Thursday, May 3, 2012

"The Best Labor Day Ever" Istanbul 2012

I had a late start after staying up a bit the night before skyping with my mom and playing a little Skyrim.

I don't often go to Taksim unless I have a reason even though it's the center of what feels like life in Istanbul. So much is going on there.

I was warned by one friend to stay away and another friend recommended that I go there when I woke up and was deciding what to do since all the schools would be closed for the National Holiday and I couldn't go job hunting. Another friend of mine invited me to come visit at a park along the Golden Horn in Haskoy. I hadn't seen this friend in a while so I decided to accept her invitation and go.
One catch that I hadn't thought of though...I must go to Taksim to catch a ride to Haskoy as there are no direct buses from Besiktas.

I wasn't sure what to expect as I hadn't done any research until now on why their is a major protest on May 1st in Istanbul every year so let me give you a little history lesson.
This May 1st was an International Day of Protest organized by the Occupy Movement but in Turkey there are protests every year. Istanbul has had intermittent protests (often turning to violence between protesters and police)  every year since 1977 when the first protest was able to be organized after being outlawed from 1928-1975. However, this 1st protest is now notoriously known as Bloody May Day when 34-38 civilians(depending on the source) were killed by unknown gunmen and the following mass hysteria and poor handling by the security forces at the time. Celebrations in Taksim Square were prohibited after this and once the military coup happened in 1980 all Labor Day celebrations were outlawed.  Labor Day was finally declared a National Holiday in Turkey in 2009 and Taksim Square was opened up to be the main venue for celebrations/protests.

This year the police seemed to be ready to help ensure that the celebrations would remain peaceful and if they weren't...well they had 14,000 officers at hand to handle any problems. Many of the newspapers were declaring this to be 'the Best Labor Day ever' as it was largely a peaceful gathering aside from some anarchist youths breaking shop windows and damaging ATM's in Mecideyikoy which is a ways away from Taksim.

So back to the story.  I had no idea what to expect. I was arriving by dolmus around 1:30-2pm and the dolmus dropped us off at a different place than usual. Before I even got out of the van I could see smoke rising and just said "Oh my God"  thinking I have to go through that to get to my friend. A Turkish woman just laughed at my remark and when I get closer I found that all the smoke was coming from savvy entrepreneurs cooking up food outside the police barrier blocking off Taksim Square.

I then saw the large police barrier, could hear drumming, and a large body of people beyond. I was thinking, how in the heck am I going to get to Haskoy? I asked a police officer and they told me they had no idea because Taksim was closed and there were no buses. It was hard to understand how there could be no buses. There were some buses back in Besiktas.

So finally I decided I would go check it out.
I was immediately greeted to this scene of people drumming and a stream of people leaving Taksim. Now I'm still walking TO Taksim in this video.

When I get to just around the entrance of where you'd head across the street for the buses I can hear a person on a megaphone yelling something and people shouting back. I'm also noticing A LOT of TKP flags or Turkish Komunist Partisi (Turkish Communist Party)  I was thinking, 'man this is an odd feeling, McCarthy would be rolling in his grave.' It's typical to see youths handing out newspapers and talking to passersby on Istiklal where the TKP Headquarters is located but I never realized there were so many supporters! It seems the Turkish people really want a party to champion the workers rights.
I then see everybody around me putting their fists into the air and repeating the names of Turkish people. It wasn't until tonight that I learned that the people they were commemorating were those that were killed in the Bloody May Day massacre. I've also learned that all of the red banners are not just for the Communist party but also to commemorate those that died from the May Day massacre in 1977.

As I continue walking through the crowd I saw huge banners, people sitting on all of the buildings and even on top of the bus stop stalls. There was a massive banner being held by cranes but by the time I got there part of it had fallen. I asked somebody to take a quick snapshot of me with the banner so I had a memory of myself there. The atmosphere was a festive one. People were passionate yes, but as in the USA I think they were also just happy to have a Day off and to be with fellow Turks in support for a similar cause.



I ran into several groups doing traditional folk dances.
It reminded me a lot of the Trabzon/baltic folk dance.

It took me at least half an hour to get from Taksim bus station to Istiklal. More like an hour actually. It was just so crowded and the usual entrance was blocked off so I had to go down an empty Tarlabashi street where a crowd of people were walking.
Exodus down tarlabasi Street

Istiklal was business as usual. Not as crowded as I'm used to but the usual buskers as well as the popular native Americans playing and lip-synching songs in Spanish perform.  It was really nice to see Taksim without so many people. I was able to get a nice photo of the Aya Triada Greek Orthodox Church's main entrance.

The rest of my walk was uneventful until I got to Sishane where I was going to take a dolmus to Haskoy. I ran into dozens of police in full riot gear gathering in the shade of a photography shop. They seemed to be in the wrong place? I also saw a huge construction project taking place in Sishane.

When I finally got to Haskoy it felt like a completely different day. It felt like Earth Day. Park workers were busy planting dozens of trees and many people were laying in the grass, grilling, and playing on the playground. It was a really peaceful day.

Actually, I had a live room session for my CELTA that night at 6:30pm. My alarm warned me 1 hour earlier but it had taken me almost 2 hours to get to Haskoy and I can't afford a taxi home so I decided to use my friends computer. However my friends computer wasn't working and so she took me to her cousins house and I learned the Turkish word 'kanka' from her nephew. We were talking about opening a kebab stand in Iowa. haha  It was a lively conversation that evening and was a really interesting look inside a home on the Golden Horn.

Happy Labor Day

To see more of my photos visit me at Joshua Sterrett Photography on facebook

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