Monday, July 18, 2016

When J. pulled me aside, my phone had been dead for just short of two hours. When he reluctantly asked if I knew what was going on, he probably did not genuinely think I did not. Despite our age difference and having only seen each other a few times in our lives, I trusted he knew me well enough to recognise a man in me whose ears were often on the ground. He might have also sensed that I am someone who emotionally connects to those, who may be thousands of miles away.
That reluctance, helped by A.’s initial support would do just about enough to keep my nerves in check. Now I knew for a fact that the sickly feeling I had been having in the past hour was telepathically linked to what was going on back home. J. looked worried, though. For a man who made the bold decision with his wife to take their family to a 10-day long trip across the country on the day its main airport had seen the worst terror attack in its history; for a man whose country has seen no fewer problems than mine, his eyes laid bare the truth. Things looked to be seriously getting out of control.
I rushed downstairs to make a few phone calls. Had Z. found a safe haven? Mom and Sister should have been alright, far from the centre of it all, but how did they feel? Where was Dad? They must have been trying to reach me… People around me started to ask how I felt, a question I thought I’ve heard all too often lately, in between Brexit and all sort of troubles in Turkey. Somehow, I was unable to give a concise answer, the painful indifference I wanted to resort to, I too often have in the recent past, was nowhere to be found. Lack of a clear answer to the simple question of ‘what is going on?’ was weighing too heavily. After all, this wasn’t one of those events with grave consequences on my life in which I had no say, or those where the privileged status of mine and those around me would keep us ‘statistically’ safe. This was a moment of great uncertainty, and was already traumatising those I most cared about.
As the sense of urgency started to give way to confusion and disgust, I tried to collect myself, and decided to follow A.’s advice, not to spend the rest of the night on my own. The inevitable death to my phone’s battery in a few hours’ time would also mean an unavoidable distancing from constant flow of information. It didn’t mean emotional detachment, but gave enough breathing space to avoid suffocation through the thick and humid air of Venice.
Wherever I went over the weekend, I was greeted with the natural, inevitable question – trying to make sense of the events with the little information at hand and communication I could keep with those back home. There has recently been a running gag with friends back home: how the UK politics, for once, has stolen the scene from the Turkish political landscape. While I heavily continued to comment on mainstream British politics recently, I felt at such unease to even come up with meaningful deliberations of thoughts and feelings in this latest saga. It was not all that different from June 2013 – where I would find my hands tied, fully submerged in front of my office computer in London on a Friday evening, watching developments unfold thousands of miles away. My boss R. would sympathise and let me take the earliest possible flight so I could be with those who I loved – the same R., who on Friday night put his head against mine and consoled me. No trip was to be had, though, all access was removed.
Over the years, I’ve reluctantly learned to tame my emotions towards incidents that are out of my immediate control or reach – at least to such an extent that I surprise myself as remaining one of the calmer people in a group of acquaintances when a major incident takes place. Combined with our day’s horrific sense of the normalisation of the evil, this has helped me distance myself from the immediate feelings of devastation and threat… an involuntary and compromised resilience of some sort. I am also trying to take the optimistic view on things in life, often conflicting with my true feelings and often with the risk of appearing naïve or ill-conceived [legitimising the evil] by those whose opinions I care about.
One of the greatest travesties of our times is our indifference to the nuances of mass sufferings around us. There are too many of them and adjusting our moral compasses to build a hierarchy amongst them has not helped either. The mainstream media has a lot of blame to take here. And what little of the nuances mainstream foreign media covered over the weekend has been short-handed, if not ill-conceived. It was almost a return to the early days of Erdogan’s ascendancy to power – the simple narration of dichotomy had prevailed.
And it is then, I finally started to reflect on the numerous conference sessions and exhibitions I experienced in the last few days and search for a meaning behind the events over the weekend and how to position one for the future. Forensic Architecture’s work at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale (…/reporting-front-ven…/) is one of those few pieces that respond directly, and with strong relevance to its title and its brief – Reporting From the Front. Visually constructing the scenes of drone strikes at victims’ households by weaving forensic data into a re-rendering of architectural details communicated through various forms of narrative, the exhibition shakes your indifference and detachment from all forms of physical and geographical sense of being and puts you right into the thick of it. Three case studies follow the scales of Afghan families’ kitchens to Gaza residents’ streets and the vast Mediterranean that migrants so desperately try to cross. To those who pay even the minimum of attentions, there is no catastrophe deprived of our senses.
Perhaps the inability to 'report from the front' as I often do, was what was getting to me. And perhaps, unlike Gezi Park, but in light of all these sensations, I was internalising and was internalised in the events that unfolded over the weekend – distancing was ever more difficult but somehow the rupture felt ever more real. So much so that my often-found optimism left its way to confusion and a form of mutism. As the aftermath started to unfold through Saturday and Sunday, it was more apparent that the necessity to own the narrative of inclusion, togetherness, and resistance to oppression and the tyranny of the majority is urgent. For everything we would wish to turn a blind eye, we shall be reminded of our collective duties. And for every moment we lose hope, we need to keep investigating, forensically, to find and pave our path to recovery.

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