Occupy Gezi background, part one: protests and repression

Posted: 26/06/2013 in News & Analysis, Research, resistance
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I’ve written up a series of posts on Occupy Gezi. The first three are background pieces on the protests and their repression, the protesters and their politics, and the archaeology of Gezi Park. They’re tldr; and you don’t need to read them to read the “proper” posts on the economics and politics of archaeology; but I wanted simultaneously to summarise events, to challenge official narratives and to complicate media (and public) narratives, and to provide the historical context for the events.

The background posts provide evidence for my understanding of events, so that I (and you) can then concentrate on the roles of both archaeology and archaeologists in the Turkish revolution.

The “proper” posts look at the Turkish archaeology graduate with no future; the politics of (a lack of) archaeological work; (non-)(re-)memorialisation of the Armenian Genocide; archaeologists at Gezi Park and on the barricades; and Gezi Park’s eligibility for UNESCO World Heritage status.

If any non-native speakers do read these, I want to reassure you that I have tried to write the “proper” posts in plain English.

Advance warning not to advance any further

Stylistically as well as factually, the background pieces are not fun to read. Just producing a chronology of the relentless ratcheting up of rhetoric and violence, and analysing the resistance and its repression, consumed so much time that it prevented me progressing with the original archaeological study and turned a brief explanation of the local context into a will-breakingly long recounting that “this happened; then this happened; then he said this, then he denied saying this but actually reiterated it in the process of his ostensible denial”…

Still, they do explain who’s said what and who’s done what; they contradict official propaganda and undermine lazy and dismissive international reporting; they explain why everyone – from my cultural professional friends, to my rights worker friends, to my international business friends, to my old Islamist corner shop, to my old transsexual prostitute neighbours – has kicked off; and they explain why everyone has kicked off at Gezi Park.

Currently-protected sources are cited as “(P)”.

Drafted as one piece, it was so long that I soundtracked it.


Staying up all night, tabbing back and forth between Facebook and Tweetdeck and Twitter and news and blogs (while holding my laptop in the air to catch my landlord’s wifi), gathering and translating and sharing and discussing the awesome or amusing or appalling events (until my browser crashed), yet again being somewhere-other-than-alongside-my-friends, I wanted to do something.

Then I found out that Riseup, which ‘provides online communication tools for people and groups working on liberatory social change‘, needed people to translate news from Turkish into other languages. When I asked how I could help, they suggested contributing to their pad on frequently asked questions (FAQ) about Turkish politics.

At the same time, I figured that other people would be better able to summarise the role of the army, the history of the governing and opposition parties, etc.; I saw an exchange over the potential role of the graduate with no future in the protests; and I continued to track events through citizens’ reports, including archaeologists’ live updates from the barricades… I’ve been chasing information up, down and around ever since.

Worse and worse

The situation just gets worse. Even much of the international media ignores much of the (what my friends and friends of friends describe as) ‘heavy, brutal repression’, ‘police terror’ in Ankara and elsewhere (even in less-well-catered districts of Istanbul) while it dines off İstiklal and parties in Taksim.

Very early on, I heard horrified whispers of civil war amongst my friends; but now it has become nonchalant newspaper comment. The Turkish government has declared that if armed police and anti-terrorist commandos can’t suppress unarmed campaigners against police brutality, then the army will.

The numbers of people killed, injured, arrested and detained were out-of-date before they were published; even the bewildering rhetoric and surreal propaganda will have become more bewildering and more surreal between this post’s writing and its publication; but they give an impression of the scale and severity of the repression.

Citing sources in the midst of repression

Social media persecution

More than three thousand protesters have been arrested on the street. Immediately after the government pretended to enter a dialogue with the protesters, and protesters’ representatives demanded the release of all detained protesters, the government arrested at least 34 Twitter users for ‘inciting people to join demonstrations‘ (then released 33) and arrested at least 12 Twitter and Facebook users for ‘provoking‘ and ‘organising [örgütlediği]’ riots through social media posts (then released 13). And they have continued to raid and arrest activists.

Mainstream media persecution

Over the course of the protests, the state’s also arrested at least two nationalist (National Channel (Ulusal Kanal)) Turkish television journalists, two foreign (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)) journalists and two foreign students (one student journalist, one student who spoke with a journalist); beaten and detained another foreign (Novaya Gazeta) journalist; water-cannoned, tear-gassed and ‘ransacked’ the offices of the Turkish Communist Party (TKP) newspaper Sol [Left]; fined and shut down (though later re-licensed) television channels for ‘harming the physical, moral and mental development of children and young people’ (by not broadcasting documentaries about penguins and dolphins).

