Turkey – Of Protests and Fruit:
A Report & Updates from Istanbul
“They say I am the prime minister of only 50 percent. It’s not true. We have served the whole of the 76 million from the east to the west…” Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Editor’s Note – This piece was first published on May 31, 2013. Since then we’ve received responses from our friends in Turkey with varying faiths and viewpoints.
Two years ago, on October 29, after finishing final interviews that would appear in my memoir Anatolian Days & Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, I stood among the crowds in Taksim Square, Istanbul, near the park known as Gezi. Many people carried red flags embossed with a white waxing moon, a star and an image of the blue-eyed hero, Kemal Ataturk, who on that day, in 1923, from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, became the first Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey.
Taksim Square is the hub and meeting point for seven streets including busy Istiklal, and the neighborhoods that fan out across the European side of the Bosporus. According to my Turkish-American friend, concert pianist Meral Guneyman, the plan to demolish Gezi Park and Taksim Square and to rebuild a long-demolished Ottoman barracks – adding a shopping mall with underground roads and parking – would cut off one of the city’s most vibrant meeting spaces.
In the nearly thirty years since I’ve been traveling to Turkey, I’ve seen the country emerge from a military dictatorship and a harsh penal system into an economic and cultural success vying for entry into the European Union.
I have also traveled in Turkey with an equal measure of wariness and wonder. I was there during the 1999 earthquake and saw something I never would have believed, Greeks helping their Turkish neighbors dig out from the rubble. I returned shortly after September 11, and the outpouring of support – from the Mediterranean Sea to villages throughout the southeast near the Syrian border – was surprising and comforting.
In Istanbul, when I crossed the Galata Bridge (gala means milk) over the Bosporus strait (meaning cow ford or crossing), and thought of the myth of Europa, the maiden who was carried by the great white bull across the sea from Asia Minor, I saw Turkey coming into its own as a literal bridge between the Near East, Middle East and Europe.
As the years passed, I saw subtle and not so subtle changes, many of them positive, others not so. In 2003, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was elected Turkey’s 25thPrime Minister having served as Istanbul’s mayor from 1994-98. (In 2011, with just under 50 percent of the vote, Erdoğan was elected to a third term.)
I watched Turkish friends return home to Istanbul and American friends settle in Turkey to become part of an economic boom that continues to this day. Tourism has blossomed; and friends in the southeast have welcomed much-needed investment in infrastructure. But, I’ve also seen my fellow writers and journalists imprisoned for their work. In 2012, Turkey imprisoned more journalists than Iran or China.
A friend who owns a business in Istanbul says, “We have had enough of the Prime Minister scolding people a few times every day and telling us the number of kids we should have (three per family), forbidding kissing in public, banning alcohol between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. except in tourist areas…building a third bridge over the Bosporus (and naming it for Sultan Selim the Grim who in the 16thcentury after annexing Egypt made the Ottomans the dominant power in the Islamic world)…Erdogan’s style has been so unkind and arrogant that the people said that is enough and took to the streets.”
Last May, when I sat with friends in a working class neighborhood, the Sea of Marmara (marble) shimmered in the spring air. In spite of misgivings, I reveled in the superb cuisine, warmth and deliciously ironic humor of my Turkish friends.
This May, when news came of Gezi Park via those very same friends through social media, I wasn’t surprised. Friends in my generation, in our fifties and early sixties, remember the violence in Turkey leading up to the 1980 coup, and are reluctant to protest laws they feel are unjust. At last, my friends sigh, watching the younger generation act.
“I am proud of these young people protesting the Prime Minister and his ministers (mainly the Prime Minister) out there in Taksim Square and then cleaning up the place,” says another friend.
Inspired by the bravado of youth, grandmothers, grandfathers and children have taken to the streets to bang pots and pans (a tradition dating back to the Ottoman Empire) in support of the protesters.
I sent out a query through social media and got dissertations, the latest from a 34-year-old protestor. “There couldn’t have been more than 100 in Gezi Park at the beginning,” she writes. “What changed everything was the police intervention at 5 a.m. when most of the protesters were sleeping. The police attacked with tear gas and burned down their tents. People from all over Istanbul came to support them and immediately received the same treatment. The more the police used tear gas, the more people came.”
“One of the things that shocked and angered many people was the indifference of the media to the protests,” she adds. “Apart from two very small channels (One of the major news channels featured a documentary about penguins.) the media was silent. So, in the beginning, the information came mainly through social media, especially Twitter and Facebook.”
Yet, one of my dearest friends, a supporter of Erdoğan who lives in Mardin near the Syrian border, exemplifies how complex the protests are, “But,” he says, “I can surely say that these protests are not like the events in Egypt, Syria etc. This is a temporary situation. The government and Erdoğan will be able to overcome them…”
How will the protests ultimately make a difference?” I asked another friend.
No one knows yet, but the protesters aren’t backing down,” she wrote back. (In fact, the protests are entering their third week.)
Another friend, also in her thirties, responded with typical Turkish humor, “When the police used pepper spray and orange gas, the crowd tossed back peppers and oranges,” she wrote. “May the protests continue peacefully and may they bear fruit.”
Update from Gezi Park, June 11, 2013
Really big things are again taking place in Taksim. Tear gas bombs and water cannons once more. They had promised earlier that they wouldn’t do anything to the peaceful protesters in Gezi Parki. However, the prime minister announced that he doesn’t have any patience and the protests are illegal. During the day, police entered the court house in Caglayan (the main court house on the European side of Istanbul) and took lawyers into custody. It’s heating up again.” Thirty-four-year-old protestor.
