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Revolt of the innocents

Autor:Andrada Lăutaru, Mihail Bumbeș

| 24.06.2013

15th of  June. What was supposed to be the last day in Istanbul has become, unexpectedly, our first day in the middle of violent acts between the police and the protesters.

 9 p.m.: we were thinking, disappointed, that we have to leave tomorrow at dawn. We arrived in Istanbul  Thursday night and it seems that nothing extraordinary will happen anymore. Then, the click that we needed came shaped in a message from Pierre (the French student who hosts us and who participated to the protests since the first day): “police is coming."- we will keep in  mind the picture of this word for a long time from now. At that point, for us, time had stopped. Just to start flowing again at 6 a.m., the hour when we were supposed to be far, but we stayed, in fact, exhausted and fill with poisoned gas,  in a curve near the Galata Bridge.

 A few moments after the message, we were in the streets: gas masks hanging at our necks, forehead goggles, camera ready, breathing rapidly, we found ourselves running to the place where history was to be written. Even though we were eagerly waiting for this moment,  the swiftness and violence with which it happened, took us by surprise. After the police seized the Gezi Park, the crowd of protesters was reorganized on İstiklal Street. In front of us, a police barricade, acid water cannons, pepper, tear gas and the order to break any act of resistance during this night. On the other side, tens of thousands of protesters were determined not to give up. In the first row, a woman, in black,  standing on her knees in front of the barricade, holding a Turkish flags and wearing on her face an unshakeable determination that gives her an aura of invincibility. on her left, right in the middle of the street, three people are the first to face the violent water jets. In the same scene, we see a man sitting on a chair, shirtless, another protester that seams unperturbed, as if nothing could touch him. Between lucidity and unconsciousness, there’s an admirable courage, a defining feature of these protests.

 We are deafened by the roar of the crowd chanting,  by the cries of pain,  the anger, the unbearable  hope in a change that seems at the same time, both close and so far away: “Come on, shoot me, take down the mask to see what it's like to be intoxicated with gas, get on our side, this is your place! Am I crazy for fighting for freedom or are you the crazy one, defending a system that’s so unfair?“, “Shoulder to shoulder against fascism" ... and hissing shower of pressurized water that has already become a symbol of police attacks. Now and then, in the crowd, a passage opens in order to allow the wounded to receive first aid and be dragged out from the smoke. Occasionally, streams of tears wash our eyes in a desperate attempt to keep looking as clearly as possible at the new world that is being born around them.

 We meet Pierre in the first line standing up in front of the police. He’s holding hands with his Turkish girlfriend, Ece. At one point, she steps near the police shouting, 'What are you doing there? Your place is here, with us, your duty is to protect the people!" She receives back a sarcastic laughter as a response. Then water jets. She falls. Pierre helps her to stand up again and they leave together. They take refuge in one of the restaurants that kept their doors open, in sign of solidarity with the crowd. Part of the police officers begins to raid the premises in search of those who took refuge there. They start arresting people. Others remained in position; continue throwing with gas into the crowd. Soon, Pierre sends us an SMS in which he asks us to take care, police arrested many people at Divan Hotel, the place where many protesters fled. Manhunt continues as more and more of the surrounding streets are full of agitation and choking smoke is omnipresent.


(Un)organized resistance   


On these streets with unknown names, we are running along with the others, with our clothes soaking wet and with the gas burning our lungs. We were running hard for our lives, but in the same time we were getting more determined than ever to show solidarity to those for whom we made this journey. We wanted to witness it. To bring our testimony. While running, we take some more photos, in the attempt to capture the moment in its most authentic expressions. A few blocks away, we are caught in the middle of the Chaos. In front of police lines, people are fighting back with just a resolute decision and bottles with “the remedy" against gas: milk, anti acid and lemon. These are the weapons used to protest in Istanbul: dreams, will, innocence and milk. Nothing, but bare hands. Even after hours during which the simple fact of breathing was a huge challenge, when someone wants to vandalize any object on the street, the crowd apostrophizes him, reminding  that the real reason for being there is preventing others to ruin them, not to destroy: “We're here because Erdogan is a dictator." Even cameras, ubiquitous on city roads and constant surveillance evidence of the “Big Brother”, were just turned upside down. Never destroyed. 


