I booked a short trip to Istanbul at the start of June because of a growing interest in the Ottoman Empire. Just after I booked the flight the cops launched the massive tear gas attack on Gezi park and so my holiday became a lot more activist than I intended including getting gassed on the first night and having an encounter with a secret policeman.
I should write up the whole thing when I have a moment* but for now here is a video of one of the two public talks I gave about the situation on my return. I also have also included the notes I used although they don't make a huge amount of sense without the accompanying images.
I gave the talk twice, firstly in Dublin and then in Cork. The video is from the Dublin meeting attended by about 60 people. For context my somewhat exasperated response to the lecture about fascism we received from the floor during the Q&A was in part because the guy giving it is one of the significant IST theoreticians, John Molyneux and I'd spent the last couple of months in a series of late night conversations with a friend about the damaging impact this sort of behaviour has on the sort of left we have created.
I'd a long argument / discussion with John about it in the pub afterwards, which was quite educational for me as a lot of his replies were the sort of thing I would have said a few years ago. I am going to try and write something around that topic in the near future although of late I've found my intention to writes far out weighs my delivery. (*In fact when I wrote the above I'd forgotten I had written a long account of the protests on my return! You can read it at Tear Gas & Twitter in Taksim - an anarchist eyewitness analysis from Gezi Park, Istanbul )
Introduction to the video
Andrew, a member of Workers Solidarity Movement, gave an eyewitness account with photos of the Gezi park protests and the state brutality against people in Istanbul, where he spent a week recently. Sevinc , an anarchist from Turkey, gave details of the background of the struggle.
The video includes photos & video from Gezi park. Recoded Thursday 27 June, 7.30 at Wynns hotel, Dublin
My speakers notes
- visiting Istanbul because of interest in history
- heard of some protest about trees being cut down
- as booking hotel heard of massive tear gassing of small group of protesters
- tourism way down
- Galata bridge, across Golden Horn from Taksim, none of tourists noticing smoke but hustlers were
Going to Taksim
- thought I'd go close to have a look
- kept going and got to square as demonstration arriving
- peaceful scene, hand holding + iPad photos (more later)
- not a cop in sight
- then tear gas fired all at once without warning into every bit of square
- intention is clearly to intimidate ordinary people from attending protests
Up Isalkal steet
Taksim major hub of city perhaps 3 times size of Stephens green and likewise located at one end of the major shopping street
- morning I arrived city workers already spraying off last nights graffiti, routine of trying to make things look normal
A routine that met an obvious failure point when you enter square and see TOMA
Turkey has a lot of TOMA
Dye in water & later pepper spray
Drive fast at protesters resulting in injury and death
Tear gas canisters fired at protesters heads, hence the helmets
Lots of head injuries and at least a dozen people lost eyes.
Also plain clothes / secret police snatch squads
All serve to scare people away
Inside Gezi park
About 20% area of square
Explain map, political stalls, tents, meeting space, medical space & kitchens
In terms of both mainstream and alternative media the focus has tended to be on the spectacular images. The tear gas, water cannon, barricades and now things like the 'Standing Man'.
When she heard I was coming over a Turkish friend whom I know from Zapatistas stuff in the 90's DMed me to say the real story was inside the park.
Being in a barricade park surrounded by hundreds of police with water cannon is as you might image a tense place to by.
All the more so when the cops are in the habit of firing off huge quantities of tear gas without warning
Humor is one traditional way people defuse tension
The first of those two 'I was here' photo banners was in fact right beside this memorial to one of the protesters killed defending the park
And all around the edges of the park are people keeping an eye out for a fresh police assault
Inside Gezi park looked very like any of the Occupies I visited - except there were a lot more people and a lot more tents
You had the multi-lingual signs reflecting an awareness of being part of an international movement and seeking to talk to it
You had the anonymous / Guy Falkes masks and banners
You had lots and lots of hand painted signs and banners
You had the Library - this picture is after it had already been destroyed by the police once if not twice
You had the little groups of people talking or as here playing music
Cops burnt this
You had the art stuff - this is just outside the park and when the cops stormed the park the next day they were photographed setting fire to it
You also had political groups being very visible
but also traditional left, Kurdish left groups, Kermalist Turkish nationalist groups, LGBT groups etc
You had the football fans
Football shirts were common wear and like the nationalists there are certainly contradictions here, Sevinc may want to say more
Most importantly you had assemblies and meeting going on everywhere all the time
During the day it was mostly young people my friend told me were often 'skipping class'
In the evening it was an older post work crowd
Erdogan, populism + orientalism
Not going to say much about specifics of Turkish situation - leaving that to Sevinch
But two photos I do want to talk around
Erdogan big rally of 300,000 with populist conservative attacks, protesters were foreign agents who drank for 3 days in a Mosque and attacked women wearing head scarves
Reflecting an urban / rural old / young divide with rhetoric that we might have heard in 1980's Ireland from conservative polititicans and might here today
Other reason for this image is issue of Orientalism - traditional treatment of Turkey as 'the other' place separate from Europe where people are different etc
Rossport - could we have in Ireland a small enviromentmental protest being repressed by police and ignored by the media with the few mentions of protesters being weird sounding smear campaigns?
Hashtags were everywhere - a global tendancy
We saw that iPad earlier - people taking pictures of themselves with or on barricades with smartphones was constant
Presumably a lot were then being posted to social media as a public identification of that person with the much repressed protest that was underway - something we have seen many times now
Penguin meme as twitter overcame failure of media to report - so well know that it needed no explanation
Even the cops were keeping an eye on twitter
and I certainly was
Our own media broadcasting constantly from Gezi
WORDS: Andrew Flood (follow me on Twitter)