A hospital in Amnesty’s office

Medics attending to injured protesters in Istanbul © Serra Akcan/NarPhotos

Murat Çekiç, Director of Amnesty Turkey, on a sleepless week in Istanbul.

As I write this, there are at least 10,000 people in Taksim Square, all protesting for 10,000 reasons. But here in our office, everything is calm.

We had a makeshift hospital here for two days. We used our desks and tables as beds for injured people, there were sleeping bags on the floor, and medicine and food everywhere. On Tuesday, we finally had time to clean up the mess and put our desks and computers back.

I first heard about the protests when coming back to Istanbul on Thursday night. (30 May.) The real police violence started on Friday. It was my day off, and I decided to go to the office at 3pm to respond those incredible things that were happening.

I tried to take the metro to the office but it was closed, so I had to walk. I couldn’t take the normal route because teargas was burning my nose and face. When I got there, a lot of people – including the students who do our face-to-face fundraising in town – were also coming to us.

Biscuits and milk via Twitter
Everyone was anxious and scared. We didn’t know if we were safe. But we decided that people on the streets needed shelter. All public transport had stopped and it was very hard to find a taxi.

The authorities said “don’t demonstrate in Taksim Square”, but where could people go? Istanbul is literally set on two continents, so it’s hard to get home if it’s on the other side, unless you want to swim.

Amnesty staff volunteered to stay in the office, and to use our social media accounts to inform people about how to reach healthcare and legal information.

We bought a lot of antacid liquid (Gaviscon), because mixed with water that calms the effect of tear gas on your skin.

Friends and family started coming. Our office is on the first two floors of a big building on Istanbul’s busiest shopping street, with a garden surrounded by huge walls. The weather was OK, and there was less teargas in the garden, although it was everywhere.

Everything was closed, but after we posted on social media lots of people started sending us things. Within three hours we had huge amounts of packed food, milk and basic medicines.

Detained in buses
We didn’t sleep. We had an incredible amount of calls about ill-treatment in detention centres and not enough lawyers. We gave people the numbers for lawyers who had volunteered to help.

Since we weren’t allowed into the detention centres, three lawyers from the Istanbul Bar Association said they would document the torture or ill-treatment claims for us. They documented as many as 60 people being detained in buses made for 40 people. Many needed medical treatment but were kept there without water and food for hours.

A volunteer lawyer and an Amnesty campaigner put on their facemasks and went out to find water. They found an open shop and bought all the water they had. The shop seller only charged us half price, and also found some food. They found a taxi, took it all to the Istanbul central police headquarters and delivered it to detainees who had been without for three hours.

A hospital in the office
On Saturday morning, everywhere was still full of teargas. Then the Turkish Medical Association (TMA) said they needed a third makeshift hospital. They sent over more than 20 volunteer medical students, who explained how to look after people and how to arrange the office.

A family with a 5-year-old child came to us, shocked and terrified. They didn’t have anything to do with the protests. The father was a cleaner in an office around Taksim Square. He had taken his family with him thinking the office would be safe. But it was closed and they were out on the streets without gasmasks. They started to run and the child started crying.

Teargas feels like you are burning, like fire. Our volunteers gave the little girl first aid, biscuits and orange juice. She cried for at least 40 minutes. But we had coloured pens and paper, and she watched cartoons on YouTube. So social media really does work! When it was calmer they were able to leave.

Burning down tents
Things were quiet, until Tuesday, 28 May at 5am, when the police raided a small tent camp in the corner of Gezi Park. They burned their tents down and threw teargas at them. At 5am! They were sleeping in their tents, not protesting!

After that raid, the protests just grew and grew. But we didn’t think they would last 17 days. Friday and Saturday were worst days in Taksim area, where our office is located. We saw hundreds of policemen outside our windows and we were scared that they would see that we were running a makeshift hospital. But of course we would also have welcomed injured policemen.

When I went to the pharmacy a young man was lying on the ground in front of it, hurt and bleeding. People with white doctor’s uniforms surrounded him. Then the police fired teargas directly at us all. I started running and I still don’t know what happened to those people. I feel guilty, but it was instinct. We all have similar stories.

