We went out on the streets. We liked our fists more when they were raised, we liked our voices better when they were multiplied with other voices. Puzzled, angry, we shouted. We were injured and murdered. Even so, we heightened our hope.
Things were not all right in the country. At the break of dawn the tents of good people were being raided, it was impossible to see around anything because of tear gas and smoke. The news channels we have had set on our TVs were blind, deaf and mute. First we tuned in to new channels and went out to the streets, then we learned to amplify our voices, we raised them with slogans. We discovered new uses for anti-acid medicine and lemon. We learned what TOMA (Anti-riot vehicle) were, we learned how to protect ourselves from tear gas and how to build barricades.
The Facebook event was saying “If you’re not at Gezi Parkı be there at Eti Park!”. Certain things were hapening for a while in the country. There was a park in Istanbul which most of us had never been to or even heard about. They were planing to demolish that park and construct buildings with monotonous lighting and with no respect for nature. Those who stood for their park, those who embraced trees rather than profits found the atrocity and harshness of the state facing them.
We people from Eskişehir, were aware that we had to do something. Those were the days when we really wanted to be there in Istanbul. We were worried and following up the news from Taksim via social media. We were saying “Come the 7th June, we’ll withdraw our student credits and go to Gezi to support the protests”. Most of us were students.
When we received the announcement of an event in Eskişehir on social media. It was a call to gather at the Park. First to show our solidarity with Gezi Park and second to claim our civil rights and liberties. We went there. We were holding some hastily written banners, chanting our not quite synchronized slogans and were there with our fresh hopes.
We were there with poems, slogans and songs. To make our voices heard, to show our support to Gezi Park, to be able to decide how many children we were going to to have, to be able to decide at what time to stop drinking…
On 31 May night when we gather at Eti Park, we marched towards Eskişehir AKP HQ chanting slogans. As we wanted our voices to be heard, we were going to the place where we thought we had an addressee. Before getting to know what was happening, tear gas cartridges started to fall on the crowd. We didn’t have lemon, gas masks or any experience. Afterwards we all started to run about. The groups, which dispersed due to tear gas firing but mostly because of being baffled, were coming together again at different locations in the city.
At around midnight we gathered in front of Espark. We were chanting slogans. We were angry. For many of us it was our first encounter with tear gas. While we were still overwhelmed by the encounter, we started to smell the gas again, smoke was blocking our sight. I fell down on the ground. I vaguely remember someone carrying me on his shoulders and running. After I pulled myself together, I was with a group of people, coughing and with red eyes at the entrance of a bulding. I was really thankful to the person who carried me over to this spot. I was also a bit embarrased as I failed my first trial with tear gas.
After a while someone said “Come on! They’ve left. Let’s go back to the streets!”. We were puzzled but not scared. The streets were all ours. I noticed that I didn’t have my cellphone with me so I went home to let my family know. I thought that I was going to find my dad at the window and my mom terribly worried. However the scene was not like that at all. In my modest student apartment there were many people that I didn’t know. My mom was washing their faces with milk, and my dad was bringing up people who needed help. I was puzzled and expecting some sort of questioning, but came to my senses with my mother’s teacherly voice: “Don’t stand there, slice some lemons !”
That night, the clashes went on until next morning on the street where I live. Many people came in and went out. The ones who were tended with homemade medical facilities, left to go on the streets. My mom washed their faces, cleaned their injuries and offered the soup she cooked promptly. My father, while watching the street from the window, told anyone who was interested about the events he was part of when he was a student.
As in many other cities of theAnatolian Steppe, people in Eskişehir await summer eagerly. June this year was here with resistance and hope. Just a day before we were going sing “It’s hard to die in June” and remember Nazım Hikmet, Eskişehir was shaken by some terrible news.
Someone was beaten up by the police and a civilian group at Yunus Emre Street where the AKP HQ was located and guarded by the police zealously. It was bad news, he was in a serious condition. The boy was in intensive care. His name was Ali İsmail. He was nineteen.
Faces were down, expressions were grave and now hope was accompanied by rage. We were marching on the streets in a more determined mood and were chanting our slogans in a deeper and stronger voice.
A site of resistance
Then we put up our tents infront of Espark. We had a kitchen, as well as a library. Now Eskişehir has its own resistance site. It was as if we were learning to share, hope and to get to know people all over again. We were up and away from our keyboards, we were finally able to ignore the concerns and advice of our parents saying “Dear, please do not get involved in the protests”. We were enjoying being on the streets and being able to demand certain things.
It was a lovely site of resistance; colourful, defiant, close to freedom, meaningful, patient and above all full of hope. We believed that Ali İsmail would get well and join us soon.
