Maybe, if you read or watch the news, you have kept up with the IMF protests here in Istanbul. If you are like me, you wouldn’t really care until you stumbled blindly into them and spent the day gagging on tear gas and pepper spray.
What I do care about is that on early Tuesday morning, around 3am, myself and three new friends were attacked by gypsy crackheads about 100 meters from my flat, and then again on my doorstep.
Caravansarai was participating in the first Istanbul Artist Initiatives meeting, along with other groups from around Europe and Asia. At the meeting, I made new friends and acquaintances and after the meeting closed, we went to Beyoğlu for dinner and drinking. Some of us were having a more fantastic time than others. So when we got kicked out of the bar at 3am, three fake Swedes (immigrants living in Sweden) and I decided to continue our fantastic time at my flat, which was close by. Before heading out though, we had to stock up on provisions—including filling our bellies with kokoreç. The two Croatian girls, a Moldovan guy, and an Irish guy were with us at that point. Give me some time to come up with a punchline for that intro.
While they ate on the street, I bought a shiny yellow Beauty and The Beast balloon to tie to my wrist. Why there was a guy selling balloons on the street at three a.m. is baffling in retrospect. Why I bought one is easy—it reminded me of a recent conversation I had using balloons as a metaphor. But when it popped this time, it was literal. It was also a beacon to the drug addicts who hang out in that area, but in my drunken state, and surrounded by lots of people, it didn’t seem like such a bad idea.
After buying beer and raki, we walked down a shady underpass into my immediate neighborhood. I should say that my neighborhood (Tepebaşı) is safe. It is very traditional and mixed Turkish and Kurdish, with more and more foreigners living here. There is almost no tolerance for gypsies from the adjoining neighborhood and they are always immediately chased out. If this is because of racism I don’t know, but it keeps the area relatively safe.
I forgot one rule of safety though—Gypsies travel in packs. After we (me, Stina, Arni, and Christian) descended onto my street, one teenage guy came up to us trying to sell us his sweatshirt for 10 lira. There were 4 of us and 1 of him. We kept saying, “No. We don’t want it. Go away.” He would circle around and circle back. We would brush past him. Suddenly, three of his friends came from nowhere and cornered us about 100 meters from my flat. I was thinking, that because there is almost never a time when there aren’t some people hanging out in the street in front of my house, we could push towards my house and people would be there to chase them. I was wrong. We were there the one ½ hour time period when people sleep here.
But, I was walking faster, trying to come across a neighbor up ahead, when I heard shouts behind me and saw two of the kids take Arni, a huge Icelandic Viking onto one side of a parked car (the road can only fit one car at a time, so it was wedged against the side of a building) to isolate him from us and another two were going after Christian, who is smaller, but wily. I turned around to go help them (having already kicked one of the guys in the balls) when the car alarm went off. Also at that point everyone noticed that Arni’s arm was slashed and turned inside out. At the sight of blood, everyone kind of panicked. We grabbed Arni and tried to get him up to my flat, and the kids ran off. When we realized how extreme the injury was I starting yelling, “YARDIM ET!!!!! KOMŞULARIM!!!!!” over and over. Which is just, “HELP! MY NEIGHBORS!” And probably sounded retarded, but sufficiently panicked.
Then, our attackers returned, each holding a bottle of beer that they had taken from the bag we dropped. They charged us and threw the beers at us—hitting Christian in the head, but only glancing my shoulder. Stina and Arni were protected in the doorway. I was still yelling for help and finally my neighbors came out. And they were amazing. At that point Arni starting passing out from shock and blood loss (the artery was severed so it was spurting like a drinking fountain), so 5 guys had to lower him to the stoop. Meanwhile a pretty girl, who I have never seen before, told us in perfect English that someone had called 911 and a taxi. It was around then that I noticed I had a string tied around my wrist, and at the end of it dangled an exploded yellow balloon. When it popped, I couldn’t tell you.
My spoken Turkish isn’t so great. It’s even worse when I am drunk and in shock. But still, the others were depending on me to take care of things in the taxi and at the hospital. Over the next few hours three separate sets of cops came into our luxurious room at the German Hospital to ask us to recount the details. I ended up having to write it all down on paper because I was still too jumbled to talk coherently, but for some reason I could write full, grammatically correct sentences. Turns out that none of the police who came have jurisdiction over the area where the crime occurred, so the next day (which was really the same day) my friend Mehmet and I went to our local police department. I should mention that up until 2 days ago I haven’t been smoking but I have smoked all of those missed cigarettes in the past 40 hours. And that fact occurred to me as Mehmet and I got into the back of the police car to go to the hospital to make a report for Arni’s insurance. The cops offered us cigarettes, which we accepted. Apparently the smoking ban does not apply to policemen. No surprises there.
Some great things came out of this event. One is the realization that my neighbors have my back. Another is that not only are we alive—but mostly intact and in possession of our computers (we were all carrying Macs in our bags) and wallets. And most importantly, we now have material for our next collaboration in Caravansarai. When we finally have our building renovated, we will have a art/feast/celebration/performance in collaboration with the Swedes to honor this chance for 4 people to become better friends.