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(roarmag.org) This collection of photos by activist Jenna Pope recounts the events surrounding the destruction and occupation of Gezi Park in early June this year. 

When major protests against the destruction of Gezi Park engulfed Istanbul this past summer, American photographer and activist Jenna Pope was quick to decide that she needed to be part of this. Within days she arrived in Turkey, camera in-hand to photograph and report on the biggest popular uprising in the history of the country.

The Gezi Park protests began with two dozen activists occupying the iconic park in the center of Istanbul to protect it against destruction. They tried to stop the government’s plans to turn this last natural refuge in the concrete jungle into another unnecessary and unwanted shopping mall. After a violent police crackdown on the peaceful protesters, the marginal environmental resistance quickly turned into a countrywide uprising against Prime Minister Erdoğan’s authoritarian rule. Street battles were fought between the extremely violent police forces — which used water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets to subdue the ‘Çapulers’ — and the defiant resistance movement.

For a period of two weeks — without a doubt the two most significant weeks of the entire Gezi protests that saw the rise and fall of the Taksim commune — Jenna was on the streets of Istanbul documenting the police violence and the determination of the protesters, supporting the movement, and spreading the word about what was going on in Turkey to a global audience. Jenna’s pictures have played an important role in creating awareness about the situation in Turkey at the time, not only showing the dark side of the protests in the form of the disproportional police crackdown, but also, and more importantly, the solidarity amongst and the defiance of the protesters…

More about this at > http://roarmag.org/2013/11/gezi-park-photography-jenna-pope/

(infoshop.org) Tear gas is a very good place to start trying to understand what is happening in Turkey. The main purpose of tear gas is to terrorise and thus break up large crowds of people. In Istanbul over the last weeks huge quantities have been used over and over to prevent large anti-government demonstrations developing. This wasn’t about ‘riot control’ – generally there was no riot to control. In this piece I’m going to put the Gezi park revolt in the context of the cycle of struggles that began in 2010 and of the specific economic, politcal and historical situation of the Turkish republic to try and draw out the lessons for all of us fighting global capitalism.

The first time I was gassed I was taking a photo of four American tourists in Taksim square, they in turn were snapping a self portrait using an iPad 2.

A tranquil scene with the other people in view chatting and holding hands. From where I was standing near the Ataturk monument you couldn’t see a single cop. Yet without warning tear gas canisters suddenly came raining down on every part of the huge square, a use designed to create a panicked stampede. On Mayday 1977 42 people had died in Taksim square and hundreds were injured after snipers created a panicked stampede by firing into that year’s Mayday demonstration. Perhaps because of that history – which would be as familiar as Bloody Sunday in Ireland or Kent State in the USA – the reaction of the crowd to that massive tear gas attack was very disciplined, people retreated slowly.

The clouds of gas choking entire streets along with yet more dangerous blasts of water canon is what you have seen online and on the TV. But those clouds also tell you something essential about the nature of Turkish ‘democracy’. And that is even if the prime minister Erdogan is properly elected there is little room for dissent and protest. There are always differences between the expectation of a ‘right to ‘protest’ and reality. Occupy Wall Street also saw the use of tear gases on protesters. But in Turkey that disconnect is particularly severe due to the way gas is used. An article in the English language daily Hurriyet revealed that 130,000 canisters of tear gas had been used by police in the first 20 days of the protests.

Many of those tear gas canisters were fired horizontally at close range at protesters resulting in a huge number of head injuries, a dozen people losing eyes and along with other causes, including one death from live ammunition, at least four deaths. At all the entrances to Taksim square street traders had replaced their normal goods with piles of construction hats, goggles and dust masks. I generally reached Taksim by walking the length of Istiklal, the long shopping street familiar from photos because of the strings of decorative lights overhead. As you neared Taksim you would see more and more people with bandaged forearms, heads and eyes. Even the BBC journalist Paul Mason got hit in the head (he was wearing a helmet) during the weekend he spent reporting from Istanbul.

Sunday 16th June,the day after the huge police assault that have cleared Gezi Park served as an illustration of Erdogan’s democracy. On the one hand thousands of free buses and ferries had been used to bring people to an enormous pro-government rally on the outskirts of Istanbul. As many as 300,000 people were gathered there to listen to a two hour tirade from the Erdogan during which he laid down his paranoid fantasies about Gezi park being part of the international conspiracy against Turkey.

