In the summer of 2013 Istanbul was rocked by a series of protests against the government. The protests centred around a place in the heart of the city called Gezi Park. I visited a similar park about three years later, where a vigil protecting the President himself stood. This is the tale of two parks.
I visited Gezi Park with my dad who was looking for artistic inspiration as well as the low down on the situation. We arrived on the European side at the district of Kabataş and walked up the hill. As we approached Taksim Square we began to see signs of chaos. Police cars began to appear more frequently, piles of Rubbish became more and more common and there was graffiti everywhere. The first set of tents appeared, along with the first set of trees, and the tension was in the air. Brightly coloured graffiti covered all visible concrete and a couple running a lemonade stand maintained a cheerful ruse on their faces. It was all like a smaller more disheveled wood stock. A random passer by, presumably a resident of the protest camp, ordered my father not to take photos. Walking through the camp you could sense suspicious and exhausted eyes following you as you walked past. The park was full of disheveled tents with men and women exhausted from battling riot police. The whole camp seemed to smell of desperation and despair. Not surprising considering that police and riot vehicles were everywhere. My friend showed me a picture of an overturned bus covered in graffiti, which, although strangely beautiful it looked at from a removed artistic perspective, was a haunting reminder of previous clashes. The rows of shops that used to stand along the edge of the park had been demolished. Rubbish piled everywhere, banners flying everywhere.
This was my experience of Gezi Park.
I returned to Istanbul in August 2016 in may ways a similar time to the summer of 2013. As I left the airport I saw that the city was covered in red banners proclaiming the victory of the Turkish people against tyranny. I heard stories of tanks being overturned and people from all different backgrounds flooding the streets. I visited the area of Kısıklı where I unwittingly stumbled upon the street of Turkish President Erdogan’s main residence. The road was cordoned off and the park opposite was full of people living in tents. Over the entrance to the park was a message stating “we are standing vigil”. It was a Friday afternoon and the air was silent save for the chanting of Friday prayers from the nearest mosque. Posters displaying Erdogan’s face and proclaiming victory over tyranny in the name of God were everywhere. The government was safe, the state had been saved from the chaos of a military coup. No graffiti on any of the public works and the streets swept squeaky clean. The camp however was similarly dirty and disheveled but the air had a far different atmosphere. There was no despair. Only a sense of quiet triumph in the midday sun as people went about their prayers.
This is the tale of two camps. Two separate wood stocks in different places for different causes. And perhaps two different peoples, each with their own motivations and beliefs? A country with two camps indeed.