24 April, 2010

24 Nisan: a historic day

After dinner at the excellent little Balkan Lokantasi - a cafeteria style restaurant just off Istiklal Caddesi - we rejoined Elif for tea at her apartment in Cihangir. Our hostess explained that today was significant - not only in history, as the date of the controversial Armenian issue, but in the unfolding of Turkish politics. Tonight at seven a group of Turkish intellectuals and other liberal thinkers would gather in Taksim square for an hourlong vigil to make a global statement: despite the government's official position, some Turks recognize and apologize for the tragic events of April 24, 1915.

vigil in Taksim square

At seven, Mustafa and i made the short walk up Siraselviler Caddesi to Taksim. The square was crowded as always, but this evening it resembled Kızılay on any given Saturday. Scores of polis filtered the current of pedestrians, and formed a blockade limiting access to one corner of the square. Wanting to avoid any potential trouble, and get a birds' eye view as things unfolded, we took seats beside a young French journalist on the rooftop terrace of a nearby Simit Sarayı. 

twenty minutes later, and higher resolution

Things remained, happily, uneventful. When a small group of conservative counter-protesters carrying Turkish and Azeri flags and tossing leaflets into the air began to cross Siraselviler, polis blocked their way, and dozens of TV cameramen dashed in that direction. The ranks of candle-holders stood firm, and passed red roses to each observer. At the hour's end, they threw the roses skyward, and as they began to walk down Istiklal, a chant filled the air: Türk, Kürd, Armeni kardeşler. The Armenians are not alone. 

The significance of this evening, both Mustafa and Laure, our French neighbor, observed after she filed her live report with French 1, is that for the first time, Turkish polis protected the vigil-holders. It marks a turning point for democratic expression in Turkiye, where just three years ago, a nationalist teen killed journalist Hrant Dink over his views on the Armenian issue; songwriter Sezen Aksu composed "Guvercin" in commemoration. Here's a link to the song, one of my favorites.