe a neighbor was pounding on the pipes so that someone would be quiet. The noise continued, and so I called my friend and told him I could not figure out what is going on. He was frustrated and responded, "Didn't you listen about the protests? People are upset and can't sleep."
The next day, I met up with my friends. Everyone was very upset and updated me on the situation. I found out that a peaceful environmental protest for protecting Gezi Park resulted in police terror. They showed me videos taken and shared on Facebook in which police were aiming and firing teargas canisters at people's heads. Water cannons were used against peaceful civilians. Police were running armored vehicles into crowds and trying to crush people. The videos were shocking and bloody. Police were recorded attacking civilians not even involved in protests. I read that in 6 days, more teargas was used in Türkiye than in all of 2012 in 12 European countries combined. I saw photos of the ground covered in teargas shells. I saw videos of women and elderly beaten. Because police were attacking hospitals, by breaking windows and doors, the religious leader at a mosque opened it to be used as a first aid sanctuary. People died, suffered head injuries, and lost their eyes from weapons aimed at their faces. Doctors were beaten for caring for patients. Agent Orange was rumored to be used against civilians because an unknown gas was causing confusion and delirium that doctors did not associate with the side effects of teargas or pepper spray. It was sheer police brutality ordered by the prime minister. We all waited to hear what he would say about the protests. Finally, the prime minister, Tayyip Erdogun, went on the news and gave a speech. In that speech, he stated if more people protested, he would bring even more people to force them out. He even made a statement that those who didn't want the trees cut down could be hanged from those trees. He blamed the people for escalating the violence and claimed no apology or responsibility for the police brutality.
There are no official reports on death and injuries; however, there is estimated to be more than 4000 injuries, at least 3 deaths, and 10 who lost vision due to eye injuries. Families are circulating photos of missing people who may be dead or under police custody. There was no Turkish news coverage for 2 days while this occurred. In fact CNN Turk aired a documentary on penguins while CNN international reported on the protests. We watched CNN international and BBC to get news on Türkiye. Despite lack of news reporting, Twitter and Facebook spread the news worldwide. Many countries have shown their support of Turkiye. Over 60 Turkish cities protested with thousands in attendance. Protestors in other cities were also attacked by police. The prime minister dismissed his civilians as looters and terrorists. He called Twitter a "menace to society." He then left the country in chaos for a diplomatic tour while police brutality continued.
Many people say 'what is the big deal? It is a park.' Gezi park is not just a park but also is a symbol. It represents wrongdoing and dictatorship. People are fighting to maintain freedom and democracy. Türkiye is a country that borders east and west. Looking at a map, it is surrounded by Greece, Russia, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. It is the only predominantly Muslim populated country with a secular democracy. Turkiye was established as a Republic in 1923. It is the only country on two continents: Europe and Asia. As a result, Türkiye is a tolerant country with a mixture of diverse cultures and immigrants. It is not every country that two women can be seen walking side by side, with one dressed in a mini-skirt and the other in a headscarf. These two women may be friends or sometimes even sisters. Turkiye is an ally to the USA and Europe. After London and Paris, it is the third most visited tourist destination. Turkiye's ability to maintain a society that can tolerate extreme viewpoints makes it incredibly important as a stabilizing country in the region. This is the beauty of Türkiye, and why it is so important not to lose its democracy to dictatorship. The protests continue and despite tens of thousands continuing to protest, the government refuses to end police brutality. John Dalhuisen, Director of Amnesty International for Europeans stated "Excessive use of force by police officers can be routine in Turkey but the excessively heavy-handed response to the entirely peaceful protests in Taksim has been truly disgraceful. It has hugely inflamed the situation on the streets of Istanbul where scores of people have been injured." Amnesty International has asked its activists across the world to take action on Turkiye and recommended Turkiye's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to stop police violence and diffuse the situation. Instead, the prime minister threatens to unleash his supporters against the protesters which will lead only to further civil unrest and an internal war amongst the people.
Today is the 15th day since the protests have started. Today, Gezi Park was again attacked and protestors injured. The police even staged false 'protestors' that were provoking the police with Molotov cocktails as a excuse to invade the park. 73 lawyers were arrested and dragged from the courthouse into police custody.
Now the people are losing those who will defend them. People of Türkiye request support internationally and anxiously await what is yet to come.