May 31, 2013 1:44 PM   Subscribe

"This morning, Turkish police surrounded protesters in Taksim Gezi park, the central square in Istanbul, blocked all exits and attacked them with chemical sprays and teargas. An Occupy-style movement has taken off in Istanbul."

Since May 28, a group of peaceful protesters calling themselves Occupy Gezi have been occupying Gezi Park in Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey. The protest concerns Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's attempts to demolish the park to build a new shopping center --- despite the fact that Gezi Park is the "last significant green space in the center of Istanbul". Taksim Square and Istiklal street, normally a popular destination for tourism, shopping, restaurants, and nightlife, has turned into a protest battleground. More than 100 people have been injured in the protests. Protests are also spreading to other cities, including Ankara and Izmir.

As a protestor photographed on Twitter puts it: "What if they tried to demolish Central Park, Hyde Park, or Tiergarten to build a MALL? That's happening here!"

The protests are not only about a park -- they represent a growing anger towards Erdogan and the ruling party, the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development party (AKP). "But while the removal of the park, which is filled with sycamore trees and is the last significant green space in the center of Istanbul, set off the protests at the beginning of the week, the gatherings have broadened into a wider expression of anger against the heavy-handed tactics and urban development plans of the government and its leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His party, now in power a decade, is increasingly viewed by many Turks as becoming authoritarian."


Video of Taksim Square, posted earlier today. Video and interviews of demonstrators marching down Istiklal Street. Protestors marching down Istiklal Street

Photographs from the scenes: #OccupyGeziPics, Resistaksim

Discussion on Reddit.
posted by suedehead (85 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure they used the right language... I mean the 'occupy' movement wasn't exactly successful in the US. 'Arab Spring' seems like a much better brand (as far as success rates go).

All snarking aside, it seems a pretty awful move for a govt to kill the last significant green space in a city; regardless of the political stripes of who is contemplating an action, I'm glad there is pushback from the local populace.
posted by el io at 1:55 PM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have friends in Turkey who have now been tear gassed multiple times who weren't even in the protesting groups, just nearby in restaurants or what have you. Really horrific footage.
Around Taksim Square, the site of several other tear gas attacks on protesters this year, including one on May Day demonstrators, the chaos is taking on a sense of the familiar to shopkeepers who are becoming accustomed to offering shelter and aid to tear gas victims.

My best wishes to all of those attacked and hurt today, and for Istanbul, and for Turkey-- it deserves better leaders.
posted by jetlagaddict at 1:55 PM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

My best wishes to all of those attacked and hurt today, and for Istanbul, and for Turkey-- it deserves better leaders.

We all do, I've long thought.
posted by nevercalm at 1:57 PM on May 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Odd that Erdogan is choosing this particular issue to fight over. It's not like Istanbul really needs another mall.

Does the AKP have some weird moral objection to the existence of Taksim? I mean, is this a symbolic thing for them/him? Or is it just a matter of payoffs?
posted by aramaic at 2:03 PM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't think any of these links include the increasingly iconic red dress pepper spray photo.
posted by 256 at 2:38 PM on May 31, 2013 [6 favorites]

Headline: "Istanbul park protests sow the seeds of a Turkish spring"

It seems awfully simplistic, even irresponsible, to directly compare this to the Arab Spring protests.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:39 PM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

aramaic, I was wondering the same thing. The traditional self-aggrandizing move has been to knock down buildings to build avenues and parks to make a city more impressive, and get your kickbacks selling off less showy chunks of the city. I assume the AKP must be very in hock to a developer to take this route.
posted by tavella at 2:45 PM on May 31, 2013

I'm glad this is now here. I spent some time reading several news articles supposedly about this and was left wondering what this was really about. Looking forward to the as-always-informative MeFi perspective.

