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The Turkish Uprising: First-hand Experiences from an American Photographer


Editor’s note: This story originally appeared at Jenna Pope’s blog.

I recently returned to the US after spending about two weeks in Istanbul, Turkey, photographing the uprising and resistance of the citizens there. What began with about 20 activists occupying Gezi Park in an attempt to stop the demolition of the park in order to replace it with a shopping mall turned into a countrywide uprising against the oppressive, authoritarian government after police attacked the peaceful protesters with tear gas and water cannons. Below you can find my first-hand experiences and photographs from my time on the ground:

After making a last-second decision to travel to Turkey in order to photograph and report on what is happening there, I arrived in Istanbul on the morning of June 5th, camera in-hand. I had been following what had happened in Istanbul up until I arrived there, and had seen the situation change significantly, so I was unsure of what to expect. The police had viciously attacked the protesters in Gezi Park and Taksim Square the first few days of resistance, but had since pulled out of the area, leaving the protesters to govern themselves.

After arriving at the Ataturk airport in Istanbul, I caught a cab and told the driver to drop me off as close to Taksim Square as possible, as I was aware the protesters had built make-shift barricades on the streets leading towards the square. He ended up dropping me off directly in front of one of the barricades, telling me I would have to walk the rest of the way. So, I grabbed my gear, and headed towards the square. Below is a photo of where the cab driver dropped me off:

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The first few days I spent in Istanbul, there were no police officers to be seen near Taksim Square. It was quite amazing to see how well people behaved themselves without law enforcement in the area. During this time, the mood in Gezi Park and Taksim Square felt extremely free and festive. People were playing instruments, lighting off fireworks, sending Chinese lanterns into the sky, waving flags, and singing songs. Below are several photos that were taken between June 5th and June 10th:

Thousands of protestors fill Taksim Square.

Thousands of protestors fill Taksim Square.

Drummers in Taksim Square.

Drummers in Taksim Square.

Protestors holding up a flare while standing on a destroyed car in Taksim Square.

Protestors holding up a flare while standing on a destroyed car in Taksim Square.

Protestors carry a large Turkish flag through Taksim Square.

Protestors carry a large Turkish flag through Taksim Square.

Sports fans, who played a large role in the protests in Istanbul, march through Taksim Square.

Sports fans, who played a large role in the protests in Istanbul, march through Taksim Square.

Tents set up in Gezi Park, where thousands of people camped out every night.

Tents set up in Gezi Park, where thousands of people camped out every night.

Protestors dancing around a destroyed police car at the entrance to Gezi Park.

Protestors dancing around a destroyed police car at the entrance to Gezi Park.

Flowers planted into a peace sign at the location in Gezi Park where the first few trees were cut down before the occupation and resistance in the park forced construction to end.

Flowers planted into a peace sign at the location in Gezi Park where the first few trees were cut down before the occupation and resistance in the park forced construction to end.

Fireworks going off above Gezi Park.

Fireworks going off above Gezi Park.

Protestors marching through Taksim Square.

Protestors marching through Taksim Square.

Thousands of people fill Taksim Square.

Thousands of people fill Taksim Square.

While Taksim Square was void of a police presence, protesters used that time to build make-shift barricades on the streets leading into the square in hopes of making it more difficult for police to enter the area when they came back. Some barricades were made with city buses, while others were made with police barricades and other materials that the protesters found:

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On June 8th, I traveled to Gazi Mahallesi, Istanbul, which was about a 30 minute cab ride from Taksim Square. People there had been taking to the streets for several nights (as well as in many other cities and neighborhoods around Turkey), and police were responding to the protesters with water cannons and tear gas. Local activists said it was unsafe for me to go by myself, so they ended up connecting me to an activist who had been on the ground in Gazi for the past few nights. He didn’t speak any English, and I don’t speak any Turkish, so communication was a bit difficult. But, he watched my back, and helped keep me safe the entire night.

It was almost midnight by the time I arrived in Gazi that night, and many of the thousands of people who had been in the streets earlier had already gone home. A few hundred remained, and continued to face down water cannon trucks, tear gas, and flash bangs that were being used in an attempt to disperse them:

Protestors stand at the bottom of a hill, as water cannon trucks sit at the top of the hill before approaching the protestors to disperse them.

Protestors stand at the bottom of a hill, as water cannon trucks sit at the top of the hill before approaching the protestors to disperse them.

Protestors hold up peace signs as the headlights from two water cannon trucks shine on them.

Protestors hold up peace signs as the headlights from two water cannon trucks shine on them.

A water cannon truck attempts to disperse protestors.

A water cannon truck attempts to disperse protestors.

Protestors sit down to rest for awhile.

Protestors sit down to rest for awhile.

A protestor walks down the middle of the street as two water cannon trucks approach from behind.

A protestor walks down the middle of the street as two water cannon trucks approach from behind.

Three days after my trip to Gazi, on the morning of June 11th, police broke through the barricades that protesters had made and entered Taksim Square. As I had been awake all night, I was about to go to bed when I got word of what was happening. I quickly packed up my gear and headed towards the square. On my way, I passed many people who were frantically fleeing the area, coughing as their eyes watered from tear gas that had been deployed as the police entered the area. Many people were yelling at me in Turkish, clearly telling me to go back, but they didn’t realize that I had traveled many miles just to photograph this.

