Occupy Turkey

Turkish police use aggressive force against citizens of Istanbul on the anniversary of Occupy Gezi (31Mayıs 2014)

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31 May 2014- the one year anniversary of the occupy Gezi Park movement.

Unlike the scene one year ago in Taksim Square, the government was prepared for demonstrations. The prime minister of Turkey took massive precautions by maximizing his force by flexing his muscles- his police force. Prime Minister Erdoğan announced a public warning on Friday that he gave strict orders to his security forces and anyone not corresponding to his imposed fear by staying home will face the consequences. Erdoğan closed the roads as well as stopped all public transportation on Saturday to block access to Taksim Square. This complete shutdown of transportation (including all ferry services and the Bosphorus bridge) disconnected the city’s two continents and separated the city into two isolated halves.

he Turkish prime minister applied the same tactics on both halves of the city, but focused more attention towards the European side in which contains the infamous Gezi Park. All over Istanbul, P.M. Erdoğan deployed more than 25,000 police officers, 50 TOMA water cannons, as well as stronger tear gas all in an attempt to stop demonstrators from gathering in Turkey’s commercial capitol.

Most of the action took place on the European side, focused on Taksim- the heart of the Gezi movement. Due to the severe precautions taken by Turkish authorities, Taksim Square was not a battlefield mirroring last year’s successful energy but, rather, it was a territory occupied by the government’s armed men which highlighted the unresolved tensions that has continued to build among Turkish citizens’ dissatisfaction with the actions, policies, and attitudes of the government. The objective of the protestors on the anniversary was peaceful- to simply place flowers in Gezi Park to commemorate all the events that have taken place since the initial protests one year ago as well as to pay tribute to those individuals that lost their lives in the battle against the authoritarian ruling paradigm. The acting authorities and police played a strong defensive position to maintain their guard and occupation of the symbolic park. While the protestors all over the city were executing their traditional methods of displaying their dissatisfaction with the AKP government chanting by “her yer Taksim, her yer direniş” (translation: everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance) and banging pots and pans with kitchen utensils, the police responded harshly by firing tear-gas canisters and spraying water cannons to disassemble the demonstration.

While the defensive mode and corresponding tactics of Turkish security forces were uniform in all neighbourhoods in Istanbul, the protest in Kadıköy (the center of the half of the city that resides of the Asian continent) was much different from its sister demonstration in Taksim. Like most of the anti-government protests occurring in Kadıköy, the crowd of protestors was significantly smaller but was much more aggressive. Throughout the afternoon and night, there were highs and lows. Earlier in the evening, police made a preempted strike with tear gas by attacking locals attempting to enjoy their Saturday evening to scare them into going home and clearing the streets. Later, protestors marched down Moda Caddesi and met at the Kadıköy Boğa and continued to initiate attention and hostility from the police by vandalising public property, burning garbage, yelling as well as making fun of Erdoğan and his police muscle, and banging on everything that was metal. As well as their attempts at directly trying to intimidate the police, other demonstrators made attempts to rally more people by open firing live rounds on Sakız Gülü Sokak- one of the main streets in Kadıköy filled with popular cafes, bars, restaurants, and cinemas. Still, with the preparations and strictly implemented government orders as well as the oppositional forces being greatly outnumbered, the one year marker of Gezi was quieter than other anti-government protests.

Despite one year’s worth of anti-government demonstrations, six deaths, countless injuries and endless violence, Turkey continues to be dominated and corrupted by Erdoğan’s authoritarian regime. After one year of demonstrations and violence without even a slight budge from the religious conservative prime minister, one must ask: is there still hope that the many dissatisfied Turkish citizens will see their desired change?



Düşmanlar (Enemies)

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Barış and Cenk grew up in the pleasant Turkish village of Çine. Best friends with a bond since birth, they wrestled together, played together, learned together and matured together. Growing up from the same woven cloth, they seemed inseparable. As they reached the end of their adolescence, they would meander down different paths. Both chose Istanbul to serve as their planform to transition into adulthood, but would fade from each other’s view in a city of fourteen million.  Barış would further his education by studying mechanical engineering at Doğuş Üniversitesi in Kadıcöy. His former best friend and classmate would attend the Gümüşdere Köyü Polis Akademisi (National Police Academy at Gümüşdere) to join the Çevik Kuvvet (Rapid Response Force aka “riot squad”) section of the Emniyet Genel Müdürlüğü (National Turkish Police).

