Before the Gezi Park protests
began over 2 weeks ago in Istanbul, I had planned to meet friends at a cafe in Taksim. As I sat in the second-storey window seat, police in the busy street below suddenly attacked tourists and Turks with pepper spray.
People screamed and scattered as a cloud of noxious gas rose from a police attack vehicle. We shut the cafe windows, but not before some gas got in. After washing off with water and napkins, we took videos, hardly believing that police had just pepper-sprayed a peaceful group of people who were merely strolling along and shopping on a Sunday afternoon. There were no protests, chants, banners, or provocations (except from the police).
"I can't believe the police just did that!" my friend Jim exclaimed.
"Erdogan is a dictator," a Turkish cafe customer added.
"How can we get out of here safely?" I wondered.
"Don't worry, I will protect you," my Turkish husband assured me.
After a few more minutes, our party of 4 started walking down Taksim's main street, hoping that we would not get caught up in a sudden protest and get gassed at close range (or arrested). We did, in fact, run into a protest march. After filming it, we continued toward Taksim Square where a line of police
kept us from going forward into the large area that was bordered on one side by a cleared-out Gezi Park. We slipped down a side street, finding more protesters wearing hard hats and gas masks.
"Erdogan is in for a big fight," my husband remarked as even more protesters arrived. One teenage girl clung to her boyfriend. She was wearing a yellow scuba diving mask and a red scarf.
"So are we," I said as we somehow ended back in the main Taksim walking street where many businesses were closed and graffiti marked the walls.
"Erdogan must resign," "we own this city," and "women power" were among the spray-painted slogans. We found ourselves trapped between 2 lines of police who wore riot gear and gas masks, and who held see-through shields and gas guns. The police weren't targeting me as they had been doing to other journalists because I looked like an English teacher with a small camera.
A police attack vehicle started following us. Some protesters began chanting, "Everywhere is Taksim!" A big boom sounded in the air, and suddenly my husband and I were running down another side street with clouds of pepper spray at our backs. A hotel owner saw our plight and invited us into his lobby where he gave me a glass of water. My hand shook as I held it, my eyes burned, and I was coughing.
"Turkey should not be like this," the hotel owner declared. He was wearing a surgical mask and bandana.
Feeling better, I walked with my husband (having lost our 2 friends in the rush) down a steep hill and toward the ferry that would take us back across the Bosporus to the Asian side of Istanbul where we could catch a bus home to Izmit.
At the ferry, crowds cheered as new protesters arrived. One man carried a tall pole with a Turkish flag next to a portrait of Ataturk, the founder of the secular Turkish Republic. Ataturk offered more freedom than under the Islamic rule of Prime Minister Erdogan (who was speaking to a rally of his supporters
Even when we got safely back to Izmit, we were greeted with another protest.
"Her-yer Tak-sim!" ("Everywhere is Taksim") people shouted, and we joined in.