As I entered the square, my eyes stung from lingering tear gas. The police were announcing over loudspeakers that they only planned to remove banners and tents from the square, but did not plan to enter Gezi Park. Not long after, a small group of people began throwing molotov cocktails and rocks at police vehicles from behind a set of barricades. I spoke to many Turkish activists who said they believed this was staged in order to “justify” the actions of the police that day. The protesters found it odd that the police responded with less use of force on this small group of people than they had used during earlier protests. The police ended up using tear gas, water cannons, and plastic bullets on thousands of protesters in both Taksim Square and Gezi Park during clashes that went all day and into the night, lasting for over 20 hours:

Hundreds of police officers, along with water cannon trucks, sitting in Taksim Square.

Hundreds of police officers, along with water cannon trucks, sitting in Taksim Square.

Police officers stand behind two water cannon trucks in Taksim Square.

Police officers stand behind two water cannon trucks in Taksim Square.

Protestors stand on the edge of Gezi Park, watching as hundreds of police officers entered Taksim Square with multiple water cannon trucks and other armored vehicles.

Protestors stand on the edge of Gezi Park, watching as hundreds of police officers entered Taksim Square with multiple water cannon trucks and other armored vehicles.

Protestors stand in front of a water cannon truck before cops began attacking protestors with tear gas, water cannons, and plastic bullets.

Protestors stand in front of a water cannon truck before cops began attacking protestors with tear gas, water cannons, and plastic bullets.

A protestor throws a tear gas canister back towards police.

A protestor throws a tear gas canister back towards police.

Tear gas filling Taksim Square.

Tear gas filling Taksim Square.

Protestors standing behind make-shift barricades as they are sprayed with a water cannon.

Protestors standing behind make-shift barricades as they are sprayed with a water cannon.

My view from inside the tear gas.

My view from inside the tear gas.

Several hours after the attack on Taksim Square began, I was hit with a water cannon and was completely engulfed in tear gas so thick that I was unable to see. After making my way into Gezi Park to receive help from the medics for the effects from the tear gas, I decided it was best for me to head back to the apartment I was staying at in order to change into dry clothes and get a few photos posted. On my way back, I was hassled by a group of police officers who were several blocks away from the clashes. They saw my cameras and stopped me, then started grabbing at my arm as if they were trying to detain me. After I told them several times that I was leaving the area, they finally allowed me to walk down the closest street that led away from Taksim Square.

Later that night, I went back out with a couple of friends and we tried to get back to Taksim Square. We soon realized that police officers were keeping others from getting near the square, and were pushing protesters further and further down the streets away from the area. We ended up joining thousands of others on Istiklal Street, several blocks from the square where the police were launching tear gas into the crowd.

A protestor throwing a tear gas canister back towards the police.

A protestor throwing a tear gas canister back towards the police.

Tear gas hanging in the air above protestors as they are pushed further from Taksim Square.

Tear gas hanging in the air above protestors as they are pushed further from Taksim Square.

Tear gas floating down the street towards protestors as they are pushed further from the square.

Tear gas floating down the street towards protestors as they are pushed further from the square.

Once the situation calmed down, police remained in Taksim Square, along with several water cannon trucks and other armored vehicles. The next few days were filled with tension as protesters expected an attack on Gezi Park at any point. Make-shift barricades were erected at the entrance to the park:

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In an attempt to ease the tension, Davide Martello, a pianist who was on an international tour at the time, decided to stop by Taksim Square. He set up his piano in the square two days in a row, and played for the large crowds that gathered, creating a calming effect on anybody who listened. Even the police officers seemed to become more calm while listening to his music. On his second night in the square, Davide played for 12 hours straight:

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The calm didn’t last long, though, and on the night of June 15th, police attacked Gezi Park. They used tear gas and water cannons to clear protesters out of the park, and then continued to push them further away from the area. I had been taking a nap when the police first entered the park, but soon woke up and headed directly to the park. As I walked along the street next to the park with two other photographers from the US, police inside the park began yelling at us. Although we were the only three people in the area, they then shot tear gas directly at us:

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As we walked towards Taksim Square, I saw the tents and other items that had been in the park being thrown into large trucks. Police guarded the entrances to the park, keeping protesters from re-entering it:

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We then headed towards a large group of protesters who had been pushed onto one of the streets leading away from Gezi Park, and were waiting for police to advance with a water cannon truck. The clashes continued late into the night, with police officers pushing protesters further and further away from the park:

Protestors standing in front of a water cannon truck just moments before it began spraying them.

Protestors standing in front of a water cannon truck just moments before it began spraying them.

Protestors being sprayed with a water cannon.

Protestors being sprayed with a water cannon.

Police advancing towards protestors while shooting tear gas into the crowd on the street.

Police advancing towards protestors while shooting tear gas into the crowd on the street.

Workers at a restaurant near Taksim Square wearing gas masks.

Workers at a restaurant near Taksim Square wearing gas masks.

Thousands of protestors standing behind make-shift barricades on Istiklal Street as tear gas lingers overhead.

Thousands of protestors standing behind make-shift barricades on Istiklal Street as tear gas lingers overhead.