Social media censorship

As a practical means of organising, as a social response to mainstream media (self-)censorship, and as a tactical response to state repression, social media has facilitated protest. Consequently, the government plans to censor Twitter… The AKP’s Vice-Chairman of Media and Public Relations (who is responsible for social media), Ali Şahin, has announced (without a hint of self-awareness):

A tweet containing lies and slander is much more dangerous that a vehicle loaded with a bomb. The explosion of a vehicle loaded with a bomb would be limited, but a tweet filled with lies and slander can lead to a climate of conflict. If the situation is serious, necessary precautions must be taken…. [to prevent the use of social media] to chafe someone, to produce false campaigns, to conspire or to topple a government.

(I fully support fair corporate taxation, but the Turkish government is only cynically and selectively threatening to exploit Twitter’s apparently illegal tax arrangements to shut it down, because Twitter has refused to give its user data to the Turkish government; and Twitter has only refused to do that because the Turkish government has refused to implement legal protection of citizens’ data.)

Reporting the facts, protecting the sources

A lot of my sources are on social media; and I want to quote them as fully as possible to show that they’re doing it, what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and how many of them are doing it; but I don’t want to put them in harm’s way. It’s even more difficult because some of the arrested social media users’ “crimes” consisted of sharing the contact details of volunteer doctors and lawyers, so there is no possible way of identifying supposedly criminal acts.

The police have released the arrested social media users; and my social media sources have chosen to make (and not to delete) public comments. Indeed, the social media users have been defiant: ‘When we organise via Twitter, it’s a crime; when they organise via Twitter, it’s what?’ (P)

But the police are using people’s participation in social media to target their arrests and the Ministry of Health are trying to suspend “illegal” (volunteer) doctors’ licences (and, once someone else has published the information, the resister cannot hide it). At least one ‘worried woman’ has appealed for people not to share resisters’ volunteered identifying information. And in fact the Turkish government has publicly stated that it is using open-source Twitter data (in newspapers and elsewhere) in order to identify suspects in its Twitter cybercrime investigation (and drafting a law on online provocation). As the police assault on Çağlayan court demonstrates, no-one is safe.

The government has warned: ‘We’ll identify one by one those who have terrorized the streets of our cities. We have all recordings of city surveillance recordings, we’ll trace the media and social media to find those who have provoked incidents.’

‘We’ll examine and investigate one-by-one those who use violence against our police, fight in the streets, damage public property and private property [polisimize şiddet uygulayan sokaklarda çatışan kamu malına özel mülke zarar verenleri de tek tek inceleyecek ve araştıracağız]’; ‘we’ll research and expose/unveil [literally, decipher] those [in the media, art and education sector] behind those who commit media provocation, who give all kinds of logistical support [Medyada provokasyon yapanları arkadan [medya, sanat ve eğitim sektöründe] her türlü lojistik destek verenleri de araştıracak ve deşifre edeceğiz].’

Archaeologists’ exceptional vulnerability

In Turkey it is widely believed that ‘[foreign] journalists and archaeologists are the most likely [intelligence] agents [gazeteci ve arkeologlar en potansiyel ajanlardır]’; but exceptional suspicion is not the only problem. Like doctors, archaeologists are dependent upon their work/research permits; unlike doctors, archaeologists are vulnerable to quiet, delayed, long-term, plausibly-deniable punishments. (Their work permits can be denied for allegedly academic, professional or practical reasons.)

When a Turkish archaeologist saw (the early version of) my summary of events, they mentioned the risk of being denied work permits/research permits as punishment for speaking out (P). It is a genuine risk: plausibly deniable blacklisting, or (more commonly and, for the regime, far preferably) intimidation through the whispered threat of blacklisting, are a reality in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East (in Cyprus and Greece as well as in Turkey and Egypt).

A fully-sourced copy has been archived offline

Therefore, I’ve anonymised all of the archaeologists’ informal statements, and made a note – (P) – wherever I’ve used a protected source. I’ve saved fully-sourced versions of all of my Gezi-related posts offline (including all of the original Turkish-language quotations), which I will provide to neutral parties who wish to check my evidence, contact the sources, etc. Hopefully, I’ll be able to publicly release the fully-sourced version sooner rather than later…

Gezi Park

Topçu Barracks

Gezi Park is an unremarkable place, but it is relatively quiet and it is the only green space left in central Istanbul; I’ve been myself for some shade, a rest or a nap. The (Islamist) Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP)) and the Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP)) decided to demolish that last green space and replace it with a (the city’s 109th) shopping mall and luxury residential complex in the style of Ottoman barracks. The Kalyon Group, which has ‘close ties’ to the AKP, got the contract for the barracks; Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, got the contract for the mall (for the Çalık Holding company).

(This worship of Mammon offends people for the most secular of reasons: unemployed cultural heritage workers have insisted, ‘we don’t want a shopping centre, we want a museum’.(P))

(I discuss its history and its significance in a later post.)

