Category Archives: Gezi

Taksim in Limbo

This is a personal report on the current condition of Taksim square. I visited Taksim recently (early December, 2014) on a rare sunny day.

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Madness, stupidity, or evil?

In Turkey in 2014, May Day was an official holiday, and yet demonstrations in Taksim were banned. They had been banned also in 2013. In June of that year, I opined that the banning had contributed to the rage that erupted in the Gezi protests.

Why would the government ban demonstrations again this year? The only reasons I can think of are suggested by my title.

May Day demonstrations were permitted in 2012, and I remember the day as a joyous occasion. Some photographs of mine should suggest this.

May Day 2012 Istanbul

May Day 2012 Istanbul

Workers marched to Taksim from several directions.

May Day 2012 Istanbul

May Day 2012 Istanbul

Many showed off their parading discipline.

May Day 2012 Istanbul

May Day 2012 Istanbul

Evidently people were proud and happy to march.

May Day 2012 Istanbul

May Day 2012 Istanbul

And why should they not have the opportunity? It is a fundamental right.

May Day 2012 Istanbul

May Day 2012 Istanbul

A tweet from a Turkish writer alerted me to an article of the Constitution of the Turkish Republic:

Kısım: Temel Haklar ve Ödevler

Bölüm: Kişinin Hakları ve Ödevleri

Anayasa’nın 34. Maddesi:

B. Toplantı ve Gösteri Yürüyüşü Düzenleme Hakkı

Madde 34. – Herkes, önceden izin almadan, silahsız ve saldırısız toplantı ve gösteri yürüyüşü düzenleme hakkına sahiptir.

Toplantı ve gösteri yürüyüşü hakkı ancak, millî güvenlik, kamu düzeni, suç işlenmesinin önlenmesi, genel sağlığın ve genel ahlâkın veya başkalarının hak ve özgürlüklerinin korunması amacıyla ve kanunla sınırlanabilir.

Toplantı ve gösteri yürüyüşü düzenleme hakkının kullanılmasında uygulanacak şekil, şart ve usuller kanunda gösterilir.

Here is my amateur translation, based on no actual knowledge of Turkish legal language:

Chapter: Basic Rights and Duties

Section: Personal Rights and Duties

34th Article of the Constitution:

B. Right to Organize Demonstrations and Marches

Article 34. Everybody has the right to organize a demonstration or march without weapons or violence, without taking permission.

The right of demonstrating and marching can be limited only by law, for purposes of national security, public order, prevention of crime, and protection of public health and morals or other rights and freedoms.

In the use of the right to organize demonstrations and marches, the form, condition, and method are shown in the law.

In fact the original tweet referring to this article showed only the first sentence, without the ensuing conditions:

The ensuing conditions seem to give a lot of leeway to the government. In any case, laws are not self-promulgating or self-enforcing. The people have to decide what to make of them.

The authorities can well predict that if May Day marches are banned, then there will be public disorder. This becomes an ex post facto justification for having banned the marches. Indeed, one can never be sure how much violence is not done by agents provocateurs. The prime minister seems to thrive on confrontation. One might argue that he was embittered by being imprisoned for reciting a poem, after having been mayor of Istanbul. In any case, when he stands up to putative enemies, it only makes some people support him all the more. So I wonder if nonviolent resistance in the manner of Gandhi or King would not be the best approach to this man. On the other hand, I am aware that, to the authorities, nonviolent resisters may start to appear as reasonable people, only because there are other, violent resisters.

After some overcast days in Istanbul, May Day 2014 dawned clear. On the skyline seen from our balcony, only one building used to stand out: a hotel. Now another, taller building is going up, with more behind it.

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We are a forty-minute walk from Taksim, on one of the main marching routes used in 2012. This year, 2014, the route was sealed off by the police. In the distance here are the Trump Towers. At the base of the Towers is a shopping mall. I discovered just recently that, from a subway entrance on this side of the elevated highway, you can walk underground to the mall. The tunnel also gives access to the “metrobus,” running on dedicated lanes in the middle of the elevated highway. But today the subway was inaccessible.

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I crossed many blocked side streets until I found where one could pass under the elevated highway. On the other side, people seemed to be going about their usual business. At least they were trying; the people below did not understand why the police would not let them pass. I am not sure how well the police understood either. It appears many of them had been flown in from other cities in the middle of the night.

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The tower on the right is the one visible from our flat. This whole complex is going up in a former athletic stadium. The stadium was open space that could have been made into a park for everybody. There is very little space around here for children to play. There are a few pocket parks here and there with jungle gyms, but nowhere to run freely. Actually today could have been a great day for running in the street.

