At first I was not sure if it were real or imagined. It was only a sense, an energy. All over Istanbul- (well, in pockets at least) one could sense it .... in the clothing, in the style, the demeanour, the literature that lined the walls of underground shops, the music, the sounds, and especially the faces of the 20-40 something Galata Tower set. It is a feeling that is greater than frustration but less than anger.
I know this feeling from my studies, from books and even from film- but I had never yet experienced it in person. As a child I was obsessed with this sensation. An ardent Royalist, I spent many of my younger years discovering and then bemoaning the French and Russian Revolutions. Perhaps it is a bit premature to predict that Turkey is ready for revolution- no one can know that for sure- but the sentiment remains true.
Here is what I discovered whilst in Istanbul this month:
Turkey is growing on the world stage as an economic power, at the same time continuing various subtle human rights abuses. It is surprisingly (or not) a safe and welcoming nation- but the buzz in coffee shops and cafes is that government censorship is on the rise. Of course all of these ideas are just rumors- but they are consistent rumors. In recent years the turkish government has grown verbally hostile towards artists/ bohemians/ liberals. This has meant the ongoing presence of riot police, tear gas and scurrying civilians in the vicinity of Taksim square and Istiklal Street. Groups speaking, and singing and protesting are springing up constantly.
On May 1st during a peaceful memorial march- a young girl heading home from school was caught up in the fray as police began gassing the crowd. Frightened, she tried to run away- but was beaten to death by the police. I probably don't have to mention that this has people PISSED. A neighborhood that already feels like 1960's Paris now has the "Spirit of '68" fervor to match. The growing unrest of the intellegensia and younger generations is palpable. Of course this is only a small sliver of the country- elsewhere life perhaps continues as usual. When I met with the Couturier Elif Cigizoglu, she mentioned that her work continued despite the turmoil... " Fashion is not effected by politics... I continue working as usual".
My experience in Istanbul has been rather idyllic... beautiful sights, beautiful people, beautiful food. However, every day brought new clouds of tear gas creeping down the streets, and wispers in cafes, and the passionate stories of strained voices. Each voice imparted to me another pain, another evil- and a growing hunger for change.
I am not sure what any of this means for the future... all I can describe is the sensation. If I had any advice to impart to visitors it would be: Visit Turkey now. Don't wait. The air is electric... and you might no have the opportunity in three years.
Jonathan Randall Grant