Reasons to FightPosted: July 7, 2013
Istanbul, July 7
It’s not hard to predict the weather once you get to Taksim Square. Yesterday evening it was obvious straight away that there was tear gas in the air.
Police had blocked all the exits and kept considerable reserves in the park and in the square itself. For streaming purposes we took up position from one of the terraces. We saw the communists marching down Istiklal street behind a banner that was obviously inspired by the events in Egypt. “Government resign”, it said.
After the communists came the anarchists of çArşı. After them came the representatives of Taksim Solidarity. They brought the court order, which declared the redevelopment of Taksim and Gezi Park to be illegal. They showed it to the line of riot police and demanded access to the square. In response, they got showered by a toma (water cannon, literally the abbreviation in Turkish means ‘device for intervention in social situations’).
At that point the crowd had grown as far as the eye could reach. To disperse it, police attacked from behind. A roaring toma came steaming down the street, flushing people into the alleys. When Istiklal was cleared, the attack continued on the far side of the square where another crowd had gathered. It took a while, but then silence fell, and all that was left was a the desolate image of Taksim under police occupation.
I decided to go down to look for action. At a time like this, I want to be among the people. I exit through two lines of police, into Istiklal Street. Not surprisingly, most shops had closed. Some of them had their shutters half way down, to quickly accommodate people seeking shelter from gas attacks. A small perfume shop continued business as usual.
When there’s civil unrest in Istanbul, you will witness four types of vehicles that you don’t usually encounter in a shopping street. Toma’s, ambulances, bulldozers (to clear barricades), and small panzer vehicles.
The panzer vehicles have a turret on top, you can see the helmet of a gunner sticking out of it. It races back and forth, slowing down at the intersections to allow the gunner to shoot tear gas into the side streets. In some cases his aim is faulty, resulting in shattering glass as the cannisters hit the windows of a shop, a bar or a home. The mini panzers also serve as a supply vehicle for the troops. They pull up at a police platoon, someone opens the back door and quickly hands out fresh tear gas cannisters to the officers.
Somewhere half way down the street I join a crowd behind an improvised barricade of trash containers. They play along with the same old game of cat and mouse, retreating to the side streets and re-emerging after every police attack.
In one of the alleys I meet a friend, comrade Z., the Kurdish girl who had gotten into a fight with a nationalist girl over the word Kurdistan. Once again, she is covered with bruises. She took three direct hits on her arm and shoulder when police machine-gunned the crowd with rubber bullets. And she’s ready for more.
We go up into Istiklal again. After the bulldozer cleared barricade, it’s people themselves who prevent the vehicles from passing. A young girl and a middle-aged man sit down in front of one of the mini panzers. They refuse to stand up. A crowd forms. Once we sit down alongside them, others follow. The engine roars, a cop gestures for us to move. But we sit. So they throw a gas bomb and drive off between the dispersing crowd. Keeping a defiant cool, my friend takes her time to tear out her scarf and goggles. She’s right next to me, but I can hardly see her. So I get a little nervous. “I’m sorry to disturb you, but we are in the middle of the cloud here. I think we should move.” I take her by the hand and we run.
We retreat to a bar, to drink beer with friends. All around, in the alleys, the game continues. The roof terrace is inaccessible because of the constant tear gas.
When we return to Istiklal, things are relatively calm. A group of cops is sitting down, resting. We ask them for directions. Now, I had forgotten all about it, but for today’s occasion I was wearing my ‘original Çapulcu’ t-shirt. Earlier on, someone had warned me that it might get me into trouble.
One of the cops notices. “Are you a Turkish çapulcu, or a tourist çapulcu?” he asks.
Screw you, I thought. “I’m a Kurdish çapulcu.”
They were not amused, and not meant to be. The commanding officer comes over, he doesn’t want us talking to his men, and he forces us to move on.
In general, there are two types of cops. Some of them do it for a job, and some of them do it because they are scum. We met the first type. A hundred meters down the road, we met the other type as well. We walk along our street when we are stopped for no particular reason, if not for the way I’m dressed. An angry little fellow in uniform asks us where we are going.
“What’s it to you?” my friend responds. So they encircle us. Angry cops on all sides. They want me to open my bag. They are looking for proof that we are terrorists. Anything will do. A mask or a helmet means terrorism in the first degree. If you are Kurd, even a lemon can get you locked up. “Well well,” the little cop says when I tear out the tear gas cannister I keep as a souvenir. As if it were me planning to fire it at them.
In a situation like this, always be aware that the behaviour of bastard riot cops is similar to that of dogs. Basically, they’re cowards. They may bark, but they don’t dare to act when they’re alone. They only feel strong in packs. There’s no reason to be afraid of them, and even if you are, you should never show it. The little guy didn’t have the guts to arrest us, probably because I’m a foreigner, and press. Or, as he called me: a ‘gavur’, which is a derogatory term for a non-muslim, an infidel. And he’s damn’ right. Next time I will wear a t-shirt saying ‘original gavur’.
Among the other cops there was a Kurdish guy. “What are you doing here?” he shouted at my friend in Kurdish. She returned the question. “What are you doing here? Why did you become a cop?” Heavy discussion ensued. Another police officer steps up, and without us being any kind of threat, he pepper-sprayed her, and me, twice, from point blank. For fun. I was lucky to wear glasses, so it didn’t touch my eyes. But my friend was less fortunate. Not only did she get a direct hit on her eyes, but on her exposed body parts as well.
Pepper-spray is a particularly nasty substance. Where the effects of tear gas wear off in a matter of minutes, pepper-spray will burn your skin for three to four hours. And when you shower it off, it starts burning all over again. My friend was blinded in agony as they put us against the wall. The officer who assaulted us mocked her for being a cry baby. They considered arrest, but that would mean they would have to provide some kind of relief to her. They didn’t feel up to it, so they send us on our way. And me, I learned a lesson, one that all Kurds and most Turks already know. You cannot reason with these people. The only thing you can do is fight them.
The pain of getting pepper-sprayed is so intense that it takes a long time before you can open your eyes. I had to guide my blinded friend through the crowd, through the alleys, in hiding against incoming tear gas cannisters, and down to the port.
That’s where we met another platoon of police. So we walk up to them. I describe the situation. To her: “You are now in front of six cops, please translate.” To them: “This is what one of your colleagues did to my friend. What’s the remedy?”
They didn’t even know. It took an experienced passer-by to advise the use of lemons. We get one from a vendor of clams, but it’s not enough. Whenever she tries to open her eyes, she cringes in pain. It wasn’t until we were on the boat to Asia that she could finally see again.
When we are back in Kadıköy, sitting at a bar with a group of Kurdish musicians, she talks about ‘home’, Kurdistan, the place that doesn’t exist.
More than once she’s been on the verge of picking up arms and joining the guerrillas in the mountains. “If the peace process breaks down, I will definitely go.” Many young people do. Some of them are only fourteen years old. Usually, they get killed within two years. But if you live longer than that, you learn how to survive.
There are two complementary reasons for someone to join an armed uprising. One is the fight against oppression, against the attempt of alien authorities to annihilate your culture and to forcefully assimilate you to theirs. Two is the rejection of normal consumerist life, the desire to be free.
Up in the mountains, and only there, the Kurds can truly be free. Free from the state, free from religion, and free from patriarchal society. In fact, among the ‘terrorists’ there is full gender equality. Also in battle. If I am to believe my friend, half of the Kurdish warriors are women.
I’ve witnessed Turkish and Armenian girls in action against police. They’ve impressed me with their bravery. But Kurdish girls are a whole different ball park. For your own good, don’t mess with them.