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I do not think people normally walk on this elevated highway, so I assume the ones here had been trying to reach Taksim somehow.

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What did the authorities expect people to do today? Most public transportation was closed down. The road closures made our local shopping mall inaccessible by car. I call it our local mall; but it is said to be the biggest in Europe. So many foreign visitors shop there that some announcements are in English. Our students also hang out there after class. And yet, at noon on a holiday, the mall was nearly empty. Most shops were closed: workers could not get to work. Shops should be closed on International Workers’ Day. But then people should be out celebrating in the streets, and the authorities were not allowing this.

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Here we are a bit closer to Taksim, one one of the side streets leading to the sealed-off marching route. The side street begins at a hospital. People who would be on the hospital grounds anyway sat on the benches, observing the protesters. The police had a TOMA down the street. When it rolled into view, looking very silly as it spewed water at the crowd, I did not get a photo; I just got back. Then some protesters started hurling rocks at the police. Here you see a fellow getting them ready. Actually I had spoken to him earlier, asking if the police were using tear gas or water. He recalled that Berkin Elvan had been killed by a gas cannister, used by the police as a projectile.

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I do not know if throwing rocks at police is a wise tactic. If it is unwise, then I can only imagine that an agent provocateur is encouraging it. On the other hand, people do not need much encouragement to be foolish.

Yet again, last June, the police were driven from Taksim and Gezi Park, not, as far as I know, by purely nonviolent resistance, but by violent attacks—violent, if only to the extent of rock-throwing. (I have some photos of the aftermath.)

In any case, I did not stay long around the rock-throwing this year. I did note that when ambulances came to the hospital, the protesters made way for them.

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I do not know the point of burning trash in a bin.

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I suppose it is good that the terrain of Istanbul is hilly. Otherwise one might not be able to see much of the sky. This is the view from the hospital.

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And this is the view from our own flat. I was sitting at my desk, sorting out my May Day photos, when I heard a commotion and saw police officers marching past on the street along the next ridge. I scrambled to get the camera working, but was too late. I did catch a cloud of tear gas—above a school.

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The next day

On the afternoon of April 30, the bank headquarters near our university building was getting ready for May Day. The plate glass windows were being covered up. The cafeteria and textile shops further along the street did not seem to be worried. And on May 2, their windows were still intact. However, one establishment along my route to work did not have intact windows. It was a medical laboratory of some kind. The slogan above the empty window frames is, “An end to animal experimentation!”

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An advertising display was also smashed. These things represent a theft of public space. The sidewalks are too narrow as they are.

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Some recently laid paving stones had been torn up, presumably for use against the police.

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If only the Prime Minister could have tolerated a May Day enjoyed by people who did not necessarily like him!

Funeral march for Berkin Elvan

Posters around our university building invited us to leave together at two o’clock, to walk to Şişli Meydanı to await the hearse bearing the body of young Berkin Elvan. But for some reason the students left a bit early. Some faculty walked together.

It’s a ten-minute walk to Şişli square. Police had blocked a street that ran parallel to the main avenue that we expected to march along.

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We pass Şişli Meydanı every day; it lies equidistant between home and office.

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I had hoped to stay on the edge with some freedom of movement. I did not think the police would attack a funeral procession. Seven years before, the march for Hrant Dink had been unmolested. In fact we would not see any police violence ourselves on this day; but that is because we would hear about it and stay away.

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More and more people came, and we became more and more hemmed in. A band of men passed through with linked arms, making way for the hearse. I was pushed back into the people behind me.

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In the photo below, we were somewhere near the building corner on the lower left, at the edge of the gap made for the hearse. But I cannot say that I can make us out.

The hearse passed.

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We walked towards Taksim.

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Slogans were chanted, including Hırsız katil Erdoğan (“Thieving murdering Erdoğan”).

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Political parties were not much in evidence, though there was a band of comrades from the Turkish Communist Party, and this one Rainbow Flag. Earlier an enormous Turkish flag had occasionally brushed my head.

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I liked seeing this shop with signs in four alphabets and six languages. (I assume that, along with the Turkish, Russian, English, and Armenian, it is both Arabic and Persian that I see, though I can read neither one.) HDP is the Peoples’ Democratic Party, whose offices in Fethiye had been physically attacked three days before with the support of the local mayor, from a nationalist party.

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Now we neared the spot where Hrant Dink had been assassinated.

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Above the stone in the sidewalk where Hrant Dink’s body had lain, this banner said, “A child and bread are holy. We shall not forget you, Berkin.”

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Other marchers seemed to be continuing on to Taksim, but we heard the police were starting to attack there, so we turned off and passed the Armenian cemetery on the way to the Muslim cemetery where Berkin’s body would have been buried by now.

