Dispatch from Taksim Square

June 7, 2013

Istanbul, Turkey

By Murad Sezer

Taksim Square is the heart of Istanbul. It’s the meeting point for lovers, tourists and protesters.

On the weekends if you stroll around the square and crowded Istiklal street, a hub for shopping and bars, you can witness various political demonstrations. Women protest against domestic violence, soccer fans gather, anti-government far leftists groups rally and on Saturdays mothers demand to know the fate of their missing relatives. Riot police are never far away, so it’s no big surprise if you smell tear gas all of a sudden in the middle of Taksim.

This time-lapse video shows demonstrators at Taksim Square, Istanbul, over a 24-hour period on June 5, 2013.

Nowadays Taksim smells of tear gas all the time. A peaceful sit-in-protest to save Gezi park at the side of the square turned into a week-long riot between police and anti-government demonstrators. Now everybody in Taksim, from shopkeepers to taxi drives have grown accustomed to tear gas and barricades which block main streets to the square.

As a news photographer it became routine for me to cover protests in the city center and deal with short-lasting waves of tear gas. But it’s not that easy to cover riots in Taksim anymore. After three days of clashes, protesters occupied the square and police now stand far away. Both sides rest during the day and fight from midnight to dawn.

Like other news photographers I have to run behind the riot police or protesters in the alleys of Taksim. Almost a week has passed with sleepless nights, heavy clouds of tear gas and stones flying over my head. The other day when I was talking to my wife on the phone she asked me if I had eaten something or not. My answer was, “I don’t remember.”

Now, it’s quieter than during the first week. When I think back I am grateful for my gas mask enabling me to breathe, to my helmet for protecting my head and my Reuters ID card. They saved my life and gave me major support in my non-stop work. It’s obvious how a helmet and a gas mask protected me, but the mention of my Reuters journalist card may sound strange. From the beginning of the Taksim story, Reuters pictures were widely published in Turkish media. My colleague Osman Orsal’s picture of the “woman in red” became the symbol of the Gezi Park protests.

Objective Reuters journalism is appreciated by the Turkish public. Whenever angry protesters ask me which media company I work for, I show my Reuters ID card and it really works well. Reuters is more well known in Turkey than it was before the protests began.

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Great slideshow. It’s interesting to watch how this has unfolded over the past week through social media in Taksim Square: http://t.co/uugFxvcy9n

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