Meanwhile in the rest of Istanbul squads of police equipped with tear gas and rubber bullets spent the entire day swooping on any attempt by protesters to meet up, even in small numbers. They were backed up by water cannon and armoured personnel carriers that appeared whenever a larger crowd appeared. All the while, secret police snatch squads in plain clothes waited up the side streets to scoop up unwary protesters who had become isolated. Later in the day Amnesty International had released a statement demanding to know what had become of those detained- an estimated 400+ people. After Erdogan’s rally ended there were multiple reports of youth members of his AKP party carrying sticks and knives accompanying police patrols.

Read more: http://news.infoshop.org/article.php?story=20130623011942361

Taken from Occupy Gezi’s Facebook page.

(defnesumanblogs.com

To my friends who live outside of Turkey:

I am writing to let you know what is going on in Istanbul for the last five days. I personally have to write this because most of the media sources are shut down by the government and the word of mouth and the internet are the only ways left for us to explain ourselves and call for help and support.

Four days ago a group of people who did not belong to any specific organization or ideology got together in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Among them there were many of my friends and students.  Their reason was simple: To prevent and protest the upcoming demolishing of the park for the sake of building yet another shopping mall at very center of the city. There are numerous shopping malls in Istanbul, at least one in every neighborhood! The tearing down of the trees was supposed to begin early Thursday morning. People went to the park with their blankets, books and children. They put their tents down and spent the night under the trees.  Early in the morning when the bulldozers started to pull the hundred-year-old trees out of the ground, they stood up against them to stop the operation.

They did nothing other than standing in front of the machines.

No newspaper, no television channel was there to report the protest. It was a complete media black out.

But the police arrived with water cannon vehicles and pepper spray.  They chased the crowds out of the park.

In the evening the number of protesters multiplied. So did the number of police forces around the park. Meanwhile local government of Istanbul shut down all the ways leading up to Taksim square where the Gezi Park is located. The metro was shut down, ferries were cancelled, roads were blocked.

Yet more and more people made their way up to the center of the city by walking.

They came from all around Istanbul. They came from all different backgrounds, different ideologies, different religions. They all gathered to prevent the demolition of something bigger than the park:

The right to live as honorable citizens of this country.

Read more:  http://defnesumanblogs.com/2013/06/01/what-is-happenning-in-istanbul/?blogsub=confirming#subscribe-blog

Taken from Occupy Gezi Facebook page. Also used by Reuters

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(ROARMag) In 2011, a rebellious genie was let out of the suffocating bottle of the neoliberal world order. Ever since, world leaders have been struggling to put it back into place. This weekend, right when they started to feel that the genie had finally been contained, the revolutionary spirit arose once again in an unexpected location: in rapidly developing Turkey, a regional success story and darling of global capital and the neoliberal West. What began as a local struggle over the last green space in Istanbul’s urban landscape has now escalated into the biggest challenge to Erdogan’s 10-year rule and, according to some, “the most widespread civil unrest in Turkish history.” In an irony of historic proportions, the democratically elected leader who famously called on Mubarak and Assad to listen to their people and step down is now defying protesters with the same short-sighted authoritarian machismo of the dictators from whom he so avidly sought to distance himself.

For four days, Istanbul has been shrouded in thick clouds of tear gas as violent clashes between protesters and police have left the city’s streets resembling a war zone. On Saturday, police were forced to retreat from the iconic Taksim Square, which has since been occupied by tens of thousands of protesters. Violent demonstrations quickly spread to the capital, Ankara, and 70 other cities throughout the country. After Amnesty condemned the government’s brutal response to the initially peaceful protests, which left thousands injured and at least two dead, the protesters have become increasingly determined to push Erdogan from power. In a sign of their radical determination, protesters in Beşiktaş erected massive barricades and even commandeered an excavator, breaking through police lines in an attempt to reach the prime minister’s Istanbul office. Between the indignant roar of the protesters, the ominous hissing of the tear gas cannisters and the deafening sound of police sirens, one can slowly start to discern the revolutionary whispers of a newly empowered people.

Read more: http://roarmag.org/2013/06/tahrir-taksim-egypt-turkey-protests-revolution/