Occupy Gezi background, part two: protesters and politics

Posted: 27/06/2013 in News & Analysis, Research, resistance
Tags: , , ,

This is my second background piece on Occupy Gezi. In the first, I reviewed the protests and the repression; here, I explore the protesters and their politics; in the third, I summarise the archaeology of Gezi Park. In the “proper” posts that follow, I examine the economics and politics of archaeology in Turkey; I look at the roles of both archaeology and archaeologists in the Turkish revolution.

You don’t need to read any of the background pieces to read the “proper” posts; I’ve just posted them to justify my interpretation. 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.

Here, I argue that the events in Turkey do constitute a democratic revolution. I show how the chappullers include urban professionals, the urban poor, slum-dwellers, workers, independent traders, revolutionary Muslims, football fans, hackers, women, Saturday Mothers (and Fathers), conservative Muslims, ethnic and religious minorities, non-heteronormative minorities, journalists and police (and parasitical ultrasecularists and ultranationalists). And I show that the protesters want freedom, secularism, true democracy, protection of the natural environment and protection of the historic environment; and I show that they generally reflect public opinion.

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

If Taksim isn’t Tahrir, what is it?

Many commentators have insisted: ‘There is no “Turkish Arab Spring”.’ ‘#Taksim is not #Tahrir. People in #Istanbul #Turkey are protesting to preserve democracy not to overthrow the system.’ ‘[T]hey are trying to correct a market failure.’

Other observers have doubted the sincerity of protesters‘ calls for Erdoğan’s resignation, and judged that ‘the majority of the protestors do not really expect this to happen, nor do they seek a fundamental change of the Turkish regime’, so their demands ‘should be taken with a pinch of salt‘. I find those comments impossible to take seriously and, honestly, insulting to the hundreds of thousands of people who have risked their lives to make those demands.


I was in Istanbul when Hrant Dink was shot on the 19th of January 2007; and I was one of the two hundred thousand who marched to commemorate him and challenge fascism; and I knew there were direnişçiler (resisters), because they were my friends and neighbours in Istanbul and Kayseri (and England and Greece), or had been passing acquaintances in the south-east; but I was – and, clearly more significantly, my friends were – surprised by the uprising. In fact, the (other) protesters were surprised, too.

I know people who are on the streets now; but I don’t know what will happen today, let alone tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or the day after that. Nonetheless, whether the protesters want Erdoğan to resign because they are pacifist democrats or secularist authoritarians, I know that they do want him to resign.


And the idea that Turkey is a (true) democracy is far from the reality. Erdoğan does win ‘fair elections by big margins‘, but a lot of that is due to the ‘abject failure of parliamentary opposition‘. For example, I know people who vote (and therefore contribute to Erdoğan’s apparent popularity and mandate to rule), but who make an entirely negative decision based upon which of the AKP and the MHP is the least immoral and corrupt at the time of the election.

Yet, worse than the lack of effective representation, women, ethnic and religious minorities, and gender and sexual minorities all endure social and state oppression. And, as the repression of Occupy Gezi has highlighted (but only highlighted, because for many people in Turkey, such violence has long been an everyday risk), there is mass police brutality against and torture of dissidents and other non-conformists. Police routinely use excessive force with impunity, regularly use sexual abuse against Kurdish and Alevi women and children as a tool of humiliation and terror, and casually use rape as a punishment.

For instance, transgender/transsexual individuals are socially excluded to the point of destitution, thus economically forced into sex work, then persistently arrested; in custody, the overwhelming majority are beaten, and many are tortured and raped. The third assault on a woman that I saw in Istanbul involved a man belt-whipping a prone transgendered person on the main boulevard between Taksim and Tünel (İstiklal Caddesi). The police didn’t intervene. (The public did.) When I went to the police station and complained, one of the officers was kind enough to (sincerely, not threateningly) communicate to me that I should leave immediately…

(One way or another) Taksim is Tahrir

Protesters have explicitly demanded: ‘We want justice. We want democracy. We want our freedom.’ It is somewhat remarkable for commentators to inform protesters that actually they do not.

