Showing posts with label Taksim Square. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Taksim Square. Show all posts

Monday, January 5, 2015

Alina Gallo's Memorializations in Miniature:Berkin Elvan & Gezi Park

Alina Gallo, artist
One of the beautiful things about my PAWI (Professional Women of Istanbul) group is that I meet interesting American expats who are interacting with the region in their own unique way.

This year, I met a young painter who was memorializing key events that have occurred in the Middle East and North Africa through her art. Her name is Alina Gallo. She hails from Long Island, New York. When I met Alina, she was living here in Istanbul, inspired by the events of the region.
Berkin Elvan was
14 years old when he
went out of the house
to fetch bread for his family's dinner.
Struck by a tear gas canister
to the head,
as protests were occurring
in his neighborhood,
Berkin lingered
in a coma for 269 days,
and then died.
In learning about Alina's art, one of the first things that struck me was the humility with which she approached her work. When I first saw her studies for the miniature commemorating the funeral of Berkin Elvan, I was moved to tears. "this is a masterpiece," I told her.

Alina demurred. She thought of herself as one artist in a long line of miniature painters who documented moments of history and cultural importance. She drew attention away from her own contribution. 

"It is through me, not of me. That is the power of the miniature form. It becomes an expression of shared experience and collective consciousness. This is the beauty of creative energy." she said.

Alina's medium is egg tempura, a paint made with egg yolks, ground pigments and water. One of her paint brushes has just three hairs, another has just two. She works with a magnifying glass and illustrator's glasses. 
Berkin Elvan's Funeral March, 2014
Text with painting: What happens if you and your family live near a place in Istanbul where all of the protests are happening? Fourteen-year-old Berkin Elvan, ran to the store for bread as his family was settling down for dinner. Berkin's family were Kurdish Alevis, so minorities both ethically and religiously in Turkey. Berkin was shot squarely in the head with a tear-gas container by an Istanbul policeman. 15-year-old Berkin Elvan's funeral march took place on March 12, 2014. Elvan died after 296 days in a coma after being struck on the head by a government tear gas canister while going out to get bread for his family during the Gezi protests in June 2013. After his death, thousands proceeded with his coffin to the funeral ceremony and cemetery. As a symbolic gesture many bakeries closed that day and citizens tied loaves of bread to doors and windows with black ribbons. As soon as he was buried, mourners and protesters were immediately met with police crack-downs all over the city of Istanbul and in other cities across Turkey. 

Alina's work reminded me of another artist, Walt Whitman, who documented through poetry and prose, youth spent and lost working toward noble visions during the American Civil War.

Back then, Walt Whitman would sit next to the bedside of a young person who gave his all in pursuit of a better future for his nation and was destined to pass on. 

It mattered to Whitman that his reader know the person behind the sacrifice for a noble cause: what the young person cared about, who he was sweet on, how he wanted to be remembered to his mother. 

In humanizing the individuals behind a great movement, it was as if he said to his audience, "take in the magnificence and the ordinariness of this human being. Feel this loss with me."

Berkin Elvan may not have been of the Gezi protests, but he was one of the causalities of casually-used excessive force.

Alina documented the loss of a sweet boy, that many Turks, and others who were watching, felt deeply. Today would have been Berkin Elvan's 16th birthday.
Educated Gezi youth
literally couldn't wait
to contribute
to their country.
Their enthusiasm
was not welcomed.
I was grateful that Alina was in Istanbul to honor the struggles of Gezi Park youth with her attention and work. Like me, she observed the events, but wasn't of the events, She painted it one step removed. I felt like she was capturing what I was watching. The Turks, themselves, they were the ones actually living it.

The Gezi Youth Generation, members of a secular movement to save an urban park in a city where parks are in short supply, brought an idealism and spirituality to their quest that was deeply moving to experience first-hand. There was purity and sweetness and goodness in that park. You could feel it. It was an incredible privilege to visit it. 

The Gezi youth generation is deeply cognizant of all the sacrifices made by the founding generation of Turkish citizens. Their deep awareness of this can only be called reverence. Watching them gather, sing, camp, help each other, celebrate their democratic wishes with a sense of community that is as rare as it was special made me contemplate the sacrifices of the Turkish people at the beginning of their nation. Now the new nation was bearing fruit. Those sacrifices had found artistic, intellectual, and spiritual flowering with this generation ninety years later. 

