Postcards from the Turkish Uprising

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The past three weeks have seen an eruption of popular resistance in Turkey, with protesters occupying parks and barricading cities; in response, the Turkish police have killed at least four people and injured thousands. To offer an inside perspective on these events, we present a chronological photoessay from Istanbul and an agitprop video from Ankara, both freshly translated into English. Stay tuned for more coverage.

“Why we are breaking things” – video from Ankara

The following is a translation of a chronological photoessay offering a personal overview of the recent uprising in Turkey that began with resistance to the development of Istanbul’s Gezi Park and culminated in a defiant occupation of Taksim Square, accompanied by confrontations all around the country. The photoessay originally appeared in Turkish; endnotes (i.-v.) follow the text.


1: The neighborhood of Beşiktaş, May Day 2013. A reminder that the revolt did not start out of nowhere. The violent action of the police to prevent workers from celebrating on Taksim Square is only one example of the repressions and prohibitions that have brought society to a boiling point.

 


2: The north end of Gezi Park. Early morning hours of May 28. The first bulldozer has come to uproot trees and activists who have worked together to fight previous urban renewal projects such as the demolition of the Emek Movie theater and the gentrification of Tarlabaşı and Sulukule rush to the scene to take hold of their own destiny. When we first looked at this gaping hole we never thought that it would be big enough for the demands of all who were oppressed in Turkey.

 


3: The morning of May 28: After the first police action. The bulldozer returns to finish the job and is uprooting trees. This extra-legal action and the police violence that accompanied it led the longtime discontent to turn into rage.

 


4: Those resisting urban renewal attempting to replant a tree. One of the first examples of the solidarity and cooperation that would become part and parcel of the park occupation.

 


5: The evening when the genie starts coming out of the bottle. People coming out of work converge to prevent the uprooting of trees and are expressing other social discontent. Our humble position as humans under the towering trees is apparent.

 


6: Afternoon of May 29, the police have attacked again and images of a women in red being pepper sprayed have now gone viral. The demands of Taksim Solidarity are being read from the megaphone. The demands keep piling up and now include halting the demolition of a historic train station Haydarpaşa, numerous dam projects in Anatolia, and coal-powered energy plants. Gezi Park has become a node that speaks to all of Turkey.

 


7: Our greatest legitimacy is the mass participation in our action. The park is packed by people who come after work. Although sometimes it resembles a festival, in reality it is an action camp. The crowd is facing a stage where there are forums, people chanting and singing.

 


8: The morning of May 31. As soon as we wake up, we check the internet and realize that despots don’t sleep while we do. The tents have been burnt, sleeping activists have been teargassed, and the park evicted. When we try to get to Taksim Square from Istiklal, this is the scene that awaits us. Who knows how many of those police barriers were to become part of the barricades in the following days…

 


9: We go around the park to the other side to get to a higher vantage point. This is the park after the police raid. The cops are resting under the trees. Apparently everyone needs their shade.

 


10: The police action at the square. Two TOMAs (Intervention Vehicles for Social Situations) are attacking whoever they see. A photo showing the bravery of those resisting.

 


11: Municipal workers unload barricades to prevent people from entering the public space of Gezi Park. The police enclose the whole of the park, yet our resolve and resistance is not as easy to enclose.

 


12: Mete Avenue. You can see the box of pastries on the bottom right corner. About 30 seconds before this photo was taken, about 20 people were calmly having breakfast at the side of the park.

 


13: People are being pushed down Mete Avenue as tear gas canisters start exploding everywhere. A tourist bus is in the background and in the distance one can observe a billboard for the “Turkish Olympics” a symbol of the imperial neo-ottoman aspirations of the current government.

 


14: A picture taken from the barriers surrounding the park as the police are having breakfast after their attack. When they realize I am taking their picture, they also take mine.

 


15: After the attack in the morning, a call goes out to reconverge at 1 pm. This is a moment when we realize that people are overcoming their fear. Hundreds of people are sitting down under the gaze of TOMAs despite the police violence they have experienced in the morning.

 


16: Five minutes after the previous photograph was taken. The tear gas thrown into the crowd empties the square and we run into the streets of Gümüşsuyu, Kazancı, and Istiklal.

 


17: The police throw tear gas into Istiklal from the square to stop people from advancing. A nervous melee ensues and lasts hours. Every time they are dispersed, the crowd comes back together.

 


18: Just as guerillas know each stone of the mountains where they live, we are in control of each doorway and window around Istiklal Avenue. We go through the side streets, hide within shops that are about to close their shutters, and go back to the street after we catch our breath. This photograph makes it clear who is free and who is enslaved.