256: "red dress pepper spray photo"

This is the sort of thing I'm seeing and I don't understand. The grotesque police response seems really odd. Like way more than the over abundant use of pepper spray at the UC Davis incident.
posted by Big_B at 2:45 PM on May 31, 2013

Big_B, Turkey is not California.
posted by ambrosen at 2:52 PM on May 31, 2013

I was staying with some locals near Taksim about 2 1/2 weeks ago and witnessed a tear gas attack against a group of protesters right where Istikal meets where the buses are (don't recall the name of the area besides it was generally Taksim). Wasn't with my friends at the time, so didn't know what it was all about. There was a banner which clearly had the Turkish word for "facism" and some protestors were holding signs with a picture of a woman I didn't recognize. The riot police bullhorned some stuff in Turkish I didn't understand but clearly was something along the lines of "Disperse!" Then the protestors marched towards the riot police line and were greeted with tear gas and high pressure water hoses. My first night ever in Istanbul was not what I expected.
posted by Falconetti at 2:52 PM on May 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

I was having a hard time processing this because while I wasn't paying attention, the AKP orchestrated the ouster of the Kemalist leadership in the army. That's not good.

From Ataturk to Erdogan, reshaping Turkey, Soner Cagaptay, The Washington Post, 14 August 2011
posted by ob1quixote at 3:05 PM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

ambrosen: "Big_B, Turkey is not California."

I know that - I meant in terms of general police brutality to peaceful protests lately. It's a bad comparison, sorry.
posted by Big_B at 3:22 PM on May 31, 2013

Peaceful protest? Release the hounds.
posted by telstar at 5:55 PM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

The mother and sister of my best friend were at the protest as it began to turn bloody, but made it out okay. This is more than simply a suppressed "Occupy-style" protest: there are as yet unreported injuries, but this about sums up the state of things right now.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 6:39 PM on May 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

Looks like a Turkish Spring.
posted by vicx at 6:53 PM on May 31, 2013

Reddit seems to be a bit more on the ground about this. Protests have spread elsewhere, the army is getting involved, apparently, in the events. Think it's a fog of war moment now; would be interesting to see what happens in the next 2-3 hours, as the rest of Turkey wakes up.
posted by the cydonian at 7:16 PM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

We all do, I've long thought.

We all deserve to lead ourselves.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:49 PM on May 31, 2013

Looks like a Turkish Spring.

Keep in mind that Turkey is already a democratic country. These protests bear little resemblance to the Arab Spring uprisings which aimed at overthrowing outright dictatorships.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:56 PM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't think this is an Occupy-style movement. Because it looks like it is being effective and the government is taking it seriously.
posted by Justinian at 11:12 PM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

See today's front page of one of Turkey's major newspapers. The Gezi events are mentioned at the right, in a small box, with the heading "CHP (major opposition party) also supports the Gezi movement". They're not the first headline or the second. No mention of the size of the events or the police violence. The censoring of the media is incredible!

Police are continually blockading different squares and main roads to block people from joining the protests. Public transportation is being stopped in critical areas. People have resorted to walking across the Bosphorus Bridge which is normally closed to pedestrian traffic.

My friends are going to a pharmacy to buy supplies to counter-act tear gas. We're going out once we're ready.
posted by hoca efendi at 1:10 AM on June 1, 2013 [11 favorites]

This is much more than a clash over a park. And having a democratic government makes no difference when the power is controlled by wealth. The problems of Istanbul are universal urban problems created by unfettered capitalism. The Turks may just be the canaries in the mine.

This video - The Story of Istanbul is quite provocative. People will recognize the slowly accelerating disease. The powerful know that this suffering won't be tolerated much longer. We can expect many more 'springs' and occupy movements ... And, sadly, MUCH more government investment in militarized police forces, tear gas and weaponry.