Occupy Gezi

On the evening of the 27th (“officially” from the 28th), a tiny group (tens) of environmental, cultural and social activists started occupying the park to prevent its destruction; they held sit-ins, teach-ins, musical performances, film screenings… On the 28th, associations of the Right to the City petitioned the Council to Protect Cultural Heritage to protect the park. Peace and Democracy Party (Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi (BDP)) MP Sırrı Süreyya Önder repeatedly blocked the mechanical diggers with his own body, and CHP MP Gülseren Onanç joined him in obstructing the bulldozers.

Police raided the camp twice on the 30th; they tear-gassed the protesters, ‘threw pepper gas flares [biber gazi fişeklerini atıyorlardı]’, ‘put them on the tents and burned them [çadırları üst üste koyup yaktı]’, and hospitalised at least one of the protesters. Then, before dawn on the 31st, they ambushed, water-cannoned and tear-gassed the camp’s sleeping residents; the tear gas canisters set some tents on fire with the protesters inside (though they escaped). They shot Önder and investigative journalist Ahmet Şık with tear gas canisters and hospitalised them, then occupied the space.

The million sheep herding

On the 1st, Erdoğan darkly warned CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu, ‘Don’t [try to] compete with us.’ ‘If this is about holding meetings, if this is a social movement, where they gather 20, I will get up and gather 200,000 people. Where they gather 100,000, I will bring together one million from my party.’

(Variations on an intimidating theme: ‘If you gather a hundred thousand people,… I will gather a million.’ ‘In the place where your 100,000 gather, I will gather 1,000,000. Don’t bring it to this [point]. [Senin 100 bin topladığın yerde ben 1 milyon kişi toplarım. İşi buraya getirmeyin.]’

‘In the place of the opposition’s 100,000 people, we [could] gather 1,000,000, but we have no such gathering. The CHP’s tension-raising statements must be avoided. Also, amongst the protesters, there are people mixed up in terrorism. [Muhalefetin 100 bin kişi topladığı yerde biz 1 milyon kişi toplarız ama bizim böyle bir derdimiz yok. CHP gerilimi artıran söylemlerden kaçınmalı. Ayrıca eylemcilerin arasında teröre bulaşanlar da var.]’

‘If they hold an episode meeting, I’ll stand and in the place where they have gathered one hundred thousand, I’ll gather one million! [Olay miting yapmaksa ben kalkarım onun yüz bin topladığı yerde 1 milyon insan toplarım!]’)

Şiddet ve direniş (violence and resistance)

State and parastate violence

Since then, the repression has continued: Turkish police have added CR and/or skunk gas, electric shock batons, plastic bullets, helicopters, armoured cars and industrial machinery to their arsenal; they have blocked ambulances from reaching the injured and used ambulances to deliver tear gas; they have used helicopters to mass-gas crowdslike insects‘, have gassed metro stations and have cut off electricity then gassed refuges, homes and hospitals; and they have driven through barricades, behind which people were shielding themselves.

Government-aligned, policeallied, variouslyarmed youth gangs have lynched people. The government’s official and unofficial forces have killed several people, blinded many more (with targeted tear gas canister and plastic bullet shots to the head) and injured more than seven thousand. (In contrast, fewer than seven hundred police officers have been injured through protesters’ self-defence, and protesters have carried injured police away from clashes to receive medical attention. One police officer, Mustafa Sarı, has died; but no-one was involved in his accidental death.)

Furthermore, using its own violence against its massed citizens as a distraction (and economic pressure to secure the Greek state’s illegal cooperation), the Turkish state is breaking its own laws in order to selectively attack key dissidents. A Kurdish socialist who had suffered torture in Turkey and sought asylum in Greece, Bulut Yayla, has been kidnapped and beaten by Greek police and abducted back to Turkey by Turkish police. Similarly, the ultranationalist Fighter’s Hearth (Alperen Ocağı) has taken the opportunity to attack socialists.

Popular resistance

Consequently, the resistance has grown. On the first night, I watched tens of thousands of people pour out of their homes, into the streets and across the city to protest in Istanbul and in other cities across Turkey. On the second night, I watched the protests spread throughout Turkey and around the world, including to the Turkish-military-occupied Turkish Cypriot community in northern Cyprus. Since then, somewhat reassured to have heard from some of my friends in Turkey (and myself offline most of the time), I’ve been putting this piece together. Despite the global media’s focus on the Glastonbury/Woodstockstyle democracy festival in Taksim Square, violence against peaceful resistance continued in Ankara and elsewhere.

