2 Haziran 2013 Pazar

a summary of what has been going on

dear friends,

as you know something is happening in turkey. i am sure if you are reading sources in english, you are probably getting news better than most of the turkish people who follow the main stream television channels. the reason is the prime minister (PM) asked personally to the tv channels not to make any news concerning the demonstrations, and police violence. and they obey so.

make no mistake, this is not the action of a group of oriental people who are revolting against their ruthless sultan. the sentiments might be so, but the facts are embedded into the neoliberal transformation, which the cities have been going through. our european friends could and should draw from these events. 

to leave the my usual rants aside, let me go through the facts of what has been going on, and the whole movement have started. 

you might have heard that the economy of turkey has been progressing well and have not -yet- affected by the crisis. this is due to the ongoing growth of the construction sector of turkey. if you look at the percentages of the investment and the labor market, it is occupying the first slot. this is a type of economical growth which depends on pumping up the land value, combined with the financial speculation is basically what caused the crisis in spain. 

we are not yet at the crisis demarcation, however we are at a point in which the masses which live in the cities need to be either pushed outskirts or disciplined in order to make space for lucrative investments, which the city will increase its value upon. because of this fact, numerous projects have been undertaken, the most controversial one was the transformation of the historic haydarpasha train station into an "entertainment and cultural zone" which basically means commercialization. but set that aside another project which generated public discontent was the transformation of the taksim square which is the most central square of the biggest city in turkey, the old capital, istanbul.

the government indicated signals of how they want to transform this zone, one idea was building a new modern mosque, but currently -as of today- erdoğan indicated that "this is an international guest zone, which multiple conferences are undertaken hence there is an important need for hotels." which ever building will be built, taksim square will cease to be public, but rather be commercialized.

there are two reasons for that, which are not mutually exclusive:

1) increase the value of the city to attract investment into the city.
2) to hide the major demonstrations which usually takes place in taksim from public view, by moving them outside of the city center, hence create the atmosphere of tranquility inside the city.

there is a long history of struggle for the public space for demonstration in turkey, revolving around the taksim square. this goes all the way back to a bloody first of may of 1977. i will not go into detail, but the first official/legal 1st of may in taksim since 1980 was celebrated last year after many years struggle. 

this year, the government declared that public demonstration will no longer take place in taksim, and started the conversion/commercialization projects (which ironically they call pedestrianization in turkish). this 1st of may, they used the city/road works around taksim as an excuse and declared that the demonstration will not take place there. the unions and leftist political organizations reacted and tried to enter the square anyhow. hence we had the worst 1st of may in years, probably since 1980s. the mayor decided to close down the whole city, they stopped the public transportation and even the ferries, causing a complete shut down of the city. 

to summarize, the clashes last month was not simply about 1st of may, it was about the "right to the city."

--- the part about current events starts here ---

finally last wednesday, the participants of a taksim neighbourhood organization noticed that some trees inside the gezi park in taksim was taken down as a part of the taksim transformation project. a couple of the protested and stopped the machines, since they did not have the necessary permits, and started to take watch, in order to stop any further attempts. 

at this point i need to explain that the taksim transformation project is the subject of an ongoing court case, which the organization of the city architects sued. this project is nothing to do the with the taksim commercial center project directly. this project has been approved in the municipal parliament (including the support of the major opposition party members CHP, the republicans). the reports provided by the experts during the court case show that, the project has nothing to do with public good, and should be redrawn.

after the initial stopping of the construction machines in the morning, other activists and the BDP (the opposition kurdish/socialist party) PM of the zone, sırrı süreyya önder(SSÖ) approached the park. wednesday evening, the construction machines reappeared, this time with the police and the security guards of the construction company *dressed up as the municipality police*. with the help of the activist and the SSÖ the destruction of the trees, once again stopped, the event publicized and the occupation of the park started. 

this was one of the most important point of the whole event, the initial breaking point. from the very beginning we knew that *this* demonstration was different, since it generated a total sense of legitimacy, even though the resistance was started by socialist city activist and a PM of a kurdish party (which is no-no in the mainstream turkish culture).