The new youth movement was expressed with a collective wish, not for more of the new-found prosperity Turkey has achieved, but a desire to save a beloved spot from over-development, a traditional tea garden, and the trees and park that surrounded it in the center of downtown Istanbul.

A highly rational (not emotional) Turkish mathematician said to me that, at that moment, if the Turkish prime minister had held out a hand, and said, "I too was once young. I too have known what it was to dream," he would have emerged larger than before. But that isn't what happened. His heart wasn't in that place. Instead, he responded with cold action, deriding all of the young protesters as çapulcu, or 'thugs' in Turkish.
Istiklal Riots
"Everywhere is Taksim!"
Kadikoy Riots
I loved the painting of "Berkin Elvan's Funeral March" and bought it. I then commissioned Alina to do a painting of what happened in my neighborhood during Gezi using my experience as a resident and this iconic image by photographer Daniel Etter as inspiration. Below is the sketch in progress.
Gezi Park Movement: June 1st
Alina wrote: "Sketch in progress for a piece depicting a night during the Gezi Park movement in 2013 in Beşiktaş, Istanbul. I have been reconnecting to the Gezi movement with this work- seeing and reading again so many stories of the community coming together for each other and their country. In the foreground waves break up against the pier along sea. Nature in this context reminds me of what holds us all, what cleans the air and refreshes energies amid turmoil. The flag bearer stands amid teargas during the riots ... in Beşiktaş on the night of June 1. A Guy Fawkes mask lies on the ground and a broken television in the pile of barricades to reflect the media situation in turkey as well as an evolution towards a social media landscape. In the apartment above families bang pots on the balcony in support and through the trees is Gezi on the hill with a backhoe truck looming." 
Sleepers in Gezi
Text with painting: “To contest the urban development plan for Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in Turkey began on 28 May, 2013. Subsequently, supporting protests and strikes took place across Turkey protesting a wide range of concerns, at the core of which were issues of freedom of the press, of expression, assembly, and the government’s encroachment on Turkey’s secularism. Now, having been spared destruction, Gezi Park and its famous sycamore trees have also become a sanctuary for many Syrian refugee families. In Turkey, alone the total number of registered Syrian refugees (Istanbul’s refugees are mianly unregistered) has reached over 800,000 since the onset of the Syrian civil war. Here, those displaced by war sleep, roll their cigarettes and quietly congregate in the morning hours. Şişli Camii lies in the distance and through the trees cranes cross the sky. The Bosphorus forms a migration bottleneck for thousands of birds as they travel from Europe into the Middle East and Africa, a parallel and ancient narrative of mass movement between continents.” ~ Alina Gallo
Alina is applying for a Fulbright Scholar fellowship for the United Arab Emirates. I’m pleased the idea was sparked when she visited my “Fete for Fulbrights” this summer. Her goal is to teach young Emirati women at Zayid University cross-cultural miniature arts and the technique of egg tempera painting.

Alina’s miniature themes extend beyond Gezi. That’s the sorrowful part of the Middle East. It keeps supplying iconic moments. I was deeply touched to see freelance journalist Marie Colvin’s work memorialized. Ms. Colvin, a dashing international foreign correspondent, who covered the Syrian civil war zone in an eye patch due to previous moments of daring-do, lost her life in her quest to share the conflict with a world struggling to understand.

I urge you, gentle reader, to contemplate the other beautiful miniatures on Alina’s new website. Our mutual friend, Catherine Bayar, has written an appreciation of Alina’s work that appeared in Hand/Eye Magazine.

Additional press on Alina’s work:

Time Out Dubai: Tales of War, JamJar artist Alina Gallo Explains her Artistic Expression 

About Alina Gallo - the JamJar Residence

You may be interested in these other posts I wrote:

Gezi Park Turkish Protests: Where is a Range of Opinion?

