Extinguishing the Olympic flame


By Cornucopia Blog | July 7, 2013

Today was the day of the great Bosphorus swim. Some 2,000 people lined up to do battle with the currents, and there was a good strong poyraz (north wind) to help them on their way. A Cornucopia contributor did it in an hour and nearly six minutes, a good time considering she overshot a good way on the left side.  A very cheery success.

Last night it was the Taksim Water War.

The development of the Taksim promenade (Gezi Park) has been decreed legally stillborn (though there is nothing to stop an appeal, or the developers ignoring the court order – the building of the Third Bosphorus Bridge is, we understand, completely illegal). Still, since there was nothing to argue about, it seemed fair and square for Taksim Solidarity to invite townsfolk along for a peaceful volta (promenade) in the gardens expensively replanted at the tax-payer's expense and currently occupied by police combat units and their plain-clothes colleagues. A short statement would be read out and that would be that. It really was a lovely golden evening, more like mid-August than early July.

First, though, an invitation from the Çapulcus to splash out in the square at the 1. Geleneksel Water War Şenliği (the First Traditional Water War Festival). The simple message: 'Who needs a TOMA (Social Mobile Control Unit) when we can all have fun soaking each other?'

Despite the tease in one newspaper ('Tomorrow, at 18.00, war will break out in Taksim' – courtesy of Facebook), it was all harmless fun. Guests brought along water pistols. Some were amazing to look at, but the rules were strict, worthy indeed of Olympic consideration: a litre of water, no more; it would end at 18.30. Somewhere it said, 'No shooting at police' and 'I had a water pistol when the TOMA was a mere vitamin in the orange' – Çapulcu humour can be scarily brainy. 

The event was planned for last Sunday, but Beyoğlu was recovering from another bruiser. Yesterday evening it all started well, certainly according to shots on TV, though we have not tracked down anyone who had a waterproof camera/telephone. This, according again to Facebook, is what it was going to look like:

Of course this Olympian dress rehearsal had to end in tears (literally). 'No one asked me,' complained a peeved governor. Well, his boys weren't going to miss out, though they should really have been disqualified on one key technicality: excessive use of water.

Then there were the ghastly clips of the burly chaps who directed them – images never to be erased from public memory and are certainly not fit for tender Cornucopia consumption. One, clearly an officer, held a stick, which he used to conduct events like a demented Simon Rattle; another, an ordinary citizen, had a machete (perhaps a döner carving knife – which he finally hurled like a Wimbledon tennis racket into the crowd). Fortunately he was filmed using the machete only once – to slap the bottom of an innocent passer-by fleeing teargas bombs. When the young woman paused in surprise he brought his boot down on her back (worth a kick-boxing bronze at least), at which point watching police officers apparently suggested he go home as they were there now. He was later allegedly taken into custody but immediately released. Another equally horrific clip shows a uniformed officer shooting a protester in the leg in cold blood with a rubber bullet at five metres' range. 

The result of all this – at a time when the government is trying to convince the world that they are the right people to stage the 2020 Olympics – the British Foreign Office issued a warning to tourists visiting Turkey. Avoid crowds, it said, and follow police advice. You bet.

This morning jittery plain-clothes officers turned up in droves to arrest members of a cycling club for assembling without permission on the road to Sarıyer, on the European shore of the Bosphorus. Officers informed local fishermen that they were 'terrorists'. Well, it is true, they had helmets. And one rider had a particularly subversive message on her backpack: 'This used to be a mulberry orchard.' 

PS The father of the man with the machete has now apologised to the nation on TV for his son's behaviour. No one was more horrified and ashamed of his son's actions than his father, he said. 

PPS A senior police officer committed suicide in the main square of the Aegean resort of Çeşme yesterday 'in the name of democracy'.

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