Sleepless

By Çiler İlhan

I've been sleepless for days. Like countless people. Like countless animals. Like the trees and the birds. We're all dazed by the strange turn of events in Turkey. The children who grew up scared of any uniform, police or military, have now finally reached adulthood, and now protest day and night, supplying the young ones in Gezi Park with food and water. We, as a nation, who never knew how to object, now stand our ground and insist on our rights together. That's the least of what we learned—allow me thus to start with what I'd normally keep till last.

The shortest, most succinct, in-a-nutshell summary of the matter is: a group of young people objected to plans to replace Gezi Park in the heart of Istanbul's Taksim with a shopping center; their encampment was raided at dawn by the police on 31 May, things escalated, and some eighteen days later, we’re still no nearer to a resolution.

Who knew that our young people, with their gazes fixed on their phones or iPads no matter how formal the occasion, were creating communities just like their highly elaborate cyberspace villages? These kids are so sharp: intelligent and witty, their sense of humor a blend of Aziz Nesin and Gogol, original and ironic. We'd been nurturing digi-flower children who hid the light of their tolerance under a bushel. Who knew?

What a resilient nation we are. Who knew? All that battering with gas, water and truncheons, and we still don goggles to flock to the streets, tweeting as we run from the police. Oh yes, and that we had the capacity for outrage.

I did, and was outraged. Who wouldn't be, after the scenes of the past fortnight? Young girls choking on their own voices under police blows; kids losing an eye, or a part of their skulls or faces to tear gas canisters; heartbreaking videos on “that menace called Twitter”; the state of sanctuary-seekers in Dolmabahçe Mosque; and detainees beaten to a pulp in Ankara's Kızılay Square.

After days of intense crackdown, a sudden command came from Twitter: “Information pollution, erase your RTs.” Oh, woe, was it possible that not every 140-character was a genuine “young marauder tweet,” that malice would try to incite innocence into violence? 

Misjudgment reigned supreme: the government dismissed the defenders of Gezi as “marauders,” who in turn underestimated the forces of law and order. I was wracked with guilt like Tereza in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, whose innocent snapshots served the witch hunt: what if I had unwittingly retweeted any one of my numerous (all of 200) Twitter followers into the compassionate arms of the police?

Appalled by videos of brutality, we're now all blessed with newborn traumas, and are further unsettled by inconsistencies. Has the governor denied, on live TV, the prospect of an intervention in Gezi Park? Tweets instantly link to images disputing said statement.

Dispossessed by our Father State and the media, we sheltered under the paternal wings of the Çarşı Group, ever gentle, ever calm, ever firm against injustice. The Turkish hacker network RedHack joined in later, late one night; true, we had heard of them before, but never like this, on Halk TV. The thought process was impeccable, clearly there wasn’t a single book RedHack hadn’t read, knew so very much and yes, would defend our rights. Yes, a second father was emerging. Except... these old-time heroes never made any secret of their Marxist-Leninist roots: “Now hand over half your assets to the poor to eradicate poverty, there’s a good chap.” Would the bohemian bourgeoisie so ready to fill the streets, banging the same old tunes on pots and pans, still embrace RedHack as a loving father then? And in any case, wasn't real democracy about living our personal choices? How were we going to dress up in a myriad of colors in an increasingly more totalitarian environment?

The digital revolution that motivates even the governor of Istanbul to spend all his hours—awake and asleep-—by Twitter cuts both ways. No one is under the radar: our digital footprint is so easy to track that any debate on privacy has become irrelevant. Files now exist on countless well-meaning demonstrators, and even police officers who genuinely helped civilians find their identities revealed.

Some quarters face a massive loss of credibility. Turkish media shirked their duty as Dolmabahçe and Akaretler tweeted for help, “They’ll kill us!” —no exaggeration, with four dead and countless seriously injured. CNN Türk led with a documentary on penguins, in particular on the first two days of June. On the other hand, the CNN International war correspondent’s endless live report was no less abhorrent.

Would the oppression continue if our tweets, photos, and videos hadn’t reached the foreign press? Possibly. Would it have got worse? Possibly.

