Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Turkish Spring: Another take on events of May 31

Claire Belinski
Claire Berlinski, writing in the City Journal in the wee hours of the morning of May 31, captured her thoughts about the beginnings of the Turkish unrest:

But as news of the injuries and deaths spread by word of mouth, and particularly as photos and videos of the clashes and the wounded began circulating on social media, the entire city rose up in fury. The three largest Turkish football teams, usually mortal rivals (in some cases literally), announced that they would unite to join the protests. 

Istanbullus poured out on the streets, some in their pajamas, banging pots and pans, whistling, clapping, and shouting “Erdo─čan, resign!” 

Elderly women handed out lemons from their windows (people here erroneously believe these mitigate the effects of tear gas), and shouted at passersby to “keep resisting!” Taxi, bus, and minivan drivers honked their horns in support. Massive crowds crossed the Bosphorus bridge from the Asian side of the city, all marching to Taksim Square. I have never seen such a spontaneous outpouring of public rage—coupled, of course, with the hysterical joy of the mob. But others have seen it here before. In the 1980s, the great travel writer Jan Morris described Istanbul thus:
Istanbul Hippodrome with obelisk

The leftists think of themselves as progressives, modernists, but they are really honoring a tradition even older than Islam: for long before the caliphate was invented, the city crowd was a force in Byzantium. In those days the rival factions of the Blues and the Greens, originally supporters of the competing charioteers in the Hippodrome, were infinitely more riotous than any soccer crowd today, and the great circuits of the racetrack, around whose purlieus the backpack nomads now drink their mint tea . . . was the supreme arena of anarchy, the place where the frustration of the people found its ferocious release in bloodshed and insurrection . . .

I see better now what she meant.

The next few weeks will tell the story.

The Hippodrome chariot races

The Hippodrome's fascinating history shows just how important this area was in the city's turbulent past, and is neatly summarized in Wikipedia:

Throughout the Byzantine period, the Hippodrome was the centre of the city's social life. Huge amounts were bet on chariot races, and initially four teams took part in these races, each one financially sponsored and supported by a different political party (Deme) within the Roman/Byzantine Senate: The Blues (Venetoi), the Greens (Prasinoi), the Reds (Rousioi) and the Whites (Leukoi). The Reds (Rousioi) and the Whites (Leukoi) gradually weakened and were absorbed by the other two major factions (the Blues and Greens).

A total of up to eight chariots (two chariots per team), powered by four horses each, competed on the racing track of the Hippodrome. These races were not simple sporting events, but also provided some of the rare occasions in which the Emperor and the common citizens could come together in a single venue. Political discussions were often made at the Hippodrome, which could be directly accessed by the Emperor through a passage that connected the Kathisma (Emperor's Loge at the eastern tribune) with the Great Palace of Constantinople.

The rivalry between the Blues and Greens often became mingled with political or religious rivalries, and sometimes riots, which amounted to civil wars that broke out in the city between them. The most severe of these was the Nika Riots of 532, in which an estimated 30,000 people were killed and many important buildings, such as the second Hagia Sophia Church, were destroyed. The current (third) Hagia Sophia was built by Justinian following the Nika Revolt.

In our novel, Obelisk Seven, we chose the obelisk in the Hippodrome as one of the ancient Egyptian stone pillars that start sending out mysterious signals:
Hippodrome Obelisk Istanbul

"It's a slimmed down shorty now," Gliffy said as they walked toward the Istanbul obelisk after installing the scanners."Some think that Theodosius cut it into three pieces to be able to move it,  but others think it broke."
They stood in front of the steel railings which formed a square around the sunken obelisk.
The pink colored obelisk with its crooked pyramidion seemed to float above the four bronze supports which raised it from its grey pedestal.
"It looks pretty good for a 3,500 year old monument, doesn't it?"  Gliffy said. "Thutmose III erected it at the Karnak Temple. Then Theodosius brought it to the Hippodrome in 390 AD.”
Kate took out her map and glanced at the three Singers they had identified – Cleopatra’s Needle in London, the Beautiful One in Paris, and one in front of the Pantheon in Rome.
She placed her thumb on each city in turn and rotated her index finger around it, using it as a compass.
"What if they are watching us?" she remarked.
"You mean, what if there is a two-way flow of signals between them? Talking to each other?" Gliffy asked.
She nodded.

Methinks this obelisk will be witness to yet more historic events in the coming months.

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