Turkey is not Syria, not Egypt ... they've known similar horrific upheavals in the past - but there is a keenly politically aware, organized, educated and motivated population in Turkey who are committed to change. There is a lot of hope.
posted by Surfurrus at 1:19 AM on June 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

I was tear-gassed yesterday and we had to retreat at 3am. I woke up very angry this morning. This isn't a protest over a park anymore, it's a full-blown uprising; people are not afraid and are rather fed up with Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Co.'s attitude. No more bullshit. The government should be very afraid. Hell, I am afraid for them. Poor bastards.
posted by cihan at 1:37 AM on June 1, 2013 [17 favorites]

Norwegian TV station VG TV is broadcasting live from Taksim Square / Istiklal Street:

posted by hoca efendi at 2:34 AM on June 1, 2013

New link for a live feed. Showing Taksim station right now. The feed drops out occasionally, but that could be my terrible internet.
posted by kalimac at 5:09 AM on June 1, 2013

The police have left Taksim Square and Gezi Park. They are still in many other locations and continue to use a lot of tear gas.
posted by hoca efendi at 8:18 AM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Gezi Park crackdown recalls 'most shameful moments of Turkish history,' says Chomsky

This is a protest of creeping fascism and the online backlash has begun with virulent force. Watch for rumors, lies, infiltration of protests by violent agitators and information blackouts. The protest is gaining ground.
posted by Surfurrus at 10:36 AM on June 1, 2013

If we must compare this to some recent protest, it's much closer to Athens '08 than anything else: a minor but politically charged incident that galvanizes general discontent among those excluded from politics (whether part of an opposition party or left out of the process altogether), and a history of left-labor repression and military intervention that left lots of martyrs for younger generations to admire. (Greece and Turkey are alike in more ways than either would like to admit).

But like it or not, AK is a legitimate government by any accepted measure. Erdogan has won three free and fair elections, each with a greater share of the vote. I haven't seen an opinion poll since all this started, but last I checked, he had an approval rating well over 50 percent. Majoritarian democracy is working just fine in Turkey, but this is what happens when it's treated as a winner-take-all game with complete intolerance for the other side (and CHP are just as guilty).

That doesn't mean these protests are futile. It would be wonderful if they grew into a real opposition party without the statist, antidemocratic roots of CHP.

By the way, this has happened in Taksim before. It's a perverted sort of progress, but the same outcome is unthinkable today.
posted by ecmendenhall at 1:51 PM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

It is a shame to see so few comments on this thread. I wish there were a way to bump this, and make it noticed. While I've considered adding a variety of links for this is an extremely fucking important event, it feels fruitless for I question how many people will see it this far down the front page of metafilter.
posted by whyareyouatriangle at 2:44 PM on June 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Some pictures from the BBC.
posted by klausness at 3:38 PM on June 1, 2013

Some more background from a New Yorker blog.
posted by klausness at 3:41 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I so agree, whyareyouatriange. The blackout by Turkish media may be partly to blame? Twitter and FB are still reeling with news, though.

Here is a fascinating analysis by a Turkish professor who writes on interactions between technology and society. She points to Turkish history, politics, precedents and sees this protest as unique.
So, what’s the underling structure of the protests? It’s an increasingly tone-deaf, majority government who is relatively popular but is pursuing unpopular, divisive projects; an incompetent opposition; a cowardly, compliant mass media scene PLUS widespread, common use of social media.
She outlines the basic elements of this kind of movement (but doesn't predict the outcome):

1- Lack of organized, institutional leadership.
2- A feeling of lack of institutional outlet.
3- Non-activist participation.
4- Breaking of pluralistic ignorance.
5-Organized around a “no” not a “go.”
6-External Attention.
7- Social Media as Structuring the Narrative.
8-Not Easily Steerable Towards Strategic Political Action. 

I'm hoping Turkey can take this to a new level. The protesters do not want to take down their democratic government - they just to get the ruling party to respect the will of the people (or to resign).
posted by Surfurrus at 4:19 PM on June 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I agree, whyareyouatriangle. It's surprising how little I've heard about this, considering that there are images like this. (via reddit)
posted by benito.strauss at 5:11 PM on June 1, 2013

The Sixth Day of Fire, Tear Gas, and Blood in Istanbul, Esra Gurmen, VICE, 01 June 2013
posted by ob1quixote at 5:53 PM on June 1, 2013

It's surprising how little I've heard about this

The silence makes me remember an online Pakistani comment in 2002, "The US is coming after us next!"