A Fete for Fulbrights

The perfect tribute to Vaclav Havel: The Vaclav Havel Award for Creative Dissent

Listening to Dissidents

The Restoration of Order: The Normalization of Czechoslovakia

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

#TwitterbannedinTurkey creates an opportunity for Turks to create and broadcast more than a single story about their nation

The last time my free speech was censored in Turkey was right before a local election. The entire Google Blogspot domain was shut down. The reason cited for the shutdown of Google Blogspot was someone live-streaming football games over their blog. I was new to Turkey. The fact that this censorship of an entire domain (not just one person's site) happened right before a hotly-contested election struck me as interesting.

Freedom of tweet!
Last week, I was scheduled to give a workshop to Istanbul educators on how to use Twitter. As it happened, my workshop was scheduled for the heart of Taksim Square. That Twitter workshop had to be cancelled due to protests that were so huge they made the New York Times.

The protests were a reaction to the death of a young man named Berkan Elvan who had run to the store for bread in a neighborhood with ongoing protests. On his trip to the store, Berkan was shot in the head with a tear gas canister. Berkan had been 14 at the time he was shot, had lingered in a coma for 269 days, and finally passed away at the age of 15. His death has not been investigated, nor has anyone been held accountable.

Berkan is a member of a religious minority, the Alevis, as are many of the other victims of state violence this year.

How strongly did people in Turkey feel about his death? Take a look at his funeral.

No chirping allowed.
Amazingly, less than a week later, Berkan Elvan's death is no longer in the headlines. The conversation has been completely changed away from police brutality. This week's outrage is that Twitter has been censored. Why? So that stories that would be "insulting" to those in power can not be accessed. An election is less than one week away.

Excessive drama and outrageousness happens every week in Turkey. On the one hand, that's what makes it so fascinating to live here. Yet I don't want to be like one of those Jews in Nazi Germany who were in denial about how bad it could get. They didn't leave when all signs were screaming that they should.

Twitter had a bad night in Turkey!
Faster, little bird, faster!
Hoşgeldiniz! [Welcome]

I hope for his sake he doesn't miss!

The Sultan of Twitter

The Byrds! The Byrds!

The Twitter ban may not be as cinematic as it was in Nazi Germany, but there is no doubt about it, banning Twitter was the equivalent of a book burning. All of the tweets people send are just shorter books. Even the United States State Department agrees it was a book burning.

The first episode of Twitter censorship ended with Turkish citizens breaking all records of Twitter use. As you can see, the memes about it were delightfully creative. The second episode of Twitter was harder to surmount as the government had banned more spots.
The Turkish people were ready.
Power to the people!
The government of the
Turkish Nation
seemed to willingly
trash its "place brand"
as an up-and-coming
secular democracy.
It occurred to me watching Turkish creativity erupt due to Twitter being banned in Turkey, that it was the Turkish people's golden opportunity to create more than a single story about Turkey. "The Single Story" is an idea of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that we often get just one story in our heads about a place and it creates the entire identity of a people.
Oh, he won't fit!
Zipped shut!

Yes, the actions of  their government may have received all of the negative headlines, but the response has been fun [so far] and it continues to be beautiful. Why shouldn't the world hear and have many, many stories about Turkey!
 Sing, Turkish tweeters, sing!

You may be interested in these other posts about censorship in Turkey and elsewhere:

You can follow both my blog in Facebook at EmptyNestExpat, and on Twitter at @EmptyNestExpat.

Update: Berkin Elvan's Funeral March was memorialized in miniature by miniaturist Alina Gallo. You can read about it here.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Polarization is a Choice

 A photo of the Beşiktaş Forum,
a nightly neighborhood discussion
happening in my neighborhood park
and twenty other parks throughout Istanbul
where citizens discuss the future of the protests
and the future of their country.
I feel deeply lucky to have experienced the Turkish protests and to watch citizen engagement on a level never before experienced in Turkey. I plan to write about the experience, but frankly, it has been so interesting, I couldn't even tear myself away from watching it long enough to write about it. It makes me appreciate that real journalists get that done and do it on deadline too.

As an expat, I am constantly reflecting on how events in the country I am living in are related to the events from my country of origin. One of the most astounding experiences of the whole Gezi Park protests has been the level of polarization (which I wrote about here in my last post).