Protestors shooting fireworks at the police as the police shoot tear gas and water cannons at protestors.

Protestors shooting fireworks at the police as the police shoot tear gas and water cannons at protestors.

A man lying on the ground, disabled from tear gas inhalation. I ended up helping him get to his feet and get out of the tear gas, and a videographer also came over to help. Once we got him to safety, the injured protestors offered us both cigarettes as thanks for helping him.

A man lying on the ground, disabled from tear gas inhalation. I ended up helping him get to his feet and get out of the tear gas, and a videographer also came over to help. Once we got him to safety, the injured protestors offered us both cigarettes as thanks for helping him.

A police officer firing tear down the street towards protestors.

A police officer firing tear down the street towards protestors.

Thousand of protestors gathered on Istiklal Street.

Thousand of protestors gathered on Istiklal Street.

The following morning, police blocked the entrances to Taksim Square and Gezi Park. Turkey’s European Union minister, Egemen Bağış, had said that anybody who tried to enter the square would be treated as a terrorist.

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At this point, I had been in Istanbul for almost two weeks, and my flight back to the US was scheduled for the following afternoon. Although a part of me wanted to stay and continue documenting, another part of me realized I had already documented a lot, and I felt that I needed to go home so I could reflect on my experiences and share them with others through speaking and writing about it.

As I sit here now, writing this blog post from the safety of a coffee shop in my neighborhood in New York City, even through the images of tear gas, water cannons, and riot police that threaten to cloud up my memory, I am clearly remembering the faces of the courageous, inspiring citizens of Istanbul that I met and photographed while I was there. I will soon recover from the physical and emotional effects of what I witnessed and experienced, but the people I met, and the positive experiences I had, will forever remain with me.

Her yer Taksim, her yer direniş.
Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance.

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-Jenna Pope-

You can support Jenna’s work be making a donation here.

 

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PHOTOS: Istanbul portrayed by Michele Sibiloni


Editor’s note: This is a condensed version of an interview published at  No Rhetorike. Visit the original for the full story.

Michele Sibiloni is an Italian photojournalist who covers East Africa and the Congo. He is currently based in Uganda where he is doing a long term project. He was in Italy for vacation and monitoring the Turkish protests since the beginning. After a couple of weeks he decided to go there, because it seemed to him like something that would not end in a few days. He knew that these protests were being super-covered, so he was ready to do some personal work also in case there was no assignment. Michele contacted the agency that he normally works with and filled a few days of work for them. Then he kept working for himself and tried to understand the situation and to find a story that could develop after the big news would be over. He says: “I actually find the current situation very interesting because of the stories of transition that these young Turks are living. They want to stand up no matter what, and that is something that I admire so much.”

Here you will find his pictures with comments by Michele about the situation where were taken and some of his reflections.

 

Voices XXIII: Michele Sibiloni. Italian photojournalist who shares his work and thoughts

Taksim Square from the building

Taksim Square from the building

This image has been taken from inside a big building in Taksim Square. People were walking in and out without asking permission from anyone, you could even go on the roof. Everyone was taking photos of the square and of each other. I felt something was not right; I thought, “This is a construction site and no one is controlling anything. People are walking around for no reason. Someone is playing the saxophone and a bunch of photographers are taking pictures.” At that point, I looked outside and wondered about the square. It was packed… the sun was setting, people sang together… there was a great atmosphere, a sense of unity. The question that came up immediately in my mind was, “How long is this going to last?” Not long, I thought.

 

Besiktas Çarsi soccer supporters reached Taksim

Besiktas Çarsi soccer supporters reached Taksim

After I was in the building, I wandered around the square, and suddenly fireworks started. It was nice, all those soccer fans with those red lights–people seemed to appreciate that. There was a lot of drinking; it was kind of a party atmosphere. Then I thought to myself, I don’t think Prime Minister Erdogan will allow this kind of atmosphere in Taksim Square for long.

 

A pharmacist in Gazi neighborhood looking outside the shop during a street battle

A pharmacist in Gazi neighborhood looking outside the shop during a street battle

This image has been taken in Gazi, a Kurdish neighborhood where very often people are rioting against police. People of every age are there, from young boys to old men; women band together against the common enemy, the police. The protesters were happy to have so many journalists around. The general feeling was that those people were used to doing what they did: very organized with cars ready in case of injured people, a pharmacist with his shop open, wearing swimming goggles and a mask, ready to help out. In the meantime, very close to the spot, life goes on normally inside a bar and cafe. There is some concert in a bar and people are doing normal things, while others are fighting in the street–very unusual.

 

Police getting teargas back from protestors in Taksim

Police getting teargas back from protestors in Taksim

 

 

 

People carrying  a guy who got shot in the head to the hospital 

People carrying  a guy who got shot in the head to the hospital

 

These guys are carrying a guy who got a teargas canister or plastic bullet straight in his head; he had a hole and the blood was gushing out, they were keeping a piece of clothes on his head to stop the bleeding. I’m not sure but think he is one of the few who passed out. While i was shooting the picture, I thought that I should be very careful, because when you work in such a situation, everyone is a target.