Masses of protesters have built roadblocks and (sometimes using the police’s own barriers or public buses) barricades; and, after police assaults, they have collectively cleaned up public spaces. (Anti-protest citizens have cleaned too.) [Radically-democratic Beşiktaş football fan club Çarşı hotwired a mechanical excavator and drove off a riot police vehicle.] Isolated individuals or small groups have damaged the property of businesses such as Starbucks that closed their doors to protesters fleeing brutality, turned over Turkish television news vans and set fire to AKP property.

Edirne police have not acted against the protesters; and, in their own act of protest, perhaps 1,000 police officers have resigned instead of carry out their orders.

Away from direct intervention and confrontation, homes, shops and hotels have provided medicine, supplies and refuge; Turkish soldiers have given gas masks to civilians (and at least one police officer has quit(?) and given his own gas mask to a protester); and Gümüşsuyu Military Hospital has provided anti-acid and asthma medication.

The state of affairs

The language that only dictators use

On the 3rd, Erdoğan warned: ‘at the moment, with difficulty, we are keeping at least 50% of this country in their homes [Şu anda evlerinde bizim zorla tuttuğumuz bu ülkenin en az yüzde 50’si var]’. As duly-warned CHP leader Kılıçdaroğlu enquired,

What does it mean for a prime minister to say that we are having difficulty keeping 50% [of people] in their homes? If you are threatening ‘50% of society is in my control, whenever I want I’ll bring them into the open and send them into battle’, this is not democracy. This is language that only dictators use.

[Bir Başbakan’ın biz yüzde 50’yi evlerinde zor zapt ediyoruz demesi ne demektir. Eğer siz ‘toplumun yüzde 50’si de benim kontrolümde ben onları istediğim zaman sahaya sürerim bir meydan savaşı çıkar ortaya’ diye tehdit ediyorsa bunun adı demokrasi değildir. Bu ancak diktatörlerin kullanacağı bir dildir.]

Useful idiots

On the 6th, AKP supporters attacked anti-government protesters in Rize. At the airport on his return to Turkey (from a tour of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) on the 7th, Erdoğan met a crowd of supporters. Mirroring the secularist slogan that ‘we are soldiers of Kemal Atatürk [Kemal Atatürk’ün askerleriyiz]’, the Islamists shouted, ‘we are soldiers of Tayyıp Erdoğan [Tayyıp Erdoğan’ın askerleriyiz]’. They cried, ‘hands raised against the police should be broken [Polise kalkan eller kırılsın]’! They demanded: ‘Let us go, we’ll go and crush Taksim! [Yol ver gidelim Taksim’i ezelim!]’

Erdoğan made a show of telling the crowd to go home in peace. But he also categorised the protesters as vandals, flag-burners (after a years-old video was recirculated), Jewish financial lobby-backed useful idiots, ‘anarchists and terrorists‘, and cop-killers (after an exhausted and sleep-deprived police officer fell off a bridge and died).

He insisted: ‘We cannot close our eyes to their burning and destruction, their harming of cities, public property and our people. [Yakıp yıkmasına, şehirlere kamu mallarına, insanımıza zarar vermesine göz yumamayız.]’ And he recited a poem that stated: ‘[If] anyone attacks my family, I’ll strangle them! [Biri ecdadıma saldırdımı, hatta boğarım!]’ On the 8th, police-backed AKP supporters attacked anti-government protesters in Adana.

Sivil darbe (civil coup)

On the 9th, Erdoğan rallied supporters in Adana, Mersin and Ankara, repeated lies that protesters had disrespected Islam (by wearing shoes and drinking alcohol inside a mosque), and accused them of attempting a coup. The AKP’s Central Decision-Making and Administrative Board (MKYK) officially defined the protests as a ‘civilian coup [sivil darbe]’, for which protesters can and will be prosecuted.

In fact, it was the AKP who threatened democracy. Erdoğan warned the students reading (books from the occupation’s community library), school pupils doing their homework, families picnicking and children drawing in the park that ‘patience has a limit…. if you continue like this, I will be obliged to speak in a language that you understand. We will respond accordingly.’ ‘You who started such a struggle against us will pay a heavy price. [Siz ki bize karşı böyle bir mücadeleyi başlattınız, bunun bedelini ağır ödeyeceksiniz.]’

Agents provocateurs

On the 11th, Istanbul governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu repeated, ‘I state to you with certainty, one more time, that Gezi Park and Taksim will not be touched. Please alert your friends to my message. [Sizlere,Gezi Parkı’na ve Taksim’e dokunulmayacağını bir kez daha KESİNLİKLE ifade ediyorum.Arkadaşlarınızı lütfen bu mesajım yönünde uyarın.]’ ‘Gezi Park and Taksim absolutely will not be touched, no-one will touch you. This morning and from now on you are entrusted to your police officer brothers. [GEZİ PARKI ve TAKSİM’e KESİNLİKLE DOKUNULMAYACAK,SİZLERE ASLA DOKUNULMAYACAKTIR.Bu sabah ve bundan sonra polis kardeşlerinize emanetsiniz.]’ The police promptly attacked both Taksim and Gezi Park.

