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Living In Taksim | Occupied Stories

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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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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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Living in Taksim: Weekend Report, June 8-9


Editors’ note: This piece originally appeared at Sinefil.

Istnabul, Turkey–The police has announced that they would not intervene at the park until Monday. So the weekend in Istanbul was peaceful, the park full of “tourists,” people who come from all over town to see what’s going on. We even had visits from various family members…

The big event of Saturday was the walk by soccer fans towards Taksim, especially by Beşiktaş supporters. Çarşı, a particular group of fans, has been very active in the resistance since the beginning, and they have amassed an enormous number of fans – not necessarily the club, but the fan group. They walked from Beşiktaş up the hill through Nişantaşı. We intercepted a small portion at Elmadağ, a very enthusiastic and diverse group. They were joined by Fenerbahçe fans crossing over from the Asian side, and a smaller number of Galatasaray fans walking along İstiklal. This was what it looked like when they all arrived on the square.

I skipped all that and went to meet some friends at Asmalımescit, and area full of bars and suffering heavily since the ban of tables outdoors last year. People were standing around, breaking into chants and songs every few minutes. The whole area around İstiklal is truly unbelievable, everyone’s smiling. I hear that people are singing on the ferries, in the metro, all around. A psychiatrist wrote about this today, saying people have overcome their fears and have a different stand now. We were talking about this a lot yesterday, especially those who have been on the barricades are full of energy and life. These are not “looters” as our PM likes to say, but lawyers, engineers, bankers with advanced degrees, international careers. The transnational capitalist class become revolutionaries…

But still, my age group appears to be more apprehensive than the younger generation, who are seen as the engine leading this movement. I feel truly “middle-aged” for the first time. Maybe it’s the experience of having lived through a coup d’etat, maybe it’s having seen too many films; I (and most of my friends) cannot be as optimistically hopeful as the young. It is an amazing thing that is happening, no doubt, and things are changing – or beginning to. But we often say this is great “even if nothing comes out of it” or “even if they build the barracks.” Defeatist, perhaps; or simply realistic.

Sunday was a day full of RTE speeches. He gave 6 speeches I believe, stopping every few miles from the airport into the city in Ankara. He wore the same horrid checkered jacket, and said more or less the same lies at every stop. It’s amazing how blatantly and full of hatred he can lie. Some examples: he claims protesters entered a mosque with their shoes and drank alcohol inside. Truth: they did enter with their shoes, but cleaned up afterwards – they were running in because they were being chased by the police, with gas. The imam of the mosque himself gave interviews saying the mosque was only used as a makeshift hospital and no one drank inside. There are extensive videos of what was going on inside. Another example: his government is apparently pro-environment, because they planted 2,800,000,000 trees. Never mind the environmental disasters they are causing (hydroelectric centrals, nuclear plant planned, cutting down forests everywhere – one petition here) but 2,800,000,000? People tried to make the calculations, and it seems impossible. He maintains his divisive language of “my people” and “my police” versus “those looters.” He also keeps on talking about an “interest lobby” that’s behind all this. No one’s sure what that is, we’re suspecting his advisers may have mistranslated “special interest lobbies” (the sense he uses the word in is the interest in finance, with percentages and all). What makes me truly sick is that he kept on using the policeman who died. He made a martyr of the poor man, as if he was murdered by protesters. The police had accidentally fallen off a construction while he was pursuing protestors – his own colleague testified that he was overworked and tired. While the PM gave his speeches around Ankara, thousands gathered at Kızılay (the main square there), and were gassed/watered/beaten by the police without showing the slightest sign of violent protest. So the police violence remains, it’s just not in Taksim anymore because Taksim is too much in the spotlight.

We walked from there back to Taksim. There were multiple protesting groups walking in opposite directions. Every time we came across another group, we stood, chanted a few lines together, and moved on. This is a truly surreal experience. I know I’m repeating myself, but I cannot stress enough how amazing/weird/unbelievable this is. It feels like we’re all in a dream, hoping it won’t turn into a nightmare. I spent the Sunday morning at the park, which was fairly quiet. This has got to be the best-documented resistance movement in history. In addition to all the protesters shooting videos and taking pictures, the filmmakers in the park had organized six different groups shooting around the park and the activities throughout the day. This is not just the documentarians, but award-winning fiction directors. It looks like we’re going to have a whole batch of films coming out of all this. One of the activities was the protest at the historic Emek theater, the oldest movie theater in the city that was torn down about two weeks ago. We had protested for about three years to stop the construction of -guess what?- another shopping mall (here’s an article in The Guardian about it). Again, a very personal cause for me, as it was my favorite theater (as it was for many cinephiles), and my father used to live in the adjoining beautiful Circle d’Orient building as a teenager – that has also been demolished. They’re supposed to keep the façade, but everything else is gone. A huge banner was hung on Circle d’Orient, carrying the lines of a beloved Turkish poet.

