Hatice Yilmaz, 63, just can't get enough of it. "I wanted to come and see what Gezi Park was like now." She looks around, smiling. "It's really nice, isn't it?" Disappointed that she failed to persuade the other women in her Qur'an class to join her for a stroll, Yilmaz says she has stories to tell them. "Can you believe this? That many people? They should have done this earlier, when the municipality came to tear down my house." Yilmaz lives in Tarlabasi, a nearby neighbourhood slated for demolition and urban renewal, just like Gezi park. Then she shrugs. "But better late than never, ...ight?"
She clutches a small white dust mask. "I came prepared!" Laughing, she says that she is scared of tear gas ever since a full cartridge landed inside her living room during the 1 May protests in 2009. "But that won't keep me away."
She is not the only one. On Thursday night, after the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, issued thinly veiled threats for protesters to clear the park, the mood remains happily defiant. Only two days earlier, Taksim Square had been forcefully cleared by riot police. Many expect the park to be next.
thinly veiled threats for protesters to clear the park "Pick up your children from the park and take them home," Erdoğan had tweeted only hours earlier, while the Istanbul governor warned he could not guarantee protesters' safety should they remain. What happened next confounded the authorities. Mothers rushed to the square not to fetch but to support their children, linking hands to form a human chain.
At 2am on Friday, the park is still busy. Smoke rises from meatball carts. A percussion group drums its way through the crowds, plays a samba in front of a pro-Kurdish stand, and moves on. Sellers carry bright pink clouds of candyfloss, others offer pastries, tea, popcorn and watermelon slices. Food stands distribute supplies for free.
An hour later news filters through that some fellow protesters have spent hours negotiating with Erdoğan in Ankara. While the delegation is in favour of accepting the government's offer of letting a court decide if the park will be developed, the reception inside the park itself is mixed.
Meanwhile, at a stand for a leftist organisation, a couple receive a flash lesson in gender equality. "You should let your wife speak for herself," a bearded activist tells an older man who smiles shyly. The woman, clutching a worn handbag, peeks out from behind her husband's shoulder.
It is one of the most beautiful successes of the Gezi Park protests: cramped together inside an endangered inner city park, united in their anger at an authoritarian prime minister, protesters of all colours – leftists, nationalists, feminists, anarchists, religious groups, secularists, students, bankers – are engaging in dialogue.
Ahmet Metin, head of the Istanbul branch of the nationalist Association for Kemalist Thought, says he led "some wholesome discussions" with Kurdish protesters, LGBT activists and liberals, for the first time. "We don't share the same political views, and we don't agree on everything," he admits. "But we're all here to defend democratic rights. It's a point of departure."
Few romanticise this unexpected eruption of pluralist civil society. Every now and then, small verbal skirmishes break out: nationalists grumble at flags of the jailed Kurdish PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, hoisted in one corner of the park. Kurds are uneasy about protesters claiming to be soldiers of modern Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Posters ask activists not to use sexist or racist language in their slogans. "Before you call anyone 'a faggot', remember that faggots have been on the frontline of this struggle all along," one cardboard sign reminds passersby.
Hamdi, a 29-year-old architect who quit his job in the central Anatolian city of Kayseri to join the Gezi park protests, underlines that no political party has managed to force its label on to the movement. "We all know what we want from this and that's enough to keep us together. We don't need pre-packed ideologies."
Chapulcu, the Turkish word for marauder or bum – the new label slapped on the protesters by Erdoğan – seems to be the only one that all accept. There is a chapulcu teahouse, a chapulcu "hotel", a chapulcu library, an emerging chapulcu party distributing leaflets announcing a tentative political programme. On Thursday afternoon, a girl hands out chapulcu biscuits. Someone wrote on a sheet of paper taped to a tree: "If being a chapulcu is what it takes to save Turkey, then I am happy to be one."
Turkey Many are amazed by the force of the movement that started as an attempt to stop a green space being turned into a replica Ottoman garrison. "I was pessimistic about the youth in Turkey," says Cumhur, an engineer in his early 30s who now spends all his time off in the park. "I saw them as selfish and apolitical, interested in nothing. I never expected this." He looks around at the sea of colours, the tents, mattresses, stands. "I guess this is their answer to me, and it's like a slap in the face." A group of people carrying supplies hurries past. "And I was never so happy to have been wrong."
In Taksim Square just outside the park, a rapt crowd surrounds piano player Davide Martello who is playing for the second night in a row. A policeman yawns, and leaning on his shield, listens to Bach and John Lennon, along with hundreds of others.
Davide Martello A sweetseller hands out deep-fried pastries coated in sugar syrup. "I'm here every night," he proclaims proudly. "To support the protest and to provide protesters with energy." Two young men wearing the now ubiquitous hard hats, quite fittingly giving the impression that something is under construction in Istanbul, ask for another portion.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
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