Burning eyes under a gas mask. Empty tear gas cans on the ground. Burning trees with no fire brigades. Thousands and thousands of people marching like an army. Peacefully protesting, running from the police, getting injured, pulling themselves back up. It’s how a country’s burning strive for expressing their discontent with the current government, their rights and ideas about democracy that have been infringed, their hope for true freedom and unity, started protesting in Istanbul on the 28th of May and spread around the whole nation within days. It doesn’t seem to stop or slow down. Mehmet Cakmak is one of the people who participated in the protests and feels this hope for change. This is his story extended on several interviews, portraying a nation’s sorrow.
We are not afraid. Even if we are unarmed. Because we know that we are gifted with the passion for freedom, determination and intelligence. It started again. Streets were cool until today morning. Yesterday in the evening the governor of the city said that they need to clean up the Taksim Square. He also said that during this cleaning, Gezi Park is going to stay untouched. In the morning a troop of police arrived to the square and they kept it occupied and attacked Gezi Park as well. So many more wounded. And today for the first time international televisions are here to broadcast the events alive. CNN International sent its war reporter. I think that is a bad sign for us.
I was raised in Istanbul with my mother and elderly sister, while my father was around the world working as construction manager, in countries like Pakistan, Libya, Morocco, Iraq. Thanks to him I had an extremely open minded education, and I travelled everywhere in Europe and other 12 countries in Africa, Asia and America. I’ve never spent a period of my life without doing something good for myself. I spent my youth travelling, learning, meeting new people, and having little fun. I have never been violent to anyone or anything. I protested like this for several times, as a democratic right, but not like this before. All I want from life is health and peace. The same for my country. I am really tired to live with ignorant people around me everywhere in Turkey and right now the streets are different. We are almost officially divided in two: laics, open minded people who love democracy and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the others, the group that can be identified only as followers of the fake Islamic dictator, Tayyip Erdogan.
Taksim Square is the center point of our city. It’s a 24 hours busy place. People gather there anyhow. And most importantly, now people go there to protest. This was true for everybody throughout history, in the very same spot where they want to demolish Gezi Park and build whatever they have on their mind. Politicians of PM’s political party (AKP) keep giving contradictive speeches. One says that it’s going to become a mall, the other says a military house, some say a museum, and finally Erdogan says a mosque. The latter is more likely to be true. If they want to remove the park that’s one thing. But if they would build a mosque there, the anti-revolution will officially begin.
PM Erdogan is not the right person to go with. He is a big hungry dog. He sold 380 state owned company, which were held from the very first years of the republic. Imagine the amount of money that would come from those companies. In the meantime he acts like the mayor of the country. On billboards and TV commercials, he shows up saying: “I built the railroad in Konya. We completed the project of that bridge, this highway, those underground lines.” Of course he would do all these. He is supposed to serve the country. Especially after selling all those big cash cow companies. Additionally the taxes kept growing. For example I pay %35 of my annual wage as tax, under social security service expenses. Moreover, we constantly pay taxes for every expense we have. In renting a home, both the landlord and renter pay taxes. Food and beverage have 18%, other goods have 11%. I pay one third of every bill (electricity, gas, adsl, mobile phone, water) to the state under several lines of tax. And especially gas… 1 lt of gasoline is 2€. It is %70 taxed. Can you imagine the burden on us? We are really tired. The state is consuming us. Production is low, unemployment is high, wages are low, population is high. I get stressed out even right now when I’m thinking about this. He never asks for anybody’s opinion. Not even his own political party-mates. Whenever somebody from his government says something against him, that person gets expelled from both parliament and AKP. He has zero tolerance. Only money guides him. Wherever he sees profit, he is there. This is another explanation to why he wants to demolish the park. The answer is easy: because he is planning to pick up more money. Everybody knows that he cares only about money. Even the people who voted for him because they get their shares out of it. All of PM’s relatives, the president Abdullah Gul (he used to be the minister of Foreign Affairs in the previous government of Erdogan, and right now we call him as his secretary service in Çankaya Palace) and all other AKP members are owners of companies with huge incomes, such as street parking company of Istanbul-Ispark, non-alcoholic restaurant chain – Saray. We call it “Green Capital”, referring to the color of Islam. Then there is the big question: How come he became the PM of Turkey? The country was unstable for decades. We had several coup d’etats, biggest ones in 1950, 1960. Folks were sick of all elderly politicians. This guy showed up like one of us, as poor as the average of our country, and as democratic as we hoped for. I never voted for him but he rapidly reached around level of 50% votes. It happened simply because he was a new face and new hope. Just like how Berlusconi reached to the top of Italy.