-Melis Behlil-

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

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Living in Taksim – Daily Report June 7, 2013


Editors’ note: This piece originally appeared at Sinefil.

Long, long day. And not just one, but two speeches by RTE (the PM). Luckily, I managed to miss them both. His first speech was at the airport, upon his arrival from Algiers via Ankara. First the AKP announced that they didn’t want an audience then I guess they changed their mind. Thousands of SMSs were sent inviting people to the airport, free bus services were arranged from all around the city, and the metro line to the airport was kept open until 4 AM. Normally, the metro shuts down at midnight. During the first few days of the protests, metro service to Taksim was stopped altogether. Let alone free bus rides, traffic was diverted away from Taksim. People came anyway.

At his airport speech, RTE was apparently as enraged as ever, declaring that the construction will not stop. His speech will be good material for discourse analysis classes in the years to come. Even the language he employs is divisive and inflammatory. The press was given pictures of the “huge” crowds, which were apparently photoshopped (see below). I’m not arguing that Erdogan is not supported by many, but the need to do this shows a certain desperation… His second speech was in the afternoon, while we were live on radio (more on this later). Apparently, it was softer and milder, and ended with a promise to tear down the Ataturk Cultural Center on Taksim (currently being renovated by the Sabanci Holding) and build “a baroque-style opera building” in its place. Someone needs to remind him that a. AKM (cultural center) is indeed an opera building and b. he announced plans to shut down all cultural activities (opera, theater, ballet, symphony) by the state.

I started out with a shift at the cinema tent 6-10 AM. The park is beautiful at that hour; not empty at all, but peaceful. Apparently people were up until the first lights of the day, making sure the police don’t appear again after the airport speech. 6-10 is the cleanup time, it’s when some are asleep in their tents, others start getting ready for the day. There were some “leftovers,” still somewhat drunk, babbling on. Park is getting somewhat stricter on alcohol, there are signs around to “remain sober,” especially at night, when the previous attacks happened. But the police have now agreed not to take any action until Monday. What happens on Monday, we do not know.
In the afternoon, I did my usual weekly radio program on Açık Radyo, with my co-programmer Yeşim Burul and guest İrem İnceoğlu. We talked about the representation of the protests in the media, the role of social media, and connected to two activists from Videoccupy, who are documenting the entire process. For those who can understand Turkish, here’s the link to the show.
After an evening stroll in the park, I decided I needed something else and went to Nişantaşı for the evening. Life goes on normally elsewhere in the city (even though I have to walk there because there are barricades on the way). It was really nice to be with friends and somewhere without signs and graffiti, even though we could not talk about anything else than the events and what might happen, and kept on checking our Twitter accounts. While we were there Red Hack representatives gave an interview on TV, expressing all the frustrations that are shared by all who joined the protests. (Interview here, in Turkish).
This whole process has made us all somewhat sensitive and emotional. We hug more, we say “I love you” more, we tend to get teary-eyed unusually often. With me, it’s even more personal, because that was, thankfully still is, “my park.” I was born and raised in Taksim, Gezi is where my parents took me to play – as my friends take their children now. We’ve been protesting for nearly two years, come rain or come snow, often in discouragingly small numbers. But I always had an intuition that something would happen if they tried to touch the park. I always thought “it’s not that easy.” No matter what happens now, it’s clear that it’s not that easy. I feel like the entire country has come out to support “my park;” I feel grateful and proud at the same time.  And here I go with the teary eyes again…
-Melis Behlil-
Read more stories from the resistance in Turkey by clicking here.

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Living in Taksim – Daily Report, June 6


Editors’ note: This piece originally appeared at Sinefil.

Istanbul, Turkey–Highlight of the day, or rather, frustration of the day: PM declared in Algiers that they “will build the barracks.” No understanding, no empathy, no reason. Luckily, the stock market went downhill after his declaration; that’s the only thing left that might convince him that he’s doing something wrong. He’s back in Ankara as of tonight and was supposed to land in Istanbul by 11 PM, but they keep on delaying it. The Interior Minister gave a speech full of blatant lies; he claimed no police attacked the Swan Park in Ankara, and when people pointed out that was untrue, he claimed that they had it wrong. Okay. He also claimed that the injured young man who fell off the construction site of the cultural center the other day was pushed by the protesters. If he could only come to Taksim, he would see how people apologize to one another even if they push each other by mistake – this isn’t just a lie, it’s slander in its worst form. But this is the man who was the head of the Istanbul Police Force when Hrant Dink was murdered. Enough said.

