If you’ve been watching the news, you will be well aware that something is going on in Istanbul. I am currently living in the city and when I started receiving concerned messages from friends around the world, I thought I should find out what was going on. There is a media blackout in the country that means while your CNN is showing riots in my current home city, we are watching documentaries about penguins.
On Sunday, I rushed to the centre of town. The video features some of the goings on that I observed.
Without going into the ins and outs of why things are happening, I will briefly outline what it is like to live in the city at this time and what I saw. Scroll to the bottom of this post to see some of my photography from Sunday. I’ve touched up the photos I took on Sunday to make them look a bit shinier and added captions to explain what’s going on.
Living in Şirinevler, about an hour from the centre of Istanbul, life has continued as normal. Throughout each night there are marches and chanting in my area but during the day, life continues as normal. I joined in one of the marches to see what was going on and concluded that it was a rather directionless crowd of people making a lot of noise. Some of them are taking part with a genuine purpose whereas others are joining in for fun. When over a hundred people sat down in the middle of a busy junction, people from cafes nearby ran to join them and take photos before returning to their chai.
In the centre of town on Sunday, there were tens of thousands of people gathered. I may have never seen so many people in my life. I can’t even begin to comprehend what a hundred thousand people look like, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there were that many taking part in the demonstrations on Taksim Square. Shops have been vandalised, ATMs raided, but most business continue as normal. Burger King and McDonalds had both sustained such heavy damage that they were boarded up on Sunday. Other shops continued to operate as normal, despite their windows being smashed and spray paint covering their exterior walls. A lot of people in these ‘protests’ are taking part only as hooligans. There are many people who have a genuine message but I doubt these are the ones attempting to destroy and rob from their own city.
Most demonstrations on Sunday involved singing, chanting, and dancing. A few people wore crazy masks (including the V for Vendetta mask; the downfall of Government) but all in all, everything I saw was peaceful. The destruction had already occurred the night before. On that night, I was only half an hours walk from the centre and got caught in the drift off of tear gas. It burnt my eyes and hurt my throat, but I was far enough from it to not suffer any lasting effects.
As light started to fade, most people dispersed and the heavies came out. A panicked woman careered her car into a pedestrian who then collided with me as she found herself trapped in a blockade at Taskim. Protestors have used fences, rubble, buses, and everything else they can find to make walls around the centre of the city. Throughout the day, I didn’t see a single policeman. The people have taken over. They have broken open the large building site in the centre of town and used buses to block other roads. I don’t understand why they have chosen to destroy so many vehicles and shops; destroying one’s own city seems anti-productive. When I saw guys picking up rocks and others in full body armour wielding rods of metal, I knew it was my time to leave. These were the guys who fully intended on clashing with the police. I later heard that they rushed down the road on which I had been standing and met the police in a violent conflict at the bottom.
While many people in the city are demanding change, it seems that many do not know what exactly it is that they want. I asked some people today if they liked the Prime Minister. “No,” they told me, “but there is no-one else to run the country.” In short, despite not liking him, they told me that he was the best of a bad bunch.
Outside the central bubble of Beyoğlu and Beşiktaş, life continues as normal. I must admit that I am a little bit disappointed that I no longer live in the centre of the city because I can’t see all the action. For now, things seem to have quietened down due to rain, people having to go to work, and the withdrawal of the police. If it gets a bit crazy again, I’d like to share some more with you. In the meantime, please enjoy some of my favourite photos from the day.
Photos from the riots
If you want to see more pictures, head over to my pictures of the Istanbul riots post.