How polarized has it been? So polarized that the Turkish government talks about bringing in the military to restore order. Citizens discuss the possibility that there could be a civil war. I thought that I had experienced polarization in America during George W. Bush's Presidency, but this makes the Bush Presidency look like child's play. Even the clothes are different, as if each team has a uniform.

Shockingly, it wasn't until I watched this play out among the Turks that it occurred to me that polarization is a choice. When the American people were polarized, we allowed ourselves to be manipulated into doing that. We didn't have to buy that, but we did. We chose to respond to manipulative language and to allow ourselves to demonize our fellow citizens, even though we know in our hearts that what makes our country great is the range of contributions from everyone.

How boring and "trailing edge" Americans must have been during that period. One constant verbal or online sledgehammer to each other for eight years. It's so unproductive and dehumanizing. As we, the American people, beat up on each other by choosing polarized news sources and polarized web sites, other countries have gotten on with business while we spent our billions indulging in a war in Iraq America wishes it could forget. In a globalized world, the country that chooses to be divided, falls behind.

If I could offer advice to my Turkish friends based on my eight years of living through the George W. Bush presidency it would be to understand that polarizing language is manipulative language. If you buy into it, you're allowing yourself to be manipulated. Take care of your personal relationships, invite your most opposite philosophically-different friend over for dinner and break bread together. Just because dialogue doesn't occur at your highest level, doesn't mean dialogue can't occur at the citizen level.
(the meal where Muslims break their fast
after a day of no food or water)
Official White House Photo
by Chuck Kennedy
Breaking bread together is such a fundamental practice. That's why it means so much to me to see my President celebrate Ramadan or Diwali or Passover. During that meal time, my President is contemplating and learning from someone who is different than him. He is respecting and celebrating their traditions. He is honoring them. Is there any reason we, the people who live all over the world, can't do that too?

I read recently that members of the American Congress are so polarized, and there is so much money at stake in each decision, that they no longer undertake this practice of breaking bread with their opposite. It shows. Congressional approval ratings hover around 10% and they famously work to keep the status quo rather than move the country forward.

Polarization is a choice. I'm no longer going to buy it. How about you?

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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Gezi Park Turkish Protests: Where is a "Range of Opinion?"

Protesters doing yoga in Gezi Park
What a fascinating week in Turkey as my friends have risen up and demanded their Turkish democracy be inclusive of their lifestyles and opinions too. I say "my friends" because, like most expats, I have a few friends who support the AKP and hundreds who don't. Most of my Istanbullian friends are broadly secular, supportive of the ideas of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and are internationally-oriented global citizens. So they are completely unrepresentative of the average Turk, and especially, the average Turk who voted in the AKP-majority government.
A Turkish friend who protests
In story after story about the protests, the range of opinions reported has been very narrow. It is very easy for Westerners in Istanbul to identify with the protesters, because they are asking for things that Westerners consider foundational for a democracy: respect for minority opinion, respect for diversity of lifestyle, respect for the variety of religious expression, and respect for freedom of the press. The protests started with concern about the pace of urban transformation and sense of loss for vital green spaces within one of the world's largest cities. All of these ideas that the protesters are demanding have been ably, bravely, and amply reported. The protesters' voices are heard in story upon story in the English-language press. But you'll notice, there isn't a big range of opinion there. The protesters seem unified around these thoughts.

The views of government supporters and of the government has been very hard to find. I've been trying to find those opinions, because as a library professional, my job and my joy and my mission in life is to share information on all sides of issues. While the protesters are organized in both Turkish and English on social media and are also available in the park for easy interviewing, AKP folks must be talking to themselves on Twitter and Facebook almost exclusively in Turkish. Journalists are flying in from all over the World to cover this story, but with today's news budgets, having a translator is an extra expense some news organizations may not have. I have read hardly anything reflecting the AKP view.
Six Turkish Newspapers
All With the Same Headline
Where is a "range" of opinion
(on either side)?
The Turkish media had six front pages all with the same headline in Turkish to reflect to Turkish people the 'official' government opinion when Prime Minister Erdogan came back from North Africa; this shows there is not much deviation in the AKP opinion either. Even worse for the AKP and its supporters, their opinions aren't being expressed in English.