Obama sure is silent about all this.
posted by Surfurrus at 5:53 PM on June 1, 2013

Obama sure is silent about all this.

I dream of a world where people didn't really care whether or not the U.S. President commented on something.

Kinda like how nobody cares whether Harper has commented on this yet.
posted by aramaic at 7:05 PM on June 1, 2013

I work in this part of the world and it is all anyone in my social media circles can talk about. But I see here on MetaFilter, full of intelligent people that I respect greatly, that there isn't a great deal of discussion of this. This is pretty meaningful for me as to how little the rest of the world cares.
posted by k8t at 7:14 PM on June 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Let the barricades arise
posted by sarastro at 7:39 PM on June 1, 2013

I'm not in the region, and I've been following this story quite intently over the past 36 hours.

(Then again, I have been to Istanbul and had lived in Iran briefly, so I'm interested in this. Also, we've had some historic links between Istanbul and my hometown, Hyderabad, in India; the descendant of the erstwhile ruler of Hyderabad lives in Istanbul, and his half-Turkish himself, being the grandson of the last Ottoman Caliph. His estranged Turkish ex-wife, Princess Esra, lives in Hyderabad and has done an enormous amount of work in safeguarding Hyderabad's heritage.)

You do have to appreciate this, though: participation in threads goes down during the weekend. Additionally, I believe the Anglophone media did get the intensity wrong, at least initially; while BBC has now started relaying pictures from Istanbul, they didn't do so yesterday. Additionally, they're still not reporting from other parts of Turkey; I don't know if they're still on elsewhere, but given that the government is based out of Ankara, I get the sense that that's a crucial part of the story.

Usually, the high-volume threads are often a response to how news channels report it. I get the sense that the story it might take till Monday before the story becomes big in US/UK.
posted by the cydonian at 7:49 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been following the events on Twitter for the past two days and have been increasingly horrified to see the extreme police response to the protests. It's also been heartening to see the public support...the image of the Bosphorus Bridge completely filled with people is just amazing.

The Guardian seemed to have some earlier coverage than other Western news outlets, but so far, the relative indifference of the U.S. media has been a dismaying, if cynically expected, outcome. As of this morning, most of the major news sites I visited had it buried halfway down the main page or as a small headline in a sidebar. Ridiculous when reports on-the-ground have people calling for U.N. monitors due to human rights violations! I've been reading everything I can to get up to speed on the present status of Turkish politics and the environment of authoritarianism in the current government. It's a lot to digest.

Some of the Twitter users I've been following: @MahirZeynalov (journalist), @myriamonde, @SevincRende (an economist and professor at Işik University), and a 16-year-old nicknamed "Buse". (The latter has some very moving, impassioned messages written with all of the fervor and emotion of a teenager!)

Found an interesting writeup from an Australian anarchist blogger currently studying in Istanbul: Citizen K, "Occupy Gezi?"
Here's a decent background piece concerning Kemalism from the Washington Post: "From Ataturk to Erdogan, reshaping Turkey" I'd appreciate any other good reference material.

Regarding the response from US Occupiers, I think it's great to see the messages of support and solidarity, but some actions have seemed opportunistic. It certainly seems to have galvanized the NYC Occupiers into action, and there's been a lot of conversation on Twitter about retaking Zuccotti Park, etc. Protestors in SF have started a "solidarity farm" on the site of an old permaculture farm that was slated to be turned into condos.

People were marching for the Cuban 5 in DC today, along with the Turkish solidarity march; NYC and Chicago organized protest marches on the Turkish embassies. There was also the Blockupy protest going on in Frankfurt (with associated police retaliation).

So...Occupy all the things?