The state claimed that the protesters had attacked the police. Governor Mutlu supposedly revealed ‘the Revolutionary Headquarters member activist who said he was a police officer and who was found with a Molotov cocktail in hand [polis diye söylenen ve elinde molotof kokteyli bulunan Devrimci Karargah üyesi eylem[ci]]’.

And he declared that ‘the person in Taksim with a walkie-talkie who looks like he’s probably armed, who[se photograph] has been shared on social media, who claimed to be a police officer, has been arrested. He’s an SDP [Sosyalist Demokrasi Partisi (Socialist Democracy Party)] activist/agitator. [Taksim’de telsizli ve muhtemelen silahlı görüntüsü sosyal medyada paylaşılıp, polis olduğu iddia olunan kişi yakalandı.O SDP’li bir eylemci.]’ On the basis of that allegation, 70 more people were arrested at SDP HQ (and may be prosecuted with similarly unreliable evidence).

Even if he were not an agent provocateur, and even if he were a member of the SDP, clearly it would be no excuse for destroying Occupy Taksim and Occupy Gezi in Istanbul and Occupy Kuğulu in Ankara, and singling out and water-cannoning disabled persons (as ‘a demonstrator in a wheelchair got their share of pressurised water [tekerlekli sandalyeli bir gösterici de TOMA’dan sıkılan sudan nasibini aldı]’). As one protester observed, ‘the “Tomas” (water cannon vehicles) that are able to push away and separate hundreds of people within seconds… could not get rid of this group of provocateurs for over an hour now. Why? This is all a planned game to be played in front of the international media.’

Moreover, there is photographic evidence that the firebombers were state agents provocateurs; they (also) had police-issue gas masks and walkie-talkies, and coordinated the performance with the riot police via hand signals.

The imam’s army destroyed the protesters’ prayer room

In the process of razing Occupy Gezi to the ground, the police deliberately destroyed the incredibly clearly identified prayer room (mescidi yıktılar).

‘Here there is no law’

Afterwards, the state attacked Çağlayan court, and arrested and beat at least 73 lawyers in the court for defending protesters’ legal rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression. One eyewitness lawyer decried, ‘here there is no law [burada hukuk yok]’!

His house, his rules

On the 12th, Erdoğan had a pointless meeting with some hand-picked (non-)representatives of Occupy Gezi; he claimed that until then the state had ‘not responded to punches with punches’, warned that ‘[f]rom now on security forces will respond differently‘, and instructed his police chief and his interior minister: ‘This issue will be over in 24 hours.’

On the 13th, Erdoğan told peaceful victims of police brutality, ‘you can’t criticize my police‘ – and, notably, they are his police – for that brutality because they were in the same place at the same time as violent groups. Yet, as has already been established, the violent groups are Erdoğan’s own agents provocateurs; the violent groups go to the same places at the same times as the peaceful protesters, precisely in order to give the police an excuse to subject the peaceful protesters to gross human rights abuses. Erdoğan notified them: ‘We have arrived at the end of our patience…. I am giving you my final warning.’

State violence in a banana republic

The Minister for EU Affairs (and Chief Negotiator with the EU), Egemen Bağış, stated: ‘Turkey is not a banana republic…. No-one has the right to accuse the state of the Republic of Turkey of using violence…. Such assertions cannot be accepted. There is no state violence in Turkey. [Türkiye muz cumhuriyeti değildir…. Türkiye Cumhuriyeti Devleti’ni şiddet uygulamakla suçlamak kimsenin haddi değildir…. [B]öyle bir iddiada bulunmaları kabul edilemez. Türkiye’de devlet şiddeti yoktur.]’

From late on the 13th until early on the 14th, Erdoğan met with representatives of Taksim Solidarity in Ankara. He made a compromise of sorts: he agreed to respect the court’s decision on the Gezi Park development (which is, after all, only to agree to respect the rule of law); and he offered to conduct a plebiscite of Istanbul’s residents (if the court approved the development). (The very fact of Turkey’s ‘democratic deficit’ may make any plebiscite a ‘nonsense’.)

Someone whom Erdoğan dismisses as an ‘extremist unionist‘, the General Secretary of the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (DİSK), Arzu Çerkezoğlu, pointed out that Occupy Gezi was no longer an anti-development protest, that it had become a general resistance. She petitioned that,

weeks have passed, people have poured into the streets,… people have died… mothers have hit the streets… If we’ve come here for a solution, which is the reason both we and you are here, we are obliged to speak truths. This many people are in the streets, day and night, saying something to you. Isn’t it necessary for us to discuss these things?

