21 Ağustos 2013 Çarşamba

La Commune de Istanbul: the protest which awakened a nation

Çagri Çobanoglu
Wednesday 14 August 2013

Photo Credit: Çagri Çobanoglu

 At the end of May 2013, a group of activists who protested against a shopping mall construction in Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul would probably not have imagined sparking a mass movement which put fear into the government.

It has been more than two months since the beginning of the Istanbul uprising but it is still on the agenda. Next year, three elections are expected to be held in Turkey – local, parliamentary and presidential, so the political atmosphere is not cooling down.
Gezi Park protests gave many people lots of experiences. Over 19 days, people stayed in tents; tens of thousands of people visited the park every day. You could get free food in the park, in fact in a tent where hot food was distributed, there was a warning – ‘Do not bring more’. When I asked why not, they said there was ‘no place left to put more food materials’.
Reading was a common activity amongst Gezi Park settlers. Activists founded a library where you could donate and borrow books. Magazines were also free. It was important to note that the lines in front of free books were longer than those for free food.

Istanbul United
On a platform, in the centre of the park, people were able to use a microphone to express their opinion about any issues they wanted to stress. Others were clapping them. Most of the protesters were not organized in political parties. Even fans of rival teams of Istanbul; Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray and Besiktas clashed together against the police and chanted slogans shoulder-to-shoulder. This was a rare scene for many living in Istanbul.
Roads to Taksim Square where Gezi Park is located were blocked by barricades. Burned buses, trucks and construction machines as well as destroyed police cars and overturned vehicles were useful for barricades. You could see many slogans on the walls of buildings throughout the streets, which showed the humoristic side of the protesters.

Öcalan flags
Socialist political parties waved their flags in the park. Anarchists were also there. However, the most controversial flags were those with the picture of Abdullah Öcalan, the leader of PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). The PKK claims to be fighting for Kurdish rights and is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, USA and the EU.
Normally, Öcalan flags would not be tolerated in the centre of Istanbul by security forces. Though some nationalist groups protested Öcalan flags, no serious violent incidents happened.
In the park, the most common slogan you would hear was - “This is just the beginning. Keep up the struggle!”
Another invention of the uprising was a new version of a word used to define looters and vandals in Turkish – Çapulcu. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed demonstrators calling them ‘çapulcu’ but activists changed the word into ‘chapulling’ which means ‘fighting for your rights’.

Views from ‘chapulists’
Cem Töre Gökçem, 17, says, “I heard clashes on Friday but I was not able to come until Saturday. When I came, the police were about to withdraw. After clashes in Taksim were over, I went to Besiktas (a district near Taksim) to help barricades. At the beginning, I came here to protect nature but it has changed. Now it is about standing against police brutality. I was a person who was not interested in politics. I had my own views but I had never been an activist. But now I understood that it was wrong to stay away from activism. I have met good people here. This is a place in which people who see themselves as a minority, can see they are not minority. There is no police around and there is no violence.”

If Erdogan had apologised...
Nevsim Küçükay, 17, says “A protest in the name of protecting trees in the park has turned to a communal life in the park. People joined the protest as a way of expressing their oppressed opinion. There are people from all walks of life but they share their food, coats, blankets and other stuff. Prime Minister (PM) Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s remarks made me angry. He underestimated and threatened people. If he had apologized at the beginning, the issue would have been solved. People were willing to forgive at the beginning.”
University student Sezai, 19, followed the news through the internet. He says, “I am not a part of any political parties and do not support any of them. However, the police used excessive force against demonstrators; they burned tents of peaceful activists. The violence used by security forces motivated me to come here. There were only 40-50 protesters at the beginning. PM Erdogan’s reactions were wrong.”
According to Sezai, Erdogan has fears. He says, “We should not demonize him. He is not a very bad person. He is afraid of sharing the same faith with Adnan Menderes (ex-Turkish PM who was executed following a military coup) These people in the park do not have bad intentions and the most of them are just showing their reaction against police brutality.”

Unique sense of humour
Aysun Babacan, 50, working as head of copywriters in a public relations company, was one of the protesters. “This is an exemplary action in all human history. We are more than happy to take part in it. Young ones feel they have grown up in a few days. We middle aged ones feel we got younger” she says.
Babacan told how protesters cleaned the park the next morning following clashes. She said, “People were reorganized and they collected the garbage and broken bottles. Protestors also displayed this society’s unique sense of humour and produced incredibly funny posts and slogans to show the oxymoronic situation of PM’s indifference.”
Ahmet Dagdelen, 38, is a book editor in a publishing house located in Istanbul. He joined protests after he heard his activist friends had been intervened by the police. He says he had not expected this protest to be turned into a mass movement like this. Dagdelen says, “I came because I had no channel to express myself. It is not only about protecting nature anymore. It is a new dimension now. Most of the demonstrators are around 20 years old or younger. The government was getting authoritarian and interfering [in the] lives of individuals and people wanted to break this oppression.”

Erdogan became what he fought against
Dagdelen said, “This is not an ideological movement. This is not a conflict between Islamists and Secularists. Social media brought solidarity in streets. This is a new thing, it is a new language”.
When asked about the PM’s negative remarks towards the protest, he says, “PM Erdogan is frightening me. I do not think he can control streets by force. If he comes here, maybe he will understand the situation. PM Erdogan is speaking the language of old system of Turkey where the army had a political power. Once upon a time, Erdogan was challenging against the army’s authoritarian role in politics. People supported him at that time. Now Erdogan himself became what he fought against. His authoritarian approach destroyed his pro-freedom language.”

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