I hide behind a mask of ambiguity. I have expressed my gratefulness for its benefits thus far, but I hd my first real encounter with its repercussions. Alas, the idea of the masks is that it guards an opposing conception of vulnerability and, as soon as the mask slips, a truth is revealed. How the observer will react is always uncertain. This can be dangerous.
My mask was ripped off yesterday.
I entered my building, coming home from early classes at university. I was completely exhausted from another restless night combined with the tiresome stress of attempting to comprehend the lecturer’s fragmented English and deciphering his Turkish, as well as from the long ferry voyage and walk home. It was still morning, and a long morning t that. I entered my building, normally and began to hike the six floors of stairs as a figure approached me.
A male, appearing old for a late twenty year old with sunken acne scars marking up a a mean, narrow, salt and pepper scrubbed visage grins at me.
What? Oh, yeah. Good morning.
I slipped. A crack of my real self shown, unknowingly in my exhausted state. And, with that simple utterance, my mask was ripped off, fast.
I saw a spark light in his dark eyes.
I have seen this surprised spark of delight before, literally every time a Turkish man has discovered that I am not Turkish. So his reaction did not surprise me.
What did surprise me was the attack.
As I closed the door to my flat and preparing my keys to lock it, I was hit. A man body slammed the door with all his might. The force threw me into the wall perpendicular to the front door and I struck my head.
What the fuck is happening?
Instantly concussed, immediately disoriented, my mind went raced into fight-or-flight. I recognise the intruder as the cretin from the stairs.
He grabs me by the waist and pulls me into him, saying “ok babe?” as he tries to kiss my face.
Hell no, I think.
So I head-butt him.
“GET THE FUCK OUT!”
I scream. He smiles towards my responsive aggression. He does this to mock me. He does this to make me feel small. I am reduced to an object to him, but he wants to degrade me more.
I open my landlady’s door and yell to see if she’s home.
I run to see if my flatmate is in. I bang on her door. It’s locked, I yell.
He collects himself and attempts to corner me against Sebahat’s door, when it opens. Sebahat is home. She was abruptly woken up by the scene and she watches, stunned in a hazed confusion.
Meanwhile, I react. He’s seen and he knows that there are two young girls alone, in the top story of the building, with no one around. i will not let this fucker win. I will not let him touch us. I will not let let him hurt us.
Enraged, I sunk deeply into protective mode. I turn into something ugly, primal; an animal. I refuse to play defense, and immediately turned on the offense switch. I have the home field advantage. He is intruding upon my cave, and I am the grizzly bear. I will do anything I have to do to protect myself, my friend, and my home.
I hit him, hard, throwing him off balance.
I moved in quick, hitting him in the same spot below his heart with a left and right combination.
I have boxing experience, but these were instinctual, hard, powerful jabs. So intense, yet far from precise, that I would later find my knuckles and fingers broken, swollen, and bruised.I then hit him with a rapid fire, eight punch combo.
I got him, now for the climax.
Three dazzling, lightning punches; head shots.
The kill shot: left jab, TKO blow taking out his right eye and nose.
He reactively lifts his hands to protect his face and to catch his blood, falling into my set up and leaves his body uncovered and vulnerable.
I wind up. One strong kick the groin to make sure this pathetic excuse of a human being will never be able to reproduce.
As his hands reflex southward, I respond with a swift upward hit with my palm to his solar plexus, making him gasp for air.
As he hunches over, I take no chance for him to recover. I dig my finger-nails as deep as I could to get a firm grip. I drag him down the hallways by his hair.
I threw him out the door, then dropped him to the ground and kicked him down the stairs.
No time to wipe my hands and get once last reassuring look that I had successfully ridded him, I about-faced and locked the door.
Now, that the task was completed, I could react. I ran down the hall and into Sebahat’s embrace and instantly burst into tears.
Allow me to be blunt-
I’m nineteen years old, this concept of age is in terms of maturity but this number is true. I write, this much is true too. It has been only a short while since I have been admitted as an objective spectator to the events unravelling in Turkey.
Almost everything else in this scene is ambiguous and invented.