[haftalar geçmiş, insanlar sokaklara dökülmüş,… kişi[ler] ölmüş… anneler sokaklara inmiş… Eğer çözüm için buraya geldiysek, ki biz de siz de bu nedenle buradayız, gerçekleri konuşmak zorundayız. Bu kadar insan sokaklarda gece gündüz size bir şeyler söylüyor. Bunları konuşmamız gerekmez mi?]

Erdoğan stormed out of the meeting.

Between midnight and 5.15am, Governor Mutlu held a heavily-trailed and tweeted open meeting with protesting youths at Dolmabahçe Saat Kule Kafe (Clock Tower Cafe), which also distracted international attention away from the state’s other activities and confused international media’s interpretation of the state’s activities.

When Taksim Solidarity relayed that ‘Gov. Mutlu stated to reps that police will not interfere to Gezi tonight’, I queried, ‘but Mutlu said it, so they will (or they will tomorrow morning)?’ Unfortunately, there wasn’t space in the tweet for the third option, that they would attack Ankara; and that is exactly what they did. While journalists focused on Erdoğan’s latest democratic initiative and Mutlu’s braving of the lion’s den, police attacked protesters in the Kızılay neighbourhood with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets; when the protesters ‘scattered’ and ran, the police chased them.

A long weekend

It is impossible to convey how depressed and depressing my friends’ and colleagues’ expectations were before and are now. On the 15th in Sincan in Ankara, and on the 16th in Kazlıçeşme in İstanbul, the AKP held a Rally for Respect for the National Will (Milli İradeye Saygı Mitingi), in order ‘to disrupt the great game, to write history [Büyük oyunu bozmaya, haydi tarih yazmaya]!’ (The AKP themselves have translated it thus: ‘The game is over. Time to make history.’)

Erdoğan disingenuously claimed that the ‘rallies [did] not aim to put one crowd against the other’; but his own party’s slogan for the rally implied that the protesters were at best the Great Powers’ useful idiots, at worst treasonous agents of foreign powers; and his party’s own title for the rally suggested that the protesters should bow to the party’s (and, thus, the nation’s) will.

Public transport was cut for protesters and used for government supportersç Police ran over a protester; burned the wishing tree (dilek ağacı), which embodied a tradition of tying notes expressing hopes (or simply memory knots) to sacred trees (or trees at sacred sites); they bulldozed the camps (in Istanbul and elsewhere in Turkey); they repeatedly invaded and gassed makeshift emergency medical clinics, causing one pregnant woman to ‘to ha[ve] a haemorrhage and miscarr[y] her baby [kanama geçirdi ve bebeğini düşürdü]’, and attacked and arrested volunteer doctors…

(The Interior Ministry’s) Blue Beret, anti-terrorist Gendarmerie Commandos actively supported the police’s repression; regime-allied armed thugs supported the police’s repression; armed thugs tried to lynch protesters against police brutality and police officers had to protect them; riot police blocked and turned away Ethem Sarısülük’s funeral procession, then attacked his memorial marchers with tear gas and water cannons…

Correspondingly, resistance evolved: ‘[everyone] became professional revolutionaries [hepimiz profesyonel devrimci olduk]’; they contained and neutralised tear gas attacks, and ‘scuttled‘ the trucks that supplied the water cannons.

As with the coordinated official and unofficial physical assaults on the resistance, there were both official judicial attacks were unofficial internet attacks on perceived enemies of the state online. Activists and non-compliant journalists had their accounts reported (and thus suspended) as spam, or were ‘flooded with threats that [they would] be prosecuted for [their] tweets‘. And, of course, there were continued judicial attacks on the protesters in the streets. The Turkish government declared that ‘the state… consider[ed] everyone who remain[ed] there [in Gezi Park] a supporter or member of a terror organization‘. Ironically, as they cleared the park, those who remained there were police.

The Turkish Bar Association condemned ‘violence-escalating rhetoric and civilian authorities’ and security forces’ violence against the people [şiddeti tırmandıran söylemleri ve mülki amirler ile emniyet güçlerinin halka karşı şiddet]’, ‘the public workers who neglected their responsibility by not establishing emergency medical intervention teams [acil tıbbi müdahale birimleri kurmayarak görevini ihmal eden kamu görevlileri]’ and ‘the opening of [a criminal] investigation into health workers who [did make] emergency medical interventions [acil tıbbi müdahale yapan sağlık görevlilerine yönelik soruşturma açılması]’ (as well as other action against continuing illegal practices).