Even at the friendship level we expats rarely hear these AKP opinions, simply because many AKP people have not taken the time to learn a global language so they can express themselves to the world.
Protest banner decrying police brutality

These narrow bands of opinion seem to be a Venn diagram of two circles, one labeled "protesters" and one labeled "AKP." The circles seem not to have overlapping parts. Because each side seems mostly to talk to like-minded friends there is also the danger of online filter bubbles.

I remember this kind of polarization in the Bush years in America. It's the kind of opportunity Obama walked into, rallying everyone around the center. I don't know if there is a center in Turkey, but it is unoccupied at the moment - unlike Gezi Park.

Friday, February 15, 2013

#1billionrising in Istanbul

"Everyday Five Women Are Killed
through Domestic Violence"
Yesterday was so delightful. The enormity of Eve Ensler's imagination blew me away. It was just glorious to participate in the largest global happening on the planet to date. Turkish media was 100% there for the event. Many newspapers featured it on their front page the day it was to happen and the day after. My local neighborhood municipality actually sponsored a rising themselves and offered people free dance classes. I wasn't able to go because it was during the day but the joy of those who did attend is self-evident! The anthem was perfect as it created and communicated the joyousness of the feminist tsunami circling the world.
New friend and fellow protester
Betül. She was a delight!

I thought there was a rising at 6 p.m. in Taksim Square, but when I got there, the square was empty. I looked around and guessed who would be the most likely to be attending a rising that night. I guessed exactly right on my first try. The young German lady said, "yes, my roommate has organized the one in Kadikoy on the Asian side at 7 p.m." I guess it's been all those years of guessing who speaks English to ask questions that helped me pick the right female to ask! We gathered a Canadian friend of hers and took the ferry over to Asia.

There were all kinds of people there, at least 500 if not more. One young woman had hand-lettered signs on both sides with magic marker and gladly shared them with people she didn't know. I marveled at the time investment, but hey, I had done the same in my own way, with non-stop promotion of #1billionrising in the weeks prior to everybody I could think of.

I realized when I got there, that this was an event that was tailor-made for Turkey. Most Turks dance with abandon and they have wonderful, wonderful folk dances that are easy to learn and enable people of all ages to participate. We started doing the halay in a big circle and gorgeous young women would make that ululating sound as loud as they could with incredible joy. It was FABULOUS.
 Someone translated this to me that night as:
"Hallelujah, the women are united!"
The administrator in me started thinking "well, if I had done this promotion, I would have done this different and that different, starting with designing a dance as easy to learn as the Turkish halay so it could go viral and all ages would dance it up." The official #1billionrising choreography was intimidating to nondancers as a time investment. It looked like it would take multiple rehearsals to learn. That makes it hard for folks to identify with so that they join in up until the last minute. I would also would have waited for a year to do this when Valentine's Day fell on a Saturday so the maximum number of people could join. Had it happened on a weekend, I would have just gone to risings all day, one after the other.

I also wish the President of the United States had given #1billionrising a shoutout in the State of the Union speech the night before. I mean, it's not every single day that 1 billion people decide to organize themselves into mass action. A single "I hear ya!" would have sufficed.

The State Department, which prides itself on social media saavy, seemed like complete nonparticipants on Twitter. I would have thought Hillary Clinton's State Department would have had risings organized at all embassies and consulates. Women's rights were supposed to be hallmark of Hillary's time as Secretary of State. The United Nations, the UK Prime Minister, and the Australian PM were all over #1billionrising on V-Day. America missed a wonderful opportunity to brag about all the work it has done on behalf of women over the last four years. This could have been the capstone event!

It was amazing how hard it was to know about all of the aspects of this. I didn't realize you could order a T-shirt. I didn't know that my municipality was organizing their own rising. I didn't know that there was a #1billionrisingIstanbul Facebook page (the ladies of Izmir, Turkey had over 4,000 likes on theirs). I didn't understand how there would be #1billionrising when @eveensler only had around 22,000 Twitter followers and @vday only had 23,000 followers. There is a Twitter account called @obr that seems to be owned by a very non-active Norwegian, not One Billion Rising. Had information on all the groups organizing been more centralized, it could have been even exponentially larger.

But then I just remembered to myself the wonderful quote by Teddy Roosevelt. "It is not the critic who counts, but the man in the arena." My suggestions are mere quibbles.