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But we did not go all the way to that cemetery.

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We went back to our department.

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In the office we heard that police attacks were blocking our normal route home.

May Day One Month Late

I am not able, and do not attempt, to tell the full story of recent events in Istanbul. My impression is that mainstream foreign media (in English) do a reasonable job at this. It might be emphasized that the first protesters were yoga practitioners and tree huggers. It was police brutalization of them that drew out more violent protesters—as well as people who had never demonstrated in their lives. If the government had allowed May Day demonstrations this year, as last year, then radicals might have blown off some steam then, and the rest might not have happened. But this is just speculation, not meant to belittle the serious grievances that people have with the government. What follows is just a personal account of a walking tour in the vicinity of Taksim Square, June 1, 2013. I made a Google map of the route. The most interesting experience was seeing plain-clothes police officers retreating from Taksim. The second-most interesting was encountering a wedding of friends of the ruling party, taking place in the gardens of an Ottoman pleasure palace, while police battled protesters about 600 meters away.

We were awakened in the night by a strange persistant sound. Was it the creaking of our building in the Next Big Earthquake? No, it was our neighbors beating on pots and pans.

Our Istanbul flat overlooks a valley. Through this valley, there once flowed waters that would pass Ihlamur Kasırları, the Linden Pavilions. Presumably waters still do this, through the sewers. The Pavilions were constructed, 1849–1855, by architect Nikoğos Balyan, on the order of Sultan Abdülmecid, who reigned 1839–1860. The area that would contain the Pavilions had been popular for picnicking in the early 18th century, and there were vineyards belonging to the superintendent of the Ottoman Naval Arsenal. My source for this information is a bilingual booklet, Milli Saraylar // National Palaces, published in 1995 by the Director of the Department of National Palaces. I assume those vineyards were for the making of wine, and not just table grapes or raisins, but I suppose I could be wrong.

In 1846, before the Linden Pavilions were built, the French poet and politician Alphonse de Lamartine described a visit to the area. Abdülmecid received him in somewhat humble facilities. One can speculate on whether it was such visits that inspired the Sultan to order the construction of the baroque Pavilions that can be visited today. The gardens of the Pavilions are an oasis of green in a land now covered by asphalt, concrete, and brick.

In the early hours of Saturday, June 1, 2013, our neighbors in a valley so covered were banging on pots and pans, and turning their lights on and off, in protest of the Prime Minister of the Turkish Republic. In the eyes of some, the aim of that Prime Minister would seem to be to create a new Sultanate, with himself as Padishah. “İstifa Tayyip!” our neighbors chanted: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, resign!

Evidently the catalyst for this midnight protest was the previous day’s police invasion of Gezi Park, adjacent to Taksim Square, a forty-minute walk from our flat. Months before, plans had been announced to replace that park with a supposed copy of military barracks that had once stood there. This reconstruction “might” house a shopping mall. The project was part of the pedestrianization of Taksim Square. The roads passing Taksim would all be buried underground.

In fact the work of burying the roads has been proceeding for some time. The many busses that use Taksim have been rerouted.

When the destruction of Gezi Park seemed imminent, activists started occupying it. Police would drive them out of their tents at dawn with tear gas. On May 31, police erected barricades around the park.

Whether the pan-banging protest that night spread from neighborhood to neighborhood by imitation, or whether people were reading about it on Twitter, I do not know. But I myself started reading Twitter then. It appeared that many people had plans to converge at Taksim on Saturday. Some of them walked from the Asian side of the city across the Bosphorus Bridge.

Well, maybe they walked. There were photos on Twitter of people doing this. But false information could be spread this way too, such as claims that the police were spraying Agent Orange on resisters, or that somebody had tread marks on his back from being run over by a panzer.

Though I was also excited, I was frankly annoyed to be awakened by the pan protest. The police had been raiding the Gezi Park encampment at dawn, because they expected people to be at their groggiest and most compliant then. The police can organize to act around the clock. Effective resisters should do the same. I usually wake up before dawn myself; but I cannot do much then, if I have already been awakened earlier in the night.

I did not in fact intend to fight the police on Saturday. Many other people would be doing that: people who grew up in this country and could not be deported. I also did not fancy myself even as a neutral observer at the center of the action. I did want to observe from the fringe. To what extent would normal city life continue, away from Taksim?

Ayşe and I ate lunch at home and went out afterwards. We live near the Cevahir shopping mall, two subway stops north of Taksim. Another piece of probably false information from Twitter was that Cevahir was open overnight, and medics there were treating people wounded by the police. In fact the falseness of this claim was also asserted on Twitter.

Between Cevahir and the cemetery, heading towards Taksim.