Invented, yes, but not playfully. This is most certainly not a game, especially to me. It’s a form: as I invent myself, even now as I write, I’m thinking of all I want to tell in regards to why this blog is written as it is- carefully constructed and selective. Par example, I want to tell you this: a few days ago, I watched a dog die after being struck by a tear gas canister on Kadıköy Haydarpaşa Rıhtım Caddesi on my way home. I did not kill him, but I did not do anything either. I was present, and my presence stained me with guilt just the same.
I remember his face- this withered creature, hardened by the streets, stared at me with one icy, lifeless eye. His face, not as friendly nor pleasant as that of a pet, burned into my memory. Yes, I remember his face because his jaw was in his throat. I remember being overcome by the sickness of both disgust and heartache. I felt the burden of responsibility and was instantly overcome with undescribeable grief. I blamed myself. Justifiably so, I feel, because I was present.
But, let me interrupt with more bluntness, perhaps even that story is fiction. No?
I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to understand that sometimes ficticious truths are more real and true than those in reality.
It is true- I am nineteen years old, I do indeed write, and I am living in Turkey. Here, in Istanbul with a population of 14 million, there are many people. People, like me, with bodies, faces, thoughts, dreams, desires- there are real bodies with real faces. I may be young now, but I am not afraid to look. Looking or not, I do feel both faceless responsibility and faceless grief- or don’t I?
Perhaps it is also true- He was a bony, dead, rugged, and was aged to be of about twenty years. He lay in the middle of the street with trash and debris. I could see his jaw in his throat. One eye was was abnormally wide- forced open. The other eye was a gashed, bleeding hole, marking the strike of the blow. He wasn’t a dog.
I feel as if a story can make certain unidentifiable, uncomprehendable ideas present.
I can look at things I never looked at; I can make you believe.
I can paint faces and apply them to these emotions- to grief, love and pity.
I can be brave.
I can face the suppressed and the faceless.
I can make myself feel again.
I can believe, too.
Cenk and Barış did not instantly repair their bond. They did establish a vague understanding to which they learned to trust one another. Over the course of the next month, they notified each other of their whereabouts during the demonstration. Although on opposing sides, they teamed up; they defended each other. They covered each other’s backs in the protest, they shared a hiding place taking cover from the TOMA, and they took turns pulling guard at night on their trek home.
In late October, they made a brotherly pact stating that if one of them were to be crippled—a wheelchair wound—the survivor would axiomatically find a way to end it. As they were boyhood friends, it was difficult to detect seriousness in their plan but, in context, they believed sincerity in each other’s voices. To make it appear more legitimate, they drew it up as a contract and signed their name only having each other’s eyes as witnesses.
Weeks later, in mid-November when the air began to chill, Barış was hit. Protestors with fireworks had given a new definition to “friendly fire.” The explosion took off his right leg, so conveniently at the hinge of the knee. At first, he managed with a funny little half step, almost like a child hopping about in play, then he started to wobble and tilted sideways until he finally keeled. “Oh, bok,” he said. He just kept repeating in a faded, hushed voice calmly almost as if he had simply stubbed a toe. “Bok, oh bok.” as if he’d stubbed a toe. Losing blood, he wheezed for air. He only began to panic when he looked down and saw himself wallowing in his own blood. He tried to get up and run, but there was nothing left for him to run on and he fell, hard. The stump that had replaced his right leg twitched violently. Stained white slivers of bone were now visible, and the blood came in quick, spiratic spurts like water from a pump. Wild-eyed and bewildered, Barış reached down as if to pat his lost leg. In the poignant act, the little blood he had left all seemed to sprint to his head and he immediately passed out.
There was nothing much anybody could do. The crowd was dense with thousands, screaming barbarically almost forgetting their own cause for this chaos. After penetrating through the treacherous swarm of rebels, Cenk through himself over his friends body to shield it from more atrocities and pain, but it was of no use. Barış and his stump had stopped twitching now and his blood drained tranquilly. He already resembled a cadaver, and the air was filled with puzzlement at his status of life. These thoughts were quickly muted when he opened his eyes and looked up at Cenk. “Oh, kardeş,” Oh, brother– he moaned as he attempted to slide himself away. “Hayır, beni öldürme.” No, don’t kill me.