Police responding to the protests used teargas indiscriminately © NarPhotos

A friend of mine from college called saying a teargas canister had just crashed through her neighbours’ window, while she was just sitting in her living room. The police fired them indiscriminately. She cried for hours, and we helped her find a lawyer.

And in a mosque that was also a makeshift hospital, where people had broken arms and legs, medics couldn’t get in and out because the police were gassing the entrance.

A tough decision
In total, about 100 people were treated in our office, mostly for the effects of teargas and little cuts. We sent on people who had broken arms and legs from being hit by police batons after falling down from the teargas.

We are still working on our Twitter action and petition, and getting requests for legal aid. I have so far spoken to media from 15 different counties, including China.

It was a tough decision to be responsible for everyone’s health and safety in the office. But I’m a human rights activist, and people needed a safe place to go.

Take action
Support Amnesty International Turkey by signing our petition and using #direngeziparki on Twitter

Read more
Increased police repression continues to go unchecked in Turkey (News story, 11 June 2013)

You can follow Amnesty staff on Twitter for live updates of the situation on the ground in Taksim Square:
@muratcekic @pilkiz @andrewegardner

Posted in Demonstrations, Turkey | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

  1. Raul Pinto says:

    We keep you in our thoughts. You don’t have an idea how many are.

  2. cagla kose says:

    I have been devistated by todays attacks on Gezi Park and the region. The police forces have entered to the area without any notice at a time where everybody was in a festival mood. There were lots of children involved in the attacks and none were carrying any masks. The injured and gased poeple run for the divan hotel which had given great support and have opened its roomes for the people who protected the park from the 1st day.
    The police have entered in the Gezi park and are removing all the tents, they are not allowing any press or any cameras to record in the area. As I can see from the TV. Only 2 channels Halk TV and PLUS 1 who are broadcasting the news the rest are too afraid to give any news at all.
    The activist who empited their tents for their lives are really afraid that tomorrow after today they may be accused by forged documents which are found in their tents saying that these activist are actually a part of a terrorist group.
    So I am very concerned about those people who are just trying to make a greener turkey. I dont want them to end up in prison. It is all so sad to wacth.

  3. özay afacan says:

    SOS TURKEY. PLEASE HELP US.INFORM THE WORLD. INFORM THE PRESS AND MEDIA: TURKISH MEDIA IS TAKING SIDE WITH THE GOVERNMENT IN THIS BRUTALITY BY DISTORTING THE REALITY.
    PLEASE SHARE THIS LINK AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE SO THAT PEOPLE KNOW WHAT IS HAPPENING IN TURKEY, ISTANBUL
    http://www.sendika.org/2013/06/polis-taksim-meydani-ve-gezi-parkina-saldirdi-dakika-dakika/

    LAST NIGHT ISTANBUL: Today, following Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s extremely sectarian, separatist, and fictious speech in Ankara, around 9 PM, the Turkish police began to attack thousands of people who were at the Gezi Park and Taksim square, having dinner. There are kids under 4-5 years old, mothers, and old people among those who were under gas and pressurised water attack. According to reports, police doesn’t allow journalists to report or to take pictures from Gezi Park. They are also attacking with pressurised water business such as famous Divan Hotel that opened its doors to protestors running away from brutality. People are saying there are thousands of wounded inside of the hotel. People formed a human chain in front of the hotel to prevent police to attack. Another report says that people cannot leave the hotel because police is arresting whoever leaves. There are also unconfirmed reports that police shut down the metro and boats between Asia and Europe to stop people coming and joining the rest. Another report says that there is a jammer in the area to prevent TV stations’ broadcast. There are hundreds of wounded. There are a lot of missing kids, or kids who are separated from their families. Protestors are fighting with police in Sıraselviler, Cihangir, Harbiye, and most likely around Dolmabahçe and Maçka. People call it a total brutality, a real savagery that is going on tonight. What we are seeing an ugly war where only one side have weapons.

  4. DONNA says:

    HERE YOU BROTHERS AND SISTERS HOLD ON IN THERE

  5. Oliver says:

    You are heroes, thank you! We keep you in our thoughts. Best wishes from Germany.

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