Between Cevahir and the cemetery, heading towards Taksim.

Our university building lies between Cevahir and Taksim, and our students go to both places to hang out. On Saturday, the usual crowds were out in front of Cevahir. But there were also clusters of people walking determinedly in the direction of Taksim.

#direngeziparkı, “Resist Gezi Park”, a useful hashtag on Twitter, spotted on an advertisement on a bus shelter

By Şişli Mosque, on the way to Taksim

By Şişli Mosque, on the way to Taksim

Halaskargazi Caddesi, approaching Rumeli Caddesi

Halaskargazi Caddesi, approaching Rumeli Caddesi

After walking in that direction ourselves, we noticed that no car traffic was coming north. People had used sidewalk planters to barricade the northbound lane of Halaskargazi Caddesi, where it passed Rumeli Caddesi. This intersection happens to be near where Hrant Dink was assassinated.

Mustafa Sarıgül, Şişli mayor

Mustafa Sarıgül, Şişli mayor

In the middle of a crowd of people, we spotted Mustafa Sarıgül, the mayor of our borough, Şişli. This is one of the few boroughs of Istanbul still held by the CHP, the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (Republican People’s Party), the party founded by Atatürk. Some people around us waved Turkish flags. Some of these flags bore also the superimposed image of Atatürk in a calpac. This was Mustafa Kemal as Gazi or indeed Halaskargazi, the Victorious Warrior-Savior. A house that he had lived in still stood nearby. I suppose it was Tayyip Erdoğan’s general lack of respect for Atatürk that had riled people up.

Intersection of Halaskar & Rumeli Caddeleri

Intersection of Halaskar & Rumeli Caddeleri

We decided to continue further by back streets, as we usually do on the way to Taksim. We turned left on Rumeli Caddesi. Thus we approached the elite neighborhood of Nişantaşı, where Orhan Pamuk grew up and where his novel Museum of Innocence is set. We encountered a couple of tourists, studying their guide book. They did not know anything about the day’s protests. We explained the Prime Minister’s intention to replace a park with a shopping mall.

These tourists had come to Nişantaşı to shop. Their guide book, in German, had suggestions of where to shop. However, the particular store that they were looking for did not exist at the address indicated.

Approaching Vali Konağı Caddesi from Süleyman Nazif Sokağı

Approaching Vali Konağı Caddesi from Süleyman Nazif Sokağı

We turned right and made our way roughly parallel to Halaskargazi Caddesi. Our way was nearly empty, until we came to Vali Konağı (“Governor’s Mansion”) Caddesi, which would join with Halaskargazi to become Cumhuriyet (“Republic”) Caddesi, which led to Taksim. Vali Konağı was barricaded by park benches. Many people were milling about, some with surgical masks or bandannas around their necks.

Çarşı and supporters, on Vali Konağı

Çarşı and supporters, on Vali Konağı

A group came marching under the banner of ÇARŞI, the anarchist supporters of the Beşiktaş football team. The letter A in their name is written with a circle around it.

(On the right) getting ready to be gassed

(On the right) getting ready to be gassed

A young man sitting nearby had red eyes from tear gas. A young woman was methodically pouring vinegar on a scarf, presumably as a prophylactic against the gas. We had thought we felt a slight tingling in the eyes from gas ourselves.

It appears that tear gas is not really a gas, but a powder that can be dispersed as white clouds. Perhaps some of the powder came wafting up to us from other people’s clothing.

When there was a break in the parade along Vali Konağı, we crossed the road and entered a park. In this park, there is a circle of busts of Turkish leaders of the last two thousand years or so. Atilla is one of them. Atatürk is the last.

Innominate park north of Maçka Park.

Innominate park north of Maçka Park.

We can make almost half our walk from home to Taksim through parkland. And yet it is said that Gezi Park is one of the city’s last few green spaces. This is true, but in any case it hardly matters. Gezi Park is in fact a place where children play. It is not really big enough for them to run around kicking a football; but they climb on the jungle gym. What does the Prime Minister propose that these children should do, if the park is destroyed as he wishes? Probably the children should learn to go shopping with their parents.

Maçka Park

Maçka Park

We passed into what seems to be called both Democracy Park and Maçka Park. It is a stream valley park, although Kadırgalar (“Galleys”) Caddesi runs where the stream once flowed. The park was practically empty. Where were the people who would normally be enjoying the grass and trees on a sunny Saturday afternoon? They were probably protesting at Taksim.

Over Kadırgalar Caddesi, there is a footbridge that one may cross, in order to climb up towards Taksim. Some young people were sitting near the bridge, resting up from their encounters with the police and the tear gas. Two girls preceded us over the bridge, wearing short dresses and surgical masks.

