Culture Magazine

Taksim: Tranquility Before The Tumult

By Realizingresonance @RealizResonance

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Atatürk Monument in Taksim Square Gezi Park, May 15th, 2013.

I recently traveled to Istanbul for the first time, attending a training workshop for business forecasting, seizing a chance to marvel at the relics of Ottoman and Byzantine history backdrop the emerging vitality of modern Turkey. It was the ides of May, a time of relative calm considering the waves of turbulent protest that have swept across Turkey since then. The mellow atmosphere I experienced a month ago while walking through Istanbul’s Taksim Square has been shattered by angry mobs defiantly confronting unforgiving authority. The stillness was broken when police brutally raided a peaceful encampment of environmentalists in Gezi Park, who were vigilantly guarding a sycamore shrouded commons, a rare green space amidst Istanbul’s massive metropolis. Reports and images of police excessively employing batons, water cannons, rubber bullets, and tear gas to disperse these activists triggered an unintended consequence. The ranks of protestors increased dramatically and spread rapidly to other major Turkish cities, Ankara, Izmir, Konya and most of the country’s provinces.

I have mixed emotions about the protests, but alas I am not a Turk so I don’t feel my two cents would be all that helpful to my Turkish friends right now, except to say that I hope and pray a fair resolution will settle the unrest soon. Nevertheless, seeing the dramatic scenes of civilian crowds facing off against riot police and armored vehicles, at locations that I now find familiar, has felt terribly surreal and somewhat emotional, so I needed to express this. I offer my personal experiences and images as a small bit of history, the tranquility before the tumult, the calm before the storm, an ode to the Taksim District of Istanbul.

Regrettably, I only shot one photo while walking through Gezi Park, this dim picture of a fountain shaped into dolphins, a fountain from which no water poured forth.

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Gezi Park, May 16th, 2013.

I wandered through the center of Taksim Square several times in my short stay in Istanbul. To get there from my hotel I used a pedestrian walkway that bridged an area under construction, a corridor of corrugated sheet metal papered with posters advertising an upcoming rally in commemoration of Atatürk. The corridor emptied onto a circular walkway inside four semi-circles of grass, flowers, and a few small trees, enclosed by little white fences, surrounding a large monument to Atatürk, scenes from his life frozen into statues decorating all four sides. Busy passersby entered and exited the circle around the monument, looping into whichever direction they were headed, most of them ignored the street vendors selling bagel-like pastries covered in sesame seeds and navigated around those tourists who obstructed the walkways with hopes of achieving the perfect angle for their photos. On Thursday night I made my way past the square and noticed large crowds loitering about and socializing, with a couple of young men even roosting on the monument below the petrified Atatürks.

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Taksim Square, May 16th, 2013.

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Taksim Square, May 16th, 2013.

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Taksim Square, late on May 16th, 2013.

I crossed the street to get a mocha from Starbucks, a little taste of home after a few Turkish coffees, before heading down İstiklal Avenue. It was Thursday night, but it felt like the weekend, a vibrant energy permeating all of the faces. Perhaps the large cadre of riot police milling aimlessly along a side street between Taksim Square and İstiklal Avenue should have been a portend, their transparent body shields leaning against the wall, these protectors of the peace were mostly young men talking and laughing, just hanging out. Then I saw something that surprised even my own liberal expectations, thinking to myself, no it can’t be, and promptly let it go. A few minutes later, as I was walking past The Gap and Sephora, I saw another instance of it and I knew that more than just Starbucks had followed me from Seattle to Istanbul. Amongst the occasional stylish hijabs and sporadic black burkas strutted gorgeously unexpected cross dressers! It was the first thing I told my wife about when I called her my next morning, which was incidentally still her night before.

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İstiklal Avenue, May 16th, 2013.

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İstiklal Avenue, May 16th, 2013.

Also the next morning, as I meandered through the square toward Starbucks (yes again), I was surprised to see the area around the Atatürk monument was empty except for one lonely Saz player softly tuning his instrument. Luckily I managed to capture this image. These are my memories of a tranquil Taksim, before turbulence and tumult took it over.

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Taksim Square, May 16th, 2013.

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Taksim Square, May 16th, 2013.

Watching the protests on CNN is not only surreal, it is nerve racking, as if it were my own Seattle. However, as dramatic as things are right now in Turkey, I believe these troubles will pass without anything so destabilizing as Tahrir Square in Egypt, or any of the other Arab Spring revolutions. I will leave you with this consideration, a passage from Stephen Kinzer’s Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two World:

“My favorite word in Turkish is istiklal. The dictionary says it means ‘independence,’ and that alone is enough to win it a place of honor in any language…But the real reason I like to hear the word istiklal is because it is the name of Turkey’s most fascinating boulevard. Jammed with people all day and late into the night, lined with cafés, bookstores, cinemas and shops of every description, it is the pulsating heart not only of Istanbul but of the Turkish nation. I go there every time I feel myself being overwhelmed by doubts about Turkey. Losing myself in Istiklal’s parade of faces and outfits for a few minutes, overhearing snippets of conversation and absorbing the energy that crackles along its mile and a half, is always enough to renew my confidence in Turkey’s future. Because Istanbul has attracted millions of migrants from other parts of the country–several hundred new ones still arrive every day–this street is the ultimate melting pot. The country would certainly take a huge leap forward if people could be grabbed there at random and sent to Ankara to replace members of Parliament. Istiklal is perfectly named because its human panorama reflects Turkey’s drive to break away from claustrophobic provincialism and allow its people to express their magnificent diversity.”

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Taksim Square, May 15th, 2013.

Jared Roy Endicott

Taksim: Tranquility Before The Tumult
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Works Cited

Kinzer, Stephen. Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two World . New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Revised edition, 2001. Kindle.


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By Myron Johnson
posted on 15 June at 02:34

Incredible pictures and story, Jared. Yes, you were there at probably the best time possible to see and feel the tension building. This isn't the start of something new.. it is merely the continuation of what has been going on within the country for some time. Let's hope that they pull their whole civilization back from the brink of 'Civil War' and people become recognized as having a chance to make a difference and not become faceless pawns in a dangerous chess game of politics.