While Occupy Gezi itself is rooted in a continuous local tradition of tent camp occupations of environmental and cultural heritage sites, its solidarity camps elsewhere echo the Occupy movement. Where village hall meetings might work, they’ve adopted the horizontalist assemblies of the indignados; where scarves, keffiyehs (poşular) or other masks would suffice, they’ve adopted the V for Vendetta masks of Anonymous, Occupy and the Arab Spring; and while their shared identity as gas-mask-wearers has been thrust upon them by their rulers’ repression, they have consciously expressed solidarity with their colleagues in the global movement for real democracy.

Indeed, looking at the material culture of the revolution and its repression, it’s been suggested that, ‘seeing such a resemblance between two different civilisations [Turkey and Brazil], archaeologists would argue it was one common culture [Arkeologlar bile iki farklı uygarlıkta bu kadar benzerlik görünce ortak bir kültürü savunur]’.

BBC economics editor Paul Mason understood that the protesters’ hopes were precisely ‘about getting rid of Mr Erdogan and making Turkey a secular democracy’. He asked, ‘[i]s this the Turkish Tahrir? Not unless the workers join in.‘ In fact, as I will go on to show, the labour movement was already a constituent part of the movement against neoliberal development (through both working-class communities’ informal action and trades unions’ official activity).

Çapulcular (Chappullers)


Originally, Erdoğan blamed the protests on ‘a few looters‘ (or pillagers or marauders – çapulcular), CHP agents provocateurs, (local and foreign) ‘extremist elements…. who live arm-in-arm wih terrorism’ and (worst of all) Twitter.

So, naturally, they immediately reclaimed çapuling as a term for spectacular non-violent resistance (dancing on barricades amidst tear gas, reading books to riot cops).

Now, in recognition of the seriousness of the revolt, he has acknowledged some genuine environmental concern… and blamed ‘”terror groups”… radical Marxist-Leninists‘ (the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C)), indeed, at least ‘eleven different terrorist organisations‘. Who are they in reality?

Urban professionals

Considering them no-longer-necessary, the Islamists have wilfully spurned the liberals with whom they confronted the secularist nationalist authoritarian establishment. Architects, urban planners, academics and leftists ‘have long opposed the plans’. Chappullers who’ve noted archaeologists have also spotted sociologists, anthropologists, philologists, philosophers, economists and translators. As chappulling is now their very existence, so their professions are now types of resistance (P):

What’s your job?
Engineer chappuller, whats yours?
Archaeologist chappuller.

Still, others wholly reject any professional identification, because they believe that it is a universal political revolution regardless of class and social experience.

The occupiers who were appointed for negotiations with the government were lawyers, architects and doctors. The doctors had been radicalised in the line of work, confronted first with the effects of the government’s healthcare privatisation programme, then with the victims of its repression. Other professions had endured long-term economic problems: for example, engineers complained of ‘unemployment, low wages, dangerous working conditions and insecurity [İşsizlik, düşük ücretler, sağlıksız çalışma koşulları ve güvencesizlik]’.

The notoriously-teargassed woman in a red dress, Ceyda Sungur, is a Research Assistant in the City and Urban Planning Department of the Architecture Faculty of Istanbul Technical University (İstanbul Teknik Üniversitesi (İTÜ)). And the first hospitalised protester was an archaeology student (though, economically-speaking, archaeologists are closer to labourers than other professionals).

On the 31st of May, at least, ‘almost every person there was either typing on a phone or recording the scene on a tablet‘; and on the 3rd of June, the majority were middle-class university students and other youths; there certainly were many graduates and professionals.

The urban poor

However, at the same time, poor neighbourhoods, such as the AKP-and-socialist-voting working-class community in Ümraniye and the (CHP-voting but) social democratic Kurdish and Alevi working-class community in Gazi, hit the streets in solidarity ‘against fascism [faşizme karşı]’. (Despite the fact that Gezi’s middle-class activists distrust them as ‘terrorists against cops’, ‘most’ of Gazi’s working-class activists are now in Gezi resisting, and teaching the middle classes how to resist.) Even poor, rural villages have showed solidarity with the resistance. And that’s something that has been missed or under-appreciated in breathless reports of a bourgeois revolt: many of the people in the square have been middle-class; but many of the people in the streets have not.

In fact, many of the people in the square may not have been middle-class either because, as anthropologist Emrah Yıldız notes, as demonstrated by the life and death of factory worker and Redhack (socialist hacker) activist Mehmet Ayvalıtaş, many working-class people have access to and make sophisticated use of hi-tech gadgets and social media.


