An Interview with the Couple Who Met and (Almost) Wed at Gezi: “We’re like Nâzım Hikmet’s Poetry” – PART I

Translated from Turkish by Translators for Justice

by Neslihan Koçaslan

Nuray Çokol and Özgür Kaya met at a makeshift first-aid clinic during Gezi Park protests. The young couple said, “We don’t think of ourselves as two separate people. We’re like the poetry of Nâzım Hikmet. We will continue to fight.” During the protests, the couple spent their days and nights helping the wounded. As their lives crisscrossed in the middle of the demonstrations, they decided to tie the knot. They wanted to hold their wedding ceremony near the park, but the police prevented them from doing so.

Tell us about yourself. What sort of a life did you lead before the Gezi Park events?Nuray Çokol: I studied Nursing at Karadeniz Technical University. I graduated from the program but didn’t work as a nurse. First of all, I simply couldn’t stand the hierarchy at hospitals – there’s no team spirit at hospitals; as a nurse, you’re treated like a servant to the patients. In fact, the owner of the hospital, the doctors, nurses and all health professionals are servants to the patients. Public or private, in all hospitals you are also a servant to the doctors. I got investigated for refusing to make tea and scrambled eggs for the doctors during my night shifts and was subsequently laid off. Later,I worked for health centers, giving shots to patients with minor issues like headaches or toothaches. Then I got another degree at the conservatory and became an actress.

Özgür Kaya: I wasn’t a doctor before. I happened to set up my tent next to the clinic at Gezi Park – there wasn’t much space anyway. I was sitting there with my older brother Haşim, with him telling me about the ‘68 generation and getting emotional at what he saw around him. I was trying to figure out what was going on – there was a very young group of people at the clinic. It was a mess; there was no hierarchy, in terms of structure, that is. They kept throwing things away and they just couldn’t get organized.  Everyone was good at what they were doing, but they just couldn’t cooperate. That was what I noticed. Then I went there and asked if they wanted me to guard the door – that’s how I became their door-keeper. Then a badly injured guy came in, we woke up to the sound of his heavy breath. He was treated, but everyone was in panic. I calmed down the doctors and everyone else. On the third day, they told me “Brother, stay with us and sort things out for us, and we’ll be a team”. We extended the tent to 150 square meters and even built a proper operation room inside. We talked to thousands of people. I wore a green T-shirt. No names – everyone called me the guy in the green T-shirt. One day, I went up to the pond at Gezi. We couldn’t leave the clinic, because there was so much work to be done. I went up to the pond and people kept tugging at my sleeve, telling me this and that. Everybody knew the T-shirt. It brought me luck: I was shot several times in it.

I was in Bulgaria before the Gezi Park events. Then I came to my hometown, Bursa. There was no police intervention back then. I followed the developments. Then I decided to come to Istanbul, where my cousin lives. I went up to Gezi. I was planning to stay there for a week and then return to Bulgaria for my visa, but now I’m going to stay here even if it takes five years.

Why did you come to Gezi Park? How did it feel there? What sort of things did you do? Any memorable stories?

Nuray: We both wanted to be in Gezi with the young people there. We came to the same place, at the same time, from different places. Coincidentally, we worked at the same place in Gezi, a 7-square-meter area that we called Central Clinic, known as Clinic 2; that’s where we met. We didn’t actually “meet” like other couples do; we didn’t have time to sit and talk. We had work to do; we were there to work. Our job was to treat the wounded. We administered first aid to the seriously wounded and then sent them to hospitals. Our job also involved classifying hundreds of medication boxes, donated by our wonderful people as soon as word got out. It was such a beautiful resistance that we didn’t want it to end – we wanted another day, and then another day of it. It was our dream come true; we witnessed a legend. We have dozens of stories. At Gezi, you were constantly asking yourself: “If they come over here, how do we get out, what happens to the patients?” And then you think that you need to clear a way in order to bring in patients easily. So far, we’ve listened to the stories of the demonstrators and the wounded – our side is another story. Health professionals kept saying, “I’ll be the last person to leave Gezi, because I’m a health professional and if somebody falls down and I am not here, they could die.” This was a big responsibility for us. That’s why we have dozens of stories.

