My Father’s Turkey

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My father always used to tell me how Turkey and Istanbul once was. His Turkey, his Istanbul. I loved to listen to his memories as if they were tales. My father used to tell me Istanbul was a place full of public beaches. Families and singles would hop on a tram, go to the next public beach and spend a nice summer day there. He used to tell me people would always dress nicely when they went out to the streets, out of respect to the others. They would greet strangers on the streets if their ways crossed. He used to tell people would discuss poetry, politics and arts at long dinners while drinking raki to the fish they ate.

My father used to tell they were proud of their young democracy, they respected those who went to mosques to pray, just as well as those who didn’t go nor prayed. Women with head covers were respected as so were those without. Nobody questioned, nobody judged. Nobody asked why their hair were so apparently visible, or why not…Things were just the way they were

My father was a kind gentleman, who never said a bad word to anyone, even if the price he paid for it was to be looked down upon or be considered a weak person. He increasingly grew sad to see his Turkey and his Istanbul descent…

He saw Istanbul’s streets getting more crowded, and then more crowded and even more crowded, so that it became impossible to greet neither the strangers nor the acquainted faces. He saw people becoming more and more disrespectful to each other because the life got more stressful as the competition for resources got higher and tougher.

My father’s Turkey was a place, where everyone were sisters and brothers,no matter what religion, what ethnicity. Everyone was proud to have had established an enlightened republic after the Ottoman Empire and the yearsof war. Everyone was hungry for knowledge and the word ‘human’ was written in capital letters.

My father didn’t live long enough to see what I saw.

A week ago I saw the Taksim Square turning upside down…I saw the demolished cars and busses, I saw the young people running away from the police as these were chasing them with pepper gas sprays.

I used to go to operas and to the concerts of the Istanbul Symphony Orchestra with my father at Taksim Square. Now a battle field… I used to get on the bus that crosses the bridge to go to ‘our side’ with my father at Taksim Square. Now a battle field…I used to go the the Borsa Et Lokantasi to eat the famous ‘doner’ and the baked milk rice pudding with my father at Taksim Square. Now a battle field…

Then again, I saw the hopeful, determined, proud, open minded young Turks, who sat in front of the beautiful green trees of the Taksim Square to protect them from being torn down…I saw them uniting their hands, minds, dances, songs and hearts to protect the democracy in Turkey. I saw the ray of light at Taksim Square.

My father didn’t live long enough to see what I saw.

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