Yesterday evening I was standing right at the intersection between the Gezi Park and Taksim Square when the fire began volleying the square and the park with dozens of tear gas without any prior warning. The situation resembled the May 1 massacres of 1977, when the police had rained bullets on the crowd from rooftops surrounding the Taksim square, leading to massive panic and 37 deaths. The fact that the government uses tear gas instead of bullets does not change much, since casualties and injuries occur more out of panic than by anything else. An hour after the police intervention, the governor of Istanbul announced that "the people occupying the park no longer had any guarantee for their life safety," that" the police was no longer responsible for any deaths that may result from rightful police intervention". These threats were solidified by PM Erdoğan's speech, who more or less said the same things and like every other state representative, praised the police for their efforts.
Things are getting out of hand. The Turkish state, as always, approaches the problem from a security standpoint, with blatant and utter disregard of the human dimension that stands at the core of the movement in the first place. There is absolutely no compromise, no stepping back on the part of the government. The ruling party's primary concern is to represent the events as featuring two essentially different groups—trouble-making, illegal, marginal groups manipulating the rest of the protesters, who are as always perceived as unaware of the true goal of these marginal, extremist, illegal, terrorist fractions. At the same time, the party is concerned lest its constituency wavers and begins to lend support to the protesters. Hence, the media is kept under constant pressure to represent the events from a government standpoint, the police are constantly praised for their valiant efforts, disinformation is disseminated around every corner to make sure those who have no access to foreing news agencies and internet are kept in the dark. Yesterday morning's theatrical production where a number of undercover police agents threw molotov cocktails to the police satisfied two things at once despite its amateurish display: it gave legitimacy to brutal police assault on the Gezi Park and protesters, and provided the mainstream media and the public with plenty "evidence" that what Erdoğan and his puppets were saying from the beginning—namely, that the events were organized by violent extremists—were indeed "true".
Today Erdoğan has been likened to Putin by the Guardian, which says a lot (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun…). Likewise, the editorial piece at the Guardian exposed the utter contradiction between Erdoğan lashing out at Husnu Mubarak for ignoring the will of his own people, and his own assault at peaceful protesters with hundreds of tear gas and water cannons, which so far has resulted in three civilian deaths (one of which was caused by a very real bullet). He has tried every weapon found in the arsenal of a dictator—he has indicated the presence of "insidious foreign elements" instigating the revolts, he talked about the "internal enemies" of the government trying to overthrow the government by illegal means, he actively presided over the dissemination of misleading and false information regarding the events, claiming among others that the police officer who died after falling from a roof was in fact murdered by the protester, and that protesters drank beer in a mosque which had in fact been converted into a clinic. The preacher confirmed that the protesters were merely attending the injured civilians, which Erdoğan dismissed with great gusto by claiming that the preacher was threatened by the protesters to say so.
These events will be analyzed in subsequent weeks and months in a detailed fashion, so I'm trying to hold myself in check regarding the historical undercurrents of the violence perpetrated by the police. But one very important observation needs to be made regarding the nature of the protests. During my time at the US I was struck by the way in which even the most astute observers were habitually seeing in Turkey a fundamental division between secularists and Islamists. While this may be true in the most general level, the issue is way more complex, as always. Yet the protest movement is by no means centering on this division—there is fierce criticism of the Erdoğan government by those who are protesting against its neoliberal policies and Turkey's new-found role in Middle Eastern politics as US's primary ally. There are nationalists who are by no means unsympathetic to the religious conservatism espoused by the AKP government. There are liberals who are secular, there are liberals who are Islamist. There are students who have never taken part in any demonstration before. There are staunch republicans chanting side by side with the Kurds against Erdoğan's regime. Women play a significant role in the movement given the AKP government's efforts for regulating and ordering family life by intervening primarily on the bodies of women. In short, anti-government protests center on concrete problems shared by a plethora of ideological and demographic groups. It cannot and should not be seen as a confrontation between the religious conservatives and secularists—it is precisely this dichotomy and polarization that Erdoğan builds his discourse upon in an effort to mobilize his constituency and represent himself as the victim rather than the oppressor. The republican heritage—marginalization of Islamists from social life, education and public careers—has all the relevant examples for building a powerful victimization narrative. Therefore, it is absolutely critical to refrain from characterizing the events in this light—it is NOT a war between the secularists and conservatives, it is NOT a movement formed by extremist, marginal, violent groups and innocent, young by-standers, it is NOT a war between leftists and rightists.
The movement is the outpouring of a collective discontent with the policies of the government, irreducible to a particular cause. It is a reaction against the destruction of Istanbul’s urban fabric; it is a reaction against the government’s intrusion to private life; it is a reaction against the government’s neoliberal economic policies; it is a reaction against the government’s aggressive foreign policy which recently resulted in the death of dozens of people in Antakya; it is a reaction against a government constantly telling its citizens what-to-do and what-not-to-do in their personal lives; it is a reaction against a government trying to convert citizens into docile subjects; it is a reaction against the media, currently functioning as the government’s propaganda machine; it is a reaction against police terror that has been on the rise in the past five years.
(szöveg: Melih Egemen, kép: Zuhal Yildirim)