A civil coup

The AKP has made grimly clear that if any protesters had desperate thoughts (or even misguided hopes) of military intervention to end police violence, there is no chance; government, police, gendarmerie and army are all united against civilian society. Just a couple of days after the international media noticed that the coup-prone army was ‘conspicuously absent‘, the government revealed its position: ‘If this [police power] is not enough, we can even utilise the Turkish armed forces in cities.’

T24 more fully reported Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç’s statement that ‘if it’s necessary in order to repress the Gezi Park episodes, the soldier will do his duty [Gezi Parkı olaylarını bastırmak için gerekirse asker bile görev yapar]’:

The demonstrators have abandoned the Gezi Park action. They have abandoned legality. They may continue in the streets, in neighbourhoods. They are immediately repressed and legal proceedings concerning those responsible have been started. At governors’ request, first police, if they don’t suffice gendarmerie forces, if episodes spread military forces too, may do their duty in order to establish [literally, provide] peace.

[Gösteriler Gezi Parkı eyleminden çıktı. Yasal olmaktan çıktı. Sokaklarda, mahallelerde bunlar devam edebilir. Onlar da anında bastırılır ve sorumluları hakkında yasal işlem başlatı. Valiler, önce polisleri, yetmezse jandarma güçlerini, eğer olaylar yayılırsa valilerimizin isteğiyle oradaki askeri güçler de huzurun sağlanması için görev yapabilir.]

Arınç has since complained that the ‘BBC piece that featured bits from the interview created the misperception that the Turkish government might use its army and all its forces to suppress the protests’. Arınç clarified that governors ‘deploy firstly police forces, then gendarmeries. If the incidents become widespread, armed forces might be also called on [on] the governor’s order to establish peace.’ The only significant clarification was that the Law on Provincial Administration (#5442) legalised such military intervention.

Orwellian or Kafkaesque (or Pythonesque)?

As the propaganda and persecution continue apace, it is becoming difficult not to keep up with the news, but merely to comprehend it. The silent, passive, “standing man/man who stands (duran adam)” protests, which began on the 17th, have since become a new national standard. They have mutated, too – for example, there is a “standing cat/cat that stands (duran kedi)”, in remembrance of the animals that have been killed in police gas attacks. And this protest is being prosecuted as ‘resistance by means of standing without violence against the police or movement [durmak suretiyle polise şiddet ve hareket kullanmadan direnme]’.

Trying to put the genie back in the bottle

Erdoğan’s “concession”, such as it is, will not be enough, cannot be enough. Taksim Solidarity has made five minimum demands:

  • Taksim Gezi Park will not be re-developed under the name of Artillery Barracks or any other project; an official statement on the cancellation of the current project is made; the attempts to demolish Ataturk Cultural Centre stop,
  • Every responsible agent for the thousands of injured people and two deaths, starting with the Governors and the Police Chiefs of Istanbul, Ankara and Hatay and everyone who prevented the use of the most basic democratic rights of the people; who gave orders for violent repression, enforced or implemented these orders are dismissed from their posts,
  • The use of tear gas bombs and other similar materials is prohibited,
  • Detained citizens who attended the resistance across the country are immediately released and an official statement which declares that there will not be any investigation about them,
  • Starting with Taksim and Kizilay squares, all the meeting and demonstration bans effecting all of our squares and public areas and all the de facto blockings are abolished and stopped and barriers to freedom of expression are removed.

Twitter-using Gezi activists alone have made at least 66 demands in the Occupy Gezi Manifesto.

Turkish media (self-)censorship and propaganda

Meanwhile, Turkish television has shown programmes about penguins and dolphins (though a Greek news channel has reported that a protester provoked a police water cannon in order to die on television, and Facebook has shamed itself equally by censoring the page for a Gezi Park Global Call for Solidarity); and one of the few Turkish newspapers that did address the protests accused the BBC’s Turkish-language service (BBC Türkçe) of being ‘provocative [provokatif]’ and its economics editor of ‘provocation [provokasyonu]’.

Some shameful (or shameless) Turkish media has now moved beyond censorship into propaganda. On the 11th, Sabah claimed that ‘demonstrators… attacked police with stones and ball bearings’, then with ‘stones, Molotov cocktails, ball bearings and fireworks…. provok[ing] police… to stage an operation on Gezi Park’, so eventually the police were forced to act to restore public order. CNN Turkish (CNN Türk) alleged that ‘marginal groups attack[ed] the police with Molotovs and stones [marjinal gruplar polise molotofle ve taşlarla saldırıyor]’. Yet CNN International stated that ‘police fire[d] tear gas at protesters‘.

On the 18th, Takvim published a ‘dirty confession [kirli itiraf]’; its kirli work was a fake interview with journalist Christiane Amanpour, in which she “confessed” to CNN’s ‘”destabilizing” Turkey for international business interests’. (It splashed the “confession” in the print edition, the online edition and through social media, with a miniscule “disclaimer” at the end of the article that the interview was fake, but the information was true…)

International media: thoughtless ignorance or careless ignorance?