Istanbul’s informal built-overnight (gecekondu) housing is unsanitary and unsafe. Moreover, the city is at great risk of an unimaginably catastrophic earthquake; and its poorest, most dangerously-housed citizens are the most vulnerable of all. Thus, Erdoğan has stated his intention to ‘destroy half of Istanbul’s buildings‘. Yet the historic buildings are not consolidated and their communities are not rehoused in their established neighbourhoods. Whether forcibly or ‘market-evicted’, they’re expelled to banlieues, and their neighbourhoods are demolished and replaced by gated communities.

The past and/or future victims of social cleansing have included historic Sulukule‘s Roma (who had inhabited the place since 1054, whose emptied neighbourhood the construction firm then illegally ‘excavated without supervision… [with] heavy machinery [ağır iş makinaları[yla]… denetimsiz kazı yapılmıştır]’); Tarlabaşı and Dolapdere’s Kurds, Roma and transsexuals; Tophane’s workers and artists; and Fener and Balat’s Kurds and Laz. Hence, ‘the targeted squatters‘ have resisted the government too.

Before they joined the Gezi Park resistance, the Turkish Union of Chambers of Engineers and Architects (Türk Mühendis ve Mimar Odaları Birliği (TMMOB)), the Chamber of Urban Planners (Şehir Plancıları Odası (ŞPO)) and the Sulukule Roma Cultural Development and Solidarity Association’s (Sulukule Roman Kültürünü Geliştirme ve Dayanışma Derneği (SRKGDD)) had worked together for four years to save Sulukule.

Tragically, Sulukule was illegally destroyed. Still, its destruction revealed how the state deployed offensive tricks to establish facts on the ground, such as continuing its demolition programme until the court’s judgement of the programme’s legality.

So, informed by this struggle, the Gezi Park resistance launched not only a legal case against the specific development plan, but also against the general development work that enabled (and, if completed, made inevitable) the development project.


Workers, notably striking blue-collar and white-collar workers, have participated in the occupation; shield walls of bus drivers and lorry drivers have blockaded police vehicles in Istanbul and phalanxes of taxi drivers have blockaded police vehicles in Ankara.

Indeed, the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (Devrimci İşçi Sendikaları Konfederasyonu (DİSK)), Theatre Actors’ Union (Tiyatro Oyuncuları Meslek Birliği (TOMEB)), Turkish Union of Chambers of Engineers and Architects (Türk Mühendis ve Mimar Odaları Birliği (TMMOB)) and the Tobacco, Drink, Food and Allied Workers’ Union of Turkey (Türkiye Tütün Müskirat, Gıda ve Yardımcı İşçileri Sendikası (Tekgıda-İş)) were founding members of the Taksim Solidarity (Taksim Dayanışması) movement against the Topçu Barracks Project (and thereby founding members of the Taksim Gezi Protection and Beautification Association (Taksim Gezi Parkı Koruma ve Güzelleştirme Derneği)). And the Istanbul Branch of the Archaeologists’ Union (Arkeologlar Derneği İstanbul Şubesi) is a member of Taksim Solidarity as well.

(As well as a raft of community associations,) DİSK’s Board of Directors and Board of Chairpersons (DİSK Yönetim Kurulu ve Başkanlar Kurulu) declared support for the site, and planned to take part in the community watch to protect the site, before the crackdown on the 31st. The dawn raid may have been an attempt to break the protest before organised labourers and community members could arrive to consolidate it.

The breakneck-speed growth of resistance was spontaneous, but it did grow around an existing organisational skeleton and flow along existing networks, including those of the labour movement. As journalist Jay Cassano notes, there is a direct link between anti-IMF, anti-World Bank Diren İstanbul and Diren Gezi Parkı; and Taksim Solidarity itself identified the Gezi Park action as a continuation of the struggle over the commemoration and celebration of May Day in Taksim Square (where the Revolutionary Worker’s Party (Devrimci İşçi Partisi (DİP)) declared, ‘Taksim will become Tahrir! [Taksim, Tahrir olacak!]’). Workers held a delayed May Day in newly-occupied Taksim Square on the 1st of June; precarious workers held their monthly vigil for workplace deaths in Gezi Park on the 2nd of June; the ‘anger of workers who are condemned to insecure and flexible work [gave] direction to the movement‘.

Worker journalists in labour movement media reported on the events at Gezi Park from the very beginning and supported the community watch (nöbet).

