THE BLOG

I Went to Cover the Istanbul Protests and Got Arrested - Part 2

03/07/2013 17:37 BST | Updated 02/09/2013 10:12 BST
Getty Images

Part 2

Saturday: Eviction Day

The mood is more tense than usual today. The protest's leaders have just rejected Erdoğan's offer to halt the park's 'redevelopment' and vowed to continue their occupation. For days rumours had already been circulating that the police were getting ready to clear everyone out. I'm sitting with a group of protesters when I decide to go and record some interviews. "I'll come back later. Will you still be here?" I ask. "Yes, we'll still be here," they reply.

It's late evening when I receive a text from someone I was sitting with earlier. "Police are coming, things are starting, watch out, we're running..." In front of me in Taksim Square, riot policemen are assembling alongside the infamous 'TOMA' riot control vehicles. Between them and thousands of heckling protesters, a group of activists are joining hands to form a human chain.

2013-06-28-blogpic4humanchain.jpg

Then all hell breaks loose. A barrage of water and tear gas sends protesters, journalists and bystanders scattering across the square. Someone throws a bottle that bounces off my leg and smashes against the ground. I fumble around in my bag for my camera and try to take pictures without getting hosed down.

I spend the next few hours ducking through side streets with protesters who seem well-equipped to cope in a riot: they're armed with gas masks, helmets, chemical solutions to combat the effects of tear gas and heavy-duty gloves to throw the hot canisters away.

2013-06-28-blogpic5taksimdefiantprotester.jpg

In Istiklal Caddesi - Istanbul's main shopping street - an ice cream vendor is getting on with business as usual. Except that today, his customers are wearing gas masks. Handing out dessert in the middle of a riot sounds ridiculous, but it also reflects this country's mentality to get on with business as usual, probably more out of necessity than anything else. Behind him, people are trying to drag away an injured person when we hear the clanging sound of a tear gas canister. "The police are coming, come this way!" they shout. I retreat with the others back through a maze of narrow alleyways.

I stop to catch my breath and start to feel a stinging pain on the part of my leg that took a direct hit from the water cannon. But that was hours ago: what sort of water are they using? In the flats above, women are banging pots and pans to support the protesters; in the next street, someone is being wheeled away on a makeshift stretcher.

It's now three in the morning, and I'm making my way home when I notice an elderly man walking awkwardly up a street towards us. "Come, come, old man!" shouts a protester. Suddenly, a riot officer appears behind him and fires two tear gas canisters. Someone behind me starts singing "Biber gazi oley! (Tear gas oley!)" For awhile, the old man is completely hidden by the smoke. Thankfully, moments later I see him stumbling into a corner shop for shelter. I don't know how he'll even begin to cope with tear gas clogging his lungs, and I can't help him, because the police are right behind him. But it's now five am, and with his image fresh in my mind I head back to where I'm staying in Şişli.

I wake up on Sunday with no clear plan for the day ahead, but it takes less than five minutes to find the first barricade. As I arrive, riot police are launching salvoes of tear gas at protesters fleeing madly towards me. I grab my stuff and run too, but the gas gets into my eyes, my nose, and my mouth. I can hardly see, let alone breathe. Someone takes my arm and leads me into a side street, where a man standing in a doorway beckons me inside.

2013-06-28-blogpic9sislibarricade.jpg

After the effects of the tear gas have worn off, I slip out again. Nearby, protesters are putting up barricades as quickly as the police are smashing them down by using human chains to pass debris up the street. It's as if Gezi Park's mini-community has been reborn, but there are no tents or trees, just fire, debris, and anarchy.

Ahead of me a man carrying sandwiches emerges from a side-door. "Is anyone hungry?" He turns to me. "Do you want a sandwich?" Everyone pauses for lunch. Someone else hands out sweets to groups of kids who grab as many as they can, while above me a resident is using string to lower a gas mask down to one of the protesters below.

Around me, neighbours are throwing newspapers from their windows to fuel the fires, one of which is burning dangerously close to a black Mercedes-Benz. "Whose car is that?" shouts someone. A child runs up and throws water at the car to cool it down. From a balcony, a woman is pouring water to smother the flames that are sending black smoke billowing into her apartment window. "That's enough! Stop!" they shout from below.

By now it's getting late, but in nearby Osmanbey protesters are still playing a game of cat-and-mouse with the police. It starts to rain. I'm sheltering against a smashed store window when a teenager walks up to show me a text message he's just got. "Look, there are 15,000 police coming here," he says. That can't be right. "Are you sure? When will they come?" I ask. "When it stops raining," he replies. "They don't like working in the rain."

Minutes later, hundreds of protesters run back up the street. I duck into a side alley with a youth and an old man. "The police are coming from that way!" shouts someone, pointing up the alleyway. Ahead, I can see them approaching, but we can't run back because they're behind us too. We're caught between two lines of riot police.