After murmurs of revival jerks, the anti-government demonstrations originating in Istanbul’s Gezi Park are coming back to life. Yesterday, an innocent 15 year-old became the latest casualty of the government’s controversial use of police force. The boy, Berkin Elvan, was struck in the side of the head by a tear gas canister launched by the Turkish Polis while he was out getting bread. From this extreme contrast of innocence and violence, the young teenager’s image has come to be a symbol for the resistance movement.
The protests commenced after the boy’s parents announced their beloved son’s death on social media. A vigil was conducted outside the hospital he remained in a coma for the past 269 days. Crowds flocked to the scene to pay their respects, but the police immediately resorted to their controversial tactics involving tear gas- even in such close proximately to the hospital’s entrance.
Yesterday’s protests marked as the biggest protests since Gezi Park. Thousands flocked to the streets in several districts all over Istanbul as well as over dozens of cities in Turkey and even around the world.
Do to the role as an organisational tool, social media outlets are seen as threatening to the government. Merely weeks ago, PM Erdoğan passed a controversial censorship law in which he can over-ride and shut down any site at any time- without a just cause. With the protests formulating predominately through Twitter, that site was completely shutdown yesterday evening in an attempt to stop others from taking to the streets. Other main media outlets, such as Facebook and YouTube, are next on the block list.
The protests of yesterday reflect a raw, emotionally charged sentiment and both the protestors and the reaction of the police exemplify this.
The demonstrators consisted of an array of people- transcending age as well as gender lines. Demonstrators marched with pictures of Berkin Elvan as well as carried signs condemning his killers and the assumed man responsible for the operation, PM Erdoğan. As the night progressed, the numbers decreased but protestors that remained became more aggressive by embracing tactics of vandalism, throwing debris, burning trash and public property, banging on buildings, screaming, anything to get the attention of the police and provoke them.
Turkish Police reacted in a way that has strangely become routine. Crowd control with men on the crowd firing tear rubber bullets and tear gas, men manning the TOMA water cannons, and hundreds waiting in armored police buses on-call. Even with the emotional tension being so pungent one could almost smell it in Istanbul’s air, the insecure government’s right hand could not play a passive role and was forced to play a mildly aggressive one to be a more equally matched and have a chance against the protestors.
Mass protests are expected to increase as the week progresses with foreshadowed images of correlating violence.
Today marks a new day- Berkin Elvan’s funeral service is this afternoon which will be followed by expected violence from the same force that took the youngster’s life. Already, the voice of sirens echo round the city and over power the call to prayer. As the work week wanes, it can be anticipated that protests will get progressively worse.
The protest commenced today (12 March 2014) at 12:00 as it surrounded Elvan’s funeral service at Okmeydani Cemevi. The funeral procession will proceed from Şişli Square to Feriköy cemetery at 15:00 followed by protests increasing in size as the day progresses.
(Şişli/Feriköy, İstanbul, Türkiye)
Enthusiastic Protest with Fireworks in Kadıköy
Today, the murder trial of Mehmet Ayvalıtaş provoked thousands of people to gather outside the courthouse this afternoon. The police attacked the protestors at the courthouse and they eventually relocated the demonstration to the center of Kadıköy (Boğa Heykeli). The community of protestors decided to walk to the AKP’s regional builiding in the district of Kadıköy where the police predicably reacted with the TOMA water cannons as well s tear gas. The third demonstration in Kadıköy was conducted this evening as a heightened, enthusiastic response by the protestors with the usage of fireworks. Kadıköy has not been the centre of a protest of great size since October (with the exception of the “corruption” riots of December). This is significant for protestors to face the coldness of Turkish winter to get their message across.
Aside Posted on Updated on
(Above: Taksim’s famous Istiklal Sokak and its usual weekend nightlife was disrupted as it, once again, became the for protest.)
And it’s back: the tear gas, the TOMA water cannons, and the plastic bullets–
This signifies the revival of outward force of the AKP’s hard power (via riot police) as a reaction to the re-awakened execution of tension by the public in the form of demonstration in Istanbul.
The rising tension correlates significantly with the escalating scandals.
The awakening of the beast began on 17December when a raid was conducted against a highly politically charged scandal involving top officials. Each day since, the initial shock to the system has sent troubling waves across Turkey and has crept closer to the heart of Turkish government which in turn has created a counter hysteria suggesting a potential collapse.
