When most travelers hear the word “revolution,” they would probably prefer to retreat than jump in knee-deep.
Not me. Quite naively, I was even more excited for an upcoming Istanbul trip I had planned with my little sister than before -- a first-hand look into a country still struggling for their freedoms. I had always been a bit envious of my parents’ experiencing large-scale cultural struggle first-hand back in the ‘60s.
If you're anything like me, you’re adventurous, thrill-seeking and even arguably risky at times. Your friends find you fun and your mother finds you frightening. But you’ve always pressed on without doubt because you live your life knowing that without any risk, there’s never any reward.
I already knew the 10 days I had planned to see a country the size of Turkey was ludicrous. My “vacation” quickly morphed into an adventure with four flights in one day, a lost piece of luggage, zero Internet, a bloody nose and sight-seeing at record pace. I had no time to waste.
First, I landed in Antalya where I pretended to be interested in 50,000-year-old ancient artifacts while What’s App-ing my friends. It was a pretty quiet little beach town where I slept through breakfast every day and guiltily worked on my tan (or lack thereof for anyone who knows my true colors).
Capadoccia turned things up a notch with only two days to see one of the most interesting landscapes in the world -- only second to the Pyramids. We frolicked around the underground city and hauled ass through all the valleys. Only stopping to take particular notice of the promiscuously named “Love Valley,” which really did look like several erections all in a row.
The next day, we geared up at the crack of dawn for a hot air balloon ride just days after several Brits had died there in a crash.
I must admit I was a bit apprehensive at first... So I called in for a little "liquid courage. I didn’t even think twice about it as I polished off my bottle of champagne. Because...why not?
Soon after, though, events took a turn for the truly dangerous. Of course, I went out and got bombed.com right as all hell was about to break loose (once again, you don’t need to praise my responsibility -- I know how mature this was!). And my sister woke up with a monstrous hangover and a craving for good old American grease.
Being the big sister, I offered to swing by Istiklal Avenue (which leads to Taksim Square in Beyoglu) and grab her some French Fries.
Little did I know, they came with a side of tear gas. As I stood outside doing the old “McDonald’s or Burger King” debate, a kind employee realizing my naivete quickly threw me inside the Burger King. Not even 30 seconds later, a huge whitish-grey cloud of tear gas started to surround the street.
We all huddled into the back of the restaurant as I said “when in Rome,” while biting into my big fresh Whopper. Just killing time (of course). When we were finally released from BK captivity, we B-lined it back to the swanky Pera Palace.
I, of course, hadn’t had my fill of Istanbul shopping and ventured back out assuming the world outside had calmed down an hour or two later -- despite vehement protests from close friends. I inquired with the doormen who didn’t seem to know anything of the protests -- as word has been kept out of mainstream Turkish news.
I just needed this one pair of pants.
Compulsive shopping addiction, anyone? Or perhaps: Total stereotype of a clueless American tourist, anyone?
I thought: “How hard could it be to get there and back?” Just 10 minutes in, I threw in the towel after almost being trampled in a stampede running from more gas.
It quickly became clear the government was increasing force aggressively -- all to discourage the young, AKP-opposing, freedom-loving people of Istanbul from trying to keep their park.
Being the genius that I am, I read up on the two articles in international news and then offered to explain the riots to my Turkish friends.
They of course patiently explained how clueless I was. My friend F [name and occupation removed] had this to say about the situation:
"This isn't about a park anymore -- it's about grasping the power of people of all backgrounds, ages, religions and orientations who have different problems with the current government. The one common problem they have is that the moment one of them takes a stand against any of the Prime Minister's decisions, they are subject to incredible pressure. This pressure was initially just social and financial but over the last couple days, it has transcended into what can be called a ‘government-sponsored war on its citizens.’ Tens, now hundreds of thousands of innocent, peaceful civilians have been brutally attacked by the police, the very force they pay to protect them.
"The Turkish media has intentionally ignored these injustices so protestors have turned to social media to spread the word and global bodies are now taking notice. Finally, the world will be witness to the people of Turkey coming together to take a stand against not being able to take a stand."
Strangely enough, much like the '60s, love was still in the air -- shown on early Sunday evening as the government retreated and the protestors reclaimed their park (almost turned mall). This “park” isn’t just a grassy knoll; it’s a symbol of freedom that the AKP-opposing Turks feel is quickly slipping away under the conservative, authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
But unfortunately, by nightfall, the gassing, pellet guns and water bombs had surfaced again -- more furious than ever.
The brave, young protestors (falsely termed “hooligans” by the prime minister of Turkey) weren’t going to give in and clearly neither was the government.
Thousands of people were arrested, multiple deaths and quite incredibly, hundreds of police officers slammed down guns and badges to eagerly join the other side.
Mass chaos has become Istanbul as I return to the United States to sip champagne on a Sunday afternoon, suddenly realizing how trivial my existence is compared to friends far braver than me.
Do I seem like a naive, shallow American? I'm sure I do. Is it more important for me to spread (what little) awareness I have of this situation?