 


19: We get back to the square from the side streets and watch the police action from there. At that moment thousands of people are confronting the police on Istiklal Avenue. They want to get to the square and we want to get to them. Between us are those “just doing their jobs” and the cloud of tear gas that started it all.

 


20: The night of May 31. One of the happiest moments of our lives. Thousands of us are enjoying the pleasure of finally taking hold of our futures. Up front people take shifts as tear gas is being launched into the crowd. The isolation we felt is totally shattered as we realize that we are not alone. Apparently this city is not as desolate as we had imagined.

 


21: The Morning of June 1. After a few hours of sleep, we run back into the streets worried that we are missing out on something. The teargas is like a magnet and pulls us closer. Half an hour later, the Saturday Mothers (i.), who have owned that square for more than a decade, will arrive and restate their rightful demands.

 


22: The TOMA in the distance and the police accompanying it are about to push the crowd to Tünel Square, at the opposite end of Taksim Square on Istiklal Avenue. It’s clear in this photo who is truly helpless.

 


23: We are trying to get back to Istiklal on the roads that lead from Karaköy and Tophane. This is the street that I live on and there is a barricade constructed in front of my house; it is impossible to move forward. Even the relatively affluent residents of this neighborhood have put on dust masks and joined the uprising. The Gezi resistance has foundations in class struggle, but the masses on the street are quite heterogenous.

 


24: One of the side streets leading to Istiklal Avenue and the smoke approaching from the distance. A ghost travels over Beyoğlu and it seems as if everything once solid is evaporating.

 


25: The point where the clashes in the square overcome the police. The police walk down the avenue towards Tünel and leave the square to the people resisting. This is a setup–as soon as people get to square, they are gassed one last time–but we have taken the square. This must be what victory feels like.

 


26: 36 hours earlier, we were ejected from this square with tear gas canisters whizzing by our heads. Now we are back. It’s too early to celebrate, but definitely a moment deserving of joy.

 


27: For the first time since the raid early on May 31, we are back in the park. It is the evening of June 1. The people with masks on their faces sit on the ground both somewhat bewildered and victorious. In the upcoming days they will organize life in the park, putting up tents, kitchens, and libraries and relearning what solidarity means.

 


28: Leftist parties and organizations put their signs and flags on the monument in the middle of the square. Thıs is the postponed May Day celebration.

 


29: As we mentioned, it was too early to celebrate. The evening of June 1, Akaretler. We are trying to reach the Bosphoros from above and the police are gassing us from below in an extreme manner. Beşiktaş is a war zone and people are resisting the police for hours. Not only Beşiktaş but from Izmir to Dersim, from Ankara to Adana, almost every city in Turkey is Taksim.

 


30: “The Lightbulb Blew Out” (ii.). The walls are covered in graffiti. This is also a little bit of a revolution in humor; if one can overlook the sexist graffiti, every shutter is imbued with wit.

 


31: The morning of June 2. We have the park. The anger of workers who are condemned to insecure and flexible work give direction to the movement. The vigil which takes place the first sunday of each month for workers who have died due to their working conditions takes place at Gezi Park this month.

 


32: Another surreal moment. Hundreds of people are on top of the Ataturk Cultural Center, the towering building at one end of the square. To one side is the Taksim Square, to another the Golden Horn and even further the Bosphorus. We are reminded why we stand in front of water cannons and teargas. This city is too beautiful to be abandoned to those who want to auction it off piece by piece.

 


33: The Gezi Resistance belongs most of all to the youth. We are waiting for the high schools to end for the summer and final exams to finish in universities so that Gezi Park can become a different kind of school where countless experiences can be shared. It is hard not to be jealous of the youngsters who have had this experience at such an early age and learned that what is supposedly impossible is in fact achievable.

 


34: The Sıraselviler Barricade. Sure, we learned later that the preventative power of the barricades was limited, especially without people behind them. Still, they were our pride and gave us psychological support. Today, we don’t have barricades, but we are confident and we have taken our destiny in our own hands. Barricades are not only constructed from dumpsters and piles of debris.

 


35: The names of those murdered in Roboski (iii.) are given to the trees in Gezi Park. The mother of Seyit Öncü: “As my son was leaving the house with his bags in his hand, he appeared to be in a rush. Just like any other mother, I went to the door and said “put your scarf around your mouth so you don’t catch a cold,” he didn’t want to upset me so he took the scarf from his sister’s hand and kissed me. I went up and kissed him on his forehead as well. He went down the stairs and looked at me one last time as he went out the door.”

 


36: The ten days between June 1 and June 10 were spent constructing a new existence in the park, while at the same time trying to express, somewhat insufficiently, our solidarity with the violence taking place in other cities. All while trying to be vigilant against a possible police raid. This is Gümüşsuyu; hundreds of youth are marching towards the barricades to show support to those guarding them 24 hours a day.

