It was a sunny Sunday following rain and cold winds in Istanbul. Crowds in Marmaray, the metro system that connects European side of Istanbul to the Asian side under the Bosporus, were holding folded Turkish flags in their hands.
One could notice most of them were heading to the rally for the newly elected mayor of Istanbul Ekrem İmamoğlu. Marmaray stopped, a couple of stops before Maltepe, where the rally took place. There was no explanation, no announcements. Suddenly the doors of Marmaray were opened, and people started jumping on the rails. Men were helping women and elderly to jump down and walk on the rails. Crowds walked nearly 45 minutes, while singing İzmir March all the way to Maltepe Square where the gathering was to take place.
İmamoğlu’s rally stated with a Mehter March -which shocked the crowd gathered in Maltepe a bit. Mehter March is quite symbolic, it is the March that Ottomans used to play once they conquered a city. With this march, Ottoman soldiers would make the symbolic entrance to the city. The march is usually used by Turkish right. İmamoğlu either wanted to imply that now Istanbul was conquered or he wanted to use other side’s “weapon” against them. Maybe he wanted to imply he will be bipartisan and open to everyone, either right or left.
Crowd mainly consisted of families. People were almost in a picnic mood, sitting on the grass, chatting. Some young people were having beers and getting hyped up. Following the Mehter March, some Vivaldi played over the speakers, which was also interesting.
Before İmamoğlu, an actual İmam took the stage. He started reading verses from Quran in Turkish and praying İmamoğlu to be successful. People joined İmam by saying “Amin” out loud, as he prayed İmamoğlu to be successful. Beşiktaş fans were among the crowd also, they were starting chanting as İmam was soaking, the crowd reacted to them, told them to be quiet while İmam was reading from Quran. This is not a familiar scene in a CHP rally.
The crowd was there but the joy was missing. There was no common slogan that people chanted. Mehter choir continued playing İzmir march, which has been the symbolic march for Turkish seculars, all rally long. This was a very interesting detail for the ones who would realize also.
İmamoğlu spoke for around an hour. He was loud and excited. But this time he was not able to keep the crowd excited and joyful. That was probably partly due to the head of CHP Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu being attacked in Ankara during a martyr’s funeral on the very same day. People were talking about this very incident among themselves. They were sharing the latest information and commenting on the developments. İmamoğlu condemned the attack at the end of his speech. Some people did not hear the condemnation because people started leaving while İmamoğlu was still speaking. Keeping hundreds of thousands in one place is not an easy feat to handle in Istanbul.
İmamoğlu kept using the word “New Generation Politics”. Apparently, this will be the title of his new policy. He described the differences between the conservatives and seculars or different ethnic groups as the old concepts of old politics. He said the new generation politics will be above those differences, and rather them carrying coal to the fire, they would try to accept everyone as they are and focus on serving people.
This is not an easy task to fulfill in Turkish politics but Ekrem İmamoğlu seems enthusiastic.