The same police that Erdoğan has been praising for “passing the test of democracy” and “writing an epic” with their conduct have upped their game and are letting plastic bullets fly. Middle of Istiklal High Street in Istanbul:
A 19 year old by the name of Ali İsmail Korkmaz lost his life today after incurring injuries on the 2nd of June. Ali was at the Gezi Protests on the 2nd of June in Eskişehir, a city in central Anatolia. He was beaten up by an unknown group in a side alley and sustained a brain hemorrhage. Since then he had been in intensive care until he lost his life today. His autopsy report states that he had a heart condition but if he hadn’t of incurred the injuries he had, he would not have lost his life.
Although the unknown group have not been caught, the police have been been trailed by groups in civilian clothes, some with walkie talkies and some with sticks. After being documented, many were revealed to be undercover police agents. Reports have also shown groups of AKP supporters walking the streets, being told to disperse but not actually being intervened by the Police.
Regardless, the responsibility ofAli İsmail Korkmaz’s death belongs directly to the police, and the AKP in relation. The very least is a condolence. Lately however, PM Erdoğan has tended to have more compassion for the casualties our ‘brothers’ have suffered in Egypt.
In protest, Anonymous have hacked the Eskişehir Mayor’s Office’s website. Thousands are on the streets in Eskişehir and Istanbul, commemorating his death and protesting against the government.
Within the context of the protests, Taksim has been the pinnacle of the anti- government movement since the very beginning. All impromptu demos, creative democratic protests, clashes with police etc. have all centred on Taksim and Taksim Square.
Yesterday, Taksim was host to yet another bizarre image that as a Turk, I had not witnessed before in my life. Over the past weeks, the ‘Anticapitalist Muslims’ – a group that has taken part in the protests – have been promoting an event titled the ‘Earth Iftar‘ (Iftar is the breaking of the Ramadan fast at sunset). With this event, all have been invited to break their fast at a dinner table that would span from Galatasaray Highschool on Istiklal Street to the start of Taksim Square, a span that stretches over 700m.
Indeed, people in the thousands turned up to break their fast at the street Iftar get-together. Meanwhile, the municipal borough of Beyoğlu (includes Taksim) had planned their own Iftar banquet on Taksim Square. Hence, there was an image of two competing Iftar banquets taking place in the same space but separate from each other.
This separation was not merely ideational. As the crowds were filling up Istiklal Street, a TOMA water cannon vehicle was parked in front of the banquet in order to stop it from growing towards the square, creating a physical barrier between the two parties. In the end, the water tank was as far as the banquet reached.
Merely 30 minutes after the call of prayer (time to break fast) the police started making announcements for people to leave Istiklal Street. In the end, against a large and peaceful crowd, the police pulled back and the public entered the square and Gezi Park.
Below is a video footage taken by Ben Trimmel that summarises the evening:
Symbolism and Politics
Within the current political climate, the polarisation of society and the creation of much stricter political ‘camps’ have resulted in the increase of symbolism within politics.
In the same way that wearing a headscarf had been turned into a political symbol, drinking alcohol has also become a political symbol. This is why the debates over alcohol consumption and regulation have taken centre stage in political and social divisons the same way wearing a headscarf in public spaces has done so in recent Turkish political history.
This latest twist over the Iftar issue is also an example of the role of symbolism in politics. The banquet laid on sheets of newspapers over the cobbled streets of Istiklal is for sure a humble passive resistance against the wordly rulership of the AKP. What I mean by this is that the protest movement is in opposition to the rulership of the AKP, but not in opposition to the godly beliefs that the party latently adopts. The movement calls for tolerance and for individual freedom, not differentiating between religious freedom or otherwise.
It is in this sense that the support shown for the ‘Earth Iftar’ banquet is a step in the right direction. The message that it puts across is that the protesters are not ultra-secular Kemalist that want to see Islam retracted to the shadows of civil society.
Unfortunately, initial attitudes against the ‘Earth Iftar’ event seem to be negative on the whole. I have read many statements that accuse those at the street banquet for using Iftar as an attempt to further polarise society by those who are non-believers or people who have not been fasting.
On the whole, the overlap of the Holy month of Ramadan with the protests could turn out to be a bad coincidence for a number of reasons. I would like to state that I make this statement not in support, but in grief of this belief. First, there is the distinct possibility that escalations during the month of July could trigger negative responses from Muslims who see the ‘provocations’ (from their respective angle) of the protesters as being insensitive to this holy month.