We were banished from Gezi earlier, but wonderful people opened their doors for us and let us set up temporary clinics in their flats. We got kicked out of our own flats. My flat was very close to the park; there were clashes on my street too. We turned the flat into a first-aid clinic. Undercover policemen were waiting in front of the building. They were getting ready for a raid and my landlord pressured me and finally told me to get out. There were times when we couldn’t resist and shouted slogans, because we came from the same place, but our mission was different.

“Someone brought in 10 thousand euros in a suitcase and we found rat poison in the medicine”

Özgür: When I first arrived I was quite enthralled by the atmosphere of the crowds. The square was full of people and so was Gezi. If the police cleared out the square, there would be a stampede toward the park. It was very obvious that the infirmary in front would be lost. Central Infirmary’s location was very critical. We moved on accordingly. The police realized it, too. They targeted it with tear gas bombs. There were undercover policemen among us. They tried to assassinate me, but my friend saved me. We experienced  so many tragic things. For example, some people brought us a bag of money. They were probably the police. I couldn’t figure it out at the time. A women came with a man. She opened a bag and said, “There’s ten thousand euros in it. We collected it in France and brought it to you.” I said, “We don’t accept money. Other gracious people and bankers have brought money, but we didn’t accept it.” The woman said, “Oh, no! Then, give us your bank account number! We can transfer it to your account.”  I asked their permission  to leave for a minute and I went inside. I made a list of our needs. I said, “I want this.” I also got her telephone number, but I was sure they weren’t going to buy them. Two hours later, I called her. She said that she wasn’t available. I didn’t call her anymore. They didn’t buy anything, either. What would we do with the money in a place where there was no currency? It was a trap. They would say that the money was received from abroad and make a connection with “the interest rate lobby” or something like that. We experienced so many things. They tried everything.

I even found rat poison in medicine in a bag. Usually, we wouldn’t accept antibiotics. Antibiotics can cause side effects.. If you can’t test the patient, you don’t know what reactions or side effects he or she will have. So how can you prescribe it? Maybe it will cause swelling. While we were organizing our medication, a friend placed the antibiotics with it. I said, ‘Don’t put it there. We can’t accept it. Let’s open it and pour it away.’ When I looked at the bottle, I noticed that it had already been opened. There was a yellow powder in it. A friend who was a veterinarian couldn’t explain it, either. A laboratory assistant friend wanted to have it analyzed. Three hours later, he came back with the results. It was rat poison. So they expected us to give that medication to a patient and cause his or her death. They were constantly attacking the infirmaries. If the infirmaries had collapsed, there would have been no one there. We acted with love and compassion. A 45-year- old neurosurgeon swept up and threw away the garbage with us every day. We all worked together. This solidarity was an entirely new thing.

Let me tell you about another chain of events. Dozens of pizza boxes were delivered to us by an undercover police car. We didn’t know that they were undercover police, because a lot of food was delivered  to us from somewhere. One of the Gezi boys noticed it and followed the car. They were coming from an undercover police car parked in front of Point Hotel. He informed us immediately. So we threw it out as soon as it was delivered. We didn’t have it tested, but we were sure it was a laxative or something. They were trying to start diarrhea or an epidemic.

Undercover police arrived. A woman kept taking photos of us. She introduced herself as a journalist to some, as a tourist to others, and as a photographer to someone else. She was acting weird. I said “I figured you out, give me your card and leave.” She didn’t protest at all, and she left.

Then there were the drugs. There’s an illegal drug called Bonzai. It’s one of the most dangerous drugs in the world. It looks like marijuana but it’s a chemical, and very hazardous. They tried to distribute it during the last week. We realized that. The police and the undercover police were behind this scheme, too. They were supplying it as cigarettes. I attended a seminar about Bonzai at a university in Croatia. So I know something about it. If someone smokes it, you can’t give them an antidote, it doesn’t work. Bonzai makes you think of  of death. It causes the heart rate to rise. A girl came with a pulse of 265. That’s almost impossible. I took her hands, and said: “You’re here. You’re not dying.” I told her the time. Later, she recovered a bit. I said, “You will have another seizure within five minutes. Don’t be afraid!” Then she got well. She showed us where she got the drug. Again, there were undercover police there. They tried to kill people like that. If we weren’t so aware of what was going on and acting together, I don’t want to think what could have happened.

To view the second part of the interview, click here.

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