Fascinating first-hand perspective by Elif Batuman on how a small protest to protect a small park has become a movement to get the government to step down.
Back in my apartment, I turned on the television. CNN Turk was broadcasting a food show, featuring the flavors of Nigde. Other major Turkish news channels were showing a dance contest and a roundtable on study-abroad programs. It was a classic case of the revolution not being televised. The whole country seemed to be experiencing a cognitive disconnect, with Twitter saying one thing, the government saying another, and the television off on another planet. Twitter was the one everyone believedeven the people who were actually on the street. In a city as vast, diffuse, and diverse as Istanbul, with so many enclaves and populations and interests and classes, and with such imperfect freedom of the press, gauging public opinion, or even current events, can be fantastically difficult. The Twitter hashtag #OccupyGezi brought up hundreds, maybe thousands of appeals urging BBC, Reuters, CNN, and other English-language news outlets to show the world what was happening in Istanbulas if only the international media could do what the news is supposed to do: provide an objective view of what was going on outside.
The feeling of unreality and disconnect is at the heart of the Gezi demonstrations. Istanbul loves to demonstrate; I cant remember ever walking through Taksim without seeing at least one march or parade or sit-in, and on weekends there are usually several going on at the same time. Usually, they are small, peaceful, and self-contained, and the police just stand there. For some time now, the demonstrations have had a strangely existential feel. Again and again, people have protested the destruction of some historical building or the construction of some new shopping center. Again and again, the historical building has been destroyed, and the shopping center constructed.
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