Remarkably, after the police had spent the entire day attacking peaceful protesters in public and lawyers in court, after Governor Mutlu had warned parents to withdraw their children from the protests ‘for [their] beloved children’s safety [sevgili çocuklarımızın güvenliği için]’, while the police continued their assault on the citizenry through the night, international media opined that Turkish authorities had been ‘[u]sing the type of language which will have many wondering whether the city authorities are serious about dialogue with the protestors’…

Some foreign journalists who live in Turkey somehow concluded that the police had ‘over-reacted because for years they have been brought out in busloads whenever three people have gathered together, only to sit around for hours…. At last they’ve had some real action.’

Even though Erdoğan’s alleged compromise on Gezi Park was reached in Ankara, some of the international media neglected to mention the police’s simultaneous hunting down and beating of protesters in Ankara. Some others said that the protesters rejected ‘the government’s olive branch‘, or that the ‘protest organizers’ – the people who organised the original protest – accepted the deal, but the ‘rank-and-file demonstrators‘ rejected it.

It is true that some protesters shouted ‘Cowards! Liars! Sheep!‘, but that was because the organisers had not secured further concessions from Erdoğan; it was not because they had agreed to end the occupation. The camp has a standard collective decision-making process; and, before and after, Taksim Solidarity explicitly stated that they would ‘continue [their] occupation…. until [their] demands [were] met’; they decided to reduce (but maintain) their presence in the park simply in order to confirm and contrast their non-confrontational manner.

Still others actively reported Erdoğan ‘backing away from a threatened “final” confrontation’ and making ‘a calculated political move to step back from the violent confrontations‘, and explicitly stated that ‘there were no fresh clashes‘. That is bullshit. (And it would still be bullshit even if the article had been written before midnight on the 13th and referred to the 12th.)

A dear friend asked if the western media realised that Erdoğan had planned this; I had to apologise that they thought he was panicking and reacting badly. Much of the media seems to mistake its own confusion for Erdoğan’s. Despite his myopic charge at democracy, the international media pities his inability to understand the situation; it identifies ‘a series of dizzying flip-flops’, ‘an olive branch‘ and ‘backing down’, instead of cynical lying and propagandising at home and abroad and simultaneous brutalisation of anyone who is not an acolyte.

And the world’s media do have some active responsibility. People in Turkey were so desperate for news and evidence of events in their own country that they appealed, #WorldMediaGoToAnkara; but, obviously, the very fact that it was necessary to beg foreign journalists to drag themselves away from Balık Pasajı and Sofyalı Sokak shows that people in Turkey couldn’t rely on them either. Whether it’s sheer ignorance of or wilful blindness to the lives of people who don’t live in Cihangir, foreign journalists have all too often romanticised AKP rule.

The party line

The AKP has sent streams of tweets (sometimes fifteen each) to academics/scholars/etc., think tanks, diplomats and Turkish and foreign media‘s newspaper, magazine, TV and social media journalists, in which it insists that Turkey has ‘first class… democratic standards’, that the ‘protests in Turkey do not bear any similarities to the revolutions in the Middle Eastern countries’, and that ‘Taksim is not Tahrir,Erdogan is an elected PM,not a dictator’; it argues that the protesters are ‘people who couldn’t get success at the elections‘, who are using ‘chaos’ to try to win power.

  1. […] Occupy Gezi background, part one: protests and repression […]

  2. […] Occupy Gezi background, part one: protests and repression […]

  3. […] and the destruction of cultural property. This week, I’ve posted tl;dr background posts on the protests and their repression, the protesters and their politics, and the archaeology of Gezi Park. In the archaeological […]

  4. […] to write a summary this week, a Digger Declaration. (Elsewhere, I’ve provided background on the protests and their repression, the protesters and their politics, and the archaeology of Gezi […]

  5. […] Gezi. The International State Crime Initiative posted it on their blog; this is a pre-print. When state repression provoked radically democratic resistance, archaeologists were on the front line as victims of […]

  6. […] coup‘ is only one part of Turkey’s total crisis, and is indeed only the second ‘civil coup‘ of the year (after the government, police and army joined forces against civil […]

  7. […] people and citizens, they are resisting: the use of violence by police, gendarmerie and government-aligned gangs; the government’s threats to deploy the […]

  8. […] Occupy Gezi: Archaeologists at Gezi Park, Archaeologists on the Barricades, the Turkish state was persecuting (social) media users, so I translated and shared their material online, archived their original material offline and […]

  9. […] came together in Gezi Park (and the adjacent Taksim Square), the focal point of the nationwide Gezi […]

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