Independent traders

Small family businesses, such as neighbourhood bakers and greengrocers, see the face of economic inequality, insecurity and poverty every day, so they’ve joined the protests too.

Anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, revolutionary Muslims

Like the presumption of the urban poor’s and the slum-consigned underclass’s support for the AKP, the presumption of observant Muslims’ conservativeness, and even the perception of Islamists’ and socialists’ only-temporary cooperation in pursuit of shared interests, is too simplistic, because there are also Anti-Capitalist Muslims (Antikapitalist Müslümanlar (@kamuder)) and (anti-imperialist) Revolutionary Muslims (Devrimci Müslümanlar (@isyanveislam)). The other day, I toasted the revolution (online) with a circle of observant Turkish and Kurdish friends.

Football fans

Many members of football fan clubs (who are not generally members of the bourgeoisie), who are experienced in street-fighting and clashing with the police, have suspended their rivalries and worked together to protect the protesters (the vast majority of whom did not engage in confrontations with the police). Working-class Beşiktaş’s (broad-based but basically) anarchist, anti-racist Çarşı fan club, who have a history of cooperation with Greenpeace, have been part of Occupy Gezi from day one, [used a mechanical excavator to drive off a riot police vehicle,] and have made an enigmatic but solidaristic reference (#hepimizçArşıyız) to the resistance to the Munzur Valley Dam Project.


A socialist hackers’ (hacktivist) collective in Turkey, RedHack (@TheRedHack; @RedHack_En; @r3dh4ck_uk) have been active in the occupation, engaging in direct action to achieve freedom of information and leaking secrets. Both RedHack and Anonymous activists have participated in #OpTurkey, where they have used distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks (in which they use mass hits to overload computer servers) to take party, administrative and police machines offline.


In Turkey, ‘femicide… is endemic‘. A whole host of issues protect or even promote violence against women, from attempts to reduce compulsory education (which leaves women more vulnerable to early marriage and domestic violence), to attempts to criminalise abortion (which many doctors have pre-empted by refusing to perform the still-legal procedure, which then makes sexually-active unmarried women visible and vulnerable to “honour” murders), to legal protection or minimal punishment of violence, to illegal detention and prosecution of lawyers who defend women’s rights.

So, feminists have reclaimed the streets in order to campaign for women’s rights and against the plight of the graduate without a future. The Association of the Women of the Republic challenged violence against women, primarily caused by economic problems, and the blight of ‘graduate youths’ wandering around unemployed [üniversite mezunu gençlerin işsiz dolaştığ[ı]]’.

The AKP’s attempts to restrict abortion and encourage women to have three children have lead çapulcu women (and men) to wear clothing (and write graffiti) that asks, ‘Mr. Prime Minister! Would you like 3 children just like this one?

Saturday Mothers (and Fathers)

Every Saturday since the 27th of May 1995 (except for a nearly-three-year-long period when ‘police harassment and abuse‘ drove them off the streets), (Kurdish) mothers (and fathers) of missing persons (disappeared in the Turkish-Kurdish conflict) have held silent sit-in protests in Galatasaray Square in Istanbul. On the 18th anniversary of their movement, they held their protest at Gezi Park. There, they conveyed ‘the Amed [Diyarbakır] revolt [sends its] greetings to Istanbul [Amed İsyandır, Taksim’e Selamdır]’.

Conservative Muslims

Nearly 8% are AKP voters. Some of them may be the AKP’s erstwhile bourgeois liberal allies, but most of them are conservative/orthodox Muslims; it’s guesstimated that around 90% of female protesters wear Western-style clothes (and, thus, 10% wear traditional dress).

Some friends were rightly concerned by rumours of violence against headscarved women; but ‘news of attacks on headscarved women is a desperate, wretched lie [Başrörtülülere saldırıldığı haberi çaresizlikten zavallı bir yalan]’, a sheer ‘lie [yalandır]’; ‘not a [bad] word has been said…., [and] they speak with a thousand people a day [tek bir laf yok…., [ve] günde bin kişiyle konuşuyorlar]’; ‘there has been no incident [tek bir olay yok]’, ‘quite the opposite, [observant Muslims] are tired from hugging [Tam tersi sarılmaktan yoruldum]’.