 

A protester throwing teargas back at Police in a street next to Gezi Park

A protester throwing teargas back at Police in a street next to Gezi Park

A guy was throwing teargas back at police. In one of the corners where many people got injured, I was protecting myself behind a truck, but I was kind of limited and i did not want to move too much because I had previously seen the guy getting hit in the head.

 

Exhausted police resting in Taksim after a battle in the morning.
(six police committed suicide since the protest started, according to the Turkish media)

Exhausted police resting in Taksim after a battle in the morning.

Police officers were resting in Taksim Square while the battle stopped for a while. I was surprised that they were resting there; some of them looked shocked, tired exhausted, and looked like they felt sorry for a second. People were not angry at them. Most of the protesters were pacifists; most of them were not fighting at all.

For those readers who don’t know, yesterday an interview with #durankadin was published

Michele Sibiloni’s website is coming soon; you can find his contact information here.

Click here for the Occupy Gezi Facebook page.

Follow the blog updates on Facebook.

Follow the blog updates on Twitter.

-Gabriel Yacubovich Japkin-

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Living in Taksim – Report June 12-14, 2013


Editors’ note: This piece originally appeared at Sinefil.

First, an addendum to my June 11 post. Over 70 lawyers defending the park were taken into custody at the courthouse yesterday. They were later released, but another perfect example of trying to strike fear in people’s hearts.

This footage is around 2 AM June 12 at the park, very soon after I had left. Following the gas attack, it started to rain. While that’s good for clearing the air, it’s difficult for people sleeping in the open air. I went back to the park in the morning, people were trying to re-group and re-establish an order. All the while, they were also trying to keep themselves dry and their belongings from flying away in the storm. Honestly, it looked a little depressing. But after a short nap at home and an afternoon at the office, a much drier and cheerful park awaited me. The evening was crowned by a concert – first by the statue, then in the middle of the square, and finally almost inside the park, above the steps. The piano was moved around by a bunch of guys who picked it up and carried it up and down. After the stress of Tuesday, sitting on the ground in the middle of the square and listening to “Imagine” (a few times too many perhaps, but still) with friends around me was priceless. At this point, people had gotten gas masks and hard hats. My mom bought my hat, and a friend lent me her mask. It was surreal – several thousand people hanging out in a park with gas masks, goggles and hard hats. One thing I heard over and over again was the anger and discontent about even having to own – and wear – this equipment. We’re regular citizens, not militants.

The news of the day were the negotiations in Ankara in the evening. The PM had called several people from the park and a group of artists. None were chosen by the park protestors, and they said so before going in. From what we heard, it was a long, emotional and ultimately fruitless meeting. When they came out, the spokesperson announced a possible referendum, which was never discussed in the meeting. We also later found out that there is no legal infrastructure for a referendum to be held. One of the negotiators, who declared he’d never been to the park and would refuse to go, gave a speech after the meeting which entertained everyone. I could only follow it from social media, but here it is – he’s not making much sense. This is the star of the famous “Valley of the Wolves” series and films; I have no idea why he was invited.

I was able to go home fairly early at night, and got the longest sleep of the last few weeks. It felt good…

On Thursday (June 13), the fear campaign continued. There were rumors (perhaps a few real cases) of people being searched, and those with hard hats and / or gas masks being detained. No confirmation though.

A second set of negotiations were called for 11 PM – this time, the list included members of the Taksim Solidarity, and the artists had actually been to the park. But again, it was called by the PM’s office with no proper representation. Waiting for the negotiations, the filmmakers issued a press statement, and I was busy trying to help with its translation. Hence, I missed the highlight of the day: human chain formed by the mothers. The previous evening, the mayor had called out to the mothers of the “young” protestors in the park, telling them to pull their kids back, essentially. The mothers responded by showing up themselves and forming a human chain around the park . Very touching…

I felt that we were approaching the end of things, one way or another (how very prescient of me…). So I went for a walk with a friend around the park. Not so much inside, because it was really crowded again, but along the edges, in the darker areas that are forgotten. In retrospect, I guess I wanted to etch the memories of this utopian space in my brain before it was gone forever. At some point, I went back home and wrote my report for June 10-11.

Police and the people

Friday morning, I had signed up for the 6-10 shift again. It was a nice and cool morning; we cleaned out the tent and I headed to the square, where I heard the piano concert was on again. Davide was playing by the statue, with a small audience that included a few drunk people and more than your usul share of the crazy. Around the statue, young police officers were in dialogue with protestors who surrounded them (pic below). It was a heartwarming sight, but the officers’ superiors soon replaced them with older, more experienced, and more distant colleagues…

As I headed back to the park, it started to rain. Soon it was a heavy rain and we were trying to keep everything dry. Soon, the summery shoes I was wearing were wet and I was cold. Not long after the rain stopped, there was an announcement that dry mats and blankets were available in the headquarters. And someone showed up at the tent, offering us new, dry pairs of socks – an offer I truly appreciated and picked up immediately. I ended up staying there until the afternoon, and when I went to the radio for my weekly show, all we could talk about was the park again. And having played the film version of “Do you hear the people sing,” the week before, this time we played this video. And cried, of course.

