Guest Column: Taskim Square is not Istanbul

BY GUEST COLUMN | JUNE 26, 2013 5:00 AM

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Open up a newspaper any day this week, and it is likely that the headlines alone will make you consider locking your doors and contemplating never setting foot outside again. Whether it’s local or international news, gripping headlines coupled with horrifying stories do a good job of striking fear into readers. The worst is always front-page news, and the article that follows is sure to include every miniscule, negative detail about whatever horrible and world-altering event is being put under the magnifying glass that day.

Take the situation in Istanbul, Turkey, for example. What began as a protest to keep Gezi Park, a large park next to the famous Taksim Square, has turned into a clash between the people of Turkey and their prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. While this is undoubtedly one of the biggest movements against the prime minister that he has seen in his 10-year rule, the foreign press is not without its faults in reporting the story.

What I have learned in my stay in Istanbul is just how large of a city it is. Before arriving in Turkey, I researched the situation in Istanbul extensively. Almost every foreign press article that I read or television report that I watched made it seem like the entire city of Istanbul was rioting, and that no place was safe from the tear gas and aggressive actions of police against rioters. However, when I arrived, I saw no such danger.

My first week in Istanbul had me staying in Yesilyurt, a small area about 18 kilometers away from Taksim Square (about a 25-minute drive). Being so close to where the notoriously dangerous and violent protests had recently been taking place made me wonder what to expect. However, if I was looking for adrenaline-pumping nights filled with tear gas, police officers, and numerous arrests, I had clearly come to the wrong place. The most excitement came from small groups of protesters who walked past my hotel nightly yelling “Everywhere is Taksim” in Turkish while banging pots and drums, blowing whistles, waving flags, and occasionally stopping in front of a busy apartment complex to jump up and down while chanting. These marches contained anywhere from four people to around 50, and while they provided some amusement and excitement in an otherwise mundane area of Istanbul, they certainly posed no threat to anybody’s safety.

Yes, life does seem to go on normally, especially for a city that has been the spotlight of foreign press for weeks. This week, I am in the bustling area of Kadıköy, Istanbul, which is a short ferry ride to Taksim Square. Even in this busy, populated area, there is no danger of riots. Even Taksim Square itself appears to have quieted down in recent days. I visited there only a few days ago and was surprised to find hundreds of people standing silently for hours. This appears to be a part of a new kind of protest, inspired by the now Internet famous “Standing Man.” And while police officers can be seen in the square by the hundreds, many of them are relaxed and reading books, on their phones, or even napping. They do not seem fazed by these standing, silent protests. Although one can immediately sense the tension in the area, no one appears to be acting on it.

And so, life in Istanbul thrives. The foreign press, while doing its job in reporting the protests as well as the issues in police brutality, have seemed to make no effort in reassuring foreigners that these violent protests are not only extremely localized but even seem to be becoming less frequent. The danger of getting caught in a violent riot seems to be unlikely, and most of Istanbul remains almost completely free of any issues that have been scrutinized by the media.

Quite frankly, I am more worried about crossing the heavily trafficked streets in Istanbul than I am getting caught in a violent, tear-gassed riot. Although it is clear that there is violence here, the peaceful days appear to be in a clear first place, and the few violent protests that do occur continue to be localized to the Taksim Square area.  And so, I continue my journey here in Istanbul virtually worry-free of getting caught in the middle of any sort of aggressive dangers between police and protestors. Crossing the street, however, continues to be another danger entirely.

Shelby Talcott is a junior student-athlete at the University of Iowa. She is currently traveling in Istanbul, Turkey, for athletics.

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