Once a week I like to hike up to the top of the biggest peak in Griffith Park. It takes 2 hours but when you arrive, you have a 360 degree vista of Los Angeles. Griffith Park is one of the biggest urban parks in America-- 4,310 acres. I sometimes ask Roland if he thinks Angelenos will fight when the big developers finally get politicians corrupt enough to start allowing commercial development in the park. He thinks I'm crazy and that (commercial development) that would never happen.
My first trip to Istanbul was early in 1969. It was a major resting spot on the Hippie Trail to India. Conventional hippie wisdom warned that the Turks are a bunch of a-holes and to get out of Istanbul as fast as possible and just drive through Iran towards Afghanistan as quickly as you can. The hippies all gathered in the Sultan Ahmet district-- and so did the people who wanted to prey on them, the dregs of Turkish society including the police. I was actually in the Pudding Shop when the events that soon turned into Oliver Stone's movie, Midnight Express, happened. The whole Sultan Ahmet area was a den of inequity back then-- crawling with hippies coming and going and with people selling them drugs and people ripping them off and police busting them... I couldn't wait to get away.
So I left the Hippie Trail terminus and drove across town to Taksim Square, the heart of modern Istanbul. I found Gezi Park immediately, a refuge of peace and quiet in the middle of the bustling city. My escape from Sultan Ahmet helped me understand the nature and worthlessness of conventional wisdom. Sure, the lowlife Turks the hippies were encountering were a-holes. But that's like judging all Americans by hanging out in Times Square (or the old Times Square before they made it into Disney Land). In Gezi Park I met normal Turks and had a completely different experience than the Hippie Trail experience of Istanbul was.
Since then, I've been back to Istanbul over a dozen times. Ironically, Sultant Ahmet-- which does have the best tourist attractions-- has been cleaned up and is now home to the best hotel in the country, the 4 Seasons and lots of other high end places to stay. Lately I've gravitated back to that part of town. But for decades I always tried staying close to Taksim and Gezi Park. We had decided to rent a house in Istanbul this summer-- on the Princess Islands-- but it fell though, or else I would be busy trying to get my deposit back now.
You probably heard by now that the government has used excessive police violence-- even tossing tear gas canisters out of helicopters-- against demonstrators in Gezi Park who oppose tearing it down to make room for a shopping mall.
Ayaspasa Environmental and Urban Beautification Association board member Cem Tüzün told reporters that the construction work is illegal. “We have submitted a petition to the Regional Board of Protection of Cultural and Natural Assets. We told them that the construction work currently being conducted is out of line with the construction plans prepared at the beginning and with an ongoing highway project,” he said. He added that they hope the construction work stops at once and that the trees that have been uprooted are replanted.Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be a "friend" of President Obama's but his conservative, socially backward political party is corrupt and authoritarian at its core. With tens of thousands of protesters demanding his government resign and chanting "united against fascism," brutal police-- mostly from the Anatolian provinces-- brutalized demonstrators. Over 1,000 people were injured on Friday alone. Erdogan, who I'm guessing is making a fortune from the crooks who want to develop Gezi was arrogant about the protesters who want to protect it from the bulldozers. “Every four years we hold elections and this nation makes its choice. Those who have a problem with government’s policies can express their opinions within the framework of law and democracy." He demanded they stop protesting. Instead, protests spread across the whole country.
A senior Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) official stood in front of a bulldozer after bypassing a police barrier and forced the machine to stop, in protest of the demolition of Taksim Gezi Park.
Arriving at the scene of demolition along with other protesters in the afternoon, BDP deputy Sırrı Süreyya Önder told reporters that the project does not reflect the environmentalist spirit of Mehmed the Conqueror, believed to have said he would give orders to kill those who uproot trees, in open criticism of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.
“Those who present themselves as conservatives only care about profit maximization through such projects regardless of concerns over the environment,” Önder said.
The BDP deputy then asked the officials in charge of the demolition of the park to show the legal document permitting the work at the site and stood in front of the construction machine.
The officials halted the demolition as they did not have in their possession any document giving them the go-ahead for the work at Gezi Park.
Yesterday police were using tear gas against protesters in Istanbul and Ankara. Anger against Erdogan's corrupt government has no supplanted the original environmental objectives of the demonstrations.
One Istanbul resident, who gave her name as Lily, told the BBC's World Service: "There are 40,000 people crossing the bridge between Asia and Europe today. All the public transport is on lockdown.""Quell the violence?" Good old BBC. The police are the violence-- especially the ones from the distant (backward) provinces. Turkish spring? The President of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, is worried that the situation is spiralling out of control. There have been rumors that the military could move in if the police violence doesn't stop. And this morning, Erdogan was pressured into withdrawing the police from Taksim Square and allowing the demonstrations to continue unmolested... for now. There are also widespread reports that his government is trying to block social media sites. The corporate media hasn't covered the demonstrations and the only way word is getting out is over the Internet. So Erdogan would like to shut that down as well.
She said that police had dropped tear-gas canisters from helicopters overnight.
"About half past one the entire city started to reverberate. People were banging on pots, pans, blowing whistles," she said.
The BBC's Louise Greenwood in Istanbul says police from as far afield as Antalya are being drafted in to help quell the violence.
She says the central Taksim district and surrounding areas remain cordoned off and bridges are closed to traffic.
UPDATE: Turkey Isn't Safe For Tourists
As the police of an uptight, authoritarian government brutalize demonstrators in Istanbul, Ankara and other Turkish cities, CNN is warning tourists away. "Ongoing local protests, government retaliation and related unrest in the city have many wondering if they should pull the plug on upcoming trips or make any new plans at all."
According to the 2012 MasterCard Global Destinations Cities Index, Istanbul is among the fastest growing tourism markets in the world, receiving 11.6 million international visitors and earning $10.6 billion in travel revenue in 2012.
The Turkish Statistics Institute reports the country's total tourism revenue for 2012 was $29.4 billion. According to an April report by TradeArabia, Turkey expects to receive 33 million international visitors in 2013.
..."Istanbul, a city that has always been known as Turkey's cultural heart, is turning into a war zone," says Royce Yakuppur, a local who has been to Gezi Park several times in recent days. "Although the feeling of solidarity (among locals) should be applauded as a virtue, it is not enough to overcome the fears of tourists."
Unsurprisingly, local travel agencies report that some travelers have recently canceled trips to Istanbul or are having second thoughts about coming in the next few weeks. Yet "many" are still going ahead with their plans.
|Inside the 5-star Divan Hotel in Taksim Square|