For the past 12 years, I’ve maintained a keen interest in the future of the nation of Turkey, writing frequently over the years about the re-emergence of this nation as a regional leader. My particular interest has been how all of this relates to the testimony of the biblical prophets and how it will affect the mandate of the church to share the gospel in this nation and the surrounding region. So I found it quite providential that a pre-planned trip to Istanbul to film for a forthcoming documentary by WND Films coordinated perfectly with the events of the past few days as they have unfolded here in a rather dramatic fashion. If you haven’t been following the news, the nation of Turkey is presently experiencing massive social and political upheaval.
When we arrived in Istanbul Thursday, we were told that the protests in Taksim Square and Gezi Park had died down. According to our hotel manager, it was now little more than circle dancing and singing. So on Saturday night, we decided to check it out for ourselves.
We arrived a bit earlier in the day and had a few hours to wander about the park and talk to many of the protesters – secular Turks, Kurds, professors, reporters and everyone in between. Tens of thousands of people milled about. There were numerous families with children in strollers, elderly and even several in wheelchairs. The police had the park surrounded with highly equipped trucks and hundreds upon hundreds of officers outfitted with full riot gear and teargas masks.
As the evening rolled in, some of the crowds began chanting. The confrontation had begun. Little did we know that this would be the night the Islamist AK Party had planned to utterly purge the park. The police moved suddenly and rapidly into the crowds. If you have seen the trucks mounted with powerful “water canons,” I have something to tell you. They do not spray water. It’s actually some form of sticky, caustic substance, mixed with water. It took less then 15 seconds after the trucks began spraying, for the entire park to be filled with a painfully acidic mist. The explosion of tear gas canisters began to thunder and surrounded us in rapid succession. Thousands were fleeing in every direction. There were many woman, children and elderly caught in the chaos.
Quickly becoming overwhelmed by the effects of the gas, we made our way out of the park through a side street, content at this point just to escape, but the police had the opposite end of every street blocked. They began releasing more teargas grenades at the end of the streets, trapping those of us in the middle. Some were falling down. I was not far from doing so myself. Unable to see or breath, with no where left to go, we pushed our way into a hotel lobby. Hundreds of others followed. My team made our way to an upper floor hallway and allowed the effects of the gas to diminish. Through Instagram and Twitter, we were able to follow what was happening in other areas of the square. In one case, the police actually released teargas into the hotel. There were many children and elderly incapacitated by the gas. Some were hit by rubber bullets. It was a brutal crackdown. And it is only getting worse. According to the Islamist AK Party-controlled media, very little of this actually happened.
This was not the response of a government that genuinely values freedom of speech, protest, dissent, or even the lives of its own people. The AK Party chose to punish everyone and anyone in the park. It was a genuinely brutal crackdown.
But the protesters are determined. After being removed from the park, they took to marching on the bridges.
On Sunday, we were told that the AK Party was planning to have a rally of its own, so we decided to see the other side. This wasn’t difficult because there were literally hundreds of free buses shuttling people to the event. As we approached the event, the Bosporus water way that separates the Asian side of Istanbul from the European side was filled with boats waving giant Turkish flags. Rows of large streamers alternating between the AK Party logo, Prime Minister Erdogan’s face and the Turkish flag literally ran for several miles. As we arrived, the throngs of chanting supporters were almost crushing. We made out way into the heart of the event.
Throughout the day, we were asked dozens of times if we were with CNN. I’m glad we were not. The people there did not like CNN as was evident by the fact that every time the name CNN was mentioned from the platform, the crowds would boo.
For a few hours under the hot sun, my team and I were literally surrounded by well over a million AKP supporters chanting, “Recep Tayyip Erdogan!” Others chanted AKP slogans or “Allahu Akbar, Tafir!
I felt as though I was at Zeppelin Tribune, Nuremberg, 1938.
Pray for the nation of Turkey.