Some people have identified ‘the prime minister’s three big lies: they drank alcohol in a mosque, they burned the flag, they attacked headscarved women… All three of them are whacking lies, reflexes of fear and panic. [Başbakanın üç büyük yalanı: Camide içki içtiler, bayrak yaktılar, başörtülüye saldırdılar… Üçü de kuyruklu yalan, korku ve panik refleksleri.]’

Ethnic and religious minorities

Vulnerable minorities are practically compelled to resist. They include religious minorities such as Alevis, who are structurally disadvantaged, and who are understandably intimidated by Erdoğan’s valorisation of a historic butcher of (Kurdish and Turkmen) Alevis. They also include ethnic minorities such as Kurds and Turkmens, who are similarly intimidated, and Armenians, who (as I will go on to show) are even in danger within Occupy Gezi.

There has been a cacophony of comment on Kurds’ indifference to, ambivalence about or antipathy towards the protests; on their general absence from the protests; or on the Kurdish political movement’s (general) ‘refraining from participating‘. Yet both the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) officially support the resistance. Turkish ultranationalist chappullers’ violence has made it clear that ‘Kurds are welcome to protest, so long as they don’t protest for Kurdish rights‘; so, many of the street protesters are Kurds, they just identify as chappullers instead of Kurdish chappullers.

Many Kurds (and Alevis, Roma and other minorities) have been involved from the very beginning as (historic) environmentalists. They have been active in the Munzur Platform (Munzur Platformu), the Initiative to Conserve Hasankeyf (Hasankeyf’i Yaşatma Girişimi) and elsewhere. It is their strategy of civil resistance, which predates Occupy by years, which informs Occupy Gezi’s occupations and bulldozer-blocking.


Even nigh-universally socially-excluded communities, such as the non-heteronormative members of society (gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals, who identify as LGBT in organisations such as KAOS GL, but who encompass lesbians, gays, bisexuals, the transgendered, the transsexual, queers, the questioning, the intersex, asexuals, allies and pansexuals (LGBTTQQIAAP)), have been safe and welcome at the protests, so they have been able to ally with everyone else in the struggle for freedom.

Many of my friends, most often and most fervently my minority friends, have used the phrase ‘[bardağı taşıran] son damla’, ‘the last drop [that overflows the glass]’, to explain the pouring out of people into the streets of Turkey. Somewhat remarkably, suggesting both the breadth of the movement and the foundations of the movement upon the struggle of an entire generation, after twenty years of work in which ‘[their] efforts to voice demands of equality constituted a form of resistance’, the theme of Istanbul’s 21st LGBT Pride Week (24th-30th June) will be ‘resistance‘, and that was decided at least more than a month before the birth of Occupy Gezi.

As the Chairperson of the Social Policies, Gender Identity, and Sexual Orientation Studies Association (SPoD), Sedef Çakmak, explained,

We are an activist group in constant struggle. We are naturally born activists because of what we endure in life. In addition, we have a very large network. This is about a survival reflex. When a friend gets detained, we can get quickly mobilized. We have a culture of solidarity and getting mobilized.


Journalists attend the protests in-between shifts of censored reporting.


The police themselves have terrible working conditions. All of the police officers who founded their understandably-abbreviated union, Emniyet-Sen (something like the Union of All Personnel Who Work in Security Services and Security Organisations Including All Other Service Branches (Tüm Çalışan Emniyet Hizmetleri Sınıfı ve Emniyet Teşkilatında Çalışan Diğer Tüm Hizmet Sınıflarına Dahil Personel Sendikası)), have been suspended. Both the government and the Directorate-General of Security (Emniyet Müdürlüğü) have disregarded their own court’s ruling to recognise the security workers’ union; all of its members ‘face disciplinary threats and investigation‘.

As noted before, a thousand police officers have resigned as conscientious objectors to their service’s human rights violations. (As an aside, that stands in stark contrast to Greece’s fascist-usurped police force.) It is reasonable to assume that (at least some of) those officers have joined the resistance. Mass conscientious objection may be the only way to achieve a peaceful resolution to this crisis.


There are huge numbers of ultrasecularists in Turkey, and an increasing number of them in the protests, but they are an opportunistic minority amongst protesters.

The Republican People’s Party has kept a quiet presence at the protests, ostensibly to ensure that it remains about political issues rather than party politics. In fact, it may be because when CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu tried to speak to the crowd, ‘protesters sang over him, preventing him from being heard’. After all, as one of the activists observed, ‘they fought for three days, and then the parties came…. That’s not right.’


