Why We’re Not Having a Turkish Bath

A woman is fired at with a power hose. Uncredited photo from http://occupygezipics.tumblr.com

As I sit, comfortably squished between the arm of my settee and my dog to my left, bundled under a puffy blanket (the dog, not me) I feel grateful. I love being at home. It feels safe. I love having pets and feel that the home is a small microcosm of life on planet earth, with issues to deal with (the dog and the cat each hold a craving for the other’s food) and things that require tolerance (the cat snores. I might too, but they’re unable to tell me and they seem well rested so I’m not overly concerned). 

I adore all my pets, but I’ll be honest I have a particular fondness for my dog. I consider owning a dog to be a great privilege, one of the greatest joys in life. I’ve heard new mothers like to smell their babies and that there is some sort of pheromone that bonds them to the baby. Whatever that is, I believe dogs have this too! I love the smell of my dog, even when it’s nearing bath time; that musty, unmistakable smell of dog is like a fine perfume to my nose. It is highly likely at this point that I too have taken on this aroma, burrowed into the fibers of some of my clothes, and you know what? I don’t even care! I’m moderately aware of my appearance (under great pressure from my mother mainly) but I wear my pet hair with pride and consider the couple of strands of fur that usually adorn my trousers to be subtle reminders that at home there is a wonderful creature awaiting my return.

I tell you this because, at the very heart of things, and not to sound cliché, but I do believe that it really is the simple things in life that bring the most reward. And perhaps this is why I was so struck this morning when I did my routine check of Twitter and discovered the events taking place in Turkey, apparently not being covered by the Turkish mainstream media.

#OccupyGezi was the trending topic that drew my eye. You never quite know with Twitter what the context is and my first thought was actually that there might be some sort of singing starlet named Gezibel and that maybe she gets around(?) I’m not making that up, that actually was my first thought. Wishful thinking? I don’t know, but I’d certainly rather be confronted by tales of a wayward teen idol than what I actually found, a tale of peaceful civilians gathered in a park in Istanbul to protest a shopping mall being built on what is apparently their last remaining green area in the city.

A park. They want to keep their park.

People walk dogs in parks. I like walking my dog.

I immediately connect to this primal, simple instinct to preserve something given to us by nature that for reasons most of us don’t quite understand make us feel good. It’s just a bunch of grass and trees right? But if you’re fortunate enough to have moments where you can fully appreciate the wonder of nature you will realize that it is something quite precious and that the preservation of a small park in a major city seems actually a fair request.

Let’s not forget that in addition to the psychological benefit of being exposed to nature there is also the economical benefit offered by the trees. According to Professor T.M. Das of the University of Calcutta, a tree living for 50 years will generate $24,500 worth of oxygen, provide $49,000 worth of air pollution control, control soil erosion and increase soil fertility to the tune of $24,500, recycle $30,000 worth of water and provide homes for animals worth $24,500*.
(*Converted to USD from Singapore Dollars noted in the report of Professor Das.)

And so it came to be that, each for their own personal reasons, on Friday, May 31st, 2013, people assembled peacefully for a sit-in at Gezi Park.

But for these individuals, their book reading and unwillingness to move from the path of bulldozers was ultimately met with a vicious attack by militant police using weapons including tear gas and water cannons that, according to online posts and photos, have already resulted in people being maimed, blinded, brain damaged, and even killed.

Yes. I said killed.

It is unconfirmed, but amidst the array of disturbing photos that can now be found online is one of a woman in a t-shirt and cut-off denim shorts whom we are told is now dead, apparently from a tear gas canister hitting her head. Another photo clearly depicts another woman standing innocently as a furious jet of water is deliberately aimed at her face. In my opinion, aiming a sharp and dangerous trajectory of water directly into someone’s face steps out of the bounds of what is necessary in terms of crowd control and falls more under the heading of a sadistic attack. Details such as these are the straw that has broken the camel’s back as now over 40,000 people are crossing Bosphorus Bridge, heading to Istanbul in support of the demonstration.

Police fire tear gas at a woman in the park. Uncredited photo from http://occupygezipics.tumblr.com

And here we are. Not in Turkey.

It can be easy to separate the woes of another country from those of our own, especially when a body of water lies between us and them. Our viewpoint can become just that, ‘Us and them.’ which of course is quite unhealthy. I mean, deep down, aren’t the things we all strive for the same? Safety, for ourselves and our family, and a means to provide for ourselves and our loved ones? An opportunity to earn a fair living and prosper? The whole harming other people tends not to come into play until one of those things is interfered with… right? But on account of the slanted examples besieged upon us by the mainstream media our view can become distorted. We can begin to see people from other countries as different from ourselves, and with this difference we are somehow able to disconnect from the pain they are suffering. ‘Well, that’s how just how it is in those countries.’

Having recently returned from some international comedy shows, including a week’s tour of Croatia, I received a gentle reminder of how we are all united by our small list of basic human needs. Croatian locals from around the country shared their plight of a corrupt government that has created an environment where any sort of start up business is virtually impossible and the chance of success based upon innovative ideas combined with hard work is not only unlikely, it is all but extinct. People expressed frustration of having to run small businesses illegally as they claimed the bureaucracy involved in being legit involved so many bribes it was impossible to foot the bill.

Obviously the actions of the Turkish government, under the rule of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have taken things to a whole new level and the petri dish of discontent has proved fertile grounds for a full blown antidote to the suppression in the form of this burgeoning protest.

Thanks to the freedom of social media it is harder for governments to keep secrets now and if mainstream Turkish media is still boycotting coverage of the events, the world has found a darn good alternative; an instant ever-flowing vein of news, pulsating with the activity of the planet in the form of blogs, facebook statuses, and 140 characters of whatever it is you need say.

Study the photos you will see online of the people at Gezi Park… their casual clothing, the Clinique store across the street from the Starbucks, the smart phones that everyone is clutching as if it’s their own personal transponder to the world (which it is)… a warm sun forging shadows against the fleeing figures in the scene… I can’t help but feel the similarity between us, and the compassion that accompanies it.

A man holds his arms up in surrender before a mob of police. Uncredited photo from http://occupygezipics.tumblr.com

Some media crew wearing gasmasks take shelter in a Starbucks. Uncredited photo from http://occupygezipics.tumblr.com

People try to flee from tear gas clouding the area. Uncredited photo from http://occupygezipics.tumblr.com

Like many I’m sure, I feel helpless to aid these people, but in spirit I am with you, people of Gezi Park. I understand fully why you should want to keep that sanctuary alive in your concrete jungle, and I applaud you for your bravery in taking action for what you believe in.

My thoughts and prayers will remain with you and, for now, I’m signing off. I’m going to take my dog for a walk.

In a park.


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*For folks outside the UK, ‘Having a Turkish Bath’ is Cockney Rhyming slang for ‘having a laugh’.