the most important conglomerate of the core occupy group was as following: (this is my personal opinion and information which is fallible)

the right to city organization of istanbul, their sub organization of *immigrant kitchen* (which organizes food drives and give aways to poor immigrants). their collaborators, the anti-capitalist muslims,, which contributed greatly to the legitimacy of the demonstrators. and last but not the least, the core supporter of the beşiktaş soccer team. they call themselves çarşı and the a is written with the a of anarchy, so you might get the idea.

the following two nights (at about 5 am), police raided the occupy camp without any warning, started throwing gas and subsequently removing the occupiers. this night some civilian looking people burned the tents and the personal belongings of the occupiers. the government refuses that they are the police, but whoever they might be they burned the tents, with the help of the police as clearly seen in the video.

later, this removal attracted more people the following day. the park was completely occupied and big street party took place in the park, thursday night. following morning, police cracked down the occupiers more brutally. and this time it was documented much better, since the mainstream diffusion caused celebrities to join the occupation and they reported the police brutality (e.g. pınar öğün, mehmet ali alabora)

this incidence caused an uproar. although police secured the park, and put up barricades, the demonstrations grew gradually on friday, climaxing with the re-takeover of the park -with much help of the *çarşı* soccer fan group-. however it is impossible to re-occupy the park, since from friday on the demonstrations and clashes with the police have been ongoing, with the park and the square exchanging hands between the police and the demonstrators.

important developments meanwhile:

* after the public outcry on friday, the government and the mayor refused to back down and indicated that the police attacks will continue. they rejected the allegations that police attacked the occupiers without a warning and the cases of police brutality will needs to be investigated. 

* groups of different affiliations joined the core, socialist/anti-capitalist groups in addition to the beşiktaş *çarşı*. after saturday, pictures started to emerge showing beşiktaş fans walking together with fenerbahçe and galatasaray fans -who wear their team jerseys proudly during the demonstrations-, and in addition socialists guarding the nationalist while they are observing their daily prayers during a temporary occupation. the turkish flags and atatürk pictures you see on international news are the evidence that how much an anti-capitalist struggle of the "right to the city" has diffused into the mainstream public. 

* the population who did not dare to go to the streets, nevertheless dared to support the protesters in various ways. on saturday, notes saying "protesters are welcome" at the entrance of some apartments around the neighbourhood of beyoğlu was spotted. additionally, the shops in beyoğlu not only aided the protesters, by giving them food and shelter, also some big shops and including commercial centers, converted their spaces into infirmaries. it should be noted, from saturday on big companies declared that they will not open any shop in the mall which will be built in the gezi park.

* on the other hand, the liberals which traditionally supported the -in their words- conservative democratic AKP (justice and development party), has been cynical of the protesters from the beginning. they mocked them as "masses which have nothing else to do but protest for trees and bakeries" (the bakery issue is another situation connected to the gentrification of the city center). on saturday, even they could not mock the protesters any more in the face of the brutal police repression. this is -in my opinion- very important, since these learned liberals have been main drive to legitimize AKP in the eyes of the educated turkish middle-class. 

* the refusal of the tv channels to broadcast any relevant news from the streets was both a blessing and a curse. it was a blessing because, we have not seen the usual media distortion of the news *as much*, however since people had to rely on social media this opened a world of possibilities for diversion and misrepresentation of facts, which has been problematic from the beginning.

* as of friday evening the demonstrations have spread into other parts of turkey, official numbers of today (2nd june) say there are 90 demonstrations in 48 different cities. it is especially brutal in ankara as i write this text. hence i will have to finish. 

what will come out of the protest, is the big question right now. erdoğan seems to be unflinching in the face of the protests, which means the brutal police suppression will continue even more strong. my only hope is that people would not be hurt anymore, and for that the state needs to wise up soon and see that they are losing legitimacy. 

final words to my foreign friends; don't idealize the movement, don't alienate the movement as some oriental revolt. the politics of erdoğan are nothing alien to the politics of the conservative european governments. flexible labor conditions, commercialization of the cities and suppression of public discourse. turkey is now a part of this global struggle.


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