Gezi Park Protest

I have been living in Istanbul, in Taksim, for the last year and a half. This weekend I felt at home here for the first time. Against the tense backdrop and amidst the clouds of tear gas people are being exceptionally kind.

A woman in the street approached me yesterday evening shyly and said: "I see that you are pregnant, and just wanted to tell you that there are fights in Besiktas now and a lot of tear gas. Please don't go there." Others offer me water in the street, a gas mask or to step into their shop to rest.

The last few days in Istanbul have been quite extraordinary, scary at times but inspiring nevertheless.

On Sunday, there was a feeling of victory in the air. The police retreated from Gezi Park at around 5pm on Saturday. They did not return to the Taksim area, where I live and where our office is.

The city center was fairly calm, at least until the evening.

At around midday on Sunday, I went with some friends and colleagues to Gezi Park. It was peaceful and sunny.

There I saw things that moved me to tears: thousands of people were walking around the park with garbage bags loading them full of the destruction of the last few days. People were even picking up cigarette butts, leaving the park spotless.

On one corner of the park there is a makeshift stall where food and drinks are being handed out. Someone gave me a bottle of water and urged me to take a pastry. Every minute someone came to the stall loading it up with a donation of food, drinks and cleaning materials. The clean up extended beyond the park reaching out across the city. In my neighborhood, where the day before there were violent clashes, people came out early in the morning and cleaned their streets.

It is these acts of solidarity and spontaneity that have been making the last few days so remarkable. After a calm day, in the evening news came about police violence in the capital of Ankara and in the Istanbul neighborhood of Besiktas.

I was at friend's house, standing at the entrance of the building when someone in an upper floor of the building next door opened the window and started tapping with a spoon on a pot. Within seconds, people in the buildings around joined from their balconies and windows, taping on pots, pans or glass bottles: within minutes the neighborhood was taping to the same rhythm. People in the street were clapping or whistling to express their solidarity with Ankara and Besiktas. It is hard to explain how moving it was, how with such limited means such a powerful sentiment can be expressed.

My colleagues in Greenpeace office here have been doing incredible work.

The office has remained open non-stop since Friday and as protests intensified in the evening and surged closer to the office (it is about 1 km away from Taksim Square, on the main avenue leading to it). The police moved closer dispensing an enormous amounts of tear gas.

Saturday was the most intensive day by far. I arrived in the office in the morning when the streets were clear and everything seemed quiet. Within a couple of hours the streets were filled with gas again.

Our office is on the fifth floor, from the windows we could see the police clashing with protesters. By the early afternoon the gas became so thick it was getting hard to breath in the office.

Two of the rooms were converted into clinics where protesters who suffered from tear-gas exposure could be treated by nurses, supported by Greenpeace staff members. Volunteers and activists were working together.

It was very dangerous by then to leave the office and almost impossible to get in, but still people found a way to bring us food and medical supplies, or just to offer support.

In the afternoon the atmosphere became quite tense, a tear-gas canister was fired directly at the office floor, luckily hitting the roof and not the closed balcony underneath it where many people were standing. We were concerned the police might come up and start arresting people, although we had done nothing wrong.

By 5pm suddenly the tide had turned, there were thousands of people flooding the street toward the square and the police all retreated in an instant.

Again amongst the high drama with many brave acts its was the seemingly small acts of solidarity, of individuals doing what ever they could to help were the ones that made this day truly remarkable for me.

Gezi Park FridgeTo name just a few that stayed with me: a supporter stuffing the fridge with milk (good for tear-gas inhalation) and food supplies without anyone even noticing; a group of girls making lunch in the kitchen; to the many who kept pouring in and finally after things have calmed down - a girl, not a staff member or anyone I've seen before, washing all the dishes and cleaning the kitchen that was earlier used to feed many.

I think at this stage no one can say if this will slowly die down or develop into something more, no one could have predicted only a few days ago a simple peaceful protest in defense of a city park would spin so out of control and inspire so many to stand up for the right to peaceful protest. Whatever happens, witnessing the power and will of the people to come together, from all walks of life, across party lines and without any clear guidance or organisation, has been really been a privilege and inspiration which will last a life time.

Jen Maman is the Peace Advisor of Greenpeace International. She is based in Istanbul.