OCCUPY GEZI: POLICE AGAINST PROTESTERS IN ISTANBUL
Gezi Park is a small rectangle of grass and trees just north of Taksim Square, in the center of European Istanbul. Separated by concrete barriers from a particularly congested traffic circle, it doesn’t have a lot going for it in the way of charm or landscaping. But it does have trees—six hundred and six of them, according to some reports—which makes it a distinct space in the heart of one of the world’s fastest-developing cities.
Last year, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that Gezi Park would be levelled to make room for a reconstruction of the Halil Pasa Artillery barracks, which had been built there under Sultan Selim III, more than two hundred years ago; the reconstructed barracks would then be converted into a shopping mall. On May 28th, a peaceful demonstration convened in Gezi Park to protest the bulldozing of the first trees. The weather was, and continues to be, beautiful. But over the course of the week, Occupy Gezi transformed from what felt like a festival, with yoga, barbecues, and concerts, into what feels like a war, with barricades, plastic bullets, and gas attacks.
Just before dawn on Friday, police raided the demonstrators’ encampment with tear gas and compressed water. Several people—twelve, according to Istanbul’s governor Hÿseyin Avni Mutlu, though participants say the number was higher—were hospitalized with head traumas and respiratory injuries. Twitter was flooded with images of violence, including one of a protester on his or her knees using a sign that read “CHEMICAL TAYYIP” as a shield against a police hose. Ahmet Sik, an investigative reporter who spent much of last year in jail, had joined the protests only to get hit in the head with a police gas canister.
I stopped by Gezi Park early Friday afternoon. It had been completely sealed off by police, hundreds of whom were standing inside the park in small groups, adjusting their body armor, snapping pictures of each other on their cell phones. Gas masks lay in the grass, as did a few trampled plastic forks and an abandoned tepsi börek (a phyllo pastry baked in a tray). Noticing a small crowd convened beside one of the barricades, I went over to see what they were doing. They didn’t seem to be doing anything.
Thinking the demonstration was winding down, I went back home and tried to work on my novel. The demonstration wasn’t winding down. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators were flooding the streets. I texted the photographer Carolyn Drake, a friend and colleague. We covered our mouths with scarves and set out to meet each other. I started walking up Siraselviler, the street that connects Cihangir, where I live, to Taksim Square. It was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with demonstrators chanting anti-government slogans, some of them quite inventive. (When I asked about the meaning of one popular chant, “I’m sorry Tayyip but you look like a light bulb,” I was told that it alluded both to the light-bulb logo of Erdogan’s conservative Islamist A.K. Party, and to the shape of Erdogan’s head.)
I got as far as the German Hospital, where the crowd became too dense to penetrate. Carolyn meanwhile was stuck at the northern edge of the park. I never did meet her, though she’s been sending me the pictures she snaps from her cell phone. During the twenty minutes I spent standing in front of the hospital, two ambulances came careening in from Taksim. The crowds climbed up on walls to let the ambulances by, almost drowning out the sirens with their chants: “To your health, Tayyip!” Later, everyone started jumping up and down, chanting “Jump! Jump! Jump or you’re a fascist!” I, too, hopped up and down a little, to signal my disapproval of fascism. I tried to strike up conversation with a demonstrator, a young woman in her twenties with a surgical mask around her neck, but I could see I was interrupting her tweeting. In fact, I realized that almost every person there was either typing on a phone or recording the scene on a tablet.
Back in my apartment, I turned on the television. CNN Turk was broadcasting a food show, featuring the “flavors of Nigde.” Other major Turkish news channels were showing a dance contest and a roundtable on study-abroad programs. It was a classic case of the revolution not being televised. The whole country seemed to be experiencing a cognitive disconnect, with Twitter saying one thing, the government saying another, and the television off on another planet. Twitter was the one everyone believed—even the people who were actually on the street. In a city as vast, diffuse, and diverse as Istanbul, with so many enclaves and populations and interests and classes, and with such imperfect freedom of the press, gauging public opinion, or even current events, can be fantastically difficult. The Twitter hashtag #OccupyGezi brought up hundreds, maybe thousands of appeals urging BBC, Reuters, CNN, and other English-language news outlets to “show the world” what was happening in Istanbul—as if only the international media could do what the news is supposed to do: provide an objective view of what was going on outside.
The feeling of unreality and disconnect is at the heart of the Gezi demonstrations. Istanbul loves to demonstrate; I can’t remember ever walking through Taksim without seeing at least one march or parade or sit-in, and on weekends there are usually several going on at the same time. Usually, they are small, peaceful, and self-contained, and the police just stand there. For some time now, the demonstrations have had a strangely existential feel. Again and again, people have protested the destruction of some historical building or the construction of some new shopping center. Again and again, the historical building has been destroyed, and the shopping center constructed.
