To Our Prime Minister,
I write this letter to you not as an artist or musician, but as a citizen who personally witnessed the events that started in Gezi Park and escalated into such drastic measures. I joined people of all walks of life, as well as a group of close friends, in Gezi Park on the dates that everything came to a boiling point; May 31-June 1. For ten hours we were there, and if these people alongside me are seen and defined as, “unlawful activists,” I feel this letter needs to tell everyone, in our own words, what our true nature is and what we’re really guilty of.
In those ten hours what I observed were people from all demographics that make up our society, from the elderly to the young, the university graduates, the officers, the workers, the students, people from all different backgrounds, beliefs, and perspectives coming together with peace, love, and brotherhood in what seemed more like a picnic than a protest. In fact, it reminded me of the Istanbul Festival I participated in last week in Sao Paolo, Brazil. A carnival of colorful people brought this demonstration to life just like that gathering. The 3-4 thousand people that convened in the park, their numbers swelling up to ten thousand in time, were there with no other intention than to sit under the trees, tell their stories, and spill their problems to each other. What was different about this group was that while past demonstrations and protests may have been angry shows of clashing ideologies, these people gathered together from a place of peace, love, and a sense of independent solidarity. Everything was put aside for the sole purpose of gentle strength. But what they were greeted with in Gezi Park was extreme violence and pain from the police.
It is so unfortunate that the representatives of the government, the strength of the state and the police, displayed the polar opposite behavior of the protesters gathered there. In Osmanbey, a little ways ahead of Atatürk’s house, they built their barricades and in an unneccesary and ruthless attack, tear-gassed these people. People who were walking arm-in-arm with no provocation, accepting everyone without differentiating between man or woman, young or old. They all suffered the same fate.
Starting the walk in Osmanbey on May 31 at 18:00, we managed to get to Harbiye TRT Radio at around 22:00, watching as our, “safety forces” grew to more than a hundred. They turned a peaceful protest into a war zone of tear gas and chaos that we’d normally see on international news reports from hot zones. We witnessed the pepper spray bombs being flung at people trying to escape into side alleys. This ruthless attitude is the reason why everything escalated so much and is the only one responsible for it.
We’re not even counting the scared tourists lost among the assaulted crowds, their luggage still in their hands. Or the stray cats and dogs that, unable to breathe from the tear gas explosions, crying out in the streets. But in the midst of this confusion and grief, we saw the young girls pushing aside their own pain and washing the eyes of writhing, howling dogs. We saw the old teyzes, our wise older women, ignoring their own maladies and carrying water in pots and pans, determined to help the people in the streets. The drugstores in Harbiye gave out free paper masks for everyone who needed them. We lived through and watched a huge show of public support and a huge show of violence against the public at the same time. The fact that a government could do this to their own people has hurt all our hearts and souls.
No regime, no government, and no ministry have the right to treat its people like this. It is unacceptable to attack young kids going to a park in peace with no other reason but to give people support with such harsh, such wild, and such unnecessary violence. The times to use tear gas are very obvious. It is your responsibility to know when to use such a dangerous weapon that is so harmful to people’s health and the environment. It is not to disrupt a quiet gathering.
The people you attacked, whether they voted for you or not, are your nation’s people under your safety. A so-called, “Security Forces,” for a people you deem in need of such a group is responsible for protecting its entire population. In this case, it was the security forces that put the lives and safety of the public in danger. At the forefront, it is the Istanbul Chief of Police who should serve the justice for its people, who should uphold the law in the name of the government.
Honorable Prime Minister, you were someone convicted once because of a poem. You had your freedom taken away because you expressed yourself. You are a politician. Most importantly, you are a citizen of the Turkish Republic. I believe you know better than most that responding with gas masks, bombs, weapons, violence, and threats are not the way when facing voices against unfairly constricted freedoms and fighting for independence with such peaceful expressions of self like poetry, music and art.
There are important lessons to be learned from all we went through, both as a government and as a nation of people and when their understood, all the pain we went through can be turned into one more step towards a society of peace, hope, love. Your position now is of the utmost importance. Our wish is that there is an admittance of the mistakes made and apologies issued to the people who suffered such unfair violence initiated by you, as befits a leader.
A government’s progress, a country’s prosperity, is measured by its art, culture, nature, environment, and natural beauty as much as its highways, industry, and economy. Amongst the world’s happiest countries, the ones with the most developed economy are not at the top of the list but the ones whose people live in harmony with their environment and surroundings lead the way. In big cities like Istanbul, there’s not much greenery left with traffic, cars, and ugly urbanization growing everyday. There aren’t many places a person can breathe clean air or rest under the shade of a tree and that’s why Gezi Park in Taksim is so important.; a green place that’s open to the entire population right in the heart of the city.
I invite you now to heed this call: Please come and together we can all make Gezi Park into a, “Peace and Freedom,” Park. Let’s plant flowers of every color and type we can grow all over it. Let’s re-plant the trees and grow new ones. Let us not allow one bitter pepper in but grow sweet peppers so we don’t ever forget these days of pepper spray and tear gas and what they meant. Let’s build a mini-forest of greenery where old and young, everyone can come have a moment to themselves away from the hustle of life, even if its just for a little while. Let the bird songs and the sounds of youth with their guitars join into the chorus. Let even a fumbling ney player like myself find a tree to sit under and play their flute. Let those who just want a place to sit and read find that special place. Be it Mevlana, or Ömer Hayyam or Nazım Hikmet, as long as they’re reading a book, let them. Let there be flowers of all kinds, let there be people of all kinds. Different clothes, hair, whether they belive in headscarves or mini-skirts, as long as their hearts are always open to peace, love, tolerance, and requited love, let them come.
Come to Taksim Gezi Park and let’s move past the grief and sadness and fear of the last week. Let it grow into a place of new light, open hearts, beauty, and especially a place for the youth of our city, and maybe even the whole country, to meet up. And while we do this, let us do it as ONE. By asking, suggesting, listening, and allowing every group of our nation to have their input. Let there be invitations but no force, propositions but no insistence. To use Yunus’ saying, “Come let us be one, let us make everything easy, and let us love and be loved,’ and in this one world that we are given, let us face war with brotherhood, let us counter violence with love.
The ideas are endless. Let’s hold art exhibitions, music festivals in this park. Let troubadours play and literary minds meet up. Let writers and poets compose their works, inspired by this oasis of peace in the middle of our city. Let Yaşar Kemal read, “ Ince Memed,” and let Elif Şafak tell the story of, "Aşk." In fact, please come yourself and read whatever poem you want from whichever poet you choose. Today’s youth who protects trees, will protect you if need be, do not worry. Trust youth and the young more, not only because they deserve it but because we’ll be leaving the future in their hands.