Istanbul says: Peace Now

On Thursday evening the heart of Istanbul, Istiklal Caddesi, filled with people asking for peace

The heat is quite bad in Istanbul these days. The humidity level being so high that one can hardly breath. Yet there is a frantic activity up and down Istiklal Caddesi, Istanbul main shopping and meeting street. Turists mix with locals going shopping or for a coffee or ice cream. Yet at the beginning of Istiklal Caddesi (or the end, according to one’s position), Tunel, there is the sound of a drum coming.

The sun has just began its descend on the Bosphorus. The drum sound call for attention. Indeed what has begun as a small crowd is becoming larger and larger. The first banners appear. They say “We want peace, now”. Other smaller banners and posters ask for rights and justice. “We want Hatip Dicle in parliament”, say one poster. And another is written in Kurdish and asks for justice and freedom of languages. “Languages cannot be banned”. And then there are posters condeming the recent attack on singer Aynur Dogan at a concert in a middle class poshy area of Istanbul.

The demonstration has been called to ask for peace and justice. Aydin says that “we are tired of the continuous harassment, attacks, linch attempts only because we are Kurds”. There are many Turks as well. “Of course we are here, – says Ahmet – because we want to show solidarity with our Kurdish brothers and sisters, but also we are here for ourselves. There is no freedom for you as well – Ahmet continues – if your next door neighbour is not free”. The drums sound grows louder. Slogans are chanted as the large crowd starts to move down Istiklal Caddesi among the curious looks of the tourists.

These past weeks, indeed since the election on 12 June, have been hard. Repression and violence against the Kurds have indeed never stopped. “We want peace – says a middle age woman – we want the war to stop. We, Kurds, are ready for peace – she adds with a sad tone in her voice – but are the others ready?” And with “the others” clearly she means the state, the government. “Because to make peace – says a woman next to her – you need two people”. And this is the big question mark in people’s mind. Is the government ready for peace? Is the government ready to talk about peace? For Ismail the answer is to be found on the recent events. “Look – he said carrying a rainbow peace flag – what happened in Silvan, [he is referring to the military operation leading to the death of 13 soldiers last week] is clearly a provocation. The state does not want peace. Actually – he adds – the state is afraid of peace”. Ismail has a point. Clearly war means business. “War takes away – he says – a huge part of this country budget and yet there are those who benefit from this”.

The crowd walks noisily down Istiklal Caddesi, the music is louder, the slogans and the cheers replace the music from time to time. There are some artists among the crowd. They came to show their support for Kurdish singer Aynur Dogan. “When censorship and hate reach culture – says one young musician – it means things are really going bad”. The protest against Aynur at a concert last week has impressed many. Indeed Turkish television channel have been hosting programs about what happened. Artists have been quick and united in showing solidarity to Aynur. But what is scaring, like young musician Memo says is the fact that hate was addressed towards the singer but even more towards the Kurdish language. Intolerance towards the Kurdish language is still so bad. “Imagine – says Memo – if the same attitude was to be shown towards the singer singing in Spanish… But no, hate came quickly to the surface when Kurdish language was spoken”. Despite the fact that times are difficult, and it might be even harder in the coming months, people marching along Istiklal Caddesi are if not optimistic positive about the fact that “only by repeating again and again that we want peace, we can change things”. The leaflet handed out during the demonstration by members of the Turkis writers trade unions is a poem by Muzaffer Tayyip Uslu, called Baris, Peace. It is not just a hope. “Well yes – says one of the union’s members – it is more than hope. Because we know that in the end peace will prevail”. Levent Tuzel, Istanbul Independent MP elected with the Labor, Democracy and Freedom Block, speaks of the need for justice and rights. He says that “we contest the election to win rights for everybody. Yet – he adds – we see that 6 of our deputies are still not enjoying full rights and indeed they are denied not only rights but freedom. That’s why – he adds among the chanting crowd – our battle is not finished”. Night slowly begins to embrace Istiklal Caddesi, and reaches Taksim Square where the demonstration ends and the hundreds of tourists have stopped to watch the crowd passing by. The sound of the drums fill the air once again before the crowd parts.

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