Barricade on Taşkışla Caddesi

Barricade on Taşkışla Caddesi

At the top of the hillside, near a building of Istanbul Technical University, there was a stack of paving stones for a renewed footpath in the park. Some these stones had been taken and used to block one lane of Taşkışla (“Stone Barracks”) Caddesi.

Police at the Hyatt Regency Hotel

Police at the Hyatt Regency Hotel

Opposite the university building was the Hyatt Regency Hotel. A lot of police officers were standing on the sidewalk in front of this.

Police busses in front of Istanbul Technical University's Taşkışla building

Police busses in front of Istanbul Technical University’s Taşkışla building

We retreated to the park for a bit, then came back. Now there was a line of police busses on our side of the street. We continued to the next intersection anyway and turned left, onto Asker Ocağı (“Soldiers Association”) Caddesi, away from Taksim, down towards İnönü Stadium and the Bosphorus.

Overlooking Kadırgalar Caddesi above İnönü Stadium

Overlooking Kadırgalar Caddesi above İnönü Stadium

We came out on a road with a view of Kadırgalar Caddesi on the other side of the stadium. A parade of people were marching up Kadırgalar. In their midst was a CHP bus with loudspeakers. We turned right (south) towards where we could take İnönü Caddesi up to Taksim. But we encountered a stream of people coming down by another route.

Heading towards the retreating police

Heading towards the retreating police

There was something funny about these people. Scattered among them were men wearing a yellow-green police vest. Many in the crowd wore the same blue cap. Some had facial hair, some not; some had shaggy hair, some not. There were no women among them.

Police

Police

They were undercover police officers, retreating from Taksim. Some other observers confirmed this. “Take lots of pictures” they told me, “and show them to people in your own country! Let them see the fascism in our country!”

Watching from İnönü Caddesi the retreating police

Watching from İnönü Caddesi the retreating police

Some people jeered at the police, but others suggested letting them go. We joined the crowds climbing İnönü Caddesi to Taksim. There was a joyful mood. But some people just sat on the curb, probably exhausted from battling the police. Perhaps they had been up all night.

İnönü Caddesi.  The boxes held cups of water

İnönü Caddesi. The boxes held cups of water

İnönü Caddesi

İnönü Caddesi

Nearing Taksim

Nearing Taksim

“Dictator Tayyip”

Entering Taksim

Entering Taksim

We joined the crowds in Taksim. The question arose: What does one do now?

Taksim

Taksim

Some people worked at demolishing an abandoned police car. But there was not much space to move around in. A couple of ambulances did manage to make their way through the crowds.

Turkish Communist Party flags near the steps to Gezi Park

Turkish Communist Party flags near the steps to Gezi Park

Entering Gezi Park

Entering Gezi Park

We made our own way to the steps leading to Gezi Park. But before we could enter the park itself, other people started smashing up the police facilities, which had stood there behind fences for months. Smoke began rising. Was it tear gas? People began running back towards the steps. There was no way to get down: the steps were already filled with people.

Hemmed in on the steps

Hemmed in on the steps

We were pressed from all sides. But the pressure was not great, and there was not a general panic. Somebody called out to the flag-waving comrades of the Turkish Communist Party: could they make a little more room for us?

Atatürk Culture Center on the left

Atatürk Culture Center on the left

Municipal busses; had they been used by the police?

Municipal busses; had they been used by the police?

Many people were climbing up Osmanlı Sokaği beside The Marmara Hotel

Many people were climbing up Osmanlı Sokaği beside The Marmara Hotel

Smoke from Gezi Park

Smoke from Gezi Park

Sıraselviler Caddesi, Holy Trinity Church on the right

Sıraselviler Caddesi, Holy Trinity Church on the right

We somehow made our way through the crowds to Sıraselviler (“Cypress Row”) Caddesi. Away from Taksim, this road becomes lined with tree-shaded sidewalk cafes. It runs down to Tophane, the old Ottoman cannonball factory that is now an exhibition space for our fine-arts university. But we did not walk that far. We took side streets of Cihangir over to İstiklal (“Independence”) Caddesi.

On Sıraselviler

On Sıraselviler

Off Sıraselviler: a grocer open for business, with plenty of lemons—used to neutralize tear gas

Off Sıraselviler: a grocer open for business, with plenty of lemons—used to neutralize tear gas

“Sandwich, six lira; gas mask, 4 lira”

Entering İstiklal

Entering İstiklal

İstiklal was not all that crowded, actually. Most people there were headed towards Taksim. Among them was a former student of ours from Ankara, as well as a member of our current university’s philosophy department. The latter was one of the few people I saw that day who had more years than my 48.

