Sign reads: "If as apolitical people we could do this, then you really should flee to Morocco!" Photo by Dila Tapan
Gözde is a 25-year-old film student and freelance writer from Turkey. She grew up in Izmir, often described as Turkey’s most liberal city, and lived in Istanbul for the past five years until last March, when an Erasmus stipend brought her to Berlin to study communication at the University of Potsdam.
Since last Friday, Gözde has felt estranged as most of her friends and fellow students have been in the streets of Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara and cities all over Turkey, protesting the violent police crackdown on demonstrators who opposed the building of a shopping mall in Istanbul’s historic Taksim Gezi Park.
Unable to join the demonstrations in her own country, she’s attended the solidarity protests in Berlin that have drawn thousands of people to the streets in support of those fighting for democratic freedoms in Turkey. When she couldn’t find a demonstration to attend on Monday, June 3, she took matters into her own hands, setting up an event though Facebook that drew hundreds of supporters to Kottbusser Tor.
Gözde, can you tell me how you feel about the situation in Turkey?
At first I felt so disappointed. The demonstrations in Turkey started when the police in Istanbul attacked a group of environmentalists trying to protect the last park in the centre of the city. They wanted to protect trees, nature and humanity with a peaceful protest, but were attacked without warning with pepper spray, tear gas and water cannons. Since Friday thousands of people have been injured, some permanently blinded and even killed, but the Turkish news media hardly reported anything about the situation.
How did your family react?
I called my mum on the first day of the demonstrations to tell her to be careful, but she didn’t even know what I was talking about! The Prime Minister hasn’t tried at all to put an end to this, besides through violence. He’s responded to demonstrators arrogantly and unapologetically, saying that no matter what the protesters say or do, the construction will go forward. I’ve felt so many different emotions while all of this was happening. I cried for the first time in months. But seeing so many people of all kinds of backgrounds take to the streets demanding their human rights, what my answer should really be is: I’m so proud of Turkey!
You organised Monday’s demonstration over Facebook. How did it happen?
I woke up at 5 in the morning on Monday and saw a stream of videos of police brutality on Facebook, and I listened to the stories of my injured friends. I decided to start an event page to say, “Hey Berlin! We can’t sit here and do nothing. Let’s support them. Let’s be with them. We owe it to them as human beings who believe in peace.” And suddenly, Berlin got organised by itself. It wasn’t me. It was the bravery of the people in Turkey that brought everyone together.
So who was there? Can you tell me anything about the people protesting in Berlin?
Right now in Turkey there are people from so many groups on the streets: environmentalists, artists and filmmakers, anti-capitalist Muslims, workers, communists, football teams, liberals, conservatives, you name it. It’s been the same here in Berlin. So many different people have come together. It’s like we’re living a dream in hell.
How did the German-Turkish community in Berlin react? Have they been active in the protest?
The first demonstration on Friday was made up mostly of young people from Istanbul who are studying in Berlin. There aren’t really that many of us here. But in the protests that followed, most of the demonstrators have been part of the German-Turkish community. There are also lots of Germans and other Europeans. We’ve had people of all ages on the street marching with us: kids, families, older people, students. Everyone has been great and everyone is united!
How does it make you feel to have helped bring all of these people together for this demonstration?
I was feeling guilty. My friends in Turkey are breathing pepper spray and tear gas and I’m enjoying fresh air here in Berlin. With this demo, though, I feel like I’ve been able to give something back to them while they fight for our rights and human decency. Now I’ve seen that even one person, one single Facebook event, can wake people up and get them into the streets.
What sort of reactions have you received?
There was one girl who came up to me, screaming that the Prime Minister has done wonderful things for Turkey. I asked her, “If he’s doing such great things, why has he run off to Morocco while the country is in chaos?” But the reactions have been overall very supportive. I’ve been in contact with a radio station in Berlin. All of my German friends on Facebook have sent messages of support and have shared videos of police violence over social media sites. They’ve called me to ask, “What can we do for your country?” They are sending videos and photos of the demonstrations to newspapers and TV stations all over the world.
What effect do you think such demonstrations can have on the situation in Turkey?
They’ve shown the people in Turkey that they’re not alone. The world really cares about what’s happening. I think that’s so important. It’s created a sense of international solidarity. There have been demonstrations all over Europe, in Paris, in London and in the US as well. Also, I think they’ve shown the Prime Minister that Turkish protesters aren’t alone. That’s a message that he really needs to receive. The international media has been paying attention, and hopefully that will put pressure on the government to understand that they can’t kill their people on the street like insects.
So, do you feel hopeful about the situation in Turkey?
Well, no one knows what’s going to happen, but I can definitely say that I feel hopeful. No one imagined that the people could stand up for their rights in the way they have. I think this experience has changed a lot of people. Before this I was really apolitical. I was a child of pop culture. From now on though, I think I’ll be more politically active. And I think the same is true for lots of people.