The latest controversy regards the feuds of corruption and “anti-corruption” that involves the sons of high-profile cabinet ministers. The long-running investigation caused for these businessmen along with the head of the state-owned bank were detained by police and forced three majour political figures to resign. Two of the sons are still in custody while twenty-two others are yet to go on trial for accusations of corrupting activity (including bribery, tender rigging, and illicit money transfers to Iran).
This situation has been deemed by many as the greatest challenge of prime minister Erdogan’s eleven year reign for this investigation has targeted key political families and important allies that are closely affiliated with the government and the ruling AKP (the Justice and Developing Party). Erdogan has taken a defiant stance by claiming that the accusations aand investigation of corruption are nothing but a “conspiracy” and a “dirty operation.” Since 25 December, he has been scrambling and scurrying to regain composure and desperately attempting to cling to the remaining legitimacy of his party as he reshuffled his cabinet by refilling the positions of ten ministers who are loyal to the AKP and also believe in the cause as well as the same conservative principles.
This has triggered an apparent rise with the disatisfaction and hostility against the nation’s religiously conservative power source. Tensions between Turkey’s AKP run government and its former pro-secularisation, moderate Islamist allies have called for the synthesis of the “Hizmet movement” which is currently conducted and led by the U.S. based exiled cleric Gülen.
The reality of the disgust with the prime minister and the AKP was presented by the citizens has they took to the streets of Istanbul’s centre on 27 December. Protestors chanted “catch the thief” as they angrily expressed their opinion suggesting the resignation of Erdogan. The prime minister held a counter rally of defiance as he emphasise that he would refuse to leave his position over this “conspiracy.” He repeated his earlier allegations that the inquiry was unjustified by saying that, “those who called this operation a corruption operation are themselves the very ones who are corrupt.”
The situation has sparked many respected conservative officials, ministers, journalists, and commentators to reevaluate their positions and their opinons. This week alone, majour officials (including the former tourism minster Güney) have resigned from the AKP after there was evidence of great interference with the investigation of corruption. Others that were formerly associated AKP, including respected journalists from conservatively back newspapers, found themselves sacked after making critical remarks about the scandal and challenging the stance of the AKP.
Many senior police officers and head judicial figures were removed in the government’s attempt of “anti-corruption.” These actions caused opposition parties and progressional critics to accuse the AKP for attempting to cover up the political scandal.
“I have never come across such blatant government meddling with the judiciary before”, said Sezgin Tanrikulu, deputy head of the main opposition People’s Republican party (CHP), a lawyer and former head of the Diyarbakir Bar Association. “This is highly worrying. The little trust that people had left in the Turkish justice system is now gone.”
With the major media outlets all backed by strong, conservative forces, the news presented to the Turkish public is always biased, framed, and vague. My credibility, as an objective third-party observer, is relative to the reader. I admit to my limitations of understanding for my status of being an expatriate and could have minor biases affecting my view, but I try to be as impartial as to report my observations. In this time, independent sources are much more valuable than a biased, domestic corporation backed news source as well as a limited, seemingly ignorant and basic view of foreign (also biased) media sources. In any context, the “on-the-ground” view is best and that is what I try to achieve in my writing. This is a very interesting time in Turkish history, I hope to be one who reports it as it unfolds.
Cenk and Barış did not instantly repair their bond. They did establish a vague understanding to which they learned to trust one another. Over the course of the next month, they notified each other of their whereabouts during the demonstration. Although on opposing sides, they teamed up; they defended each other. They covered each other’s backs in the protest, they shared a hiding place taking cover from the TOMA, and they took turns pulling guard at night on their trek home.
In late October, they made a brotherly pact stating that if one of them were to be crippled—a wheelchair wound—the survivor would axiomatically find a way to end it. As they were boyhood friends, it was difficult to detect seriousness in their plan but, in context, they believed sincerity in each other’s voices. To make it appear more legitimate, they drew it up as a contract and signed their name only having each other’s eyes as witnesses.
Weeks later, in mid-November when the air began to chill, Barış was hit. Protestors with fireworks had given a new definition to “friendly fire.” The explosion took off his right leg, so conveniently at the hinge of the knee. At first, he managed with a funny little half step, almost like a child hopping about in play, then he started to wobble and tilted sideways until he finally keeled. “Oh, bok,” he said. He just kept repeating in a faded, hushed voice calmly almost as if he had simply stubbed a toe. “Bok, oh bok.” as if he’d stubbed a toe. Losing blood, he wheezed for air. He only began to panic when he looked down and saw himself wallowing in his own blood. He tried to get up and run, but there was nothing left for him to run on and he fell, hard. The stump that had replaced his right leg twitched violently. Stained white slivers of bone were now visible, and the blood came in quick, spiratic spurts like water from a pump. Wild-eyed and bewildered, Barış reached down as if to pat his lost leg. In the poignant act, the little blood he had left all seemed to sprint to his head and he immediately passed out.