Morning concert

After the (again fruitless) negotiations of the previous night, the park had organized seven forums in various locations to discuss the options. This is an ultra-democratic system, but of course, not very practical. Taksim Solidarity held a meeting later, with all the input from the forums. It apparently went on from 8 PM until 4:30 AM, with no clear outcome. They announced the next morning that people intended to stay, but there was also talk of converging some of the smaller groups into larger tents and leaving the decision to individual groups. It was seen as the beginning of a negotiation process, to be continued for some time…

-Melis Behlil-

Read more stories from the resistance in Turkey by clicking here.

 

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Chaos at the Divan Hotel


Editor’s Note: This piece was first published at Dimter Kenarov’s blog.

When Turkish riot police stormed Gezi Park yesterday evening (June 15) and lay waste to the tent city, where for more than two weeks Turks of all stripes had found peaceful community space to protest the increasingly authoritarian regime of the prime-minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, many of the exiled tent residents sought refuge in the nearby Divan Hotel. A luxurious, 10-story building in the center of Istanbul, it opened in 1956 as the first five-star hotel in the city, the stationary version of the Orient Express. But now, it was the Titanic.

The lobby, complete with plush armchairs and scintillating chandeliers, was transformed into a desperate fortification. Young people with gas masks were sitting around, nervously talking on cell phones and checking their Twitter accounts for the latest updates from the outside world. On the lower floor, in the spacious ball rooms, volunteer doctors were treating the injured, many of them suffering from tear gas inhalation. The reception staff had donned on gas masks, bravely trying to help and preserve some semblance of order, as outside riot police and water cannon vehicles (TOMA) had effectively besieged the hotel, occasionally lobbing off tear gas canisters and blasting water cannons at the entrance. Then, after a few hours, the police suddenly stormed the hotel and started shooting tear gas inside the lobby, sending people into a horrible scramble to the upper floors, many of them blinded, nearly suffocating.

I was in and around the Divan Hotel for most of the night and what struck me especially was the surreal contrast between the opulent interior, decorated with paintings and colorful tiles and the general mood of anguish and fear. In the following photographs, I’ve tried to document some of that.

Dimter Kenarov-
Read more stories from the resistance in Turkey by clicking here.

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PHOTOS: Turkish Police Attack Gezi Park


Editor’s note: These photos were taken by activist and photographer  at during the police raid of Gezi Park and Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, June 15th.  They were originally published at Jenna’s blog. Click here to support Jenna’s stunning and inspiring work.

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Read more stories from the resistance in Turkey by clicking here.

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Resist Istanbul: Or how I got teargassed again and started losing hope that this government will ever stop the violence


Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared at İnsanlik Hali.

Here we go: I have been attacked; yet again, tear-gassed brutally by my own government. By my government, which is supposed to protect me. By my government, which is supposed to work for me. By police officers whose salaries, armors, batons and ammunition are paid by my friends’, by our families’, and by our taxes.

Make no mistake. We were not exactly protesting when the police started attacking us. Not that it is illegal to protest democratically in Turkey – though you would be hard pressed to believe that seeing how we are treated. We were just a lot of people standing together at the Taksim Square. We were not even chanting. I was talking to two friends standing next to me, an architect and a historian. The square was full with people arriving after work. We were in a good mood; worried, as there have been continuous police interventions during the day after police moved in onto the square, claiming they wanted to take some banners down; but with friends, running into people we know, just chatting; debating if we should move into the park where more friends were hanging out.

That’s when the gas canisters appeared, without any warning, like comets in the sky. I saw the white cloud afar on the other side of the square; I saw some commotion. But by now, we, the protestors of Turkey, are very much familiar with this particular sight and sound, tear gas canisters being fired – so I didn’t start moving immediately. See, it is not too bad if there is only one and the wind is blowing the other way. But people were moving, in fact, running. Unlike the streets on which I have been teargassed before, here, on the square, the effect was like a stone thrown into water – ripples of people – moving, fast; which in and of itself is very scary when you are in the middle of it. I did what I learned to do last week: I shouted with my hands in the air, “do not run, remain calm,” stepping back slowly, while trying to do what I preach; that is, remain calm. I looked around only to realize that I was already separated from my friends… I tried to shout at them “don’t move too fast, lets see what is going on” but it was too loud, and they were already far. In my mind I was going “maybe the shooting will stop, maybe it is not too bad, no need to run” when a gas canister landed next to my feet. I stepped back, looked up and saw, well, a shower of gas canisters landing left and right. As I started stepping back faster and faster, one landed in front of me, one to my left; I turned to run and another landed in my way… Turns out that I was mistaken; I was the naive one to think that the police would not attack a city square full of peaceful people; not after the governor has announced that they were not planning to attack. Really, how stupid am I to trust what the governor says at this point? We were under what looks like a tear-gas storm.

Dear friends who have been lucky enough not to have experienced tear-gas until this point in their lives; let me tell you; it hurts. It burns your eyes, your nose, and your lungs. You can’t breathe and you wanna tear your lungs out, you cough and cough and cough. You feel sick to your stomach; I was in so much pain that I was pretty sure I was going to throw up. It is really not pretty.

