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Unity Through Tear Gas

Taksim Square protesters in Gezi Park

I’m writing today from Istanbul, where I’ve been talking to a friend of mine who has been an active participant in the recent wave of demonstrations in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. “I never thought this could happen,” he told me. “The square was not one place filled with demonstrators of one mind. So many people with different ideas coexisted there. How could nationalists share the same square with Kurds, and how could they work with Kemalist secularists? There have always been so many factions that I thought no unified reform movement could be possible. But it happened, and do you know why? It was the reaction of the state, when police beat us and gassed us. Have you ever been gassed? You think that you are going to drown in your own lungs. It burns. You really think you are going to die. You are blind in the eyes, and then someone picks you up and takes you to a safe place and rinses your eyes and makes sure you are not going to taken into custody while you recover. Whenever this happened, the next day we would look around, and we would never know who helped who, but we would know we got help. This broke down barriers between the different camps very quickly.”

The idea of shared purpose is present even in the name, “Taksim Solidarity,” of the website set up to share the voice of demonstrators with the world.:

Taksim Solidarity is comprised of 124 trade unions, political parties, community groups, sports club fan groups and initiatives embracing diversity and expressing demands in a peaceful, democratic way. It is supported by environmentalists, artists, journalists and members of the intelligentsia. It voices a yearning for a greener, more liveable and democratic city and country and is adamant about continuing the struggle for the preservation of Gezi Park and Taksim Square and ensuring that those responsible for police violence are held accountable.

Taksim Solidarity’s demand for a healthy urbanisation and liveable city merged with the cries of millions for more freedom and democracy reflects a social sensitivity symbolised by Gezi Park. The creative genius of the young, the warm embrace of mothers, the power of the working classes and the loud and clear voices of women, the ‘we are here too’ cries of the LGBT community and the revitalised oldies have come together to turn an irreversible page in the democratic history of this country.

The movement continues: just last week, police in Istanbul gassed a group including politicians and scholars who were marching toward Gezi Park and passively resisted efforts to remove them from the street. A few days ago, chants of “Everywhere is Taksim” erupted during the Fenerbahçe vs. Arsenal Champions League football game:

My friend predicts a new surge in the movement is coming in Turkey, citing a pattern found at home in the United States too: wait until the students head back to school.

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