There was nothing much anybody could do. The crowd was dense with thousands, screaming barbarically almost forgetting their own cause for this chaos. After penetrating through the treacherous swarm of rebels, Cenk through himself over his friends body to shield it from more atrocities and pain, but it was of no use. Barış and his stump had stopped twitching now and his blood drained tranquilly. He already resembled a cadaver, and the air was filled with puzzlement at his status of life. These thoughts were quickly muted when he opened his eyes and looked up at Cenk. “Oh, kardeş,” Oh, brother– he moaned as he attempted to slide himself away. “Hayır, beni öldürme.” No, don’t kill me.
Barış seemed confused, befuddled, and distant. He remained still again, only for a moment, then gestured toward his missing leg. Patting the ground frantically, searching for something irretrievable. He used up his waning energy on an impossible whim. Chocking back upon internal, private pain, Cenk managed to utter a word to his friend, “Dur (stop).”
“Merak etme, sorun değil. Onlar geri dikebilirsiniz.” Don’t worry, it’s not a problem. They can sew it back on.
“Biliyor musun?” Do you know?
“Hiç sanırım.” I think so.
Barış set his gaze due north, up towards the dim, smoky lit sky. He passed out again. Minutes later, he awoke, eyes shut and still, and softly whispered once more, “Beni öldürme.” Don’t kill me.
“Yapmayacağım,” Cenk responded. I won’t.
“Beni öldürme, lütfen.” Please, don’t kill me.
“Söz verdin” You promised.
Cenk nodded and looked into the somber visage of his friend and said, “Biliyorum.” I know. Moments later, Cenk carried Barış through the demonstration, humbly yet seemingly heroically. When he reached an ambulance off the protest route, Cenk reached out and touched Barış’s remaining leg. “Gitmem lāzım,” he said. I must go now, and he departed to return to his post with his fellow policemen. Later, he heard from the television set from the comfort of his couch that Barış had died before he reached the hospital.
This news seemed to relieve Cenk of an enormous weight.
Despite being blatantly foreign to this culture in my thoughts, I am constantly having to remind myself that this is not my home. Immediately, after the first day, I found myself without the “foreigner” label. Convenient enough for me, I blend. I match the exact general description of a Turkish woman, except my eye colour betrays me. I can best describe my first encounter realising how intriguingly well I camoflague here as follows:
Walking through the busy streets of Kadıcöy Boğa at 22:00, I cannot quiet the crazy gnat buzzing about in my mind cleverly named Paranoia.
They all know that I am not one of them.
These simple thoughts of heightened delusions occupied my already busied mind. There was no validity in those infecting thoughts. I had prepared for the subconscious occupants of the dreamer to turn on me as an invader as viciously in the film “Inception.” In reality, I was actually treated as if I were one with them.
As I walked back from a rally by the waterfront in Kadıköy Rıhtım, the streets were packed with thousands of demonstrators passionately screaming.
HER YER TAKSIM, HER YER DIRENIŞ!
(“Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance”)
I participate in the chant as I document the protest and keep an eye on my friend.
People, people everywhere and so much stimuli your mind’s gears screech and jolt to maintain the desired high speed of mental processing. I turn my head jerkingly, looking side to side for my friend. She is quiet, little and beautiful. It seems hard for someone so sweet like her to be in a situation like this. It baffles me also that such an astonishing contrast between her and the hostility of the protest to go unnoticed. I feared the demonstrators had gotten carried away and devoured another innocent. I use my peripherals, trying to maintain an air of coolness while I stress.
The police are coming.
They will gas us soon.
We need to get back to the flat.
There are so many people.
There is not much time.
I need to find Sebahat.
I become more aggressive in my movements. I grab my bag tightly, slightly flex and prepare to act in any means necessary to complete the task at hand: find Sebahat and get home fast. I bend and bounce to get the lactic acid in my knees flowing, just in case I need to bolt. Not realising at this point how silly my little pre-game warm-up looks, I pivot in a 90 degree increment, looking for dear Sebahat. Ducking, avoiding the thrusting of fists and signs, I rotate my head with my eyes squinting looking past the bold colours of torches to see the darkness of the people.