Barış seemed confused, befuddled, and distant. He remained still again, only for a moment, then gestured toward his missing leg. Patting the ground frantically, searching for something irretrievable. He used up his waning energy on an impossible whim. Chocking back upon internal, private pain, Cenk managed to utter a word to his friend, “Dur (stop).”
“Merak etme, sorun değil. Onlar geri dikebilirsiniz.” Don’t worry, it’s not a problem. They can sew it back on.
“Biliyor musun?” Do you know?
“Hiç sanırım.” I think so.
Barış set his gaze due north, up towards the dim, smoky lit sky. He passed out again. Minutes later, he awoke, eyes shut and still, and softly whispered once more, “Beni öldürme.” Don’t kill me.
“Yapmayacağım,” Cenk responded. I won’t.
“Beni öldürme, lütfen.” Please, don’t kill me.
“Söz verdin” You promised.
Cenk nodded and looked into the somber visage of his friend and said, “Biliyorum.” I know. Moments later, Cenk carried Barış through the demonstration, humbly yet seemingly heroically. When he reached an ambulance off the protest route, Cenk reached out and touched Barış’s remaining leg. “Gitmem lāzım,” he said. I must go now, and he departed to return to his post with his fellow policemen. Later, he heard from the television set from the comfort of his couch that Barış had died before he reached the hospital.
This news seemed to relieve Cenk of an enormous weight.
Barış and Cenk grew up in the pleasant Turkish village of Çine. Best friends with a bond since birth, they wrestled together, played together, learned together and matured together. Growing up from the same woven cloth, they seemed inseparable. As they reached the end of their adolescence, they would meander down different paths. Both chose Istanbul to serve as their planform to transition into adulthood, but would fade from each other’s view in a city of fourteen million. Barış would further his education by studying mechanical engineering at Doğuş Üniversitesi in Kadıcöy. His former best friend and classmate would attend the Gümüşdere Köyü Polis Akademisi (National Police Academy at Gümüşdere) to join the Çevik Kuvvet (Rapid Response Force aka “riot squad”) section of the Emniyet Genel Müdürlüğü (National Turkish Police).
One clear night in early September, when the Çevik Kuvvet were out on patrol monitoring the Diren Kadıcöy protest near the Kadicöy Boğa Heykeli, Barış and Cenk got into a fist fight. It was about something stupid, Cenk found Barış near a freshly painted stain of graffiti that read “Katil Polis” (murder the police) to which he assumed a betrayal but this surmise was not justified. Even so, the fight was nefarious. For a while, it went back and forth. The crowd continued to riot viciously and circled around the two, creating a ring for the match. Cenk was much bigger and much stronger now. He eventually wrapped his right arm around Barış’s neck and pinned him down. He kept hitting him, callously, on the nose. He hit him so hard, with such ferocity and intensity. He didn’t stop; he couldn’t. Through the clamors of terror continuing around them, Barış’s nose made an audible, sharp snapping sound like a firecracker. Blood shot out from Barış’s face and stained the scene and, even then, Cenk kept hitting him over and over with quick, stiff, accurate blows. It took three men to pull him off. When it was over, Barış had to be carried to the rear of the demonstration to be transported out for medical attention. He was admitted to Acıbadem Kadıcöy Hastenesi where he had his nose looked after. Two days later, he rejoined his fellow demonstrators wearing a metal splint and lots of besmirched gauze.
In any other circumstance it might have ended there, but this was Turkey- where men were proud and chased after action for justice; where revenge was necessary in terms of honour; where men carried guns. Cenk started to worry. It was mostly in his head. There were no threats made against him nor were there any vows of retaliation. There was only a silent tension between them that made Cenk take special precautions out of impenetrable paranoia. On patrol in Kadıcöy, he was very careful to keep track of Barış’s whereabouts. He volunteered to man the TOMA water cannon and drove it on the far side of the perimeter; when on foot, he kept his back covered and his fingers fused to the trigger; he avoided all situations that might put the two in contact at all costs. Eventually, after a week of this, the strain began to create problems.