Really wondering how things will continue to unfold, and if the protestors will remain active into next week.
posted by cardinality at 8:19 PM on June 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Here's my Turkey Twitter list, if you'd like more. Here is a good live blog.
posted by ecmendenhall at 8:48 PM on June 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine is an Istanbul native, and I have been following this through his facebook posts. I have to translate most of them, and I can't actually tell whether or not he is in the square. Thanks for this post, and the links posted by commenters. I am glad to have more sources of information stateside.
posted by vortex genie 2 at 9:59 PM on June 1, 2013

the image of the Bosphorus Bridge completely filled with people is just amazing

That was from the 2012 Istanbul Marathon.
posted by the cydonian at 10:03 PM on June 1, 2013

the cydonian, thanks for the heads up, I hadn't seen that one yet. I was referring to this pic...is it also a hoax/repeat from the marathon? I tried to translate some of the comments but most seem to be updates.
posted by cardinality at 10:52 PM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I absolutely have no idea. :)

That said, would think it'd be hard for this picture (which I haven't seen before; thanks for pointing it out!) to be from the Marathon, given the empty lanes towards the Asian side, and the lone cab plying there; they'd have closed both lanes for the Marathon, and the crowds would have filled both sides of the road. It's possible that this is legit, but as I mentioned, absolutely no further insight. :)
posted by the cydonian at 11:10 PM on June 1, 2013

I've also seen this photo. I hadn't considered whether this was faked, but there are many more photos here. Interestingly, there is a skeptic in the Twitter conversation you linked, cardinality:
İlker Şencan: The bridge wasn't that crowded. We've fooled ourselves enough, dude—Istanbul is asleep!

iskender paydas: They'll wake up—everyone's different.

İlker Şencan: Look, bro, the Boğaziçi Bridge traffic cameras clearly show that there's nobody. The roads are empty.

iskender paydas: Those images aren't instantaneous.

İlker Şencan: If your internet is fast enough, you can see it live, bro.
posted by ecmendenhall at 1:21 AM on June 2, 2013

The problem is that there seems to be a lot of misinformation circulating on social media. Due to the media blackout, people are sharing everything they find on social media, and sometimes what they find is misleading or just wrong. For example, one of the types of tear gas that police were using has an orange color, so there were reports that police were using agent orange on the crowds (which makes no sense, but the claim was being circulated on facebook).
posted by klausness at 3:41 AM on June 2, 2013

Elif Batuman's Twitter feed is a good resource for updates on the protest. Among her RTs: posted by Cash4Lead at 11:36 AM on June 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I love that picture soooo much, homunculus.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:38 AM on June 2, 2013

The Turkish people have taken the internet to a new level. They were not asking others to intervene (!!); they are organizing within. Most of the tweets are in Turkish; most people have at least one cell phone. This is our future.

"around 90 percent of all geolocated tweets are coming from within Turkey, and 50 percent from within Istanbul"

A breakout role for Twitter in the Taksim Square protests?

posted by Surfurrus at 11:50 AM on June 2, 2013

I dream of a world where people didn't really care whether or not the U.S. President commented on something.

I mentioned Obama because there is an great anger about the US proxy wars in the region. Along with that comes wariness about any intervention (covert or overt) that would destabilize Turkey to the US 'benefit'. Turkey does border on Iran and Syria (and has had economic ties). They also did not 'accommodate' US demands in the Iraq war. No one in Turkey wants any US involvement! ... meanwhile idiotic online tweets from some ignorant Americans call for a Libya-style 'liberation' (!!)
posted by Surfurrus at 12:00 PM on June 2, 2013

The problem is that there seems to be a lot of misinformation circulating on social media

Some of this may be due to faulty translations. The gas smoke was orange; the label 'Agent Orange' was picked up by a CNN I-report; CNN later apologized for it (the report was not vetted). Hysterical rumors seem to last the longest.