One clear night in early September, when the Çevik Kuvvet were out on patrol monitoring the Diren Kadıcöy protest near the Kadicöy Boğa Heykeli, Barış and Cenk got into a fist fight. It was about something stupid, Cenk found Barış near a freshly painted stain of graffiti that read “Katil Polis” (murder the police) to which he assumed a betrayal but this surmise was not justified. Even so, the fight was nefarious. For a while, it went back and forth. The crowd continued to riot viciously and circled around the two, creating a ring for the match. Cenk was much bigger and much stronger now. He eventually wrapped his right arm around Barış’s neck and pinned him down. He kept hitting him, callously, on the nose. He hit him so hard, with such ferocity and intensity. He didn’t stop; he couldn’t. Through the clamors of terror continuing around them, Barış’s nose made an audible, sharp snapping sound like a firecracker.  Blood shot out from Barış’s face and stained the scene and, even then, Cenk kept hitting him over and over with quick, stiff, accurate blows. It took three men to pull him off. When it was over, Barış had to be carried to the rear of the demonstration to be transported out for medical attention. He was admitted to Acıbadem Kadıcöy Hastenesi where he had his nose looked after.  Two days later, he rejoined his fellow demonstrators wearing a metal splint and lots of besmirched gauze.

In any other circumstance it might have ended there, but this was Turkey- where men were proud and chased after action for justice; where revenge was necessary in terms of honour; where men carried guns. Cenk started to worry. It was mostly in his head. There were no threats made against him nor were there any vows of retaliation. There was only a silent tension between them that made Cenk take special precautions out of impenetrable paranoia. On patrol in Kadıcöy, he was very careful to keep track of Barış’s whereabouts. He volunteered to man the TOMA water cannon and drove it on the far side of the perimeter; when on foot, he kept his back covered and his fingers fused to the trigger; he avoided all situations that might put the two in contact at all costs. Eventually, after a week of this, the strain began to create problems.

Cenk could not relax. This tension disoriented him profoundly. He felt like he was fighting two different battles. There was no safe ground for him. He had  enemies everywhere, even among his trusted friends and fellow comrades. The battlefield was warped, almost fantastical and extremely difficult to maneuver and hide for it contained mirrors too. The effects hit Cenk hard. At night, he had serious trouble sleeping. He had a skittish feeling where he was always on guard; he heard strange noises in the dark; he imagined the tickle of a knife against his ear. The distinction between good guys and bad guys had disappeared for him. Even in times of relative safety, when his unit waited for action by the waterfront and passed the time by gossiping and laughing as boys do, Cenk would be sitting with his back against a stone wall with his weapon across his knees watching Barış with quick, nervous eyes.

It got to the point where he lost control. Something clearly snapped inside him. One action-less afternoon by the Bosphorus, he began firing his weapon in the air screaming Barış’s name. Cenk, just firing and yelling, interrupting innocent commuters as they feared to board the ferry home. He did not stop until he had rattled off an entire magazine of ammunition. Everyone, officers and civilians alike, dropped and pinned themselves flat on the ground. No one had the nerve to go near him. Cenk started to reload, but then suddenly stopped, expressionless, and collapsed to the ground.  He held his head in his arms, AK in his lap, and sat, frozen.

For two or three hours, he just sat there, paralysed.

This was not the bizarre part.

Later, that same night, when he was exempt from duty, he grabbed an heirloomed flintlock pistol. He unconventionally gripped it by the barrel and used it savagely, like a hammer, to break his own nose.

Afterward, he journeyed across the river to pay a visit to his old friend. He showed Barış what he’d done and he asked if
everything was square between them.

Barış nodded and mouthed “evet” under his breath to signify sure, things were square between them.

In the morning Barış could not stop laughing. “Bu adam deli,” (that man is crazy) he said. “Grafiti yazdım” (I wrote the graffiti).