Cenk could not relax. This tension disoriented him profoundly. He felt like he was fighting two different battles. There was no safe ground for him. He had enemies everywhere, even among his trusted friends and fellow comrades. The battlefield was warped, almost fantastical and extremely difficult to maneuver and hide for it contained mirrors too. The effects hit Cenk hard. At night, he had serious trouble sleeping. He had a skittish feeling where he was always on guard; he heard strange noises in the dark; he imagined the tickle of a knife against his ear. The distinction between good guys and bad guys had disappeared for him. Even in times of relative safety, when his unit waited for action by the waterfront and passed the time by gossiping and laughing as boys do, Cenk would be sitting with his back against a stone wall with his weapon across his knees watching Barış with quick, nervous eyes.
It got to the point where he lost control. Something clearly snapped inside him. One action-less afternoon by the Bosphorus, he began firing his weapon in the air screaming Barış’s name. Cenk, just firing and yelling, interrupting innocent commuters as they feared to board the ferry home. He did not stop until he had rattled off an entire magazine of ammunition. Everyone, officers and civilians alike, dropped and pinned themselves flat on the ground. No one had the nerve to go near him. Cenk started to reload, but then suddenly stopped, expressionless, and collapsed to the ground. He held his head in his arms, AK in his lap, and sat, frozen.
For two or three hours, he just sat there, paralysed.
This was not the bizarre part.
Later, that same night, when he was exempt from duty, he grabbed an heirloomed flintlock pistol. He unconventionally gripped it by the barrel and used it savagely, like a hammer, to break his own nose.
Afterward, he journeyed across the river to pay a visit to his old friend. He showed Barış what he’d done and he asked if
everything was square between them.
Barış nodded and mouthed “evet” under his breath to signify sure, things were square between them.
In the morning Barış could not stop laughing. “Bu adam deli,” (that man is crazy) he said. “Grafiti yazdım” (I wrote the graffiti).
Despite being blatantly foreign to this culture in my thoughts, I am constantly having to remind myself that this is not my home. Immediately, after the first day, I found myself without the “foreigner” label. Convenient enough for me, I blend. I match the exact general description of a Turkish woman, except my eye colour betrays me. I can best describe my first encounter realising how intriguingly well I camoflague here as follows:
Walking through the busy streets of Kadıcöy Boğa at 22:00, I cannot quiet the crazy gnat buzzing about in my mind cleverly named Paranoia.
They all know that I am not one of them.
These simple thoughts of heightened delusions occupied my already busied mind. There was no validity in those infecting thoughts. I had prepared for the subconscious occupants of the dreamer to turn on me as an invader as viciously in the film “Inception.” In reality, I was actually treated as if I were one with them.
As I walked back from a rally by the waterfront in Kadıköy Rıhtım, the streets were packed with thousands of demonstrators passionately screaming.
HER YER TAKSIM, HER YER DIRENIŞ!
(“Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance”)
I participate in the chant as I document the protest and keep an eye on my friend.
People, people everywhere and so much stimuli your mind’s gears screech and jolt to maintain the desired high speed of mental processing. I turn my head jerkingly, looking side to side for my friend. She is quiet, little and beautiful. It seems hard for someone so sweet like her to be in a situation like this. It baffles me also that such an astonishing contrast between her and the hostility of the protest to go unnoticed. I feared the demonstrators had gotten carried away and devoured another innocent. I use my peripherals, trying to maintain an air of coolness while I stress.
The police are coming.
They will gas us soon.
We need to get back to the flat.
There are so many people.
There is not much time.
I need to find Sebahat.
I become more aggressive in my movements. I grab my bag tightly, slightly flex and prepare to act in any means necessary to complete the task at hand: find Sebahat and get home fast. I bend and bounce to get the lactic acid in my knees flowing, just in case I need to bolt. Not realising at this point how silly my little pre-game warm-up looks, I pivot in a 90 degree increment, looking for dear Sebahat. Ducking, avoiding the thrusting of fists and signs, I rotate my head with my eyes squinting looking past the bold colours of torches to see the darkness of the people.
I face adjacent to the crowd. I still don’t see her. Without a working mobile phone, this is most certainly not the time to hunt for a miraculous wifi signal (despite it being needed and most ideal). Communication-less and separated at the worst possible time.