It was a white-out, I couldn’t see my friends at all and I just kept on walking; I was too afraid to run in case I stumble and fall; plus, I couldn’t breathe. I concentrated, one step after another, reminding myself “Do not panic, it is going to be over soon,” trying to put my goggles on, not being able to breathe, worrying if my contacts are going to melt into my eyes like some people have been claiming they do. Worrying if my lungs are actually burning, what if they are? What if they are damaged? They are still shooting canisters in my way, what if I can’t make it out? Will I faint? Will I be stuck here? No no, don’t panic. Just walk. One step. After another.

How long did that walk take from the square to Sıraselviler? It is a very short distance we are talking about. Not even a few minutes. But I was afraid. I was very afraid.

Yet, as many of us have learned by experience in these past 10 days in Istanbul, the effects of the tear-gas do not last long. The danger really is the canisters hitting you in the head, cracking your skull, or taking your eye out. If you are lucky and get out in the fresh air without being hit, things keep on hurting for awhile but then slowly, the pain wears off. After all the attacks, the backstreets of Istiklal and Galatasaray are full with people, sitting around, coughing, waiting for the pain to pass, sharing their antihistamine mixtures. Then, at one point, you forget that you were in pain. And of course, the adrenaline, the fear; you have to wait for those to wear off, too.

If there is one thing that does not seem to wear off – it is the anger. It is the disbelief that you, as a citizen of this country, someone who tries to voice her concerns, be open, negotiate, deliberate; someone who at one point actually believed that this country could democratise, is walking the streets of your city, tears streaming your face; eyes and lungs burning, in pain, because your government is attacking you, repeatedly. There is no question that none of us deserves this. No one deserves treatment like this. Even if we were marginals and radicals, as our PM claims that we are, we wouldn’t have deserved this. Silly me; I know I shouldn’t be surprised; this has been going on for a long time; this time it is us, other times it was other people. Logically, I am not surprised. But emotionally, I am. It is one thing to know of government violence when it is happening to others in far away places. You speak against it, you feel its injustice. Yet somehow, I find out it is another thing to actually face it. To be there when the gas canister is flying towards you. To wonder, in a millisecond, whether it is going to hit you, or not. To hear that your friends have been taken to custody. To feel helpless. If this is what is happening to us – to the most educated, most connected crowd that this country has produced, imagine what has happened to others who were not connected, who were not heard.

It is time to dispel the notion that Tayyip Erdogan is the “democratically elected leader” of a “democratic” country. While he might have been elected democratically, the actions, reactions, and the language of the prime-minister have been text-book authoritarian. These protests, which have started off as demonstrations to protect Gezi Parkı, have peacefully voiced very legitimate concerns against the JDP government. As I and many others have talked about before, the concerns are about the neoliberal-conservatism of the JDP government and about its authoritarian politics; the protests are about democracy, about our right to live as dignified human beings. They are shared by a very heterogenous group of people; this movement has brought many groups together that previously did not quite realize they were fighting similar fights; ecologist, neighborhood movements against urban transformation projects, feminists, urban planners, artists, students, secularists…The reason they are protesting is that there are no other channels to affect the government – the government rules with no opposition in the parliament, has silenced the media, coopted the judiciary, and does not care about any opposition that comes from the society.

Now, the demands of the protests have been voiced clearly – they are no secrets. They are not hard to understand. In fact, they are pretty minimal considering all the complaints against the JDP government.Yet, there has been no acceptable response from the government. The opportunity to negotiate, the opportunity to back off, the opportunity to grow, the opportunity to listen – there were many of those opportunities. But there seems to be no will by the government to do any of those. The prime-minister seems to have gone mad by his hunger for power; and the ministers and governors look like confused puppets. They do not want to negotiate; they want to wipe us out and continue as they please. For this, they are using very provocative language in their speeches, demonizing and targeting us, and they are putting on a PR show which largely consists of blatant lies, in fact, even staging police interventions where police fights undercover cops to air in the media.

Thus, just to clarify one more time:

  • This is a genuine voluntary and spontaneous citizen movement; it was not planned by a party or by some foreign power to weaken the JDP government;
  • The people who are participating in it are not “radicals” or “marginals” as the prime-minister claims they are, whatever that means;
  • There have been no violence whatsoever in or around the park until the police attacked. The protestors have not attacked anyone, did not loot anything. There was nothing violent going on today when the police attacked us cruelly. The park has become a peaceful self-sustaining commune with many tents, a health-center, and a library, with workshops going on through the day, with people hanging out. Of course, it is destroyed now.
  • The content of prime-minister’s speeches are mostly made up of lies which are aimed at provoking people and making the interventions look legitimate.
  • There has been no efforts from the government at negotiating, or solving the issue besides violence. The word was out that the prime-minister was going to meet with the representatives of the movement; turns out no one from the Taksim Solidarity Platform who have been organizing and talking for the protests until this point have been invited. I am not sure who the PM is going to talk, but they are not the representativeness of the movement. It is just a PR show to make it look as if the PM is taking steps.

At this point, I am back home. I got thrown onto the other side of the square and could not make my way back to the park because of the police. I am extremely afraid for everyone, for my friends and countless others who I don’t know personally, who are still in and around the park. I am afraid for the future of this country. I can’t see this end well. Not with this government; not with the way they have been acting. I wish to be proven wrong. I so wish to be proven wrong. But I’ve already been shown that I am naive when it comes to the limits of government brutality in Turkey.