Nearly every slogan chanted on the streets right now addresses Erdogan by name, and Erdogan hasn’t been talking back much. On Wednesday, he told protesters, “Even if hell breaks loose, those trees will be uprooted”; on Saturday, he issued a statement accusing the demonstrators of manipulating environmentalist concerns for their own ideological agendas. It’s hard to argue with him there; there’s little doubt that the demonstrations are less about six hundred and six trees than about a spreading perception that Erdogan refuses to hear what people are trying to tell him. In recent weeks, he has overridden objections to the construction of a controversial third bridge across the Bosphorus, to be named after a sultan considered by some Turkish Alevis (members of a religious minority combining elements of Shi’ia Islam and Sufism) to be an “Alevi slayer.” Earlier this month, thousands of unionized Turkish Airlines workers went on strike to protest the firing of three hundred and five other unionized Turkish Airlines workers for participating in an earlier strike. The original workers were not rehired. Last week, he passed anti-alcohol laws, which outraged many secularists as well as the national beer manufacturers. On May Day, peaceful demonstrations were quashed by riot police with tear gas and hoses. Looking back, it seems inevitable that a larger uprising was to come.
So it wasn’t that surprising when yesterday’s court decision to suspend, at least temporarily, the construction at the park, failed to put an end to the demonstrations. At midnight, the street where I live was gas bombed. Demonstrators in gas masks and goggles marched below the windows, cheering “Spray! Spray! Let us see you spray!” Pepper gas poured through the open windows and immediately filled my seventh-floor apartment. Around one, a tremendous racket broke out as people all over the city started beating on cymbals, pots, pans, and metal street signs; I saw one man looking around in vain for a stick, and then cheerfully starting to bang his head against a metal storefront shutter.
I got in touch with members of Çarsi, the leftist fan club of Istanbul’s Besiktas soccer team; I’d written about them for the magazine in 2011. They had come up with a new slogan: “Give us 100 gas masks, we’ll take the park.” I asked Ayhan Gÿner, one of Çarsi’s senior members, what he had to say to New Yorker readers. “Çarsi is the last barricade. Çarsi keeps alive the hopes of the people in the resistance of Gezi Park,” he told me. “This resistance has inspired the leaders of Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe”—rival Istanbul soccer clubs—“to come together. Damn American imperialism to hell.” Fifteen minutes later, I got another text: “Pepper gas is the Besiktas fan’s perfume. Nobody can intimidate us”; and, shortly after that, “We are the soldiers not of the imam, but of Mustafa Kemal” (referring to Ataturk, the founder of the secular Turkish Republic).
This morning, forty thousand demonstrators are said to have crossed the Bosphorus Bridge from the Asian side of the city, to lend support in Taksim. Hundreds of backup police are reportedly being flown into Istanbul from all around the country. The conceptual artist Sibel Horada came by my neighborhood to pick up the gas mask she usually uses for casting polyester; she told me she ran into an old high-school friend who had dressed for the protests in shorts and Speedo swimming goggles. (“He had obviously never clashed with the police before.”) Shortly afterwards, she reported that police had briefly removed the barricades at Taksim and let the demonstrators in—then turned back and attacked them. On my street, spirits seem to be high. Someone is playing “Bella, Ciao” on a boom-box, and I can hear cheering and clapping. But every now and then the spring breeze carries a high, whistling, screaming sound, and the faint smell of pepper gas.
Angry Protests Grow in Turkey as Police Continue Crackdown
ISTANBUL — Violent protests against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan engulfed this city on Saturday, as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets and alleyways in a second day of civil unrest and faced the tear gas and water cannons of a harsh police crackdown.
Mr. Erdogan, in a televised speech on Saturday morning, vowed to go forward with a plan to remake a city park in Taksim Square into a replica Ottoman-era army barracks and mall, the move that set off the initial protests earlier in the week.
For many demonstrators, however, the protest has moved beyond that project and become a broad rebuke to the 10-year leadership of Mr. Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, which they say has adopted authoritarian tactics.
Mr. Erdogan, in his first comments on the growing unrest, seemed determined to maintain the aggressive police response. His only conciliatory note was to promise to investigate claims of excessive police force against peaceful protesters on Friday that resulted in nearly 1,000 injuries, according to the Turkish Doctors Association.
“The police were here yesterday, they will be there today, and they will be there tomorrow in Taksim,” Mr. Erdogan said.
In late afternoon, the police withdrew from Taksim Square and allowed tens of thousands of protesters to gather there unhindered. By evening, no police officers were in sight, and most of the protesters were gathered on the lawns of the square, some drinking beer, others chanting antigovernment slogans.
Others went on a rampage, destroying buildings used by the construction company that had begun razing the park, and throwing rocks at bulldozers.
The widening chaos here and the images it produces threaten to tarnish Turkey’s image, which Mr. Erdogan has carefully cultivated, as a regional power broker able to shape the outcome of the Arab Spring revolutions by presenting itself as a model for the melding of Islam and democracy.