A dawn break
I was woken up by a telephone ringing, it was very early in the morning. The voice on the phone sounded very worried, and was saying that there were police at the resistance site. I rushed out and didn’t forget to take lemon, water, vinegar and other stuff with me.
When I got there I saw that huge construction vehicles were sweeping away the tents. There were riot police all around and some of them were recording us with cameras. It seemed like an episode from an absurd play. We were in our pyjamas, with sleepy faces, confronted by many fully equiped police officers waiting on guard just across from us. Two TOMA’s which I recently learned means ‘Anti-Riot Vehicle’ in Turkish.. Some people were stealing from our kitchen, a police officer was taking down the security camera (MOBESE in Turkish), and another officer with a megaphone was advising us to chant the Turkish national anthem if we wanted to prove that we were not traitors.
They tore down our tents, came at us with tear gas and medicated water, and detained some of us. They took our resistance site and obliterated our wall writings. They did all this, before that pretty boy who was at the intensive care, could get up and join us, before he could see our resistance site.
Nevertheless, as in many other instances, I wanted to stand up strong with the help of poetry. And we knew that this resistance was built upon hope more than anything else. I recalled these lines from Edip Cansever:
“In this time of dawn where do we stand
It will come and pass us by like some hope
I’m alone, you’re alone, who’s going to smile at us.”
A mother, a funeral
I’ve received the message while I was on the tram. I read it. I read but I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t breath it was as if I had received a kick or a strong blow to my stomach. The words in the message were telling me that the boy in intensive care couldn’t survive.
We gathered in the hospital courtyard. We were crying for the death of someone we didn’t know but we dearly loved. Perhaps we marched side by side, smiled at each other or shared a lemon during a tear gas firing.
For the first time in my life I was close to the entrance of a morgue. I heard a mother’s cry so loud. I was at a farewell. A farewell which my father told about so often in his stories, a farewell I was personally so unfamiliar with.
That beautiful boy full of hope about his coming years was gone. His name was Ali İsmail. He was nineteen. He was out on the streets for you, me and them. He was resisting on the streets with me and you. While running away from the police as he took that street instead of the other, he was beaten up by some people there with clubs in their hands and was not treated properly at the hospital. He held on for thirty eight days at the intensive care.
That day I saw how a father could stand strong. I saw the deepest pain in his eyes. The smell of death was in the air. A mother was calling “My Ali, We wouldn’t leave the city like this. Ali, you had your dreams.”
Ali İsmail was being carried on shoulders. One cannot comprehend death regardless of its time and its way, and it was impossible to understand this one. How? Why? Who would act with such brutality. His name was Ali İsmail. He was nineteen.
I know words don’t mean much in the face of death…Still I wanted to connect the things we went through to a poem. That day as we were saying goodbye to Ali İsmail and chanting, “Don’t cry mom, your children are here!” I couldn’t help remembering the lines from poet Hasan Hüseyin:
“No Doubt, These Kids Know Things
It’s not easy to die young
A heart just like a green leaf
To tear off and throw into fire
Is not that easy
It’s an amazing tree
That thing called living
It sprouts again every spring
But blooms just one spring”
In this brief time I figured out what hope was. And how that hope could augment when together with others.
My first political gathering was at funeral Uğur Mumcu. I was only 4 when my father walked me at the procession holding my hand on a rainy day. Even though I was just a small kid, I couldn’t forget that day. And there were others where I was present as a reporter. At Gezi resistance I learned about the beauty of coming together, believing in something and resisting for some common good. After learning about them, it became difficult for me to stay away from the streets.
From primary school onwards I always wanted to be a journalist. Now I am a grown up. I studied journalism. Right before my graduation I’ve come to see the embarrasment about a profession, thanks to silence of mainstream media. I even considered quitting for a short while but as I learned well about the value of hope during the resistance, I didn’t, I couldn’t quit.
My father used to be a student leader in 1978. I grew up with his stories about imprisonment and torture. When the resistance started I felt happy and lucky thinking that I might as well have things to tell to my children.
While waiting outside the hospital morgue, I was holding on to a friend and crying: “I always wanted to be a mother one day. I was going to call my son Ali. But I can’t do it anymore, I can’t be a mother. Fearing they might take away my Ali from me as well…”
But I know what hope is. I am keeping photographs, cartoons, images, articles about Gezi resistance. Someday I can tell my stories to Ali, just like my father told his stories to me. Then Ali can be proud of me just as I’m proud of my father. And I’ll be able to tell Ali about Ali İsmail, the boy with beautiful smile who will stay nineteen forever.
3 August 2013
This post is also available in: Turkish