Meanwhile, very serious claims of a 'different kind of gas' have been circulating from protesters on the ground. They are seeing nose bleeds, vomiting and a substance that doesn't wash off. I suspect it is the same CR gas used in Egypt and Palestine . We won't know for sure until some expert can identify it. ... CR is illegal in the US (carcinogenic and possibly fatal), but is produced here by Combined Systems, Inc -- a Carlyle Group corporation.
posted by Surfurrus at 12:09 PM on June 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is our future.

Whoops, I should explain -- 'This is our non-anglo-centric future ... a world where people will organize to protect their needs, and will refuse to cater to US/EU/Corporate interests.'

posted by Surfurrus at 12:17 PM on June 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Turkey is in NATO.

Quite apart from the rest of their geopolitics (which are very closely-aligned, particularly vis-a-vis Central Asia and especially regarding gas pipelines from Central Asia to Europe), that fact alone means there is a less than zero chance of an intervention. The biggest disagreement between the U.S. and Turkey is probably in relation to the Kurds, since Iraqi Kurdistan is geopolitically useful to the U.S. Aside from that, the two governments are basically BFFs.

...so, still not really understanding the intervention angle. Unless random idiots on Twitter are nowadays representative of geopolitical intent? In which case, everyone on the planet needs to really watch out for an invasion by everyone else, everywhere.
posted by aramaic at 3:48 PM on June 2, 2013

Some economic background.
posted by klausness at 4:34 PM on June 2, 2013

Court says Egypt legislature illegally elected
The two sides are squaring off for what may be a major confrontation on the streets by the end of this month.
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:16 PM on June 2, 2013

One thing that I haven't seen much about is the media blackout. While the rest of the world is seeing a fair amount of news about the protests, Turkish media are just not covering them. That's why news (and also plenty of misinformation) is spreading in Turkey via social media.

The regular media's silence is mostly through self-censorship. Turkey already has more journalists in jail than any other country, so the remaining journalists know the consequences of covering the protests. Also, most Turkish media are owned by large conglomeraties that have other divisions dependent on government contracts. These conglomerates know that they'll lose their contracts (and probably not be paid for existing contracts) if the media outlets they own say things that the government doesn't like.
posted by klausness at 3:07 AM on June 3, 2013

conglomeraties, conglomerates, whatever...
posted by klausness at 4:28 AM on June 3, 2013

The regular media's silence is mostly through self-censorship. Turkey already has more journalists in jail than any other country, so the remaining journalists know the consequences of covering the protests.

No, that's State censorship, nothing "self" about it - and once you lose a fair and free press, you've lost democracy. This is Turkey's turn to face anti-authoritarian revolution, and if Erdogan wants nice things like the Olympics and EU membership, he's going to have to compromise.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:38 AM on June 3, 2013

I agree that it's censorship, but the Turkish government has gotten a bit more subtle (especially with the economic pressure on conglomerates) in making it appear that they have a free press while still exercising censorship.

This shows how democracy (and the AKP really was democratically elected) without meaningful guarantees of freedom of the press and freedom of speech can still yield an authoritarian government.
posted by klausness at 12:43 PM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

The Taksim Square plans that sparked the whole thing.
posted by klausness at 3:43 PM on June 4, 2013

More background on the underlying issues.

Another overview of the protests from the Guardian.

An analysis of the images circulating from the protests.
posted by klausness at 4:02 PM on June 4, 2013

In Focus: Pictures from Turkey
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:32 PM on June 5, 2013

Orhan Pamuk: Memories of a Public Square
posted by Artw at 3:00 PM on June 5, 2013

And, inevitably, the Next Media Animation coverage from Taiwan.
posted by klausness at 3:47 PM on June 5, 2013

Apparently, prime minister Erdoğan has just returned to Turkey and given a speech that seems to have been designed to inflame the situation further.
posted by klausness at 5:02 PM on June 6, 2013

Turkey's protesters proclaimed as true heirs of nation's founding father, Luke Harding, The Observer, 08 June 2013
(Cross-posted from the new thread.)
posted by ob1quixote at 6:31 PM on June 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Taksim Dayanışması
posted by jeffburdges at 10:44 AM on June 11, 2013

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