Now Turkey is facing its own civil unrest, and the protesters have presented a long list of grievances against Mr. Erdogan and his government, including opposition to its policies of supporting Syria’s rebels against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, its crackdown on dissent, its intimidation of the news media and unchecked development in Istanbul.
“He criticized Assad, but he’s the same,” said Murat Uludag, 32, who stood off to the side as protesters battled with police officers down an alleyway near the Pera Museum. “He’s crazy. No one knows what he’s doing or thinking. He’s completely crazy. Whatever he says today, he will say something different tomorrow.”
Many of the protesters, some of whom voted for Mr. Erdogan, said they had grown tired of his leadership, which they said had become increasingly dictatorial. Mr. Erdogan still maintains a strong power base among religious conservatives, who represent a large voting bloc.
“When he first came to power, he was a good persuader and a good speaker,” said Serder Cilik, 32, who was sitting at a tea shop watching the chaos unfold. Mr. Cilik said he had voted for Mr. Erdogan in the past but would never do so again.
An older man standing nearby, overhearing the conversation, yelled, “Dictator!”
Mr. Cilik, who is unemployed, continued: “He brainwashed people with religion, and that’s how he got the votes. He fooled us. He’s a liar and a dictator.”
Protests that began days earlier as a peaceful sit-in against the demolition of a central park have widened to neighborhoods across Istanbul and to other cities around the country, including Ankara, the capital. There was also a protest in New York on Saturday, where about 500 people waved Turkish flags and denounced Mr. Erdogan.
In Istanbul, the protests turned violent on Saturday as police forces tried to disperse people with tear gas and some protesters pelted them with rocks, calling them “murderers” and “fascists.”
Police helicopters flew low over Istiklal Street, a main pedestrian thoroughfare, which would normally be clogged with tourists but on Saturday resembled a war zone, with shops shuttered and antigovernment graffiti sprayed on some shop windows. Using the Turkish initials of Mr. Erdogan’s party, one message on the facade of a department store, in blue spray paint, read, “A.K.P. to the grave, the people to reign.”
As they winced and rubbed their eyes of tear gas, protesters wagged their middle fingers at the helicopters and chanted that the government should step down.
On streets running off Istiklal, young men tore up granite slabs from the sidewalk and bashed them against the road, picking up the splintered pieces to throw at the police. On some streets, protesters set up makeshift barricades with trash cans, panels of wallboard from construction sites and potted plants taken from outside fancy hotels.
On another major boulevard, protesters stopped a municipal water truck, which they believed was on its way to refill the police water cannons, and opened its valves, flooding the street. Nearby, protesters marched past the headquarters of the state television network, T.R.T., shouting, “Burn the state media!”
Many of the protesters complained about the lack of coverage on Turkish television, and said the silence of much of the local news media would help the protest movement grow because people, unable to see events on television, would want to see them for themselves. Some newspapers also were largely silent on the protests: on Saturday morning, the lead story in Sabah, a major pro-government newspaper, was about Mr. Erdogan’s promoting a campaign against smoking.
His party has accused opposition parties of stoking the protests, and in the late afternoon, Mr. Erdogan weighed in on Twitter: “Their issue is, how can we hit the A.K.P.? Wherever they try to hit us, we will stand tall and strong.”
Istanbul Protests Grow In Size As Demonstration Enters 5th Day
As the "Occupy Gezi" protests in Istanbul entered their fifth day Saturday, police withdrew from Taksim Square in an effort to calm tensions that so far have left at least a dozen injured. Law enforcement officers have used tear gas and high pressure water hoses on the protesters.
The protest also seemed to grow in size Saturday, as photos and videos showed large crowds crossing the Bosphorus Bridge, which connects the European side of Istanbul to the Asian side:
The protests have spread to other areas of Istanbul and to the nation's capital, Ankara, where riot police also used tear gas on demonstrators, the BBC reported.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday that police may have used tear gas excessively in attempting to disperse demonstrators, but he was mostly defiant in his response to the violent clashes. "Wherever you go in the world, in places like this ... governments would take measures," he said, according to Reuters.
On Saturday, Erdogan called for an immediate end to the protests, Reuters reported.
Some world leaders have criticized the violent tactics used by Turkish police. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Turkey's stability and prosperity were best guaranteed by "upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association, which is what it seems these individuals were doing."
Martin Schulz, the head of the European Parliament, said in a statement that, "The severity shown by police is completely disproportionate and is leading to the spreading of the protests," according to Reuters.
Reports that Turkish police have used plastic bullets on demonstrators have begun to circulate. Photos on Instagram appear to show welts and bruises from the projectiles.
Earlier, police used jammers to block social media communication in Taksim Square, where the protests began, Sky News reported.
The violence began early Friday morning when police raided a peaceful Occupy-type sit-in at Taksim Square, where demonstrators were protesting plans to demolish a small park to make way for new development, including a shopping mall.
Source 3 and Twitter.
Also this tumblr is pretty great: http://occupygezipics.tumblr.com/
Mods, I fixed the Tilda image and added one more tweet from Moby. Thanks!