Eve Ensler created something of immense power and beauty. My hat is off to her. I can't wait to sift through all of the incredibly diverse videos and take them in. I loved hearing this NPR Talk-of -he-Nation interview with her from the Congo where she expressed her optimism for the future. Most importantly, she talked about when she started with the Vagina Monologues, it was with a theatre of 100 seats. She had no idea the power of her voice. None of us do - all we have to do is take the first step. In my opinion, Eve Ensler deserves the American Medal of Freedom for her service to America and all humanity.

This is one of the most powerful #1billionrisings videos I've seen so far: #1billionrising in jail.

You may be interested in my earlier posts about #1billionrising:


Friday, April 13, 2012

Breaking the Silence on Street Harassment in Istanbul

Sessizliği Sen Boz,
Break the Silence
about Street Harassment

Street harassment is a human rights issue. It's also a business issue because street harassment costs businesses big money. I haven't felt harassed on the streets of Istanbul. I know, however, that I am not the target demographic as most young people harassed are ages 16-24. I have young friends who have experienced both rude, disgusting comments and groping.

If you think about it, street harassment is probably the number one reason women would not contemplate becoming an "Empty Nest Expat." It's an informal ghettoization of women that keeps them home: whether it be in their actual dwelling, their city, or their country because exploring their world looks too scary.

While fear of harassment has not kept me from exploring my world, street harassment still effects my spending decisions, which is why I emphasize the business consequences of street harassment in this post.

In 2011, I wanted to go to a New Year's Eve party at a friend's flat in the central Taksim area of Istanbul. When my Turkish male friends heard this, they resoundingly said, "you absolutely must not go." Why?

They said, "on New Year's Eve all the village yokels come into Istanbul. They've never seen a foreigner, they are drinking, they assume all sorts of things, and our news the next morning is filled with foreigners who were treated inappropriately on New Year's Eve because of this. Your smiling foreign face would be misunderstood by villagers."

So two hours before I was to leave, I made the decision to stay home and miss my friend's party. Between taxis and hostess gifts of wine and such, the amount I would have spent that night had I gone adds up to about $100. I am just one woman. Think of that decision multiplied by thousands of women. It becomes very easy to see what street harassment costs an economy.

In many ways, Istanbul is benefitting because street harassment is so much worse in other places. One of my friends recently moved here to Istanbul from Cairo. My friend, a highly educated and successful Arab author, said after living in Cairo for two years that it feels completely lawless. She would never move about Cairo proper using a regular taxi. It had to be her regularly-used taxi service, because a woman couldn't even trust licensed cabs in Cairo to keep her safe.

Another story of Cairo street harassment that stunned me comes from one of my favorite blog writers on Islamic spirituality. What are the business implications for a country like Egypt with so little control of its own streets?

For starters, a lot less tourists. At one time, Turkish and Egyptian populations and economies were roughly equal. But now, Turkey receives more than double the tourists Egypt does even though Egypt has the sphyinx and the pyramids and the Nile to offer.

There's a website called Hollaback! that works to document street harassment all over the world so that women know places to avoid within a city. It is also localized to document cases within Istanbul itself so people can see where most harassment occurs.

Avoiding places is a 20th century solution. Women won't settle for that anymore. Women deserve, demand, and will work for safe streets all around the world. We are half of the world's population. We aren't going to remain silent anymore.

Tourist and retail business people should appreciate and fund activists like the Istanbul Hollaback! team because they are working to create an environment safe for people and frankly, local businesses, to thrive.

Click on my title to check out the Istanbul Hollaback! website. You can share your story, check the map of harassment locations, and learn Turkish to help defend yourself. You can also learn how you can be a badass bystander who helps diffuse situations!

It's exciting to see tools like this develop to help women go out and explore their world. We didn't have something like this when I was in my twenties. A worldwide network of Hollaback websites helps give women courage. Set sail, explore, see parts unknown! Don't let street harassment keep you from exploring beyond your street, your city, or your country just like anybody else.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Birthday Hike in the Belgrad Forest

 The entrance to the
Belgrad Forest
Back in Istanbul, after a week in France, I was excited to see that a Turkish friend was organizing a hike in the Belgrad Forest.  It was scheduled to be on my birthday.  As nature can often seem far, far away in Istanbul, I loved the idea of spending my birthday meeting new people by going on a hike.

