I returned again this afternoon (Friday, May 31, 2013) to Gezi Park, or rather to its vicinity. Since yesterday the police had fenced it off.
The police fences can be seen on the left above. I think the woman here was just trying to make her way to Taksim. Presently I noticed that my eyes were stinging. It was the same with other people nearby, even in front of the ritzy Hotel Intercontinental adjacent to the park. Some young men I consulted with there confirmed that the police were using tear gas.
I followed other pedestrians east in front of the hotel, towards the Bosphorus.
The young man above seemed to be helping these two women, who were both affected by the gas. I could hear them muttering about it. When they turned and saw me, they were shocked that “even a foreigner” would be hit by the gas. One of the woman gave me a moist paper towel from the package she had, presumably so that I might wipe the tears from my face.
I came upon a busload of tourists, perhaps German, who had been hit by the gas. Somebody was giving them water to wash their faces. I asked one of them if he knew what it was all about. He didn’t, so I talked about the plans to replace Gezi Park with a shopping mall. But time was short; the bus was pulling away.
I headed back up towards Taksim along İnönü Caddesi. Near the bottom, there is indeed this fine plot of grass and trees. Men were stretched out here and there. The space is not equipped with facilities like benches.
I climbed the road towards Taksim. Near the top, there were crowds and shouting. Soon I heard pops and saw smoke, and the crowds started running towards me. I too went to make my way down the side streets. I saw two women doing the same; but in their haste they climbed down a retaining wall, rather than find a way around. They spoke German together, I believe. They may have been mother and daughter. They had just come to Taksim for sightseeing, from their hotel on the historical peninsula. They actually thought they were in Asia now. In any case they wanted to get away to somewhere safe. Indeed, the young woman in particular just wanted to get back to the hotel. She was tearful and on the verge of panic.
We made our way down what should have been a stairway; but now it consisted only of open wooden forms, ready for the pouring of new concrete. We went down anyway, the older woman holding my arm. Near the bottom, people pointed out how we could avoid the last bit of the wooden forms.
I took the visitors down to the Fındıklı tram station near the Bosphorus. I suggested they could visit the Istanbul Modern art museum, not too far away; but they still just wanted to go back to their hotel. I pointed out that [unfortunately] none of the many people around knew what was going on, back up at Taksim. I hope our guests will end up enjoying their visit to the city.
The guests safely on the tram platform, I made my way back up towards İstiklal Caddesi and Taksim, ultimately along Sıraselviler Caddesi.
There were police about, but also, people who were not obviously protesters. The main group of protesters were further down Istiklal, on the other side of a police tank. On my side, there was at least one used gas canister: the little dot between the tracks above. Occasionally one of the police officers motioned for people to move back. I decided it might be best if I took this seriously.
Taksim square itself seemed fairly empty, though I don’t know what it would normally look like early on a warm sunny Friday afternoon. I decided to take the pedestrian overpass (above the road construction) to the other side of Cumhuriyet Caddesi.
I passed a knot of police in order to do this. Near the other end of the bridge, a young man ran up and hurled a green soda bottle towards the police. There was some shouting back and forth. The police took up rifles of some kind. Their targets, on my side, were in what I think of as a tourist hotel ghetto.
Maybe the rifles fired little gas bombs, I don’t know. Nobody seemed too worried; but by now I was some distance from the action.
I headed north on the west side of Cumhuriyet Caddesi.
Even some distance from Taksim, people walking south towards Taksim had felt the effects of the police tear gas.