The ongoing protests are a completely new phenomenon to the masses in Turkey. Hierarchical structures and obedience to authority have hardly been questioned since the foundation of the young Republic. And rarely have there been such peaceful protests against a government in a country across the world. Thus, the events in Istanbul, which spread across the whole country within hours and days, came absolutely unexpected and surprising – both internationally as well as in Turkey.
Humor is the strongest weapon
What started as a peaceful demonstration with just a small group of activists in Gezi Park against the reconstruction of the park to a military-style shopping mall, ended in nationwide demonstrations against the urban planning and the authoritarian style of the Turkish government under Prime Minister Erdoğan. What makes these incidents so extraordinary is the fact that, despite fierce brutality by Turkish security forces, the civil demonstrations are not only peaceful, but even serve as a source for artists and creative minds, who question existing structures and political policies in catchy-illustrative, humoristic and yet realist manners.
Thanks to the social media, which acted as the main catalyst of this movement, all these illustrations are spread across the Internet and all the repressions can be constantly met with collective resistance, stamina and unremitting humor. Had there not been the millions of Tweets and Facebook commentators, that kept informing – both in a very dramatic and shattering, but at the same time very witty way – the whole world about the happenings in Istanbul, Ankara, İzmir, Bursa, Samsun, Mersin, Edirne, Kayseri and several other cities in Turkey, the government had probably again scraped by on its undemocratic approaches and measures.
On Monday, the 27th May, a small group of protesters first gathered in the Gezi Park to prevent the felling of trees. On Twitter, the group called for reinforcements: “Bulldozers came to the park! We are twenty people and try to stop them! Need support!” The tweet spread so fast, that within minutes and hours hundreds of people joined the peaceful sit-in at Taksim.
During the coming week, several police officials kept proceeding to clear the place using teargas and water cannons. The activists, however, kept resisting and organized even more sit-in protests in the park, which were highly supported by civilian assistants and backed by all kinds of people with different backgrounds. It was also during these eviction attempts, on the 28th of May, that the Lady in Red inadvertently became the symbol for the peaceful protests in Turkey.
However, in the evening of Friday, the 31th May, the whole world witnessed the first dramatic riots, the so-called Gas Festival. While CNN Turk showed a documentation about penguins in Alaska, CNN International broadcasted the violent clashes in the streets of Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Mersin and several other cities in Turkey, which resulted in large numbers of injuries among the protestors due to polices’ excessive use of teargas and watercannons. The penguins, among others, have become a symbolic inspiration for several thwarting artworks.
The outrageous brutality against the sit-in protests against the park’s demolition led to a strong nationwide solidarity among all levels of the population; another new phenomenon which was rather unknown to Turkish citizens, as people of different religious, social and ethnic background rather tend not to mix. These events’ underlying ideology, however, is neither related to religion nor to social classes or ethnic backgrounds, it is simply the united call for a liberalization of the democracy in Turkey.
In accordance with just this ideology, on the very next day, June 1, early in the morning, thousands of protestors started marching from the Asian side of Istanbul across the Bosphorus Bridge towards the Taksim-square. Certainly a memorable appearance, that also had never been encountered before: The three big rival Turkish football teams (Galatasaray, Fenerbahce and Besiktas) marching united for one common goal amongst Turkish, Kurdish, leftists, islamists, secular and conservative protestors. What a message!
Within the next two weeks the now so-called Capulcus – a creation from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who dismissed the protestors as “a few çapulcu” (looters) on 2 June, which the protestors re-coined to the derivative “chapulling”, meaning “fighting for your rights” – barricaded the streets around Gezi Park and Taksim Square and occupied the area by building up a camp with an own infrastructure. The atmosphere during these days was very peaceful and kind of festival-like. Several imaginative civilians provided the mainly young protestors with medical care, food and mental support.
However, on Tuesday the 11th June and Saturday 15th, the police forcibly emptied the area, first the Taksim-Square and four days later the adjacent Gezi Park. The Sabah newspaper claimed: “The police cleared the square, without putting human lifes in danger.” Unfortunately though, those nights in Istanbul were anything but peaceful. Afterwards the beautiful Taksim resembled an empty battlefield. Many people in several Turkish cities were injured and besides tear gas and rubber bullets, water cannons with corrosive contents were used against the demonstrators.
Although police officers shut off the Gezi Park and Erdoğan declared that every person that enters the park will be treated like a terrorist, the Capulcus keep resisting in several inspiring and admiring manners. Every night at 9 p.m. you can hear the sound of pots and pans in the air. All across the internet you can see the liberalizing spirit of humoristic illustrations. And on the Taksim-Square you can stay in silence with the standing man – symbols for a new upheaval and the quiet but inexorable Turkish call for democracy.
During these three weeks thousands of people were injured, many lost their eyesight and 7 people even died. Another demonstration, which was organized in memory of the victims on Saturday 22th June, was again met with tear gas and water cannons by the police. People that tried to walk to the Taksim-Square, mainly from the well known Istiklal Avenue, again encountered the police, who had blocked the roads leading to the area. Since this protest was not as brutal as the the former ones, it can be assumed, that police and government are running short of tear gas, after about 150.000 canister have been fired during the last three weeks.
One thing is for sure, even if Erdoğan and his voters will keep in power, noone will ever forget the uniting and humorous spirit of the Occupy-Gezi movement. As much as the Turkish Prime Minister tries to censor the thousands of witty illustrations and creative journalistic and artistic works that evolved from these protests, as much is the Occupy Gezi moevment the beginning of a new liberal thinking all across Turkey.