 


37: A sign of the communal life we attempted to construct at the park. Workshops, theater plays, film screenings, and forums. The park was not just a place we were defending, but also a place where we were getting organized by talking to each other and producing a new life.

 


38: The Atatürk Cultural Center, slated for demolition by the government, and the banners that keep multiplying day after day. On the other end of the square is a huge portrait of Ibrahim Kaypakkaya as if he is looking at Deniz Gezmiş, whose portrait is on the top left of the building (iv.)

 


39: Portraits of Mehmet Ayvalıtaş and Abdullah Cömert who were murdered by the police during the uprising are posted on the trees in Gezi Park. In the upcoming days, two more people were to die: metal worker Ethem Sarısülük and police officer Mustafa Sarı. Once again, the prime minister overlooked the dead and talked about the monetary losses of the shop owners around Taksim.

 


40: The library constructed at Gezi Park. Just one example of the solidarity exemplified within the park. For days, those in the resistance shared books, food, and tea with each other, trusted the volunteer doctors to take care of them, and helped each other unconditionally. Even if we leave this moment with no concrete gains, we now share the beautiful experience of solidarity.

 


41: Another occupation of a park at Bekar Street in Beyoğlu. A much smaller sibling of Gezi Park. Activists who occupied the park are cleaning the debris from this abandoned lot in order to transform it into a useful public space.

 


42: Hrant Dink Avenue and Pinar Selek Square. One killed by lies and the other forced into exile by other lies (v.); they are with us at Gezi.

 


43: Morning, June 11, Sıraselviler Avenue. We are awakened by yet another alert of a police raid and run into the streets. The police have broken through the barricades and entered the square saying that they are going to remove the banners from the Atatürk Cultural Center and the flags from the Atatürk Monument.

 


44: A photo from the clashes taking place on the west side of the park. The police are attacking once again with water cannons, tear gas, and sound bombs. On the other side, a smaller group is throwing stones at the police. The media, absent for days, is there to witness this somewhat theatrical standoff. A lot of people are still inside the park and some are trying to convince those fighting back to choose non-violent resistance instead.

 


45: During the clashes in the morning, the mayor had announced from the police loudspeakers that “We are here to get rid of the banners on the square, we are not going to attack the park.” The photo speaks for itself.

 


46: The evening of June 11. Taksim Square and Gezi Park are crammed with people, and then the police attack again with tear gas around 8:15 pm. We have learned not to panic and to help each other once the gas hits. Many people were injured and taken to the hospital that day, but thanks to the calm of those resisting the police, nobody died. Dozens of tear gas canisters were launched into the park.

 

47: German pianist David Martello who brought his piano to the barricades on the 12th of June was incredibly effective in giving spiritual ammunition to all who were tensely waiting for the next police attack.

 


48: The morning of June 15. The government speaks of a referendum and the resistance is in danger of being pigeonholed as focusing only on the issue of Gezi Park. People are speaking of reducing the number of tents. No matter what, we are left with the knowledge that resistance is now possible. Even if we might go back to our normal lives one day, now we know the importance of action and how important it is to get organized. What is meaningful is not only filling the park for two weeks, but showing our true desires in everyday life and winning over those who might not think like us. The patience and perseverance of the Saturday Mothers should act as an example.

 


49: The evening of June 15. All day, different groups have talked about the future of the park. Many political parties and organizations have agreed to take down their tents and converge under one large tent. But the hatred inside the prime minister does not die down, and he talks of evacuating the park within 24 hours at his rally in Ankara. We understand that all those negotiations were for show. This picture is from the beginning of the attack against the park. The TOMA is now filled with pepper spray instead of water.

 


50: Late night June 15, Sıraselviler Avenue. The authorities believe that they can scare the people into submission with gas, water, lies, and arrests. “This is only the beginning, the struggle goes on!”

Endnotes

i. Saturday Mothers: A grouping of mostly Kurdish mothers whose children have been murdered or disappeared by the state or their paramilitary groups. They have been staging a sit-in demanding justice every saturday since 1995.

ii. The symbol of the AKP is a lightbulb.

iii. On December 28, 2011, the Turkish military bombed the village of Roboski on the border of Turkey and Iraq; 34 villagers between the ages of 12 and 41 were killed in the attack.

iv. Two student revolutionaries from the late 60s and early 70s who were killed by the state.

v. Hrant Dink is an Armanian journalist assassinated on January 19 2007 by Turkish fascists for being an outspoke critic of the government. Pınar Selek is a Turkish sociologist framed for the bombing of the Istanbul Spice Bazaar in 1998.

Further Reading

Occupied Taksim
Video coverage at Global Uprisings
More news in English

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