As I write these words, unarmed protestors in and around Taksim Square are under relentless police attack. Not only in Taksim, either. People throng the streets all over the country: Ankara, Izmir, Tunceli, Hatay, and many, many more cities. People who’ve had it with government oppression. Whose anger has been honed. Who are at work by day, and on the streets by night.
Also at work are the state's and imams' army of police, with tanks, noise bombs, tear gas, and truncheons at the ready.
Five people have died in the fortnight of the resistance, thousands injured—dozens seriously—and several blinded. Thousands fill the roads as far as the eye can see and shout: We shall overcome! At 2 a.m., people flash house lights on and off and bang pots and pans; I bang in rhythm as I hold vigil by the crews of the few TV stations that dare to cover the events.
Hands held high, an elderly man squares off with a tank. A water cannon slams him onto the tarmac, which he punches in outrage even as he struggles back up. Appalled, I collapse alongside this man who represents all my fellow citizens. My kind and beautiful nation whose choice of leader infuriated me all these years, and whose conservatism, self-interest, and narrow-mindedness angered me. Whose ignorance harmed the country so badly, and broke my heart. My nation whose suffering aroused my schadenfreude. And now they're awakened, aware of what's come over them, and more crucially, alerted to what is yet to come.
The water-cannoned man's shouts fill my heart and reinforce my resolve. All those earlier uncharitable thoughts about my fellow citizens vanish. We love one another. We shall stand shoulder to shoulder. Together we shall resist this ruthless religious fascism determined to smother the Republic of Turkey into an aggressive sultanate, spoiling for war left, right, and center.
Until yesterday everyone was concerned, but silent. Afraid and hopeless. Intimidated for a decade into putting up with anything, this nation would never shrug off the decaying soil of the cemetery.
A student who challenges self-designated untouchables finds herself banged up as a member of a terrorist organisation. The leader's every utterance passes for law and his rancor extinguishes hearths. A retrogressive government has taken huge strides toward the regime that is its ultimate goal, and blithely enact countless laws that intrude upon the daily lives of individuals. Turkey has become a land of horror: false witnesses and fabricated evidence incarcerate intellectuals and members of the armed forces, and arbitrary extensions keep them behind bars; defense lawyers are roughed up and arrested en masse; plunder and nepotism are entrenched in the system; bloodshed continues unabated; poverty is on the rise; and arbitrary rule is presented as “progressive democracy.” Common sense, science, peace and art are sidelined; nature is destroyed recklessly and public assets squandered.
The tinder was dry as bone, and when it finally did flare, it did quite unexpectedly and spectacularly. A scattering of young nature-lovers made an innocent stand to save a park that grew into an avalanche, and continues to grow. A handful tied themselves to trees to stop bulldozers intent upon uprooting trees to make way for a shopping center. Tear gas suffocated these demonstrators in a dawn raid; they were truncheoned and dragged on the ground, and their tents were torched. This disproportionate violence against these young defenders of life—human, animal, plant—was the final straw. Gas wafting from Taksim Gezi Park spread to the entire country. The nation went out into the streets, demolishing the wall of despair and fear.
A handful of young people took a stand in the name of the country they love, where they long to live, free and in peace. And in so doing, heartened the nation that has so long been deceived, oppressed, fooled with bribes, spurious religious claims, and lies.
We are heartbroken over the dead and the injured. We are worried that increasing brutality of the crackdown might lead to uncontrolled reaction. But equally, we are thrilled. We are in a beautiful month of June, dignified, hopeful, redolent of freedom after all these years. Everyone now shouts out loud: Enough! Enough! Enough!
Last week, when I went to Gezi Park, I was astounded by the popularity of the movement. Who raised these fine kids, these bright, affectionate, tolerant kids, and when? I used to find them—erroneously, it turns out—well-informed, but irresponsible, intelligent, but over individualistic. Yes, they grew up apolitical, but that was due to the restrictions of the military regime, not their own choice. Their youth was also a time of unbridled capitalism. In The Thirtieth Year, Ingeborg Bachman relates a twenty-something's conviction that he’ll finally get the nod to express his true convictions once he reaches thirty. All that the milestone offers however, when it does arrive, is the revelation that he's in a trap.
It's possible our people—young and old—also had an epiphany, sensing the trap that was closing around them, and realized the power of the multitude united.
Today, everyone on the streets is young: the three-year-old child and the catapult-wielding sixty-year-old woman. I am now convinced that Turkey is in safe hands, that it will never turn into a fusty theocracy. Defenders of much better tomorrows will face those who try.
In Taksim, a mother with her six-year-old dismisses a TV correspondent's “Aren’t you afraid your child might get hurt?” “No,” she replies, with confidence. “He will learn to defy injustice, and he will never forget this day!”
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.