Translated and edited by Elif Özizmir, Can Jarna Öztürk, Çağlayan Erendağ and Lale İnceoğlu.
Good morning Neighbor,
Never mind my “good morning”, I write these lines to you at daybreak, after a sleepless night. You know me, we’ve been living in this building for so many years. I am the quiet type, not many people come to visit me. I go to bed early and wake up even before the morning prayers. Yet, last night I didn’t sleep a wink. You slept soundly instead of me, dear neighbor. I know you did because I was out at the balcony so many times, banging pots and pans as my husband was turning the lights on and off… we tried everything to draw your attention.
You slept on, neighbor.
While we sat with our hands on the door knob, our hearts racing like mad, our eyes sore, you slept on. I am not angry with you. If I had relied on that box called television to find out about what’s going on in the world, in my country or even on the next street, I would also go to bed peacefully and sleep after having watched the evening news.
After all what was it they announced on TV? Gezi Park had been evacuated. And it was done with utter ease. Without causing any harm. “Our people started leaving the park on time, due to the announcements made half an hour in advance. The marginal, illegal terrorist groups who stayed behind were treated with pepper spray and water cannons.” On top of it our Mayor has made a speech, explaining that no harm was done to the people, children, Gezi Park was evacuated, the public workers were taking down the tents. We should be at peace. This story has come to an end.
You must have had a sigh of relief neighbor. I would have if I were you. I’m sure you were feeling anxious that while the marginal groups were targeted, innocent kids could have been harmed. Innocent ones must have left the park when the police told them to evacuate it. The rest who stayed have different agendas anyway…
Neighbor, let me tell you now my own version of what happened. I’ve lived in this building all my life, you know me. I hope you will believe me or at least listen to what I have to say.
I was also there at Gezi Park with my husband last night. You know my husband, you see him everyday. He has a walking disability. He uses a wheelchair. We’d gone to the park together. It was a little after seven and the park was really crowded. Children, parents, other people like us who’d come with their wheelchairs…A balmy summer’s night; music playing, people dancing, kids lying on the ground painting, all sorts of vendors selling food. Being the first Saturday of the summer holiday everyone was relaxed, cheerful and full of hope…The park was like a fairground.
My husband and I crossed the whole park and reached Taksim square. Again there was music and people were doing a circle dance, there. The cops were lined up in front of AKM, smoking cigarettes while watching the square. We posed for photos in front of them, making a victory sign.
It was exactly 8.15 p.m, I know for sure, because my phone shows the time on each shot. We decided it was time to head home. While we strolled up and down the park one last time, I ran across my students who were staying there, day in day out. Surely, you know my students, they’re the ones who always come and go to my place. They speak in low tones, kind young women with bright eyes. Got it, right? Yes, exactly. It was them who set up their tents in the park, it was them who had been patiently expecting respect for their rights to defend and protect a couple of trees, patiently waiting the authorities to hear their voices demanding the right to life, throwing back all kinds of slander coming their way, after transforming them into subtle humor… We were chatting with them. They had planted a little orchard at Gezi Park. In two weeks they had planted flowers, vegetables. On Tuesday night when TOMA’s threw water cannons into the park, apparently the orchard was all over the place. They put it back together in two days. They had built a library too. Tuesday night all of them were soaking wet. So some people brought in new books. My mom too donated books. You know my mom too, she lives in our building, the retired professor. On Friday evening, went to the park together. She had some student too, staying in their tents at the park. They had also remarked proudly how the library was rebuilt.
Long story short, neighbor, when you oppress hope at one end, it flourishes form another, just like weed.
As we were chatting away, a guy said to another, “they say there will be an intervention”. W e all laughed neighbor. We laughed because even the harshest dictator in the world would not plan an intervention to that park, not that particular evening. There were pregnant women, proud dads holding their children sitting on their shoulders. A blue-eyed granddad just said to me, “how would he ever hit me,”. We carried on talking. The music played on.
