Op-ED

In the Middle of Occupy Gezi protest in Istanbul

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By Karima Rhanem

Morocco World News

Rabat, June 3, 2013

It was almost 11 am. I was boarding from Brussels to spend a 3-day vacation in one of the most beautiful tourist destinations in the world, a Othomon city whose Harem Sultan’s soap opera attracted millions of viewers across the Arab World and beyond. I was longing to enjoy the view of the Bosphorus which gives me inspiration to write. However, I have never imagined that I will be in the Middle of one of the largest and most violent anti-government protest that Turkey has seen in years.

It all started as small and peaceful protest to save a city park from turning into a shopping mall. Yet, the violent clashes between riot police and protestors escalated as the police used excessive teargas and water cannons to divide the demonstrators.

On May 31st, I was having a peaceful Turkish meal in one of Istiqlal street restaurants until I heard people chanting anti-government slogans. With my poor Turkish, I understood that the small peaceful green protest against the park demolition I read about while on the plane took a different dimension.

As any curious person, I got out of the restaurant to see what’s going on. I was amazed by the number of protestors in Istiqlal street. I took few pictures with my phone and decide to go back to the hotel. I have to admit that since the million solidarity protest of Moroccans during the Palestinian Intifada in 2000, I have never been to such a huge protest in person even during the Arab Spring.

After reaching the Middle of Istiqlal street, close to the Maydan where over 10,000 people gathered, I saw several people running in different directions. Police were using excessive teargas to disperse protestors. As I am a person with allergy, I started having breathing problems. A Turkish guy from one of the coffee shop was running towards me and pulled me quickly to the coffee to save me from violence. Several young people were hiding there too. They brought me a liquid to drink and put on my eyes to clean them from the gas and gave me a protection mask.

From the window of that coffee shop, I saw one of the most brutal clashes between Riot police and protestors. I waited and waited, but the clash never stopped. I decided to leave the coffee anyhow and find a safe way to go to the hotel. In every single street, I saw a different type of violence and I kept running and hiding in different coffee shops for almost 6 hours. My hotel was not far, but there was no safe way to reach it.

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 in the closest ferry stations to Taksim, including Kabatas, and all roads were blocked.

When I finally passed the Maydan, I saw shops broken, cars and buses burnt and people throwing stones. I was shocked but felt a relief when I finally saw the way to my hotel. Yet, that relief vanished when protestors suddenly run through the hotel direction and police started shooting teargas, which brought me down among others, injured in my left leg with a serious breathing problem. I couldn’t realize what was happening around me until I found myself in one of the carpet seller shops. I had a real difficult night and couldn’t sleep, because the protests continued until very late at night. I felt that Taksim has become a war zone.

The next morning, people told me that things are calm and that I can go out. I decided to go on a Bosphorus Tour. But I was very careful not to be late for fear that the protests would start early. Of course not a single Taxi driver accepted to take me to Taksim area. I spent 2 hours looking for a taxi and I finally found one willing to get me just closer with a 30 TL.

I thought that he will get me at least closer, but he took me to the middle of the protest. Everything was blocked. No way ! I had to walk over 15 km to reach the hotel, but I have never managed to find it. I had to experience the same thing again, but this time was more violent.

With a poor English, one of the Turkish protestors said that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayeb Erdogan did a lot for democratic and economic reforms in Turkey. But, he has recently become more restrictive on social issues and personal liberties.

Recently, a bill creating far-reaching restrictions on alcohol was passed. Despite that, I saw most protestors queuing to buy beers on Saturday evening to celebrate police away from the Taksim Maydan.

The demonstrations also spread in Ankara and Izmir over the weekend with clashes between protesters and police, resulting in at least two deaths and more than 1,000 injured. Interior Minister Muammer Guler announced on Turkish state TV on Saturday that 939 people in 90 separate demonstrations across Turkey had been arrested in connection with the protects, but some of them have already been released.

Recep Tayeb Erdogan, who is currently paying an official visit to the Maghreb region (Morocco – Algeria- Tunisia) has accused the opposition and secular parties of manipulating the protests.

On my way to the airport on Sunday, it was heavily raining. Yet, the rain didn’t prevent the escalation of the protests.  Hundred thousand paraded up the pedestrian shopping Istiqlal Avenue who has become a scene of vandalism and clashes, chanting “Tayyip resign!”.

Turkish Diaspora in Europe, especially Germany, with the largest Turkish population, have also organized protests in solidarity with the demonstrators.  After the Jasmine Revolution in Tunis almost 3 years ago, can we talk today about the beginning of a green revolution in Turkey?

Karima Rhanem is a Moroccan Communications, media and Development Specialist, photographer, journalist, researcher in Governance and Public Policy, and a social activist with over 12 years of experience in civil society and youth issues.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy

© Morocco World News. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed

Categories: Op-ED

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