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Bermudian sees history unfold in Istanbul

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A Bermudian academic is watching history unfold as riot police clash with protesters in angry demonstrations against the Turkish Government.

Archaeologist Cathie Draycott is staying just yards from Taksim Square and Gezi Park in Istanbul, where demonstrations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have raged for almost two weeks. The protesters have faced off against armed police who have responded with tear gas and water cannons.

Dr Draycott, an Oxford University graduate, has been in Turkey since last September, working at the Research Centre for Anatolian Civilisations at the city’s university.

And while she has deliberately chosen not to take part in any action, she has witnessed protesters being hunted down by police armoured vehicles outside her research offices located on one of the main boulevards that lead to Taksim Square.

“This evening a friend opened the window of our study room and got a face full of tear gas,” Dr Draycott told

The Royal Gazette by e-mail yesterday.

“It was really acrid and stung not only our eyes, but skin too. I can’t imagine being engulfed in it like the people at Taksim Square. It was pouring all over the street, as it apparently had been doing the previous weekend.

“We noticed at some point that people were running down the street as though they were being chased. Then we saw a TOMA [police armoured vehicle] chasing a crowd down Istiklal Street past the Research Centre. It was going quite fast. Behind them were a crowd of about 30 or more riot police with guns that shoot the tear gas canisters, and they were shooting them down the street at the crowd.

“They advanced past us and stopped to shoot canisters up side streets. Slightly later they then returned back up the street. After than the crowd reformed, sort of, and advanced back up the street. I thought they would keep at it all night, but they seemed to stop after that.

“Somewhat later tonight they had another run down the street, but nothing as bad. The tear gas seeped into our building, as it has done in all buildings in the area, but we were okay here. In short, it’s safe to go outside, but you could get tear gassed.”

Dr Draycott said some of her university colleagues had taken to the streets to protest against the Government and while many are enthusiastic about the uprising, there are concerns that it could end in bloodshed.

“On Thursday there was an organised march of university representatives, in which many of my colleagues and friends took part,” she said.

“I stood aside as I am not a Turk and I felt that I am not part of the country enough to insinuate that its my battle. I can’t explain properly how extraordinary it was, seeing the square and park so full of people gathering there, with representatives from every opposition party, with their banners — communists, anti-capitalists, fascists, nationalists, socialists — speaking out.

“Istiklal Street was completely packed with people. It is normally horrendously busy, but this was different — it was full of people ready to protest, walking up an down the street. Every now and then they would break out in cheers and whistles and bang drums. At one point on Sunday the whole street, which is very long, was a two-way slow-moving queue, with a slow shuffle up one side and a slow shuffle down the other.

“The people would walk along slowly, relatively normally, but every now and then erupt into applause and whistles and chants and banging on drums. At 9pm people all over the city start banging on pots and pans out their windows for about five minutes, as a show of solidarity. We bang on the railings of the terrace here.”

Dr Draycott’s research project in Istanbul ends this month but she plans to remain in Turkey to complete a book based on her studies.

Witnessing history: Bermudian Cathie Draycott in Istanbul
Bermudian Cathie Draycott took this picture of demonstrators in Istanbul
What it’s all about

Turkey’s hardline Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is at the centre of the current unrest in Turkey after introducing what many observers claim are extreme measures aimed at pulling the country away from Europe and closer to its neighbours in the Middle East.

Demonstrations started on May 31 after Erdogan’s Islamist Government announced plans to raze Gezi Park — the last major green space in central Istanbul — and replace it with a replica of an Ottoman-era barracks.

Peaceful protests followed, but the Prime Minister responded by calling in armed police and riot squads. He branded the demonstrators “provocateurs and terrorists”.

Two years ago, the Government launched an anti-alcohol campaign, forbidding bars and restaurants from setting up tables on the street, and Erdogan branded anyone who consumed alcohol an alcoholic.

“This is quite against the liberal and secular lifestyle that many Turks feel is absolutely a part of their culture,” Bermudian Cathie Draycott said. “They feel that Erdogan wants to bring them closer to the Arab world, which for many Turks is anathema.”

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Published June 13, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated June 12, 2013 at 11:50 pm)

Bermudian sees history unfold in Istanbul

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