Part 2 – Adding cover to the Protestors
So when we arrived at our lovely air bnb apartment and greeted by our hosts Virginia and Umit, they mentioned that Saturday (the next day) was the first year anniversary of the Taksim Square protests in Istanbul and there was another protest planned to commemorate the deaths that occurred during the initially peaceful protests the year previously.
Umit assured us that there shouldn’t be any trouble, especially as it was raining when we arrived (amazing thunderstorms echoing in the streets) and that Turkish protestors were fair weather protestors (not like the Ukraine people he said).
However we woke and Saturday appeared to be good weather. We were walking around our local area on Saturday and there was a very heavy police presence. On most street corners leading to Taksim Square were 20+ police officers in armour with batons, shields, tear gas and plastic bullet rifles, but all were sitting around smoking and drinking tea.
While we were wandering around the streets trying to find a nice pair of light cotton man-pink trousers for Rob to wear in the various amazing Mosques and Churches (as the weather is too hot to wear jeans and man pink is definitely “in” right now), we heard a tourist guide indicating to his guests that it was fine now, but at 7pm it could get a little interesting.
We found the man-pink trousers and then continued on our walk around our local area, following our noses and found a lovely garden and enjoyed some tea, then wandered some more and found a lovely bar and had a glass of local Turkish white wine.
We were just finishing up when the bar owners started packing in the outside furniture. A quick check of the watch showed that it was 18.45. Hmm, how did the time get away on us. As we were leaving we had a quick chat with the bar lady. She told us that there were going to be troubles this evening so they were packing up the bar, and that the social media had already suggested that the protestors were attacking the police (or the police were attacking the protestors – we couldn’t really work out exactly which she meant).
We started moving back to our apartment and discovered that some of the roads were now being blocked off by protestors, some wearing hoods, scarves and some with crash helmets and a little more disturbingly, gas masks. We had seen the press with these earlier, but thought it was just for extreme cases.
We walked down one street only to find an armoured police van holding off protestors that were hurling bottles hiding behind a fire in the street that they had lit.
And this was the first time we experienced tear gas (and hopefully the last?). Tingling in the nose, eyes starting to itch, sneezing, itchy throats – and this was just from the little wiffs that were coming up the streets. We opted to try another street, and found more protestors and a nice lady that said that the protestors and the police shouldn’t attack tourists unless it all gets crazy, and it wasn’t crazy yet… So we made it most the way back to our apartment, and then called Umit to see how our street was. He said it was safe and to try and get to the front door if we could. We ran up past Jumpy only to find that the protestors were using the sturdy van as a shield from the police further up the road.
We made the dash to the front door and up into the apartment and had a chat to Umit and Virginia and we decided it might be worth while trying to move Jumpy out of the action. We went down and Umit said that the protestors weren’t an issue so he would ask them to move as Rob tried to reverse out of the car park. Rob tried quite a bit and was struggling with the really good parking job Julie had done the previous evening. Umit suddenly appeared by the passenger door and suggested he should climb in as well.
Suddenly the protestors were running everywhere and a squad of armoured police came streaming into the street firing tear gas and plastic bullets up the street past Jumpy. Umit put the hazard lights on and Rob put up the windows and applied the handbrake. The police secured the street but ignored us and we then parked back in the parking spot and decided it would probably better if we just leave Jumpy to it. Hopefully the sturdy van will be able to cope with the action over night. She has one battle wound already from scaffolding at Galata Tower, she doesn’t really need any further damage, as we are pretty sure our travel insurance doesn’t cover civil unrest…
And then at 11pm it started to rain and the protestors decided to call it a night.
Footnote: Our initial concern about Jumpy and its close proximity to the protestors, was based upon our experience of the Manchester riots where there was lots of indescriminent damage to property and vehicles. However, after discussions with Umit and Virginia it became clear there is a very big difference between Turkish peaceful protestors and Manchester hoodlums.
Last year there was a six day peaceful protest in Taksim Square, which ended abruptly, when in the night the Police attacked the protestors. In fact everyone we spoke to felt that the only violence both last and this year came from the police. Yes, the protestors lit fires in the streets and threw beer bottles, eggs and green sour plums. Thats right, I looked out the window of the apartment to see a protestor buying sour green plumbs from the off-license across the road, before throwing them at the police. In contrast the police fire tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons in which the water has base added to it so when you go to wash it off it burns for many days.
At one point on Saturday, Umit was looking at some coverage online only to see the Turkish Police arrested a CNN reporter while he was live on air . The widely accepted view of people we spoke to the next day was that this was actually a good thing because hopefully it would highlight to the rest of the world what was happening in Turkey. In fact, it was in one of these conversations that we discovered that Turkey has more Journalists in Prison than any other country in the world
For us, travel is not just about the history, beauty and food; the day to day lives of the people of the countries we visit is just as important. From what we understand the lives of the people of Istanbul and Turkey have become more restricted and difficult over the past 12 months. It is important that the rest of the world is aware of this and lobbies the Turkish Government to ensure freedom of speech and free press in Turkey.