Aren't you grateful for friends that take the time to organize things? They always deserve a little extra appreciation, don't they? Yasemin, my Turkish friend who put this together, hadn't hiked here before, but she did all the work of finding out what bus to take, where it leaves from, how often it leaves, etc. When someone has done all of that work, it makes it so easy for the rest of us to go out and discover new places and opportunities, doesn't it? If you're one of those people who are always connecting others by organizing events, thank you!

To give you an idea of what a commitment it is to get to an event in Istanbul, I took a bus to Taksim Square (50 minutes), and then got on the 42T bus to go to the Belgrad Forest (another 50 minutes).  That second bus has a route all along the Bosporus, so it often seems like I'm getting a sightseeing tour at a municipal bus price! The scenery was fantastic, and since another hiker from France and I guessed we were each going to the same hike and started talking, so was the company.  The 50 minutes flew by. We got to the end of the line of the 42T and there was the forest!  After paying a 2.25 TL entrance fee ($1.27) we were in.
 It's not every forest
that has a cafe
with checkered tablecloths
 Or horses and bicycles to rent
Paths were wide enough
for all kinds of traffic:
foot, hoof, or wheeled
 Yasemin, our organizer,
is the tall woman in green
in the middle.
Fun folks I met:
Jackie, a fashion designer from Ireland
and Ibrahim, an importer/exporter from Turkey
Beautiful, isn't it?
We were surprised the park was so deserted.
It was the middle of Ramadan though.
Anyone fasting couldn't even
take so much as a drop of water.
Not good conditions for locals to go hiking.
Another view of the beautiful lake
in the middle of the park.
The forest paths were so beautifully maintained
it was as if we were the first people to use them.
It turns out we were.
We came across a maintenance crew laying down
rubber backing (like under carpet)
and then covering it with this natural material.
If you are a runner,
this would be a very healthy place to run.
The path was springy and easy on the joints. 
 The majority of our group
headed back to Istanbul.
I finished our hike around the lake
with Misty and Kristin,
two fun American women
I was meeting
for the first time.
A last calming view of natural beauty.
What a terrific resource this forest
is for the urban dwellers of Istanbul!
The view as the municipal bus starts back to Istanbul.
 This is an Ottoman-era grove of trees. 
In France and in Turkey, I kept coming across these
magnificent tree groves planted under
authoritarianism forms of government.
I kept wondering if democracies
could create such gorgeous groves
for future generations.
  Are there any where you live?
Planting groves like this
requires a long-term view,
doesn't it?
 In my country,
people often don't seem to want to invest tax money
for those living alongside them,
let alone those who aren't even born yet.
On the bus back,
Kirstin and Misty talked up Mehmet's,
their favorite kebabci in the
Istanbul neighborhood of Ortaköy
with such gastronomic fervor
I had to try it for myself, no?
We ate fabulous Turkish comfort food
(mine was chicken shish kebab).
They introduced me to "ezme,"
which they described as a Turkish version of salsa.
On the hike,
these two hip, happening, can-do women
mentioned that they were organizing
a trip to Bulgaria...

Monday, November 1, 2010

I Saw a Suicide Bombing in Istanbul Yesterday

Police work quickly to clear Taksim Square

Yesterday, I witnessed a bombing in Taksim Square in Istanbul.   I was seated on the third floor terrace of Simit Saray restaurant, enjoying traditional Turkish tea and simit with a friend, when a very loud boom and explosion silenced everyone in the usually bustling Taksim Square. We were about 100 meters from where the bomb went off.

The fiery explosion was about the size of a airport shuttle bus. It occurred right in front of where the Istanbul police park their dolmuşes (transport buses) to get out and assemble for duty along Istiklal Avenue.  There was a small car parked there and several police dolmuşes.  The bomb blast seemed aimed at the car.  When the explosion happened, it didn't appear as if anyone in the car reacted.  Maybe they were stunned or hurt.  There was a few short bursts of gunfire, maybe 10 shots.  I could not tell which police officer was shooting or at whom.  I merely heard the gunfire. It wasn't very much.

