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Inside Gezi Park

Zeyad Masroor Khan for BeyondHeadlines

Dikkat Capulcu has become the new war cry in the Gezi Park. It means “Caution, the looters are here”. The presence of the phrase on green stickers on every other protester’s t-shirts proclaims its huge popularity.

The word Capulcu has been given to the Turkish protesters by the one they are so passionately protesting against, Prime Minsiter Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “It was actually the PM himself who gifted us with this word, when he called us a bunch of looters. For this, I just want to say one thing: Thank you , Mr. Erdogan”, says Asli, one of the few protesters fluent in English.

Photo Courtesy: qantara.deBut this is just one of the many slogans that are a hit with the crowds in Taksim Gezi Park, the ever favorites being Tayyip Istifa ( Resign Tayyip), Memlekett bizim, Gezi park Bizim (The country is ours, the park is ours) and the patriotic Mustafa Kemal’in askerleriyiz (We are the soldiers of Mustafa Kemal Atatuk). But the piece of cake went to a stall owner with a keen sense of humour. The banner on his stall read “Tayyip istifa. Kofte Bedava” (Tayyip resign, free kofte for you)

For the uninitiated the scene at the park may seem like one big party, rather than the largest protest in recent Turkish history. Concerts, people singing, kissing, dancing, smiles and laughter, booze and off course, free food. “That’s the way the peace loving Turkish people protest. We don’t want no violence. It’s the police who started it. We protest by reading books, hugging trees and not leaving the park.”.

Taksim Square has become home to thousands of people, who have brought tents, food supplies, blankets and even their spouses. “We go from time to time, if need arises. Our friends come in our places. But we always come by the evening. If police comes, they will come in the dark of the night. They fear daylight”, are the words of Uğur, a protester.

Inside this last green space in the heart of Taksim, one may easily see amazing characters, with different ideologies, different aspirations, but same goal. Students, senior citizens, actors, football team members, musicians, doctors, shop owners. mechanics, priests, prostitutes, municipal workers, unemployed people, apart from a number of part-time protesters: ones who go to work during the day and come to spend the night in the park. ”We are undercover heroes”, says a guy looking for a book in the makeshift Gezi library.

The over enthusiastic protesters have contributed among themselves to give all facilities at the park, be it a concert stage, a library, a makeshift hospital, food stalls, LCD Screens to follow the news development , Gezi Radio station 101.9, and even a Press Center-cum-TV station. ”I wonder if Recep will give all these facilities at the planned shopping centre”, says Asli. There are small stalls having everything for free, and one doesn’t need to go to the nearby market for any necessity. Water, tea, fruit juices, water melons, cakes, egg sandwiches, cold beer, hand sanitizers, medicines,, first aid kits, poly-bags, sleeping bags, tents and gas masks. You name it, you have it, most of it free of cost.

Speaking about the resources behind setting up these stalls, Eset, who works as professional writer when he is not volunteering for his social group, says, “We don’t accept help from any party or foundations. In fact, there is no money involved at all. People bring stuff by themselves to support the movement. And we prepare many things here itself. There is the kitchen. We make sure that all the food items are clean and presentable.” When asked about the experience of being part of a historic event, he remarks, “I didn’t know any of these people before I came here. Now, I have made more than a hundred friends. Some of us work here for more than 18 hours a day.”

The brain behind the ”Gezi Press Centre” is a student named Fatih Koroglu. ”As local channels were not showing our side of the story, we decided to set up our own TV station. It streams online at geziparktv.wordpress.com. We have given info to international media houses, such as SkyNews from UK, apart from some German and Estonian channels.” Talking about the protest, he says, “The biggest thing that surprised me was coming together of all the football teams. Two weeks ago, a football fanatic killed another. Now, they are singing songs together. This is like unbelievable to anyone who knows about the football rivalry in the country.”

A bearded, distinctly intellectual looking man is seen taking his dog a walk in the most crowded place not just in Istanbul, but perhaps in the whole country. ”I have seen many things, but nothing as big and beautiful as this. We like to follow rules, but that guy is going irrational for a while. He thinks he is our father. We need a public worker. We already have our own fathers”. When asked whether the movement is about park or politics, he replies, ”Its about everything, my Indian brother. Excuse me. Right now I am just looking for my daughter, who should be protesting somewhere in the square. By the way, my name is Aslan. It means lion.”

The critics of the movement have said that most of the people that are in Taksim not just to protest, but to recreate. The international media has referred it to as a festival, carnival and the biggest party on earth. But when one looks closely, it is easy to found that some of the faces among the “festival crowd” are quite different from others. They are the faces who don’t go away. The ones who stay at the park. “There are some who come here for fun, but we are not among them.” says a guy quite reluctant to talk and giving his name as just Balkay, which I think is fake. “We are not gonna leave the park. Police have come with weapons, and it will come again. But we will not run” are the words which affirm his passion. “It’s not about shopping mall, its about other things. I hope you got the point”.

His friend, a blue eyed girl, who gives her name, most likely fake, as Deniz (Ocean), doesn’t claim to be as brave as Balkay. “When police will come with weapons, we will run probably. But a certain thing is that we will come back. We won’t abandon the park.” But how long can they last against the police, if the protest goes for months, she smiles and say, “I am not sure whether you felt the energy, the courage that is here. If you would have felt it, you wouldn’t have asked the question.”

Deniz’s prophecy came true when on the Saturday night of 15th June, when the police joined their party with tear gas, rubber bullets and volleys of tear gas, and drove the demonstrators out of the park. The protest has since spread to the streets of Istanbul, with the chants of Her Yer Taksim, Her Yer Direniz ( Every Place is Taksim, Revolution is everywhere) easily heard in during the night hours. On Monday, resistance returned to Taksim in a different avatar. Erdem Gunduz, “the silent protester” according to the international media, stood silently for continuos eight hours in the Square. Hunderds of other citizens joinedhim in this unique protest, surrounded by armed policemen and armoured vehichles.

The last word belongs to Fatih, the press center guy,” Its very important to understand that there is no hate here. Neither against the PM, neither against anyone else. We just want to communicate. If Recep Tayyıp Erdogan comes here, he is welcome to have tea with us.”

(Zeyad Masroor Khan is a Delhi-based freelance journalist who is currently in Istanbul.)          

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