As far as my personal observations go, it was yet another peaceful and happy day. A morning walk through Cihangir, site of many gassings over the weekend: not even any graffiti on the walls, all seems normal. A protest march with academics from Tunel to Taksim: big crowd, very supportive onlookers, all in all a good experience. Taksim is the same, too many party flags around the square and on the cultural center I think, but the park remains a party-free zone. I mentioned the main food and medic center, there are many more at this point, as well as a well-drawn plan of the whole area. It is more organized than anything this government has ever done. I didn’t stay very long, it getting even more crowded than last night. I was afraid people would lose interest after the weekend, but I’m (happily) proven wrong.

In other news, one of the AKP members (may be a minister, sorry, not sure) declared that CHP (the main opposition party) should apologize for organizing the protests. We’ll say it again and again – this is a grassroots movement, not connected to any political organization. If CHP were strong enough to organize such an event, we wouldn’t even need to have these protests. It is amazing how much they don’t/can’t/won’t understand the nature of what is going on.

And on a sad note, a police officer died today, falling off of construction while pursuing some protestors. I’m no fan of the police, but this is a pointless way to die (if there ever were a non-pointless way). My only hope is that it will be a sign of how nonsensical the whole situation is.

Things seem to be pretty calm in Istanbul and most of the country, with some tension in Ankara. The creativity boost continues with tweets and slogans, and most significant input for today comes from Kardeş Türküler. PM made a statement about the noise protests held around the cities, where people bang on pots and pans. This song is a reaction to that.

We do realize that we are living in very different times. History is being written. Nothing may change directly at the end of these protests; they might even still re-build the barracks, but I want to believe that something has already changed in the way we look at each other and in our faith in ourselves.

-Melis Behlil-

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

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Living in Taksim, Daily Report June 5, 2013


Editors’ note: This story originally appeared at Sinefil.

Istanbul, Turkey–First off: Do not believe the reports in the media saying that Deputy PM Arınç has apologized. His words were directed to a very small group (the activists attacked in the park on the first night of the events), completely disregarding those killed and the thousands injured by police violence since the beginning; and his “apology” sounded more like a fuck you. Some people have a way of making anything sound that way… (Here’s a Turkish video of the “apology”)

For me, it was an exciting day as I was fully out and about for the first time since my cold. After doing some work in the morning, a few colleagues and I joined the tens of thousands with the unions walking from the Golden Horn up to Taksim Square (pic above). It was all peaceful, with a lot of chants. Sorry to say, socialist chants are not as much fun, or not nearly as energetic as those by the young crowds in the park. Another group, probably as large, had come in from the direction of Şişli. Remember how the police didn’t let the unions march to Taksim on May Day, and blocked the entire city to prevent them from doing so because it wasn’t “safe”? Well, apparently it’s perfectly safe when the police is not around.

I went on and off to the park, but when I arrived at 9 PM, it was more crowded than it had ever been. More crowded than a football game, a rock concert, a rush hour train… Today was a Muslim holiday, so there were calls to avoid alcohol, and it seemed that all abided by this. Prayers were held for believers, and this is important to show the 50% that does vote for AKP that it’s not a bunch of infidels in the park with no respect for any religion. There are now representative tents in the park, in addition to the developed kitchen and field hospital. I hung out around the tent of the cinema crowd, handing out free “simit” special for the holiday. All kinds of people, old and young, were walking by, again, everyone friendly and excited. Fireworks. Literally.

So the news from Taksim are as joyous as the last few days. They even managed to build an outdoor movie theater to show some films. But the police attacked the people again in Ankara with full force, and there were other incidents in Rize. So it’s impossible to say that all is well; and the screenings were cancelled because of this. As I write these, police are watering people in Ankara – and now for a change, CNN Turk is showing it live. If anyone is wondering how strong this water is, here is a video of an old friend of mine who is literally blown away by the force of the water; thankfully, he’s safe.

Representatives from Taksim have visited Deputy PM Arınç today. From what I can gather, nothing really came out of it. RTE comes back from his trip tomorrow. I am somewhat worried. I feel like we’re the children of an abusive father, and he’s about to come back home to beat the hell out of us. It wouldn’t make sense, but nothing he does makes sense. I saw an old friend today (all these old friends I see around the protests!), and when I admitted I was a little worried, he said that only people who are abroad or over 50 are worrying. Granted, I just recently came back, and I spent most of the day with my mother, but that doesn’t make the source of our fears any less real. We are not dealing with a rational man here. Taksim makes me think of the Paris Commune; let’s just leave it at that…

P.S.: I came across this video just after I finished this post. Apparently, I’m not the only one…

-Melis Behlil-

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

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