Second, as the initial reactions to the street banquet suggest, attempts at bridging the social division between the protesters and AKP’s more religious supporters – by trying to share the spirit of the month – is approached with skepticism. This skepticism is an engrained societal conditioned that exists due to the symbolic usage of religion in Turkish politics in a systematic manner throughout the Turkish Republic’s short history.
Within this context, the conduct of the government is of key importance. Unfortunately, an irresponsible government that has not refrained from taking all the wrong steps when faced with strong opposition is likely to make the most of any impending issue to rally support and marginalise its opposition. In this case, we might bare witness to a month of harsh criticism against ‘marginal groups’ that are disrespectful of the nation’s traditions, religion and culture. I do hope that the government will act responsibly and not try to strike a blow against its critics over such a delicate and fragile topic that can increase social tensions.
Yesterday (8 July), Gezi Park was finally re-opened to the public after being closed since the 15th of June. On the 6th July, Governor Mutlu had said that the park would open on Sunday (the next day). Later, he had gone back on his statement to add, it might be Monday the 8th. The 3 week long closure for the park was justified on grounds of cleaning up the park. Around 13.00, Ist. Governor Mutlu, Ist. Chief of Police Çapkın and Ist. Mayor Topbaş – in short, Istanbul’s least popular figures- made their final ‘inspections’ around the park and opened it to the public.
3 hours after the opening ceremony, the park was closed once again. The park closure was accompanied by tear gas and water cannons to force the public out. The resistance grew with the arrival of more protesters who wanted to enter the park. Reports throughout the night show that the riot police have intensified their usage of rubber bullets. Once again, there were large numbers of detentions (protesters and journalists ) and injuries. In short, the Turkish government has renovated the park but are too afraid to open it up to the public. When open, the presence of ‘the wrong crowd’ in the park is excuse enough to roll the troops back in to flush them out.
In the police violence that was witnessed yesterday, around 50 people, including Taksim Soludarity’s prominent members and spokespersons were detained. Amongst the many wounded, 2 were taken into emergency surgery due to head injuries and a photo journalist was shot in the face with a rubber bullet. Taksim Solidarity released a statement for its call to a Press Conference where they stated:
The lie that Gezi Park was opened to the public didn’t last long this time. A short while ago, constituents of Taksim Solidarity who were trying to get to Gezi Park were stopped on İstiklal Street, the police has once again attacked the people with tear-gas and water cannons and 35 people who are representatives and leaders of workers groups, democratic mass organizations who are constituent parts of the Solidarity were detained.
As of this moment, the Secretary of the Chamber of Architects Mücella Yapıcı, architect Cansu Yapıcı, 2nd Chair of the Chamber of Architects Sabri Orcan, İstanbul Medical Chamber General Secretary Ali Çerkezoğlu, TMMOB İKK representative Süleyman Solmaz, Chamber of Urban Planners Secretary Akif Burak Atlar, urban planner Sezi Zaman, HDK Cetral executive member Ender İmrek, Hakan Dilmeç, TKP MK member Erkan Baş, EMO İstanbul branch president Beyza Metinler, İclal Bozkaya, Aral Demircan, EHP administrator Emre Öztürk, Kamil Tekerek, Ongun Yücel, İsmail Sürücüoğlu, Halit Güven, Haluk Ağabeyoğlu, Elçin Fırat, Ali Akgün Ekici, Murat Sezin, İsmail Bozkaya, Ayşe Adanalı, EMEP administrator Ercüment Akdeniz, FKF spokesperson Erçin Fırat, Sevil Kahraman, Ahmet Aktaş are under arrest.
Why keep the park closed?
Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu stated that the park was re-closed because of anti-AKP protests at the opening ceremony. He pointed at the Taksim Solidarity in specific but the protesters in general for provoking the closure of the park. In addition, Taksim Solidarity had called on all individual forums across Istanbul to hold a communal forum at Gezi Park, the centre and symbol of the whole movement that evening. This is the defining factor that led to the ‘preventive’ disproportional violence that raged on until the early hours of the next morning.
My previous post is a transcript of the governor’s press statement where he explains why the park was closed. He makes clear in no uncertain terms that the Gezi Platform and the protesters are responsible for all the negative impacts the events of the last month have caused. He expressly isolates the mass of ‘marginals’ for breaking the law and states that mass assemblies will not be permitted.
Thus, the park is perpetually opened and closed because the AKP government is one that does not accept criticism, is not open to dialogue and in the habit of turning a deaf ear to outcries voiced by protesters. In fact, over the 3 terms the AKP have been in power, they have shown that they are hostile and heavy handed even against peaceful and democratic protests.