Nobody heard any announcements neighbor, just as nobody left the park. The moment the tear gas hit them, they were in the middle of their bites, their words, their dancing. We had parked our car right in front of Divan Hotel, people gave us a hand, I hurried to the car folding my husbands wheelchair into the trunk, as I sped away, I could see Taksim Square from my rear view window, under clouds of gas and dust.
We made it home. TV channels were talking about demonstrators fleeing towards Harbiye. And you were watching neighbor. I’m guessing, there must have been more than 10,000 people in the park. They had no choice but retreat towards the Divan Hotel after being tear-gassed, just like we just had. Then the Mayor appeared on the silver screen. “ Our people had left the park in accordance with our announcements, prior to the intervention and some marginal groups staying behind have clashed with the police” he said. My neighbor, I was there when the first tear gas was thrown, so was my husband, so were all those people.
It was when mothers, fathers, children fleeing to the streets in panic from acidy waters of TOMA’s and tear gases that the park was evacuated. Hundreds were wounded. Your much trusted TV channel, the one that you had been watching announced that only 29 were wounded, and that with only minor scratches. My friends who took refuge at the Divan sent photos of their burnt skins on their arms, necks. The announcements we received were asking to direct all the wounded and the children to Divan Hotel. So we spread the news. People asked for oxygen tanks, needles and threads to saw up the wounds. As I was searching for pharmacies on night duty on my computer, my husband was shrieking from his computer, “ the police have thrown pepper gas into Divan Hotel”. I did not believe, did not want to believe this. Uğru Dundar was broadcasting from the new TV channel “ +1”. Then that too was interrupted. Meanwhile, photos of my friends stranded at the Divan started coming in. Neighbor, I hate to bother you, but I am afraid no one will tell you, if I don’t. I have no intention of defending a cause in this lifetime. All I care about is the right for everyone to live in personal dignity. Anyway, let me cut it short, some photos of children started coming in from the Divan. Fainted, trying hard to breathe under an oxygen mask. I recognized one. He was sitting on his father’s shoulders, in the park. A baby with curly hair, just about two or three years old… He is crying as his dad holds him in his arms. At the background some very young people are spread out on a sofa, fainted, they were not even born when we were banging on pots and pans for “Susurluk”.
And the night went on, neighbor. While all the televisions showed a wet and empty Taksim square, my facebook friends rushed out of their homes and headed to Taksim in big groups. I guess meanwhile you got bored and went to sleep, because there was nothing new on TV. Sıraselviler Street, Istiklal Street, Cumhuriyet street all started to get packed. People from Bagdat Street met at Kadıkoy and walked . towards the Bosphorus Bridge. Thousands of people from Gazi neighbourhood rushed to the Tem motorway…Ankara, was exactly the same; people spread all over the streets. I have a cousin in Ankara. She is the one I get all the news from . Who else do we have but each other to trust?…I have an aunt in Ankara. She is 97 years old. You also know her, neighbor. She used to live with us in the past. She was quiet, calm and graceful. Do you remember? Yes neighbor, that old lady. She didn’t let her age stop her. She’s also been in Kugulu Park at 7pm every night for two weeks.
While the night was asleep in all it’s darkness, something very weird happened, neighbor. Police attacked the Hilton Hotel. Yes I am talking about that Hilton Hotel! There were friends there who just crouched down and were trying to breath. Many people were injured. All the medicines were put on a table in the middle of the lobby and the first thing the police did was to take the medicines away. Then we heard that they drove into the German Hospital with a TOMA tank and sprayed chemical water into the hospital. It is also rumoured that they went down to the emergency floor to arrest the injured people.
Neighbour, do you hear? There are people screaming downstairs. Go to the window and have a look. All these people are the people that you know. The grocery guy is clapping. Retired old people are beating pan and pots. There is nobody marginal, outside. It’s all just “us” neighbor. Nobody else…
Come on, please wake up!
Special thanks to Elif Chandra, Can Jarna, Lale and Çağlayan for their light-speed translation and for the editing!