We did not want to go back to Taksim. What might the crowds do? Apparently they were already burning up the police buildings in the park. The Prime Minister would love it if the trees in the park burned down. Indeed, maybe the destructive elements in the crowd were agents provocateurs. We had already seen how many ordinary-looking men the police had working for them. This was the most instructive part of the day.

We heard later that other activists fetched water to put out the flames.

Nevizade Sokağı

Nevizade Sokağı

Nevizade (perhaps “Newborn”) Sokağı north of İstiklal is a narrow pedestrian street lined with the tables of restaurants and bars. We saw that these tables were full of men and women drinking beer.

Tarlabaşı Sokağı, looking towards Taksim

Tarlabaşı Sokağı, looking towards Taksim

Tarlabaşı Caddesi, looking away from Taksim, the British Consulate behind the wall

Tarlabaşı Caddesi, looking away from Taksim, the British Consulate behind the wall

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We continued walking, till we reached a cafe outside an exhibition hall. We used to come from Ankara to visit that hall, when the Istanbul Book Fair was still small enough to be held there.

The Golden Horn, just barely

The Golden Horn, just barely

A scene from the terrace outside the hall features in Fatih Akın’s documentary movie, Crossing the Bridge: the Sound of Istanbul. The group called Siyasiyabend sing a mournful song about how the world is owned by idiots. The words are reminiscent of “Washingtron”, by Tru Fax and the Insaniacs: “We don’t know nothing, we want to know less!”

Refik Saydam Caddesi

Refik Saydam Caddesi

The terrace and its cafe overlook the Golden Horn; but in the foreground is the highway called Refik Saydam Caddesi, the continuation of Tarlabaşı (“Field Head”) Caddesi. This was the route that we had taken with Hrant Dink’s funeral march, from the site of his assassination, across the Golden Horn and the Historic Peninsula to the Sea of Marmara.

Back on İstiklal, at Asmalı Mescit

Back on İstiklal, at Asmalı Mescit

From the cafe we walked to the Şişhane subway station, but it was closed. We made our way down to Karaköy with the thought of hailing a taxi home.

Galata Tower

Galata Tower

We walked via the Galata Tower, in the old Genoese colony. A few tourists were up on the observation deck, but apparently not so many as when I had been there with visiting friends a year before. On the pavement around the tower, we met up with our department’s secretary, his fiancee, and her sister. Women and men were sitting around drinking bottled beer as they used to, in the good old days, before the police prevented them. Taksim and this whole area were in the borough of Beyoğlu, which was under the control of the Prime Minister’s party, the AKP, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party).

In Karaköy, a taxi driver and a bus driver said the road along the Bosphorus was blocked at Beşiktaş. But another taxi driver agreed to try to get through.

From the taxi on Dolmabahçe Caddesi

From the taxi on Dolmabahçe Caddesi

It was foolish to try. We did speed along an empty road for a while, but then we came upon a pack of vehicles. We crept along, more slowly than the crowds of people on the sidewalk. We passed Dolmabahçe Palace on our right. On the left was the headquarters of the local military police. People turned towards the latter facility and chanted, “En büyük asker, bizim asker!”

Would you imagine that these were words of condemnation? The power that the crowds had been fighting was civilian police power, not military police power. A rumor seen on Twitter was that the military had been handing out gas masks to protesters. Perhaps many of the protesters wished the Turkish military could have staged a coup before Tayyip Erdoğan emasculated it (by imprisoning lots of generals on charges of plotting a coup).

A Greek scholar of international relations at our university in Ankara got angry at me, when I suggested that many people at the 2007 “Republic Protests” [Wikipedia’s name] wanted a military coup. There was a possibility then that the AKP-led parliament might elect Prime Minister Erdoğan as President of the Republic. Apparently some people at the protests carried signs saying “Soldiers do your duty”. Maybe only a minority of protesters actually wanted a military coup, but in any case, I thought the important question was, What did the military think people wanted?

At the Beşiktaş Military Police Headquarters, on June 1, 2013, what people were chanting was what they chant at the bus station when they are sending their son or brother off for his military service: “The greatest soldier is our soldier!” Great crowds come to the station to see their boys off: these crowds have hampered our own travels.

At the first intersection in Beşiktaş, it appeared that further motion forward would be quite difficult. A police panzer was spewing jets of water at a jeering crowd. We told our driver he could turn around; we would proceed on foot.

Approaching the police in Beşiktaş.  The man in pink behind the woman in black would speak to us

Approaching the police in Beşiktaş. The man in pink behind the woman in black would speak to us

Somebody on the sidewalk asked me if I spoke English. “Can you tell us what is going on?” he asked. I explained, as I had to the tourists in Nişantaşı.