But who among us is innocent? Name one single country with clean hands throughout history? No, no, c’mon, all together now: “We’re not innocent, not a single one of us.” If we’re all seeking justice, and if some of us were to go to Ankara now, why did none of us rush to help the Gazi neighborhood when lives were burning there? Never mind its demographic make-up, or what kindled their protest; whatever hurt Gazi so fiercely can only be laid at the state’s door, and thus, us all. How easily we turned a blind eye to their power cuts, night after night, all that oppression in the East, the tear gas and losses!

No, we are not innocent, not a single one of us.

True: it’s no longer about a few trees. It’s a little more complicated. But so complicated that it would take the wisdom of Solomon to sort it out. On the one hand, an increasing attempt to dictate everything that concerns individual choice, from the embryo in your belly through to the child you will bear. Forests are opened up to development, intellectuals and military commanders are incarcerated without due process… not that the bones broken or fingernails pulled after the 1980 coup are forgotten.

No one should be in prison without due process, absolutely not; but the military isn’t innocent either.

As all this was going on, his chief consultant stated, “We won’t throw the PM to the wolves!” So lost in our own thoughts were we, endlessly retweeting one another, that we never wondered, what wolf, and why? Really? Hot air, we dismissed it. But the PM’s never shaken off his past disappointments. Not a single speech goes by without a reference to his days in prison, or the scorn heaped upon his constituents, the conservative section of society. “Same old victim literature, mate!” we said, but never once wondered what we'd done to offend them so. Who among us openly admitted, “Our concierge is Kurdish”? We, educated city folk, turned our noses up at the sight of a headscarf. So we did.

And yet: the more gas we inhaled, the greater our numbers grew. We were a quartet the first night; by the fourth, we'd grown into a full symphony orchestra. Arrest one hundred attorneys one day? We are one thousand on the following. Yes, the Gezi Park protests formed Turkey's snapping point. Now we know that even if nothing changes after today, nothing affecting Taksim, the law, or our daily lives, we are capable of insisting upon our rights, asking questions, and criticizing; all those “basic democratic rights” listed in books.

A confusing number of scenarios make the rounds. Who first gave the order to remove the tents—come what may-—on the morning of 31 May? Who were the group throwing petrol bombs on Taksim Square? How will we build bridges with no trust left between the people, the state, and the police? Countless critical matters that inflamed the situation still remain “mysteries”!  The PM, for whatever reason, may be dispensable. The Grand Middle East Project that progresses before our very eyes. External intelligence organizations, whose long and bloody reach is implicated in coups in so many countries. The preparation for sharia while we’re all occupied with a park. A cornucopia of an open buffet. We scratch our heads, “Which came first: the cloud of gas, or Adam?” as we revolve inside five square meters instead of 50,000. It’s not hard to guess that the games played over these precious lands will not come to an end. Turkey is surrounded by flames on all sides; will she be able to stay on course, staunching the sparks that fall in before they set fire? And what sort of a course will this be? Will AKP soften their tone in time, or are they determined to keep prying into our own affairs?

As you can see, the matter goes far deeper than a few trees. So many rhetorical questions force me toward the smart option. I may one day face one final question, once I'm done with this bizarre and primitive planet where power inevitably corrupts. My answer is ready: Come back? Never!

Oh, but all I really want is world peace. R.I.P John Lennon, all right?

Translated by Feyza Howell

Feyza Howell works as a literary translator, and serves English PEN as assessor and a number of public agencies as interpreter. She has been translating fiction and commercial texts for many years, as well as writing copy and nonfiction. She has a wide range of experience in international business, product development and marketing management, TV, radio and press advertising, and TV game shows: production, art direction and graphic design. She has translated The Concubine and Unto the Tulip Gardens: My Shadow by Gül İrepoğlu, Fog and the Night by Ahmet Ümit, and Waste by Hakan Günday, and edited The Aziz Bey Incident by Ayfer Tunç. She is currently translating The Man Who Spoke Jesus's Language and Souvenir of Istanbul by Ahmet Ümit. Her translation of Madam Atatürk by İpek Çalışlar is forthcoming from  Saqi in Fall 2013.

 


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