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Going from Gray to a Rainbow in Istanbul

As you may know, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has over the past few years been instituting policies that restrict civil liberties in Turkey, that prevent the Turkish people from freely assembling to air their grievances, and that have thereby fomented further resistance by free-minded people there.

Over the past year in Turkey, anti-authoritarian protesters have used the areas of Taksim Square and Istiklal Street as staging areas. Some of the protesters’ acts take the form of marches. Some of their acts are vigils. But as I saw when I visited Istanbul earlier this year, much of their resistance takes the form of street art:

Yellow Fists off Istikal Street in Istanbul Love Music Hate System

Yellow Fists off Istiklal Street in Istanbul

Istiklal Street message in English in Istanbul: Resist

In response, the authorities in Istanbul at times have their guns drawn at the ready:

Gun Drawn on Istiklal Street next to an anti-war demonstration

But much more often government reaction comes in the form of a bucket of gray paint, designed to obliterate protest messages:

Gray Paint below street art of a face with the word Taksim painted over

At some places on Istiklal Street, the gray paint stretches in great widths:

On Istiklal Street in Istanbul Turkey, Multiple Unapproved Messages are Covered in Gray Paint

And so the gray paint has come to be interpreted as the symbol of government movement against freedom of expression. In turn, color has come to be seen as a threat to public order. When Istanbul retiree Huseyin Cetinel painted steps leading up to Istiklal Street in the colors of the rainbow at the end of the summer, Istanbul authorities saw this as dangerous agitation and promptly responded by repainting the steps a state-approved gray.

To this point, my story is a gray story, but it doesn’t end with gray. Watch the video below to see how people across Turkey responded.

My rough translation of that final phrase, “Gri Boyaniz Bitene Kadar,” is a sardonic “Gray paint until the end!”

One thought on “Going from Gray to a Rainbow in Istanbul”

  1. Bill says:

    Nice story Jim, thanks. My son was in Istanbul (attending a friend’s wedding) during the police riots, staying in an apartment right off Taksim Square. He and the rest of the wedding party were gassed and chased through the streets along with thousands of Turks, young and old. His Turkish hosts were so mortified, and apologized so profusely for the backward state of their government, assuring him over and over again that the government’s actions don’t comport at all with the Turkish spirit and outlook. These are brave, bright young people saying “no” to oppression of the human spirit. They will prevail. Chains and walls can’t confine that kind of vitality for long.

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