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3rd October 2013
With a Burst of Color, Turkey’s Public Walkways Become a Focus of Quiet Protest

In Istanbul, known as the city of seven hills, dozens of public stairways crisscross centuries-old neighborhoods, giving pedestrians a way to avoid heavy car traffic on the streets. However these walkways generally attract little notice, but that changed last week, when a retired forestry engineer decided to paint the Findikli stairs in the central district of Beyoglu in all the colors of the rainbow. Almost as soon as the paint was dry, residents of the city were posing for pictures on the uneven and rundown, but newly bright, steps connecting Findikli to Cihangir, a liberal neighborhood frequented by artists.

The feature steps soon transformed into a political issue when the Findikli residents woke up to find the stairs had been hastily, and somewhat unconvincingly, repainted in their original dark cement gray colour! The covering of the rainbow stairs seemed to be yet another sign of intolerance and a lack of respect for their right to claim public space. Activists began organizing on Twitter almost immediately, using the hashtag #DirenMerdiven and the following day calls to repaint the Findikli stairs in bright colors spread on Twitter and Facebook, the Beyoglu municipality first denied, then admitted, that it was their workers who had painted the stairs gray. Before the municipality joined the effort to bring back the rainbow look, people across Turkey had already taken up brushes in solidarity and painted public stairs in their cities in similar colors.