8th of June, Istanbul
Talking to friends here who have been involved in the resistance against the new shopping mall which is supposed to replace Gezi Park from the beginning on I learned that probably the most striking thing about the protests is the overwhelming solidarity. It is the kind of solidarity that seems so absolute and omnipresent that it actually has the power to unite all kinds of different social classes that would never have imagined to fight together. Not only bring the people who live close to Taksim Square lemons in great quantities which we use as protection against teargas that continues to waft through the treetops of Gezi park in veritable clouds, reminding us late at night that there are still fights going on in Besiktas or further away in other neighborhoods. They also supply the thousands of people who stay in the park with water, food, and even tents and sleeping bags.
In the beginning of the clashes, when police violence was totally uncontrolled, protesters were forced to run from advancing tanks and water cannons, fleeing down the steep and narrow alleys surrounding the park. Esra, a friend of mine who lost orientation in the mists of teargas followed the fleeing crowd in panic and all at once heard a strange, calm but persistent, slowly growing humming noise. Still running blindly down the street, the humming constantly growing louder, people around her started disappearing in suddenly opening front doors. The humming sound appeared to be the multiplied sound of dozens, maybe hundreds of door openers, pushed be people in solidarity who watched the fleeing crowed from their apartments.
But the solidarity didn’t stop there! Esra entered into a random house and was immediately asked to come in. She could stay inside the apartment until mists cleared and the cops left the street. She could eat and drink and wash off the stinging gas from her skin.
Since then, the protests spread throughout the whole country. By now, almost every region in Turkey has known severe clashes between an extremely violent police and people who protest against the Turkish government, lead by the center-right conservative party AKP under prime minister Erdogan.
After not having reported on the clashes for a whole week, Turkish media now focuses on the peaceful protest in Gezi Park, not showing that this is only possible because the park is protected by more than 50 massive barricades, partly made up of burned police cars, buses and all kinds of construction material. The fact that the park has already been surrounded by a huge construction site is ironically helping the protesters now to better protect themselves from police assaults.
The crowd of people visiting Gezi Park is constantly increasing every day. They come to join the protests, they re-vegetate the park, they organize in public kitchens and medic teams, built a library, come together for workshops, play music and wait together attentively for Erdogans’ next move. The center of Istanbul has become a unique free space with room for creativity and political debate.
And this creative momentum spreads to other parts of the city. Activists finally find the freedom to do things they have always been dreaming about but could not even think about it because of constant repression. The cops are busy elsewhere and do not dare to come to close to Taksim Square! Squats are being opened and public spaces reclaimed. Young people are politicized and take part in occupations, guerrilla gardenings, and other direct political actions. Utopia suddenly seems to become reality and people start to really believe that a different world is possible.
Meanwhile we hear from clashes in Ankara and other cities, a fact that is not being reported on by Turkish media. At least four people are dead! There are more than 4000 people injured and many have been imprisoned. Amongst them 38 people who have been tweeting information about where people have been injured and where medical support is needed. Bianet reports that they are being accused of having called for criminal action and violence. Having a Twitter account himself, Erdogan keeps talking about the danger of Twitter for peace and democracy in Turkey, calling social media the most severe threat for a society.
Nobody knows what the coming days will bring. Many thousand welcomed Erdogan when he arrived at Atatürk airport Thursday night coming back from a trip to Northern Africa. In the speech to his supporters at the airport he added fuel to the fire calling the protests vandalism and the protesters terrorists. The cheering crowd replied submissively chanting slogans such as: „The hands against the police should be broken“ and „Let us go we’ll crash Taksim.
It is hard to predict how the protests will continue in the rest of the country. But for the protesters in Gezi Park it is clear that they will not leave the park until Erdogan lets go of his plans to build the contested shopping mall. After the menacing speech at the aiport and the aggressive reaction of Erdogan’s supporters it is unclear how long the situation will stay as peaceful as it has been the last days around Taksim Square.
Esra believes in the victory of the protests. But after yet another night with hardly any sleep and a long shift at a convergence tent in Gezi Park it is hard to keep the spirits high. Walking through the still sleepy park and picking up garbage and left overs of last nights’ festive gathering, doubts seem overwhelmingly strong, the fatigue deafening all other sentiment. Crossing the first barricade on her way to a friends house to catch a shower and maybe some sleep she suddenly starts grinning at the rising morning sun and starts humming, imitating the sound of hundreds and hundreds of door openers, the sound of solidarity. She looks up, hope in her eyes and she knows she will come back next night.