The Istanbul Experience, or: How Nothing is Riot-Proof

I freaking love Istanbul! So there’s that. About two years ago, I spend a week in that marvelous city while on a student trip and I loved every single minute of it. The streets, the people, the weather, the culture (because we explored a lot of culture that week).

Pictured above: culture.
Pictured above: culture.

More than just the sun and the pretty buildings, I love it how Istanbul is both figuratively and literally a bridge between Europe and the Middle-East; how Western and Islamic elements intertwine in their everyday life, be it anything from music, fashion, politics, religion, or architecture. The most prolific example of the latter two is the majestic building that is the Hagia Sophia, a house of worship which, during the course of history, has switched hands between Muslims and Christians so often that it’s neither church nor mosque anymore, but rather… I dunno, a ‘chosque’, or maybe a ‘morch’?

What it's called, it's pretty. Also, notice the catholic frescoes in the upper corners alongside the Islamic symbols. Huzzah for religious tolerance!
Whatever it’s called, it’s pretty! Also, pay attention to the catholic frescoes in
the upper corners alongside the Islamic symbols. Go, religious tolerance, go!


And now for something completely different: here’s a joke that Soviet comrades told each other during the days of the harsh Stalinist regime. It goes like this: two convicted criminals are being transported to the gulag that will be their home for the next years. To fight off the dullness of the long ride through the barren wastelands of Siberia, they strike up a conversation. Finally, one of them asks the other the dreaded question: ‘What are you in for?’, to which the other replies: ‘Nothing, comrade! I did absolutely nothing and they sentenced me to fifteen years of exile!’ The first man looks at him with skepticism and retorts: ‘But comrade, surely that is impossible! Everyone knows that for doing nothing, you only get seven years at most.’

It takes balls to gleefully tell a joke where the punchline is your own misery. I don’t know if there are similar jokes being told today in the streets of Istanbul or any of the other cities that are revolting against Erdoğan, but they have every right and reason to do so. Because, as you probably have gathered by now, I am referring to the peculiar story of The Standing Man. Citizens of Istanbul have taken protesting to new heights: performance art heights! A new trend of protesting was born when a man said “Fuck it!” and stood silently and motionless in front of an image of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Other protesters swiftly followed suit, defying the government with their utmost passivity. And being absolutely oblivious to subtlety, the authorities brought in a small army to arrest these people… arresting them for just standing around, doing absolutely jack shit, except for proving once and for all that Nothing is Something.

And this event seems to have set in motion a domino effect wherein every previously inoffensive and/or everyday acts suddenly have become a means of protest; acts which could very well land you in jail. As you would expect from a protest, there are non-violent sit-ins that are ripped apart by police forces. That’s your standard non-violent protest thing. But this week, we saw a new way for Istanbulians (right?) to catch the attention of the long arm of the law: ye old wedding ceremony. That’s right, the legal/holy union of a man and woman quickly derailed into a clash with the riot police. I’m not one to poll a nation’s political climate by a single incident, but as soon as the phrase “I do!” is immediately followed by “Holy shit, run for the hills!!!”, there’s something broken in your law enforcement system.

Istanbul, I sincerely wish you the best of luck and I hope to visit you again some day, hopefully during more peaceful times.


Frank Kool
Frank Kool
Born and raised in Holland, spent his time procrastinating and studying Psychology and Philosophy. Frank harbors a special interest in weird social phenomena (which are ALL social phenomenon if you think about them long enough).



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