Joyful humor characteristic of the pro-democracy environmentalist Gezi Park protests in June 2013. People of all ages, students, writers, artists, actors, musicians, LGBT activists, Anti-Capitalist Muslims, Marxists, Anarchists, Kurdish and Turkish nationalists were peacefully together in the heart of modern Istanbul: Taksim Square. Then the police attacked with tear gas and their usual equipment. But if they use uneven brutal force, then we use uneven intelligence and creativity: “We are fair: Their gas is fresh air.” Such sarcastic slogans multiplied echoing the positive, hopeful, unyielding and determined character of our jazz-like plural harmony.
If Sultanahmet Square is the heart of Classical Istanbul with its Byzantine and Ottoman heritage, Taksim Square represents the modern city: the central statue representing the national liberation war and the formation of the Turkish Republic, Gezi Park, Ataturk Cultural Centre, big hotels, and the historic Istiklal (Independence) Street. Eyes shed tears not only because we laughed due to high-quality satirical slogans but also because of the harmful gas and the deaths of several youngsters. Numerous citizens lost an eye or arm. Thanks to international media coverage, the inspiring Gezi Park resistance (or “June Movement”) in Turkey drew attention all over the world -while the pro-government media kept silent. Whether on purpose or not, tear gas –and its canisters at close range- took several lives. Don’t let anybody fool you: Tear gas may kill. And it did. Though “as a nation” we had been used to gas in previous demonstrations, one point was unique: The whole city was gassed. Babies, old people, and citizens with asthma suffered in their homes. Before the police attack, maybe most of the young protesters were “merely” environmentalists without a major political orientation. Tear gas brutality transformed most of them into political activists. Since that June, our lungs, souls, and future have been full of that gas. Tear gas has been used not only in Turkey but in many other countries as well –since the 1990s. We tend to think that “Every soul shall taste it,” –sounds like a statement from a holy book. The situation is unacceptable: A child on the way to get bread for breakfast may die –in fact, be killed by the police using tear gas without proper concern and care. Tear gas is a chemical weapon. It’s vital to comprehend that. The marketing is well-phrased but misleading: “Made from fruit and vegetables, wholly organic.” But when it is used at close range, its metal canister becomes a bullet. Fifty years ago, in the late 1960s, 90 countries signed a petition against the usage of tear gas. Our country signed the 1997 Convention on Chemical Weapons, which states that tear gas is considered to be a chemical weapon when it is used in closed places, at close range or in a crowd. Despite this, it has been used time and again in Brasil, Chile,
Egypt, Germany, Gaza, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Panama, the Philippines, South Korea, UK, USA, and Vietnam. The Association of Turkish Medical Doctors and the Initiative Against Tear Gas have been working and reacting diligently on this issue. “But the label says it’s harmless,” say some. But the firms that produce gas bombs put labels according to the demands of governments. Are you Shocked? Global trade has priority over humanitarian concern. But why this introduction? Don’t we all know all these things? We certainly do, but the “agenda” changes so fast that our knowledge does not find time to unite with our action in order to change the ongoing chain of events. Enter the arts. With the mission of contributing to collective memory, Artist Koray Erkaya creatively documents experience. In his new photographic art series, Erkaya revolts against individual and social de-sensitization. In order to address the memory and to increase awareness, he uses “gas” against everyone –without discrimination. He tests his models with gas in the specifically prepared labyrinth made of mirrors. But of course, the gas he uses is not one of the types of tear gas labeled OC, CS or CN. In any case, the violence the people suffer is not limited to the content of the gas. When he started his voyage to display the violence, loneliness, nakedness, helplessness, the spiritual and physical isolation of women, children, gays, transsexuals -all the humiliated people under some form of gas, Erkaya began working with models from various nations in Istanbul. Now he is on his way to show that this issue is a problem for all who live on the same planet. When we see ourselves in the eyes of the models in the mirrors, then we’ll realize the great richness of the “Other.” Without further loss of time and lives, I hope.