For nearly two weeks, I’ve been glued to my Twitter feed and Facebook updates via my friends in Istanbul and throughout Turkey.
Since I called Istanbul home for nearly three years, it’s been heartbreaking to watch all the news unfold about the Gezi Park protests, which started on May 31, and not be there. Several of the protests occurred literally in our former backyard of Beşiktaş. The tear gas would have seeped into our apartment building.
|A view of Gezi Park in Istanbul's Taksim Square as seen from the Intercontinental Hotel's bar. Taken in February 2013.|
I want to march with my friends. I want to proudly wave my Turkish flag. I want to be çapuling on the streets too.
(For those who don’t know, the Turkish prime minister negatively referred to the protesters as çapulcu which means looters. Since then, the term has taken on a life of its own for the nationwide protesters. My friends are çapuling through the Istanbul streets every night – banging their pots and pans, blowing whistles and standing up for their rights. They are not looting. On Twitter, the term has spread via hashtags, including #çapuling, # çapulcu, #capuling, #chappuling, #everydayimcapuling and #everydayimçapuling. There’s even a YouTube video: Every day I’m çapuling.)
I wasn’t going to write about the protests, but I don’t see how I could NOT write about them either. The nationwide protests are not just about a small park being destroyed for a shopping mall anymore.
At the heart of the matter is fundamental rights that us Americans take for granted – freedom of speech and the right to peacefully assemble. Everyone should have these basic rights. Instead, these people are shot down with tear gas canisters, plastic bullets and water cannons because they are standing up to the government for these rights and much more.
Before we left Istanbul, we re-visited the Istanbul Sapphire, the city’s highest building in the Levent neighborhood. Although there are many locations to view this beautiful city, the Sapphire gives you a different perspective since you can see all the way to the Black Sea, Sea of Marmara and along the Bosphorus.
My husband’s Turkish colleague, an Istanbul native, joined us on the viewing terrace and remarked that most of the city’s remaining green space is cemeteries. How sad! She’s right! The city is a concrete jungle.
|Here you can see the "green space" of the cemetery in the Şişli neighborhood.|
For a city of 15 million people, it has very few parks, and Gezi Park is one of the few remaining green spaces in the middle of this crowded city.
|Looking north, I guess there's still a little green space left by Maslak too.|
As Istanbul continues to grow and expand, developers buy up any remaining green space and turn it into high-rise apartments. The city doesn’t seem to have any urban planners especially as construction begins for the city’s third bridge over the Bosphorus and the third airport. More than 2 million trees would be destroyed for these projects and could be a ‘threat to the city’s future,’ according to news accounts I’ve read.
I have to wonder, at what cost, does a city like Istanbul continue to develop? Will the new bridge and airport clog up the city even more? Will there be any parks left for my friends’ children to play in? Will Belgrade Forest even remain?
Although I’m no longer living in Istanbul, my heart is still there.
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