Taksim Square Protest: After Four Years Away, I'm Coming Back to the Best and Worst Of My Country

Four years ago, I left my home country, Turkey, to study in America.

Back then, I was afraid of the growing power of the conservative and dictatorial government. Afraid of the police, which was slowly being trained and prepared to serve as the government’s primary weapon against its own people. As a new system of control.

Today, I have come home after graduating from Oberlin College, an institution with a legacy of astounding courage and vigilance. It was at Oberlin that I learned to listen to the voices of others, and not be tempted to shout over them with the hope that my own would drown out their words. It was there that I learned I can be wrong, how to identify why and how I was wrong, and keep moving forward by reconstructing myself.

As a member of the Class of ‘13, I am proud to be joining a long line of Oberlin graduates who have done and will continue to do everything to preserve freedom and equality.

Today I have come home to witness the antithesis of everything Oberlin has taught me.

Almost a week ago, a peaceful protest of the planned demolishing of a park in the heart of Istanbul was attacked by the police around 5 a.m. Since then, countless people have left their homes to support the preservation of the park and to speak out against the authoritarian regime.

Our prime minister dismisses the nationwide protests that are by now attended by millions of people in over 49 cities throughout Turkey (that is half the country) as “nuisances,” calling the attendees alcoholics and hobos. He has stated that he is keeping 50%of the nation at bay, in their homes, implying that he could very easily “unleash” them. He is essentially threatening to start a civil war.

My friends have sent me countless stories of police violence which include high schoolers getting pepper sprayed and dragged on the street while a slew of policemen beat them up, then threaten to rape them. It is now the sixth day of protests, and the police are aiming gas cans, which they shoot with small, bazooka-esque weapons, at people’s heads. Several public bus drivers have attempted to run people over. The leader of the currently ruling party AKP’s Youth Division was seen chasing people down the streets with a bat, surrounded by his cohorts and the police, screaming at people to come down from their houses.

All of my friends have their blood types written on their forearms in case they need medical attention. There are hundreds of photographs displaying the gas canisters the police have been using, some of them carrying the “Orange agent” label. Almost all of the gas containers indicate that the gasses have expired in 2011.

My friends have, at times, become paralysed due to the gas attacks, they have fainted, begun convulsing, had asthma attacks and nosebleeds. 

Undercover police officers have been ransacking buildings and attacking cars to delegitimize the movement. They have been riding in ambulances to deploy forces in the middle of crowded areas that need medical attention. They have also been leading people to “safe locations” where they were physically assaulted and arrested. They have attacked hotels, universities, mosques, and first-aid tents in an attempt to harm the movement and halt medical support.

The police keep attacking us. All of us. The prime minister refuses to step down, refuses to halt the planned destruction of the park, and has left the country.

I have not yet attended the protests, though my Oberlin hoodie, ski mask, scarf, and Polaroid camera are ready by my bedside and I will be heading to Gezi Park first thing in the morning.

This movement can only gain global traction with your help. Please reblog, tweet, and share this post and posts like these. Call local Turkish embassies. Come to Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir — join the protests anywhere in Turkey. Send gas masks, gloves, and antacid medication. Send food and clothing.

My childhood friend Irem Antika has done an amazing job compiling world news and relevant resources, and some articles include more detailed information on how you can help.

All of the images are from Occupy Gezi pics and courtesy of the brave souls who have been out on the streets for six days now.

If, for whatever reason, this is my last blog post, I would like to thank Oberlin College for making me brave, and thank everyone who has ever been a part of my life for showing me that this world, and the freedom of people who live in it, is something worth fighting for.