I face adjacent to the crowd. I still don’t see her. Without a working mobile phone, this is most certainly not the time to hunt for a miraculous wifi signal (despite it being needed and most ideal). Communication-less and separated at the worst possible time.
If she gets hurt or gassed again, I will never forgive myself.
This thought brings about an anxious weight of her well-being being my responsibility upon me and I get a sharp pain in my gut.
I think I am going to be sick.
I hide my feelings, but they escape through my stare. I almost feel the subconscious projections realising now that I am an intruder- this fear they smell wreaks and they trace me as the source.
I am achy and tired and even lifting and turning my head in a compact angry mob hurts. I am stressing unfathomably and trying to maintain self composure and control, but I can feel my exhausted self slipping.
The crowd still roars.
(“Murder the police”)
I can hear the police banging their shields with batons, trying to flex the muscles and establish a desired sense of dominance but end up failing to do so and come off as being both unprofessional and rather timid. They are young, probably most are former schoolmates with the protestors. Unexperienced and appearing frightened, they looks like youths in their boyscout uniforms carrying their AK47s. These boys cannot cry to mother when the mean kids mock them, so they fire as them and hose them with gas instead.
My eyes burn. I can feel tear gas in the air. Though a distance away, the officers draw near. I acknowledge the fear of the consequences if I am to encounter a close quarrel with the police and it forces more weight on my strong but enervated back. Pushing people out of my way as I challenge myself to go against the current, I am swimming far away from all of the rules I firmly established in my mind in terms of not standing out. I crouch a bit and protect my body with my arms raised to defend. I hurry along with swift strides of intense precision.
I walk 100 metres, scouting as if for my prey.
I walk a few strides farther.
Still, no sign of Sebahat.
I fight to post myself up, juxtaposed to the crowd at a makeshift curb of the street. Drenched in excretion from the harsh combination of heat, people, and panic, my thoughts race and I have almost lost all hope.
I can’t leave.
I should go.
Maybe she made it back to the flat.
I cannot risk that.
I have to stay here.
I can’t leave.
From the 15cm curb I territorially claimed as my spot, I searched through the crowd with my effulgent eyes. What I am looking at is a disguised Kadıköy Boğa (the centre of this district). Famous for always being busy with traffic, trolleys and the thunder of passersby, it has has recently become the notorious night venue of the #DirenKadıköy movement. Its iconic bull statue in the middle of the square is lost in the protest. Kadıköy is transported, its natural state almost completely lost at this point, in the mist of people, protest, and police. The neighbourhood becomes unrecognisable, even to the locals.
Thousands march past me, none of familiar. Time changes its shape, it morphs with the chaos and transforms five or ten minutes into hours. I find myself overwhelmed with stressor emotions and I hover over the fine line of focused and out of control. I am standing still, almost statuesque, slightly above the people. I am able to look down on their heads, only signs, banners and flags tower above me. There is no empty space in my view, the canvas is cluttered, busy, and completely filled. I play a twisted game of “Where’s Waldo,” looking for a little girl in a white tank top in a cacophonous crowd of contentious civilians.
The batons banging, the warlike drum roll matches the beat of my heart. It is hard not to lose hope as the crowd becomes more heated as they continue to provoke the police. Louder, the tension shrieks as a kettle does when it about to boil. My thoughts pound violently in sync with my pulse and I fade out of focus, wondering in a subconscious sea of neverending stress. My subconscious embraces the crowd, unites with it and becomes one as the rush comes.
I have surrendered to the stampede.
I accept the chaos.
I agree that I am a part of it.
This confirmation brings an unorthodox sense of peace to me and calms my head. Forced feelings subside, my eyes already open can see past the opaque haze of both tear gas and confusion and I can see again.
“They don’t know that you’re a foreigner, did you know?”
A familiar voice.
Quiet, almost a vivid imagined whisper, just barely audible amongst the discord.
Jolted with my new found vision and now apparent auditory abilities, my head turns cautiously, almost suspiciously to the target of the stimulus.
Behind me, sandwiched between a brick wall of a posh daytime café and the infinite mass of demonstrators is little Sebahat.
Finally, as I had just accepted a perceived to be doomed fate of a potentially brutal encounter with the Turkish police, I had kept my hope and promise.
I found my friend.
I grabbed her hand and clasped her fingers so firmly as I navigated the massive maze of men to lead us to safety.
We would make it home just in time.