Istiklal Street in Istanbul is famous. It’s Istanbul’s main shopping street, also known for it’s countless bars, cinemas, historical buildings – and countless people: on the weekend, about 3 million people a day visit Istiklal.
Being the thriving heart of this metropolis of 16 million people, this is also the place to be if you want to make yourself heard. Whenever I come to Istiklal there is some demonstration going on. It can be women defending their rights or protesting against sexual harassment, it can be municipal employees demanding a raise, it can be journalists shouting for a free press, students wanting more independent universities (and a raise in their allowance), old fashioned but passionate young communists handing out their periodical, leftists demanding this or that, whatever you can think of.
Yesterday I was at Istiklal again. Quite a big demonstration was going on, and I immediately saw who the protestors were: lawyers. In Turkey, lawyers wear a shiny black cape with red-green lapels, so it’s easy to recognise them. They were protesting against the wire tapping of a number of legal figures participating in the investigation into Ergenekon, the gang consisting of (among others) bureaucrats allegedly planning to topple the government. The judiciary claims to be defending the real values of the Turkish republic and the wire tapping is getting out of hand and tarnishes their independence and integrity.
The lawyers were walking down Istiklal towards the main square that it leads to, Taksim Square, where the Republic Monument is. But there they saw a banner on a building, saying ‘Welcome to Taksim Square, Coup Bar Association’. The lawyers were infuriated at the link between them and Ergenekon, and some of them headed for the building where the banner was hanging. The police calmed them down, the banner was taken away. It turned out the banner was placed there by the Young Civilians, a group of young Turks who are known for their basic, plain and sometimes funny comments and critiques on Turkish politics. Two Young Civilians were arrested (I’m not sure why, hanging a banner is not forbidden), and in the end peace was restored.
You could say Istiklal is where democracy in Turkey takes to the street. It is where so many different voices in Turkish society are heard. I admit I’m not a big fan of too noisy, too busy Istiklal Street, but the demonstration part of it, I love.