Ildea protests with her husband. On their faces traces of milk are still visible. Milk,  that helped them to see again. Their daughter, aged 18, left Istanbul one day ago in order to attend a course outside the city. Before leaving, she has been out on the streets every day. Still regrets that she had to leave town just now, her mother says. “This is a protest for two generations: parents and children. We are the parents' generation. We want freedom for our children," she adds. With a homemade neck mask, “Capulin", designed from a plastic bottle and a filter, Ildea says that solidarity and perseverance that people are showing is the real essence of this protest. “This protest is consistent with the innocence of the Turkish people. It is the first time something like this happens here. Most of the protesters are young, have no experience of another protest, not even a broad life experience. Therefore, they do not really know how to react. This is something new for the Turkish people. "


The confrontation continued until the first rays of  sun. At dawn, the police submitted in force and we had to retreat. Behind us, there were left streaks of smoke and little debris barricades that we managed to build. There the ideals still vibrating were left resting on the streets as well as all the dreams and hopes of those who were to return, with strength and determination, next day to pick them up. 


Violence in the streets: Day Two


7:30 p.m.. We are in a “shelter”, hiding from police in a Turkish house with Pierre and  another 30 guys. We "landed" here after being surrounded by police between Galata Bridge and Inonu Stadium. If we were to believe in signs, this was a clear one: we had to be here! And we had to escape. We managed to slip through the police blocks, after being caught under a sky filled with the gas tubes which were flying above us in a dizzying crossfire. Chaos and adrenaline. When we saw that the police started attacking from the bridge, we turned back. Instinctively, we felt that the situation is the same in the opposite direction, but we had no choice. Soon, we were back in front of the police, among the thousands of people caught between the two walls of force. Wearing the gas mask as the only protection, with our sight narrowed due to smoke, breathing with exhaustion, we started scanning the area; choosing to run on the only side stairs seemed to be the only exit. A short getaway. The  steps soon ended in a stalemate. Our reality today got blocked in front of white and tall walls. 6 feet, measured with blurry eyes. “The fugitives” climb them with new-borne skills and having their forces disengaged. We also try our luck.


After climbing three walls (giving and receiving help in an unspoken language), we reached into a backyard that seemed to be inhabited. First, we encountered a dog- the keeper. In other circumstances, it might  have looked fierce. Not this time. Ten minutes later, we were in a house, with other 30 protesters, all Turks. Solidarity manifested itself again when the door was opened. With curtains drawn, lights out, phones on silent, only our whispers and speeding heartbeats betrayed our presence; “I could not think of anything else, just that I had to escape. Actually, it's a stupid thing to not think about anything, right?" Pierre is saying what was to be a rhetorical question. In the house, the atmosphere turns into a silent panic when the owner tell us that the police started to raid the houses in the area, looking for “Çapulcu ". The heavy silence inside is interrupted, from time to time, by the sound of the gas tube that were still being launched on the street. We start thinking about those who failed to escape from the grip.  “Out" seems to be a distant place where we didn’t want to return. We knew, however, that we had to leave “the asylum” soon.

Being the only foreigners in the group, we were instructed that when leaving this place which hosted our most intense fears, we have to hide “any sign of protest" and pose as tourists. Before going back to what seems to be our fate, we receive fresh water and dry clothes. Wishes of luck are transmitted in unspoken thoughts. Thanks are given by a glimpse in the eye. Outside is dark. Our eyes and throat quickly detects traces of gas. With a map in our hand,  what is ahead of us rests uncertaint no street seems to be safe anymore. Group of policemen are patrolling everywhere in the city. Some are dressed in civilians, “the Turkish Gestapo”, as the protesters with whom we shared temporary refuge call them. Darkness and a tense atmosphere cover Istanbul. The city seems filled with a mist of gas that penetrates deeper into every corner, on every street, especially in Taksim area. Another quick thought and we decide to continue anyway. On our way to Tarlabasi district, the “safe place” where we had to go, we pass police troops stationed on Istiklal. We tested our luck once again and we won. In this area, the police gave up on gas for the moment. A torrential rain pours over the city, cleaning the air and putting an end to the protests. For now. Today, we faced the gas with stronger resistance than last night. We grew survival skills. 


At the end, things come to settle around us and thoughts become more clear. We start feeling something more than gas. We feel ourselves again. The ones that we have become thanks to this experience. We learned these days that solidarity knows no borders. That courage is that thing that speaks from your inside, screaming to keep going when fear is all you feel. That being a part of the struggle for freedom of another nation is an uplifting feeling. That desires and beliefs are universal and concern you, as a human, even if they are entertained at hundreds or thousands of miles away of the spot that you call "your place". We learned important lessons about life during riots in another country, in another realm. Our biggest outcome is this: A lesson about commitment, perseverance and daring, born out of people who decided not to delay their future anymore and to fight for their freedom. Now.


After 4 days in Istanbul, in times of protests, we returned home caring the experience of the most diverse protest we ever lived, an “ideological oxymoron”, where people buried their differences for a common belief: freedom. For those in Turkey, the “silent” battle continues. 

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