Arriving in Taksim Square, my first reaction was the mix of normalcy and police presence. A few blocks off the square there are busses and busses of police, hanging out in the shade, checking their cell phones, having coffee. In Gezi Park, which is cordoned off with police tape, there are police and muscular young gentlemen in civilian clothes (hmmm…who could they be?) sitting at the tables enjoying the afternoon breeze. I think if you are higher ranking you get to sit in the park, while the lower ranks have to stick near the bus.
In and around the square there is the occasional semi-automatic rifle armed cop, but not very many. This afternoon the mission is not “make your presence felt.” Perhaps the biggest giveaway is the line of water-hose armored trucks parked on one side of the square. When a man volunteered to give me directions, he ended with “You know we are having a war here. Be careful.” (I think he was enjoying trying to frighten the tourist.) But there are many, many people out strolling and shopping.
I had the chance to talk at length with one young woman who has been very involved in the protests. Hanging just inside her apartment door were her hard hat, goggles and filtration mask.
She seemed extremely optimistic, and when I asked her, she agreed and explained why. “When friends used to come, they saw the economy doing well and the nightlife in this neighborhood – you know, the ‘modern Islamic democracy.’ I had to tell them that this was not the whole story. For example, in this neighborhood I can live alone as a woman, but just one neighborhood over a wife can be beaten for talking to a man. Now the whole world knows [that the government does not always protect human rights].”
I mentioned to her how odd I found Prime Minister Erdogan’s use of the word terrorist, when the protesters were plainly young secularists using non-violent tactics almost exclusively. “Yes! But actually I hope they [the government] continue to talk like this. It shows people who they really are. The AKP is not backing down at all. They just keep pushing. For example, Ramadan begins soon. Their plan for Gezi Park is to give AKP [Erdogan’s party] people tickets and let them into the park for Iftar [the breaking of the fast on Ramadan evenings]! I mean, if you are not wearing a scarf you do not count for this government.”
I asked her what was next. “I think we should go to parliament – form our own political party.” I asked her about the current opposition party. “They are arrogant…I mean, they want what is best for the people, not like Erdogan. But the CHP – you know, this is Ataturk’s party, and they treat him like a god. I mean, I have no problem with Ataturk, but this is too much. We should bring together our own political party.”