Bürge Abiral ‘11

June 14th, 2013

I haven’t even been tear-gassed yet, but that’s because I have avoided the protests during the first few days. Otherwise, tear gas has become a common phenomenon for those on the streets, a normal topic for daily conversation, as people have come up with ways to creatively live with it. Many protestors now carry amateur or professional masks, as well as anti-acid solutions to reduce the effects of the gas, easily available by mixing water and Talcid, the equivalent of Peptobismol.

protest-turkey-2013A small protest to prevent the destruction of a public park in the most famous square of Istanbul turned into a massive uprising when the police attacked the peaceful protestors brutally on May 28th. From Istanbul to Ankara, from İzmir to Dersim, thousands of people poured into the streets. Those who preferred to stay in their homes contributed by making sounds with pots from their windows. Despite the differences in class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and political views, what united the protestors was their reaction to the authoritarian policies of the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, including but not limited to environmental destruction for the sake of private construction, the restriction of alcohol sale, the arbitrary detentions of students and journalists, and the silencing of the media during the attacks of Reyhanlı just a couple of weeks ago.

What was most shocking for me during the first days of the uprising was that ALL my friends were fearless to crowd the streets, most of which had shown no interest in protests before. While this crowd included young and old people who were already involved in political organizing, many others were those who are considered to be “apolitical.” I use quotation marks here because I see politics as imbued in every relationship, yet the term connotes a disinterest in politics in the mainstream sense of the term. In any case, for the first time ever, all my friends on Facebook shared the same sentiments about an event: the necessity of being in the streets.

As the police attacked the crowds which headed to Taksim Square on the day and night of May 31st, mainstream media chose to ignore the events. One of the main news channels, CNN Turk, showed a documentary about penguins, which later became the mascots of the uprising. The level of political satire and humor that circulate in social media still continues to amaze me every day. Not willing to realize that this is an uprising of the people, Erdoğan characterized those at the Gezi Park as “çapulcu,” looter in Turkish. Creative minds embraced the term as their own, giving it a new meaning: “someone who fights for her rights,” which led to this Wikipedia entry. Like the word “queer,” many years from now, the word will have perhaps found its place in both Turkish and English dictionaries! :-)

When the police withdrew from Taksim on June 1st, the square as well as the Gezi Park was appropriated as a public space by the protestors, and became an inspiring experiment in solidarity and co-existence. As many people set up their tents to spend their nights there, political groups from clashing ideologies hung up their flags side by side. They sang and danced together to the same tunes. Sexist and racist slurs, commonly used in daily speech, as well as militarist slogans were discouraged. On the night of Miraj, the night marking the ascent of Prophet Mohammad to Heaven, people in the park celebrated the religious day together. Protestors practicing Islam performed their usual Friday prayer in the park, surrounded by a chain of individuals who were there to protect them.

Despite the peaceful picture in the Gezi Park, violent police attacks continued in Ankara, İzmir, and Hatay, just to name a few places. Finally, the police also entered Taksim Square on the morning of June 11th, with the excuse of clearing up the flags of “marginal groups.” As their latest strategy, government officials divided people into two camps: (1) people who are sincere about the trees in the park, who are not ideological, (2) those “marginals,” that is, mainly leftist groups and Kurds who do not refrain from clashing with the police. The governor’s latest words insinuate that the “marginals” exploit this opportunity to promote their own agenda and cause a threat to the inhabitants of the park. Some of this discourse is unfortunately adopted by protestors who claim that the park should be cleared of any flags. It’s interesting to observe people’s perception of “ideology,” as many of them conceive themselves as post-ideological. Yet many others see this opportunity as a joint struggle and appreciate the co-existence of diverse groups with their flags and “ideologies.”

Right now, with all the barricades taken down, the Gezi Park is surrounded by the police. Yet daily life continues… and thrives! Everything is free in the park! Organizer groups announce their list of needs every day, and people come to procure them. There is free food, free library, free health service, and a fire department in charge of security. “Revolution has just winked at us” is one of my favorite quotes describing the scene. People are overly nice to each other, an indication that, if nothing else, this uprising is transforming human relationships, including those at home.  When the governor of Istanbul called on to the mothers of the protestors to take back their children from the park, the mothers responded by coming to the park themselves on the night of June 13th to protect their children, when more than 40 buses of policemen were awaiting around the park. That night, as well as the preceding night, was also marked by a piano concert in Taksim square facing troops of policemen.

For the last two days, there have been several negotiation platforms with the Prime Minister Erdoğan and Istanbul Governor Mutlu. The suggestion of a referendum to decide the future of the park is still being debated, but many people seem rightfully dissatisfied with it, as it does not fulfill any of the demands put forward by the Taksim Solidarity Platform. While allegedly holding these negotiations, the government continues to create fear and discouragement by arbitrarily detaining lawyers, by taking people who are carrying masks and helmets under custody, and by starting investigations on the doctors who helped the injured during the violent clashes, all of which are unlawful actions. Police attacks still continue remorselessly, as Ankara faced violent clashes on the night of June 13th, just when negotiations were taking place. This whole struggle unfortunately came at the expense of four lives who were victims of police brutality, five more who are currently in intense care, and many others who were wounded, some, injured for life.

At the moment I’m writing these words, several assemblies have gathered in the Gezi Park and other cities to decide on the future of the resistance. It is impossible to predict the outcomes of these events, as it was impossible to predict this uprising. Yet some conclusions, to me, are quite obvious. Many people who remained oblivious to political issues, especially the Kurdish issue, realized the deception created by the media and had a close encounter with state violence. They also came to understand what it means to not be taken seriously by the government despite the large numbers on the streets. In addition to the experiments of co-existence and direct democracy carried out at the Gezi Park and many other places all throughout Turkey, the “politicization” of a formerly oblivious youth and the coming-together of previously clashing political groups will surely have political repercussions in the future. —Bürge Abiral ‘11

Bürge Abiral ‘11 currently studies anthropology at Sabancı University in Istanbul.