A Message from Istanbul
I am sharing this with the permission of the author, a colleague in and from Istanbul, who sent this to me this morning….
6 days ago, a few thousand people started a peaceful protest against an urban development project in Gezi Parki, Taksim, Istanbul. An illegal process to uproot 20-year old trees in the park gave rise to these people camping out in the park all night, reading books, singing together, and protesting the project, which proposed to build a new shopping mall/bazaar/pedestrian walkway, where there is currently a park. There were families and children, young and old people of various political ideologies camping out there. At 5am the next morning, the police attacked the tents with tear gas bombs and caused a fire there as the people were asleep. People put out the fire on their own, but refused to leave. Turkish media did not report on this, but social media helped with distributing the news; as a result, tens of thousands of people started marching to Taksim square in Istanbul in support of the protestors and to draw attention to police brutality. The next morning there were around fifty thousand people in the square, but this time police used hundreds of tear gas bombs (often fired directly at people and causing serious injuries), water cannons to knock people down, and plastic bullets. As the police continued to use excessive force, people from all around the country started marching to Taksim, if they could, or started demonstrations all over Istanbul and Turkey in their home towns. At one point, there were around two hundred thousand people in Taksim; right now, twenty thousand or so still remain. These demonstrations quickly became about protesting the police violence, and by extension, condemning those who ordered it, the government. It is correct to say that what is going on right now is no longer about the park, but it is a civil disobedience movement against the current authoritarian government, who is using chemical weapons against its own citizens who voice their dissent.
The prime minister of Turkey, Erdogan, said that this was a handful of marginals from the opposition party, being provoked by the enemies of Turkey within and without. In truth, there is no one party, organization, union, ideology behind these protests. Nationalists, secularists, leftists, rightists, soccer fan groups, LGBTQ groups, university students and faculty, old people, children, veterans, disabled people, … all participate in these. The prime minister is taunting the people, saying that he has 50% support and he has so far been keeping his voters on leash. He is acting as if he is only the prime minister of those who voted for him, and as if the people on the streets are doing something undemocratic by peacefully showing their concerns. One important fact to note is that people who did vote for him, often religious conservatives, are also on the streets protesting. One uniting slogan for the demonstrators has been a call to end police violence and a call to the prime minister to show responsibility. The response from the government has been increasing police violence and use of more tear gas grenades, plastic bullets, and arrests. The more the police is present and tries to supress the protests by force, the more the people react and take to the streets.
Let me repeat: the Turkish media has not reported on the events that have been going on for the past 6 days. At all. Not a single word. I personally witnessed the events in Taksim on Saturday, the police brutality, and none of the mainstream media sources reported on it. It is crazy-making. We had to livestream the protests from a Norwegian TV channel, but not a single story appeared in the Turkish news sources. It is clear that they are being censured. Two days ago as the police was withdrawing from the square, some news channels started reporting it, but they were spinning the story to support the discourse of the prime minister, and hiding its real reasons and real extent/seriousness. They are making it sound like it was about the park and it is now over. It is clear to those of us who have been paying attention is that it is no longer about the park but about opposing to the government and its dictatorial tendencies as well as condemning police brutality. The Turkish media is making it sound like it is smaller and less significant than it actually is, like the police was justified in using excessive force (by the way, they used incredible amounts of tear gas, plastic bullets, and there is talk of agent orange being in the mix. I don’t think it can be agent orange, but there are various kinds of red orange chemicals in the tear gas that has different effects on people.) For the past two days, it has been radio silence again on Turkish media (tv as well as newspapers, except for one low-budget cable channel, which was previously a shopping network). Facebook and Twitter have been the only outlets to get the word out to the foreign press and international institutions.
The protestors are asking the prime minister to do the following immediately: 1) Stop the police violence, everywhere in Turkey; 2) Start holding the police/the mayors/the governors accountable; 3) Stop taunting and provoking people by misinforming the public. The prime minister today went on a tour to Tunisia and Marrakech in the midst of the upheaval.
You can also help by calling attention to these events; at this point, the government will only respond to international pressure to stop the police brutality and it’s all the more important since the Turkish media is not at all reporting what is really happening. I am pasting some good sources below for your reference; it would be very helpful if you can also share them widely.
A brief collage video here:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/06/01/a-stunning-90-second-video-of-turkeys-protests/
Proofs of police brutality (in Turkish): http://delilimvar.tumblr.com/
Besiktas (another important neighborhood in Istanbul) on the news http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22749750
Livestream from the only cable channel in Turkey (in Turkish, but you can see, especially at night time, the police brutality with your own eyes :http://www.canlitvizletv.com/2013/01/halk-tv-canl-izle.html
On Twitter – #direngezi parki, #occupygezi