From the other side, the grievances of the protesters who are not being seen as part of the public are growing every day because of the way their demands are consistently being ignored, not to mention the injustices that are suffered for voicing objection against the government. The domestic reality is that the protesters or those who attend the forums have no outlet other than public spaces to bring to the government’s attention their discomfort. They do not have a square (in retaliation to Mutlu’s speech). Hence, if not allowed to protest, they can only have their voices heard in forums.
The forums are a hugely positive development in terms of its ability to bring together large crowds of people who have antagonistic beliefs and un-matching lifestyles. In a country like Turkey which has numerous societal divisions, tolerance is a hard but important lesson to learn. The forums are a step in the right direction in that regard.
At the same time, the force that has brought such antagonistic groups together is their mutual frustration with the way the AKP govern. This is why most of the discussions that take place in forums are more organisational in terms of how to further the protest movement. Because of this, the AKP can not read recent developments as positive and see such assemblies as a statement of insubordination. This is why the call for a public assembly (forum) to be organised at Gezi Park provoked the governor to close the park once again.
As it stands, the park was opened around midnight on the 8th of July. But the unnecessary escalation of events yesterday resulted in impromptu demonstrations in cities across the country, starting with Izmir, Ankara, Eskişehir, Mersin and Antalya.
Why the protest will go on
Due to the government’s intolerance against criticism, all voices in opposition are regarded as a ploy to overthrow the democratically elected AKP government. The witch-hunt against those who have either shown support for, or been central in the protest is motivated by this belief.
– A number of Erdoğan’s statements over the past month (also throughout AKP’s 3 terms in power) have targeted artists and intellectuals. The neighborhood of Cihangir (close to Taksim) is highly populated by citizens from this profile. The ‘scorpion’ police jeeps have been going up and down the streets of Cihangir, tear gassing small crowds of people throughout the protests who were trying to flee from the riot police in Taksim. Although not worded directly, this is a way for the AKP to say, “I have a problem with Cihangir”.
– Over the past few days of protest, a small number of incidents have occurred where ‘counter protest’ citizens with sabres in hand have taken to the streets. Luckily, no one has lost their lives in such incidents as of yet. However, the double standards applied to protesters and ‘counter-protesters’ is another issue that angers those who are part of the protest movement.
On the 6th of July, 8 people were detained in Taksim for protesting and one man who owns a corner shop was taken into custody for attacking the protesters with a sabre. Initially, the anger was against footage that showed the riot police running just behind the man with the sabre and not arresting him after he attacked protesters. In short, the police who have not shown any remorse to protesters is in the habit of turning a blind eye to the violence shown towards protesters. In this case, whilst the man with the sabre was detained, he was released after a short questioning whereas the 8 detained for taking part in the protest are still under questioning.
Having said this, similar events took place on the 8th of July and the government seems to have taken a step back in this regard and is prosecuting the violent anti-protesters.
– Both the governor’s last statement, and Erdoğan’s general arguments highlight the financial damage the protests have caused on the local artisans of Taksim. Whilst this is definitely true and is unfortunate, the ones who are to blame for this reality are not the protesters, but the administration that unleash the riot police into the streets without cautioning them against the use of rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons.
During the peaceful phases of the protest (eg. when the police backed out of the Taksim Neighbourhood and allowed the occupation during the early days June) and also in neighborhoods like Kadıköy, which have busy forums every night but no police intervention, business is better than normal. This should not be that hard to understand: more people there = more sales for artisans. Thus, the issue is not that protesters kill the livelihood of artisans, but that police presence or intervention kills business.
– The AKP’s usage of the judicial system to silence dissenting voices is possibly the most important factor that provokes anger. Taking in a renowned and revered architect like Mücella Yapıcı because she is a member of Taksim Solidarity Platform is not a way of achieving public security. Such actions only show that the government has not understood what this movement is about but rather prefers to intimidate those that stand against the government.
– The term ‘provocateurs’ has been widely circulated and associated with the actions of the protesters. Giving the governor of Istanbul the ‘Golden Compass Public Relations Award of the Year’ amidst calls for his resignation by protesters is one example which shows the extent of state provocation.
* The day the park was opened (8th July), Deputy PM and party spokesperson Bülent Arınç made a press statement after the Council of Ministers’s meeting. In response to a question in relation to the Gezi Protests, Arınç stated, “We did not discuss this matter in the council. It is not a topic worth talking over”.