My friend and I crouched down but we felt relatively safe behind our balcony wall. We could see the situation unfold. "I don't think it's an Al Queda bombing," he said.  "Al Queda usually doesn't attack the police. If it were them, there could be a second bomb.  Al Queda usually bombs in twos. It could possibly be the PKK (Kurdish separatists) or a leftist group." Hearing him analyze potential bad guys, for some reason, made me feel safer. My Turkish friend had already lived through an Al Queda bombing in 2003 that claimed the lives of three of his colleagues.

The mother in me ached for those police officers as I watched them respond. I had nothing but friendly feelings toward these fine young men who graciously protect the many colorful protest marches that parade down Istiklal Avenue every Sunday.

All of my female friends with sons in the military flashed through my mind.  I remember feeling gratitude that my friends who had sons in service were not hearing the voices of the police officers react.  It could haunt them.

The police had a completely undefined, chaotic situation.  You could hear the terror they felt in their voices as the tried to clear the Square as quickly as possible. Taksim Square is an incredibly insecure area with streets jutting into it from several directions and a huge open plaza where another bomb could potentially have been planted. Taxis continued to barrel into the Square and the Police seemed to bang on their cars in a "haven't you heard?" sort of way.

Some people helpfully ran away, while others poked along in ways that seemed completely unconscious of what just happened. People seemed oblivious of the policeman's responsibility to get each one of  them the heck away from danger. Not only did the officers have to worry about another explosion potentially taking place, you could hear in their directives to people what I thought was anguish and anger over their fallen comrades. I could feel their vulnerability and their humanity.  Thank you, Istanbul police officers, for suffering on our behalf. You were heroic.

I counted four wounded: 1) a businessman in a suit with a red tie who had been propped up against a light post, unable to put weight on his legs.  He was later lifted and carried over to a bus kiosk. 2) A police officer with an injured left hand who kept working to clear the Square  3)one person laying down who looked seriously hurt and another one(?) whom I couldn't see.  I could only see his police officer comrade race on his behalf to the ambulance seeking immediate help for him.

 I did not know it was a suicide bomber until I read the news reports.  I didn't see any dead body laying around, but this bomber presumably was on the far side of the car from where I was seated.  I was surprised to read so many people were injured and I speculated when I read the numbers that there may have been police officers who had been between the dolmuşes where I wouldn't have been able to see them.  I have no idea how the higher civilian count happened.  I didn't see that many people injured.

In case there was a second bomb, we decided to exit Simit Saray and go down Istiklal Street to a safer place. The staff lifted up the metal roll-down door so we could leave.  Istiklal Street had been cleared of people for approximately 400 meters back.  We ran as quickly as possible to get behind police lines.

We stopped to have tea and listen to news reports at a restaurant off of Istiklal and then decided to go to the Kurdish restaurant of my friend's friend. "What could be safer than a Kurdish restaurant?", we joked.  I couldn't help admiring Turkish people's lack of hate toward their Kurdish neighbors both when I was up on the balcony and when we went to the restaurant.  Turks and Kurds live side by side in Turkey, the Kurds have a terrorist group aimed specifically at creating terror in Turkish people, and yet the Turkish people don't hate them. I admire that.

"I don't feel terror," I said to my friend. He said, "neither did I the day the first incident happened.  It's the next day when you start thinking about it that the terror starts.  The feeling lasts about a month." The other bombing my friend had lived through was much worse than this one and he had been directly involved in helping get people to safety. 

No group has claimed responsibility yet for this decidedly pathetic act. There was no logic to it and it didn't seem destined to have any lasting impact.  And for what purpose? None, that I could see. Indeed, if anything, this attack made the Turkish people "look good" because their hearts are large enough not to hate.  Whomever the perpetrators are can only look less admirable as people in comparison.

When I came back through Taksim later that night to go home, it was if nothing had happened.  People got off and on the funicular and climbed up the Metro steps into the Square.  Life moved on.  Thank you, God, for letting mine move on. Don't think I don't appreciate it.

Click on my title to read the New York Times account of the bombing and here to see CNN International amateur video of the event. The viewpoint in the video is the opposite side of the square from where I was sitting.
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