Similarly, there are huge numbers of ultranationalists in Turkey, and an increasing number of them in the protests, but they are an even more opportunistic minority; the ‘number of those identifying themselves as nationalist [is] way below‘ that of any other group.

Ignore all of the awe-struck reportage of communists and fascists standing side-by-side, Kurdish separatists and Turkish imperialists holding hands. It’s bullshit. At best, the Grey Wolves are practicing tactical tolerance. The inter-communal hand-holding youths are not card-carrying party members anyway; they’re just kids who are displaying the symbols of freedom that they imbibed with their mothers’ milk. I know people who respect Kurdish rights but still valorise Ataturk, and people who are pacifist but still admire “Uncle (Apo)” Abdullah Öcalan; they do not represent, and they are not represented by, the extremists with whom they share symbols.

In reality, Grey Wolves are continuing to intimidate and attack all of their many enemies even within Gezi Park, let alone in the shadows. Gangs of fascists have attacked a female student in Marmara; protesters in Bursa; the Peace and Democracy Party‘s offices in İzmir; Kurds in Istanbul (in Taksim); direnişçi women in Konya; socialists in Trabzon

Unfortunately and dangerously, Nationalist Action Party (MHP) activists (fascist Grey Wolves (Bozkurtlar)) and other extreme nationalists (ulusalcılar), who accept or even approve of authoritarian police repression of ‘workers, Kurds, socialists, [and] Alevis’, are trying to infiltrate the movement to protect their own interests. Many more (by Turkish standards, moderate) nationalists might leave the movement if it makes common cause with pacifist Kurds.

What do they want?

The ‘sight of an urban middle class using its fingers to dig up cobblestones, form a human chain and pile them 3ft (1m) high to make a barricade screams the words “Paris Commune“‘ to the BBC’s economics editor Paul Mason; and it clearly does to the resisters themselves, some of whom have identified themselves as characters from Les Misérables (which is set in the French Revolution), such as Enjolras. The ‘Istanbul Commune’ of Gezi Park, too, wants la république démocratique et sociale (a democratic and social republic).

Indeed (as I learned via Andy Carvin), the Chorus of the Resistance (Direniş Korosu) have repurposed a song from Les Misérables, “Do You Hear the People Sing? [Duyuyor Musun Bizi?]” (which, not having seen Les Mis for fifteen years, I initially thought was a reworked football chant…):

Duyuyor musun sesi? (Do you hear the sound?)
İşte bu halkın öfkesi. (That’s the people’s anger/indignation.)
Olmayacak hiçbir zaman (They will never be)
Bir başkasının kölesi. (Another’s slave.)
Sanki kalp atışları, (It’s as if heart beats,)
Karışıyor davullara (Are mixing with drums.)
Yürüyoruz gururla (We are marching proudly)
Yeni bir yarına (To a new tomorrow.)
Sen de gel katıl bize (You, too, come and join us,)
Diren bütün bu baskıya (Resist all this repression.)
Durur koca dünya (The whole world stands)
Barikatın arkasında. (Behind the barricade.)
Sen de özgürlüğün için diren omuz omuza! (You, too, resist shoulder-to-shoulder for your freedom.)
Duyuyor musun bizi? (Do you hear us?)
İşte çapulcunun sesi. (That’s the sound of the chappuller.)
Olmayacak hiçbir zaman (They will never be)
Bir başkasının kölesi. (Another’s slave.)
Sanki kalp atışları, (It’s as if heart beats,)
Karışıyor davullara. (Are mixing with drums.)
Yürüyoruz gururla (We’re marching proudly)
Yeni bir yarına. (To a new tomorrow.)

Some of the tweaks to the lyrics are (not “simply” topical but) interesting. The Chorus of the Resistance still appeal directly to each listener, but they don’t identify themselves as individuals, and the original song’s gendered and individualised ‘angry men’ become ‘the [angry] people’; they don’t ‘fight’ but ‘resist’; and chappullers are nothing more and nothing less than the people themselves.


They are primarily ‘libertarian [özgürlükçü]’ and secular; a minority are conservative. Most don’t identify with any political party; a small minority have a party political allegiance but say that their political party is irrelevant to their decision to protest; and only a still smaller minority even feel influenced (let alone compelled) by their party.