Taken from Gezi Park Medya's Facebook Page

-Deniz Erkmen-

Read more stories from the resistance in Turkey by clicking here.

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Living in Taksim – Report June 10-11, 2013


Editors’ note: This piece originally appeared at Sinefil. Pictures copyright: Ulaş Tosun

Long time, no report. It has been a tough week… Monday was fairly relaxed, I was in the park 6-10 AM again, it was a continuation of the previous two weeks: peaceful, green, full of life. In the evening, it was announced that the PM would meet with a group of people on Wednesday to discuss the park. It was the first announcement about negotiations, but the problem was that these people were not representatives chosen by the protestors, but some people related to the park and a random group of artists. Nevertheless, I thought it was good that some steps were taken.

Tuesday morning, looking forward to the forthcoming negotiations on Wednesday and certain the police would hold back until then, I put on a light make-up, wore a skirt and high-heeled suede boots. The park was gorgeous again at 6 AM. At around 6:50, there was a short bout of panic- apparently, the number of police down the hill had surged. The panic quelled shortly, although everyone had already gotten up. At 7:30, news arrived that the police was demolishing some of the barricades and entering the square. They made an announcement that they were there only to clean up the façade of the cultural center from the banners (the most popular of which was a giant “Shut up Tayyip”), and the statue of Ataturk (which was covered with banners and graffiti). The governor tweeted that they had no intention of entering the park.

The rest of the morning was a long wait. Some of the groups that wanted to keep the barricades started clashes with the police at certain locations. Some of these were apparently police in civilian clothing, as our friends who had access to TVs informed us via Twitter. They were wearing standard-issue gas masks and carrying walkie-talkies. The general impression was that it was a charade staged by the police and broadcast live by all the channels that had been absent the first few days. I tried to go home to change, but was told that my neighborhood was not safe at the moment. At some point, a human chain was formed around the park. Most of us walked out to see what was going on, but no one was attacking the police. That’s when we got hit by the first gas. We all rushed back to the park, trying not to panic and not to run. It turns out my swimming goggles are really good at keeping the gas away from my eyes, and my makeshift gas mask -which is essentially a filter with extra paper towel tucked inside – also worked pretty well. It’s still a pretty unpleasant and painful affair.

At 1 PM, the Taksim Solidarity was supposed to read out their press release. A large group of people gathered on the steps. The police made an

Blasting away the Anticapitalist Muslims

Blasting away the Anticapitalist Muslims

announcement saying they did not intend to attack and of course, soon gas bomb pellets were flying in our direction. We retreated back into the park. This whole thing repeated itself once again, and it was pretty clear the press release was not going to get read. The press that had broadcast the charade in the morning was not around to show any of this. I went back to our tent, where I spent most of the rest of the day. Luckily, at some point I was able to go home and change into jeans and sneakers.

The view on the edge of the park - it was much more peaceful inside

The view on the edge of the park – it was much more peaceful inside`

Despite the announcement of not entering the park, the police did enter parts, and kept on throwing gas bombs inside. Our side of the park was largely unaffected, but the Western side was often covered with gas. Later in the evening, many people showed up in solidarity, but the general feeling was quite tense, the police having been literally pushed out once. They were able to destroy a portion of the tents, those closest to the square. Ironically, one of the first to go was the masjid (prayer space) put up by the Anticapitalist Muslims group (pic above). Throughout the evening, both TV channels and some people on Twitter kept on talking about how the police was entering the park, beating people and burning the tents. I got curious, as none of that was within my vision from the tent. A midnight stroll through the park resulted in confirming that there was nothing really terrifying going on in the park – tense, but quiet waiting. Apparently, this was a way of intimidating people into not coming to the park. When I posted a picture of the quiet park, I received quite a few mentions calling me a liar. So we (or I) realized that Twitter was not simply a useful tool for communication, but also a weapon of disinformation.

The police at the entrance to my mom's street

The police at the entrance to my mom’s street

I wasn’t sure how I would go home, since there were clashes on and off en route. My mother’s was also out of the question since the police was situated exactly between her place and the park (pic below). Luckily, I ran into some friends and ended up staying with them – it also felt really good to be in the company of others, and not by myself after a long day of waiting in fear. (Soon to come: Things did get better the next day, although it was a long night for those who stayed in the park…)

Read more stories from the resistance in Turkey by clicking here.

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#OccupyGezi: How a Sit-In for Trees In Istanbul Invigorated the Global Occupy Movement


“One day there will be no borders, no boundaries, no flags and no countries and the only passport will be the heart”  ― Carlos Santana 

Istanbul, Turkey–I’m sitting in a colorful, 3-bedroom collective house just off of Taksim Square in downtown Istanbul, Turkey, but I might as well be in New York City, or Paris, or Sydney, Australia. Around me buzz Erasmus students and clown artists and culture jamming hacktivists as I work frustratingly to change the browser settings on their computer to English. I’m trying to set up a Google+ Hangout link to the occupied Cooper Union back in New York, where another batch of students have also been aiming to dislodge their own dictator-of-sorts with a month-long sit-in protest.

I ask if this is the headquarters of Occupy Gezi, now in its second week and spreading across the country. Laughs.