“Where are you staying?” I asked the man. His English was not good enough for him to know what I meant. “We are from Iran” he said. His wife wore a black chador, showing only her eyes.

Many visitors from Iran enjoy the freedom from a dress code here—a freedom that some think is threatened by the AKP. I thought later that I might have told this Iranian man, “The people are demonstrating against the government, as people in your country ought to do!” But maybe he supported the mullahs.

I should not necessarily blame the man for his wife’s dress. I think many Turkish women who wear a headscarf do so out of personal conviction. Some of our university students probably fit this description. But none of them wears the chador.

Trying to reach the next left, Şair Nedim Caddesi

Trying to reach the next left, Şair Nedim Caddesi

Police in front of the Shangri La Hotel; but the Kaymakam's office seems to be adjacent

Police in front of the Shangri La Hotel; but the Kaymakam‘s office seems to be adjacent

Looking back at the police

Looking back at the police

We squeezed through the crowds and turned left onto Şair Nedim (“Poet Nedim”) Caddesi. The police were in the position of defending a hotel called Shangri-La. They did not seem like much of a threat. This was only because they could be expected not to fire bullets at the crowd. However, in recent days they had injured many people, even taking out eyes, by firing tear gas bombs as if they were bullets.

We made our way home past the Linden Pavilions. The gardens were not open to the public that evening. A wedding was taking place instead. Men in dark suits were stationed around the perimeter. Guests had to pass through a metal detector. Some women wore headscarves. There were congratulatory wreaths of flowers from ministers of the AKP government. But perhaps the wedding is not exactly an instance of AKP presumption to be latter-day Ottomans. A websearch suggests that anybody can rent these old Ottoman gardens for an affair.

Police against all

I returned again this afternoon (Friday, May 31, 2013) to Gezi Park, or rather to its vicinity. Since yesterday the police had fenced it off.

Northern end of Gezi Park

Northern end of Gezi Park

The police fences can be seen on the left above. I think the woman here was just trying to make her way to Taksim. Presently I noticed that my eyes were stinging. It was the same with other people nearby, even in front of the ritzy Hotel Intercontinental adjacent to the park. Some young men I consulted with there confirmed that the police were using tear gas.

I followed other pedestrians east in front of the hotel, towards the Bosphorus.

These folks were all hit by the tear gas.

These folks were all hit by the tear gas.

The young man above seemed to be helping these two women, who were both affected by the gas. I could hear them muttering about it. When they turned and saw me, they were shocked that “even a foreigner” would be hit by the gas. One of the woman gave me a moist paper towel from the package she had, presumably so that I might wipe the tears from my face.

I came upon a busload of tourists, perhaps German, who had been hit by the gas. Somebody was giving them water to wash their faces. I asked one of them if he knew what it was all about. He didn’t, so I talked about the plans to replace Gezi Park with a shopping mall. But time was short; the bus was pulling away.

There is other open space near Taksim…

There is other open space near Taksim…

I headed back up towards Taksim along İnönü Caddesi. Near the bottom, there is indeed this fine plot of grass and trees. Men were stretched out here and there. The space is not equipped with facilities like benches.

Top of İnönü Caddesi.  The crowds are about start running from the tear gas of the police

Top of İnönü Caddesi. The crowds are about start running from the tear gas of the police

I climbed the road towards Taksim. Near the top, there were crowds and shouting. Soon I heard pops and saw smoke, and the crowds started running towards me. I too went to make my way down the side streets. I saw two women doing the same; but in their haste they climbed down a retaining wall, rather than find a way around. They spoke German together, I believe. They may have been mother and daughter. They had just come to Taksim for sightseeing, from their hotel on the historical peninsula. They actually thought they were in Asia now. In any case they wanted to get away to somewhere safe. Indeed, the young woman in particular just wanted to get back to the hotel. She was tearful and on the verge of panic.

We made our way down what should have been a stairway; but now it consisted only of open wooden forms, ready for the pouring of new concrete. We went down anyway, the older woman holding my arm. Near the bottom, people pointed out how we could avoid the last bit of the wooden forms.

I took the visitors down to the Fındıklı tram station near the Bosphorus. I suggested they could visit the Istanbul Modern art museum, not too far away; but they still just wanted to go back to their hotel. I pointed out that [unfortunately] none of the many people around knew what was going on, back up at Taksim. I hope our guests will end up enjoying their visit to the city.

Taksim, with İstiklal on the left

Taksim, with İstiklal on the left

The guests safely on the tram platform, I made my way back up towards İstiklal Caddesi and Taksim, ultimately along Sıraselviler Caddesi.

