I awoke to shocking images and stories of violence on the streets of Istanbul today. It is probably something that has been a long time coming. Turkey is arguably the most westernised country of its Middle Eastern neighbours but the government has long neglected what many regard to be a basic human right, the freedom of speech.
I usually share intriguing destinations, adventures and expat experiences on this blog, but I can't ignore what is happening in Istanbul. Turkey was my home for years and while the current violence is terrifying the resistance, hopefully, marks a turning point in Turkey's history.
What is going on?
A peaceful protest against the redevelopment of Gezi Park in Istanbul, one of the city’s remaining open green spaces, was met with the use of tear gas by city police and has now escalated to the point that three people have died and thousands have been injured. Over 40,000 people marched across the Bosphorus Bridge, from the Asian continent to the European continent, to join the protest at first light on the morning of Saturday, June 1. It seems that for many police brutality in the handling of this environmental protest was the final straw.
Thousands of people filled Taksim Square and nearby Istiklal Street, uniting people across differences of age, religion and gender. Following the events in Istanbul further protests have broken out in other Turkish cities.
The world wants and needs to see pictures. Sadly they depict what looks like a war zone.
Why isn’t it on the news?
Turkey imprisons more journalists than any other country. The government uses broadly worded anti-terror and penal statutes to imprison anyone who speaks out against the government, even in a historical context, such as Turkish author Orhan Pamuk’s prosecution for speaking about the Armenian Genocide. Websites get blocked and the media output in the country is tightly controlled.
Social media is the only reason anyone not currently being suffocated by tear gas knows anything about the situation. Facebook groups, attracting over 35,000 subscribers, have emerged overnight to provide regular updates. Twitter is also buzzing with updates from the scene with the screen updating so regularly hundreds appear in minutes and it is near impossible to keep up.
Social media has provided a platform for everybody involved to share what they are seeing and hearing. Many are publishing requests for others to highlight what is going on by sharing posts and tweets and tagging international news agencies. This is the only reason anyone outside Istanbul is aware of what is happening.
With news of tourists being evacuated from the Taksim area and police reinforcements being flown into Istanbul from other areas of the country, some as far as the south coast city of Antalya, the situation looks like it will worsen before it improves.
My personal history in Turkey, combined with my experience of Turks being some of the most generous and tolerant people I have ever encountered, means it breaks my heart to see such scenes of violence and suffering, but at the same time I want more people to see them and be aware of the situation. Pressure following exposure in international media will hopefully broaden personal freedoms in Turkey in the future.
Ray of hope
There are rumours that over 1,000 police officers have resigned due to the extreme violence they have seen their colleagues unleash on the community. Perhaps that is a small indication that things are changing?