If she gets hurt or gassed again, I will never forgive myself.
This thought brings about an anxious weight of her well-being being my responsibility upon me and I get a sharp pain in my gut.
I think I am going to be sick.
I hide my feelings, but they escape through my stare. I almost feel the subconscious projections realising now that I am an intruder- this fear they smell wreaks and they trace me as the source.
I am achy and tired and even lifting and turning my head in a compact angry mob hurts. I am stressing unfathomably and trying to maintain self composure and control, but I can feel my exhausted self slipping.
The crowd still roars.
(“Murder the police”)
I can hear the police banging their shields with batons, trying to flex the muscles and establish a desired sense of dominance but end up failing to do so and come off as being both unprofessional and rather timid. They are young, probably most are former schoolmates with the protestors. Unexperienced and appearing frightened, they looks like youths in their boyscout uniforms carrying their AK47s. These boys cannot cry to mother when the mean kids mock them, so they fire as them and hose them with gas instead.
My eyes burn. I can feel tear gas in the air. Though a distance away, the officers draw near. I acknowledge the fear of the consequences if I am to encounter a close quarrel with the police and it forces more weight on my strong but enervated back. Pushing people out of my way as I challenge myself to go against the current, I am swimming far away from all of the rules I firmly established in my mind in terms of not standing out. I crouch a bit and protect my body with my arms raised to defend. I hurry along with swift strides of intense precision.
I walk 100 metres, scouting as if for my prey.
I walk a few strides farther.
Still, no sign of Sebahat.
I fight to post myself up, juxtaposed to the crowd at a makeshift curb of the street. Drenched in excretion from the harsh combination of heat, people, and panic, my thoughts race and I have almost lost all hope.
I can’t leave.
I should go.
Maybe she made it back to the flat.
I cannot risk that.
I have to stay here.
I can’t leave.
From the 15cm curb I territorially claimed as my spot, I searched through the crowd with my effulgent eyes. What I am looking at is a disguised Kadıköy Boğa (the centre of this district). Famous for always being busy with traffic, trolleys and the thunder of passersby, it has has recently become the notorious night venue of the #DirenKadıköy movement. Its iconic bull statue in the middle of the square is lost in the protest. Kadıköy is transported, its natural state almost completely lost at this point, in the mist of people, protest, and police. The neighbourhood becomes unrecognisable, even to the locals.
Thousands march past me, none of familiar. Time changes its shape, it morphs with the chaos and transforms five or ten minutes into hours. I find myself overwhelmed with stressor emotions and I hover over the fine line of focused and out of control. I am standing still, almost statuesque, slightly above the people. I am able to look down on their heads, only signs, banners and flags tower above me. There is no empty space in my view, the canvas is cluttered, busy, and completely filled. I play a twisted game of “Where’s Waldo,” looking for a little girl in a white tank top in a cacophonous crowd of contentious civilians.
The batons banging, the warlike drum roll matches the beat of my heart. It is hard not to lose hope as the crowd becomes more heated as they continue to provoke the police. Louder, the tension shrieks as a kettle does when it about to boil. My thoughts pound violently in sync with my pulse and I fade out of focus, wondering in a subconscious sea of neverending stress. My subconscious embraces the crowd, unites with it and becomes one as the rush comes.
I have surrendered to the stampede.
I accept the chaos.
I agree that I am a part of it.
This confirmation brings an unorthodox sense of peace to me and calms my head. Forced feelings subside, my eyes already open can see past the opaque haze of both tear gas and confusion and I can see again.
“They don’t know that you’re a foreigner, did you know?”
A familiar voice.
Quiet, almost a vivid imagined whisper, just barely audible amongst the discord.
Jolted with my new found vision and now apparent auditory abilities, my head turns cautiously, almost suspiciously to the target of the stimulus.
Behind me, sandwiched between a brick wall of a posh daytime café and the infinite mass of demonstrators is little Sebahat.
Finally, as I had just accepted a perceived to be doomed fate of a potentially brutal encounter with the Turkish police, I had kept my hope and promise.
I found my friend.
I grabbed her hand and clasped her fingers so firmly as I navigated the massive maze of men to lead us to safety.
We would make it home just in time.