I ask if these are the leaders around me. Billowing, hilarious laughs.

Tolga, a gentle-toned but charismatic man who is proud to place himself among the first park defenders, points me to his back balcony. His hand traces up the length of a soaring Turkish maple tree that winds up and through the shared backyard. The cacophony of voices behind me seems to fade as he recites from memory a poem by Turkish leftist Nâzım Hikmet Ran.

“To live! Like a tree alone and free / Like a forest in brotherhood” 

It occurs to me in that moment that I’d completely misunderstood the protests to be about the wrong residents of Taksim Square. The boisterous people around me, the students, the protesters, even the police, were just migrants to this place, like Roma gypsies in a slow crawl from Asia to Europe or back the other way. The real beings facing eviction  the true occupiers of Gezi Park  are the 606 Turkish trees. And three had already been martyred for the cause.

On the day I arrived to Istanbul, thousands had assembled in Zuccotti Park, in Montreal,  in Paris and in Madrid to publicly denounce the violence against Gezi’s trees and their defenders. Waving Turkish flags they joined with the growing number of Turks across every province in unified chants of Tayyip Istifa! (Resign Tayyip!) and stamped their protest with Twitter hashtags #OCCUPYGEZI and #DIRENGEZIPARK (Resist for Gezi Park!) Meanwhile, in Gezi Park itself, the retreat of the police brought a massive outpouring of popular support for the tree defenders and soon the park was brimming with people, and new and more complex structures began to pop up under the shade of those 606 Turkish trees: a medical station, a free general store, even a library. It was like eviction defense for the trees, and increasingly the trees became yet another symbol now for the human victims of over-zealous capitalism and urban gentrification: the Kurds, the LGBT, the Armenians, the Roma, the poor, the young, the people.

This is Occupy reinvigorated. This is the basic human struggle for the dignity of nature and humanity in the face of the most menacing enemy we have ever faced: global capital. And while the selfless humanitarians of Occupy Sandy and Occupy Our Homes and the clever agitators at Strike Debt and Occupy the Workplace reach deeper into our communities to build grassroots defense networks, these young Turks are on the front line in a global offensive. And it’s a battle without borders.

Several days later, with lingering tear gas on my clothes and a hefty dose of sleep exhaustion, I bid farewell to my new Turkish comrades and board a flight to Paris. Like neurons in a vast global sensory system, we are filling in the synapses that connect disparate geographies and local cultures. The internet has laid down the international wires of our switchboard, but its operators are quickly facing the same threats as the Turkish trees: walled-off, closed, premium, proprietary and wire-tapped digital enclosure and foreclosure. If the Erdogan problem in Gezi park doesn’t seem universal to you, you’re just not paying attention. Like diverse and organic, free-flowing physical space, the open spaces of the internet are quickly being commodified and privatized in the name of national security or for straight greed. SOPA? NSA, anyone?

In safeguarding and liberating the digital and physical commons, Occupy is finding its international calling. New tactics and strategies are emerging, and a diversity of local demands and new political alliances. New fronts in the global struggle for economic and social justice will emerge and flare up, and international solidarity will threaten the very fabric of insular, monopolistic nation-states. And the humblest of beings  like the silent Turkish trees  will become symbols of a global popular movement.

-Justin Wedes-

Justin Wedes is an educator and activist living in Brooklyn New York. He recently traveled to Istanbul, Turkey to meet with, and document the exciting work of, Occupy Gezi organizers. He’ll share stories from his trip this Friday at 319 Scholes Conversations: #OccupyGezi

Read more stories from the resistance in Turkey by clicking here.

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PHOTOS: Clashes in Gazi Mahallesi, Istanbul


Editor’s note: These photos were taken by activist and photographer  during clashes between protestors and police in Gazi Mahallesi, Istanbul on June 8th, 2013. They were originally published at Jenna’s blog. Click here to support Jenna’s stunning and inspiring work.

 

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Cops wait on top of a hill as protestors stand near a fire. The smoke from the fire helps keep the tear gas away.

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Protestors walking down the street as water cannon trucks approach from behind.

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A protestor walking down the street as water cannon trucks approach from behind.

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Protestors standing the street as water cannon trucks approach.

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Protestors holding up peace signs in front of the water cannon trucks.

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Protestors running down the street to get away from a water cannon truck.

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A protestor holding rocks in his hands.

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A police vehicle shining a light down a street to look for protestors after they were dispersed using water cannon trucks, flash bangs, and tear gas.

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Protestors taking a break after being chased down the street by water cannon trucks.

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Tear gas in the streets in Gazi where there have been clashes between protestors and police the past few nights.

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A protestor standing near a fire after the area was tear gassed. The smoke from the fire helps keep the tear gas away.

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I saw this graffiti as I returned to Taksim after photographing and being gassed in Gazi.

Read more stories from the resistance in Turkey by clicking here.

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PHOTOS: 3 Days of #OccupyGezi


Editor’s note: These photos were taken by activist and photographer  at Gezi Park and Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, June 5th-7th.  They were originally published at Jenna’s blog. Click here to support Jenna’s stunning and inspiring work. 

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Read more stories from the resistance in Turkey by clicking here.

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