Now it was like a flame. The country is burning alive. People are making noise at home whenever they feel like, by hitting two tea pots to each other or spoons on some chinaware. People are going around with Turkish flags, because this is how we feel. The country is getting hurt. We feel like PM is tearing us apart, like we are losing our liberty, democracy and peaceful life. People don’t want to live within Islam, people want to be free to live however they like. Whenever the PM speaks, he is threatening us to let the other 50% of the Turkish people who voted for him out in the streets to fight against us. Nobody believes him, because we know that those people are somehow our relatives. I have some family members who voted for him, but never accepted brutality and any sort of violence. He is losing it. US dollar and Euro are getting stronger, stock market is getting weaker, and inflation is notable in this month. People are not going to supermarkets, malls, coffee shops, restaurants, just to be sure that money doesn’t flow. We are %100 percent aware of what we are exactly doing. Our demand is not to protect Gezi Park, but to see him resign. Whatever the cost of that might be.
On the 1st of June, Saturday after work, my girlfriend called me and said we are going to Taksim. She even arranged for gas masks. We walked about 1.5km to reach the square, because no public transport was in operation. We approached the area from the other end of Istiklal Street. We were walking quite cautiously with the mask on, to make sure that we get no harm from the gas. The events were calm at that time because the police stepped back from the square. But still gas was present. People were afraid, but sure with what they were about to do. Just walking towards the square with no hesitation… So many empty gas cans were on the ground, we were just hitting each one of them when we were stepping forward. I saw huge numbers of people, marching together. It was like an army. The sensation of acting on common ideas, not like football fans, but doing something serious and important, it was really great. When we reached the square we saw that people were happy and festive because the police have just withdrew from the area. On the other hand we were checking Twitter and Facebook to understand what was exactly going on. My friends were sharing statuses telling that police withdrew because they were attacking on protesters in Besiktas (coastal neighborhood, really close to Taksim). The private palace of PM is located in Besiktas, right next to the beautiful Bosphorus. We decided to walk down to Besiktas area to see what was going on. Smells were coming up but we were ok.
The real action was in Suleyman Seba Caddesi. Taksim is on the hill and that street is one of the roads that take you to the sea side. Police was really really active there to push away the protesters from the sultan’s palace. They were furiously and recklessly firing gas bomb weapons towards us one after another. It was like 10 meters far from us when my face started to burn like hell. Within couple of seconds my eyes were burning and watering, nose was draining like a fountain. I couldn’t see and breathe properly. I felt like removing the mask, but that would’ve been the worst thing to do. People started to run back towards up to the hill, trying not to hit the other protesters. I am not sure what happened, but I pulled my girlfriend’s arm and we ran. We hid in the corner of one the intersection. Waited there for minutes, waiting for the gas effects to go, and think about our next move. The effects weren’t really gone but the police were approaching. We were hearing the noise of special police tanks called Toma. Those machines are the source of pressurized water. That is actually scarier than the gas bomb, because if the water comes directly onto you it throws you back. It might cause fractions, or other kind of traumas. Well, gas bombs are deadly too. Some protesters got hit by burning gas bomb cans. Some lost their sight, some got burnt. Bastards… We had no choice but to keep running up to the hill. We noticed that they were faster to repel protesters, and my girlfriend addressed a restaurant on the Seba Street. Some people were just escaping in the restaurants. We ran in there, the waiter closed the door. Protesters like me and the waiter were pushing the door to make sure that policemen and gas don’t enter the restaurant. A policeman came right in front of the restaurant’s door. He was looking inside to see us. Thanks god he didn’t try to enter. He just skipped the place and kept walking. It was a relief for a second. Gas was coming inside anyway but we waited there for about 25 minutes. Than we run off from one of the small streets. We went back to Taksim square. It was exactly how we left it. People celebrating the victory of Gezi Park. I helped protesters to set a barricade. We stayed in Gumussuyu area to wait if the police were to come back to Taksim. But they didn’t come back since the 1st of June.
We are all getting poorer. Policemen get paid really well if you compare with the average salary. But they are threatened as well. They get paid for attacking us, otherwise they are fired. They are afraid of getting jobless. That’s why they are so much under pressure, and committing suicides. There is a video of an interview with a policeman. He didn’t know that there was a recording device on. The policeman said “Please stop protesting and go home. We are tired just like you. I couldn’t sleep for 4 days and I need to see my family.” The interviewer – a protester – offered him a cigarette and said “Why do you do this job? Just quit and be a free man.” Policeman said “I get paid really well, why should I quit?” Protester asked: “How much do you get paid?” and the policeman replied: “2500lira” (around 1000€).
I was waiting for the tram early in the morning around 7am somewhere close to Taksim. One police car stopped on the tram lines. The driver stayed in the car, the passenger (without uniform) jumped out from the vehicle and stepped on the tram stop. He did not stop by the token machine, without paying for the trip he was in the stop right next to me. That meant he was from the police, because nobody can travel without paying. I heard him reporting to someone on his mobile phone, saying “I am ready, and my young colleague will change his clothes and come along.” I couldn’t recognize what was exactly going on. I thought those guys were going to have breakfast or something. But now I see pictures of those men, and I realize: blue jeans, ugly shirt, sport shoes and a surprisingly big plastic bag in their hands. So similar to those fake protesters, throwing Molotov cocktails in the square. Police is acting like a terrorist and Erdogan is responsibly enjoying all these. I feel like I need to act, but to do what? We are so used to face inappropriate and uncontrolled force; it’s like one step before the civil war.