İstiklal.  The chanting demonstrators are beyond the police tank.

İstiklal. The chanting demonstrators are beyond the police tank.

There were police about, but also, people who were not obviously protesters. The main group of protesters were further down Istiklal, on the other side of a police tank. On my side, there was at least one used gas canister: the little dot between the tracks above. Occasionally one of the police officers motioned for people to move back. I decided it might be best if I took this seriously.

Gezi Park while the trees still stand

Gezi Park while the trees still stand

Taksim square itself seemed fairly empty, though I don’t know what it would normally look like early on a warm sunny Friday afternoon. I decided to take the pedestrian overpass (above the road construction) to the other side of Cumhuriyet Caddesi.

One end of the pedestrian way over the road construction

One end of the pedestrian way over the road construction

I passed a knot of police in order to do this. Near the other end of the bridge, a young man ran up and hurled a green soda bottle towards the police. There was some shouting back and forth. The police took up rifles of some kind. Their targets, on my side, were in what I think of as a tourist hotel ghetto.

Taksim at far end, with police firing…something at protesters

Taksim at far end, with police firing…something at protesters

Maybe the rifles fired little gas bombs, I don’t know. Nobody seemed too worried; but by now I was some distance from the action.

Gezi Park on the left, looking towards Taksim

Gezi Park on the left, looking towards Taksim

I headed north on the west side of Cumhuriyet Caddesi.

North of Taksim, even people walking south feel the tear gas.

North of Taksim, even people walking south feel the tear gas.

Even some distance from Taksim, people walking south towards Taksim had felt the effects of the police tear gas.

Occupy Istanbul Taksim Gezi Parkı

When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.

They took all the trees and put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Taksim Square is the cultural heart of Istanbul.  Most of it is paved, but nearby is Gezi Parkı, shaded by many trees.  It is somewhat out of the way and hidden from view: from the Taksim side, one must climb steps to reach it, and between it and the main road north, Cumhuriyet Caddesi, there are restaurants and a Turkish Airlines office.  As a tourist in Istanbul, I was only vaguely aware of the park.  Now, as a resident, whenever I walk from home to Taksim, I pass through the park.

The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan intends to replace the park with buildings of some kind.  His words are translated by Hürriyet Daily News:

If you have respect for history, first you need to learn the history of Gezi Park.

He is supposedly referring to the Topçu Kışlası or Artillery Barracks that used to stand on the land of the park.

It is a bad joke. Respect for history has nothing to do with rebuilding a structure that has vanished without a trace. Or does Mr Erdoğan propose also to restore the fields and woods that still existed not too far from Taksim, not too many decades ago? In any case, he does not propose to restore the park to military use. It would be another shopping center or hotel.

foto: Taksim Gezi Parkı, İstanbul, 2013.05.30

Not a hotel, a park!

I heard rumors that the cutting of trees in the park had already started, and that protesters had occupied the park over night, but been attacked by police at five in the morning. I visited this afternoon (Thursday, May 30, 2013). I saw the protesters. I did not see any obviously missing trees.

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I am not sure if there were more police than usual.

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On the streets outside the park, the sun was hot. There are almost no places left in Istanbul with grass shaded by trees. Gezi Park is one of these places. The breezes were pleasant there. In fact some of the hotels nearby are surrounded by park-like land; but this land is private and fenced off.

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A couple of weeks ago, I noted that the flower beds in Gezi Park were empty. I took this as ominous. Perhaps I was wrong: there were flowers today, and the fountain was flowing.

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The space beneath the trees east of the fountain seemed occupied by the usual sorts of people, not protesters. Homeless men slept or rested here and there. The protesters were concentrated in the shade at the northern end of the park.

Protester's sign: “No to cutting trees, but yes to cutting animals?  Meat is murder”

“No to cutting trees, but yes to cutting animals? Meat is murder”

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I heard that the police this morning had burned some tents. Apparently they did it at the spot above, which somebody else was also photographing. But either the police spared some tents, or new tents were brought in.

“Resistance is as global as capital.”

“Resistance is as global as capital.”

Protest sign: “Shopping center pillage bridge AKP Tayyip plundering | it is not enough for them, only more eggs”

“Shopping center pillage bridge AKP Tayyip plundering | it is not enough for them, only more eggs”

I do not know the best translation for the sign above. The AKP is PM Tayyip Erdoğan’s party. The bridge referred to is presumably the third bridge over the Bosphorus, the beginning of whose construction was celebrated by the PM yesterday, although it will involve destruction of many more trees than there are in Gezi Park. Protesters have been put on trial for throwing eggs at the PM.

I fear the political culture is such that nobody in his own party can tell the Prime Minister when he is being an idiot.