They object to the AKP’s Islamisation of school education (through their requirement upon universities to treat religious schooling as equal to academic schooling and the subsequent Islamisation of the bureaucracy, and through their reduction in access to secular schools, and their increase in all schools’ faith-based learning environment and curriculum); and to its increasing Islamisation of public morals, such as its interference with the sale and consumption of alcohol and the act of kissing in public.


Regarding secularism in Turkey, it’s worth clarifying three things: first, Turkish secularism is not true secularism, because it does not accept that religious conservatives should have the same freedoms as liberals (so, for example, Turkish secularists do not believe that headscarved women should be allowed to work in a public capacity); second, when they say they’re secular(ist), they don’t necessarily mean that they’re Ataturkist; and third, when they say that they’re Ataturkist, they don’t simply mean that they’re secular(ist).

As a masked woman observed, ‘We’re all here…. Communists, anarchists, democrats. It’s not an Ataturkist movement.’ But there are Ataturkists within the movement; and they are authoritarian nationalist secularists.

As conservative Muslims’ participation demonstrates, Islamism is a concern, but it is not the protesters’ primary concern. And the lazy, pseudo-mathematical analysis that 50% of people vote for Erdoğan and 50% vote for someone else, therefore half the country is for him and half the country is against him, and it is a conflict between a liberal, secularist, urban, middle-class half and a conservative, Islamist, rural, peasant/working-class/plebeian half, is bullshit.

True democracy

Their political priorities are governmental authoritarianism, police brutality, civil rights violations, media (self-)censorship and last but not least the park (which is a concern for the majority of protesters); and the majority of them have never protested before. Nearly all of them want an end to police violence and the acceptance of civil liberties; a significant minority want a new political party. Only a very small minority want a military coup; and they are political opportunists, not committed resisters.

Protection of the natural environment

Obviously, Occupy Gezi is opposed to the ‘pillaging of our ecological heritage [ekolojik değerlerimizin talan[ı]]’. Yet the environmental movement is ‘not that strong in Turkey‘; environmentalists and greens genuinely are ‘marginal’ groups; and their protests have been ‘attacked… by police with tear gas, pepper gas and water cannons’ for years without a popular uprising. ‘This is a protest for democracy.’

Protection of the historic environment

Interestingly, although the threat to Turkey’s natural heritage was the initial trigger for protest, a far greater fuel for protest was the threat to (at least some parts of) Turkey’s cultural heritage, community property and public memory.

Occupy Gezi represents the ‘victims of urban transformation [kentsel dönüşüm mağdurlar[ı]]’. It ‘will not permit [the reconstruction of] Topçu Barracks’, the demolition of the Ataturk Cultural Centre, ‘or the pillage of any of our nature and habitats [Ne Taksim’de Topçu Kışlası’na ne de tüm doğa ve yaşam alanlarımızın talanına izin vermeyeceğiz]’. It is ‘against the indiscriminate destruction of all Byzantine, Ottoman and Republican-period history in the name of profit [Bizans, Osmanlı ya da Cumhuriyet dönemi ayırt edilmeksizin İstanbul’un tüm tarihinin rant adına yok edilmesine karşıdır]’.

General public opinion

Public opinion generally echoes the protesters’ call. Most members of the public find the government authoritarian, confrontational, interfering and repressive. Most want the park instead of the barracks (though society is equally split over the justifiability of the protests and the police reaction).

Still, depressingly, most support the government’s plan to name a bridge over the Bosphorus after a sultan who is notorious for massacring minorities, and most do not want the government to cooperate with the BDP to achieve constitutional reform. (That is not a reflection of the popularity of the policy. Many supporters of constitutional reform would rather the government refused to cooperate with the “pro-Kurdish” party than achieved reform.)

  1. […] Occupy Gezi background, part two: protesters and politics […]

  2. […] Occupy Gezi background, part two: protesters and politics […]

  3. […] 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 backgrounder, I look at Occupy […]

  4. […] Declaration. (Elsewhere, I’ve provided background on the protests and their repression, the protesters and their politics, and the archaeology of Gezi […]

  5. […] 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 government policy and police brutality and as […]

  6. […] resisters (including social media users); and the censorship of reporting on the violence. They are demanding peace, democracy, freedom and the rule of law. As […]

  7. […] These and even more struggles came together in Gezi Park (and the adjacent Taksim Square), the focal point of the nationwide Gezi uprising. […]

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