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  • "Is freedom anything else other than the right to live as we wish? Nothing else." Epictetus

    Freedom is a difficult thing to define. Many quotes on freedom contradict each other. If I can do absolutely anything I want, am I really free? In Istanbul a fortnight ago I had a vivid encounter with this topic.

    I was laid over in Istanbul for a day and stumbled Forrest-Gump-like across a demonstration that soon escalated into something much bigger. People were sitting down in a vigil. There wasn't a hint of violence. I discovered a vantage point on a fountain above and to the side of the square and while watching found out what the protest was about. It didn't seem like much of a big deal: peaceful protests are nothing new. They occur regularly in most major cities. Of all things, [at first blush] this one was simply about people not wanting a shopping centre which was about to be built in the heart of their very old city. Fair enough. However what happened was not what I was expecting.

    In most democratic cities the riot police are there to quell a riot.

    Here the riot police actually started the riot.

    People stood up when they could see the police preparing themselves by donning their masks and other riot gear. Then the water cannons began. Seconds afterwards tear gas was fired in to the crowd. The orderly, peaceful crowd dispersed from this area within half a minute.

    It's one of those situations that you only piece together well after the event. After the first wave of tear gas (which I learned - the hard way - is a euphemism) I heard screaming and saw a man unconscious, so went over to offer first aid. When I tested for consciousness he winked at me! With that (called a soccer injury where I'm from) I took the day a lot less seriously. In retrospect this was naive of me to do so.

    In retrospect, the example set by the police was one of the principles the people were protesting against. The irony was palpable. When I found out that people have died and been seriously injured I was horrified.

    This newsletter is not intended to bash the Turkish Police. They were obviously following orders. Other blogs write how some police have quit in a conscience decision. The water cannon driver below clearly had some questions of his own.

    The police were visibly taken aback at what to do when presented with the Turkish flag. The water cannon to the right of the frame came to a halt and did not move until these people were later dispersed by tear gas.

    The rest of the country is following what's going on in Taksin Square. Apparently it is spreading to other cities. The demonstrations appear all over the news here. What is being said about them I can not say. Bill Owens once said "Freedom is contagious, that's why despots fear it so much". It does not appear that Turkey is run by a despot. I wonder what it is the leadership fears in allowing its people to peacefully demonstrate.


    "Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you." Jean-Paul Sartre
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