From another observer:
In 2006, Joy E. Stocke founded Wild River Review with Kimberly Nagy, an outgrowth of the literary magazine, The Bucks County Writer, of which Stocke was Editor in Chief. In 2009, as their editorial practice grew, Stocke and Nagy founded Wild River Consulting & Publishing, LLC.
With more than twenty-five years experience as a writer and journalist, Stocke works with many of the writers who appear in the pages of Wild River Review, as well as clients from around the world.
In addition, Stocke has shepherded numerous writers into print. She has interviewed Nobel Prize winners Orhan Pamuk and Muhammud Yunus, Pulitzer Prizewinner Paul Muldoon, Paul Holdengraber, host of LIVE from the NYPL; Roshi Joan Halifax, founder of Upaya Zen Center; anthropologist and expert on end of life care, Mary Catherine Bateson; Ivonne Baki, President of the Andean Parliament; and Templeton Prizewinner Freeman Dyson among others.
In 2006, along with Nagy, Stocke interviewed scientists and artists including former Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman and Dean of Faculty, David P. Dobkin for the documentary Quark Park, chronicling the creation of an award-winning park built on a vacant lot in the heart of Princeton, New Jersey; a park that united art, science and community.
She is president of the Board of Directors at the Cabo Pulmo Learning Center, Cabo Pulmo, Baja Sur, Mexico; and is a member of the Turkish Women’s International Network.
In addition, Stocke has written extensively about her travels in Greece and Turkey. Her memoir, Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses & Saints, based on more than ten years of travel through Turkey, co-written with Angie Brenner was published in March 2012. Her cookbook, Tree of Life: Turkish Home Cooking will be published in March, 2017 by Quarto Books under the Burgess Lea Press imprint . Stocke and Brenner are currently testing recipes for a companion book, which will feature Anatolian-inspired mezes from around the world.
Stocke’s essay “Turkish American Food” appears in the 2nd edition of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America (OUP, 2013). The volume won both International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) for Beverage/Reference/Technical category, 2014; and the Gourmand Award for the Best Food Book of the Year, 2014.
She is the author of a bi-lingual book of poems, Cave of the Bear, translated into Greek by Lili Bita based on her travels in Western Crete, and is currently researching a book about the only hard-finger coral reef in Mexico on the Baja Sur Peninsula. She has been writing about environmental issues there since 2011.
A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with a Bachelor of Science in Broadcast Journalism from the Agriculture Journalism School where she also received a minor of Food Science, she participated in the Lindisfarne Symposium on The Evolution of Consciousness with cultural philosopher, poet and historian, William Irwin Thompson. In 2009, she became a Lindisfarne Fellow.
Works by Joy E. Stocke in this Edition
AIRMAIL – LETTERS FROM AROUND THE WORLD
AIRMAIL – VOICE FROM SYRIA
ARTS – ART
COLUMNS – THE MYSTIC PEN
FOOD & DRINK – ANATOLIAN KITCHEN
FREYMAN & PETERSON- Your Life is a Book: How to Craft and Publish Your Memoir
LITERATURE – BOOK REVIEWS
LITERATURE – ESSAYS
LITERATURE – MEMOIR
LITERATURE – POETRY
LIVE FROM THE NYPL
The Euphoria of Ignorance: Being Jewish, Becoming Jewish, The Paradox of Being Carlo Ginzburg
Fountain of Curiosity: Paul Holdengraber on Attention, Tension and Stretching the Limits of Conversation at the New York Public Library
Paul Holdengraber – The Afterlife of Conversation
2013 – Three Questions: Festival Director Jakab Orsos talks about Art, Bravery, and Sonia Sotomayor
Critical Minds, Social Revolution: Egyptian Activist Nawal El Saadawi
INTERVIEW – Laszlo Jakab Orsos: Written on Water
Tonight We Rest Here: An Interview with Poet Saadi Youssef
Georgian Writer David Dephy’s Second Skin
On the High Line: Diamonds on the Soles of Our Shoes
Car Bombs on the West Side, Journalists Uptown
New York City – Parade of Illuminations: Behind the Scenes with Festival Director Jakab Orsos
The Pen Cabaret 2008: Bowery Ballroom — Featuring..
Anatolian Days and Nights: A Love Affair with Turkey, Land of Dervishes, Goddesses and Saints
Daring Collaborations: Rolex and LIVE from the NYPL at the New York Public Library Composing a Further Life: with Mary Catherine Bateson
WRR@LARGE: From the Editors – UP THE CREEK
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 1
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 2.5
Up the Creek: Volume 1, Number 3.3
Up the Creek: Number 4.4
Up the Creek: Beautiful Solutions
Up the Creek: Blind Faith, July 2009
Up the Creek: Create Dangerously
Up the Creek: What Price Choice?
Up the Creek: Before and After: September 11, 2001
Up the Creek: Candle in a Long Street
Up the Creek: Crossing Cultures: Transcending History
Up the Creek: Man in the Mirror; A Map of the World
Up the Creek: Stories and the Shape of Time
Up the Creek: The Divine Road To Istanbul
Up the Creek: What It Means to Yearn
WRR@LARGE – WILD COVERAGE
UNESCO World Heritage Site Under Threat of Mega-Devlopment Sparks International Protests
The Other Side Of Abu Ghraib — Part One: The Detainees’ Quest For Justice
The Other Side of Abu Ghraib – Part Two: The Yoga Teacher Goes to Istanbul