Sunday, June 30, 2013

Gezi Parks Everywhere or How I Learned to Love the Flag


The Turkish flag at a march for a Kurdish victim

                ‘I’m so excited and nervous,’ the middle-aged Turkish woman said into the microphone. ‘I can barely speak. This night, we made history.’

                This was at Yoğurtcu (Yogurt Maker’s) Park two nights ago in Kadıköy. That day, in the Kurdish region of Lice (pronounced lee-jay), police had opened fire on a group of people protesting the rebuilding of a soldiers outpost and killed one eighteen-year old boy, seriously wounding others. In a spontaneous outburst of sympathy and outrage, the crowd at the ‘people’s forum’ in Yoğurtcu park marched through the city chanting ‘Resist Lice! Kadikoy is with you!’ For the first time in the country’s history, white Turks carrying Atatürk flags protested together with Kurds about soldiers killing civilians in the East. The old tradition of calling them all ‘terrorists’ seem to have abruptly died. An ancient wall had been torn down in an instant. Now everyone, Kemalist and Kurd alike were chanting Kurdish slogans. ‘Biji biratiye geran!’ Long live the brotherhood of the people!

The march for Medeni Yıldırım (on right) and others killed during the course of the Protests)
                ‘In 1993 the region of Lice was completely razed,’ the woman went on. ‘I went there in 1996 and saw what was left. No Turk ever saw what happened there, and now we all see. We all see clearly. I am so proud of Kadıköy tonight.’

                One by one, after the march, people came up on the stage at the park’s ‘forum of the people’ and spoke--both Kurd and Turk. It was as if they were pouring out emotions and memories they had stored up their whole lives.

                ‘I met a woman from the East who lost all six of her children. Some to the guerillas in the mountain, some to the military, some to demonstrations like this where police used real bullets and not rubber ones. Six children! Imagine! She was not covered on the news. And now here we are standing up against the state murder of the boy in Lice. Things have changed.’
The diversity of the crowds-LGBT in back, woman in traditional Kurdish clothes in the front, out of frame to the left, nationalists with red flags.

                Another Turk got up and spoke about all the people who had lived on this land—Turks, Kurds, Armenians, Greeks. ‘So many were driven away, but we all used to be together here.’ He seemed on the verge of tears. An older Jewish man, a professor of philosophy, got up and read a poem he had written a long time ago about brotherhood. And all the while there were people in the crowd waving the Turkish flag, waving it after the boy spoke entirely in Kurdish, praising the crowd’s solidarity, waved it after the woman cried out that the Kurds had been ignored too long, waved it as the man reminded the crowd of the government’s bombing of 34 Kurdish civilians at Robowski, waved it as the shy nineteen year old girl got up and read nervously from a paper that her eyes had been opened today. The Kurds around me were shocked-they had never seen that crescent moon and star banner lifted in their support.

                Similar scenes were happening all over the country in all the park forums—in Beşiktaş, in Cihangir, in Kugulu in Ankara. With a violent death, the government had seemingly succeeded in doing what every government had failed to do for a century—unified nationalist Turks and political Kurds.

                The park forums popped up after Gezi Park was cleared and sterilized in the police assault of June 15th. It began as a movement to ‘reclaim our public space’ and has ended up becoming the transplanted spirit of the Gezi protest. In Yoğurtçu in Kadıköy—the Revolution Market has resurfaced, distributing free tea, cookies, pastries and water. The Free Library is back and even a piece of the old Revolution Museum—pictures and paintings hang from clothes lines strung up between trees. People camp there over night and every evening around 9:00, thousands gather for the ‘park forum’ where one by one people take the stage and discuss the agenda of the night. Tonight’s topic was the killing in Lice and the new, fragile solidarity, but the previous night they had been discussing the future of the movement.

At the park forum in Üsküdar
                ‘Please keep in mind,’ one young lawyer told the crowd. ‘We are not Occupy Wall Street. This is not a class war. We are united here against intolerance and police brutality.’

                And indeed, he pointed out an important difference between the American movement and the Turkish one. Here, for the first time, people are standing up before others and speaking their minds without fear-a privelege Americans can take for granted. Before Gezi, this would have been unthinkable. You could have been arrested, prosecuted, or at the very least shouted down by a hysterical crowd. Now nothing was taboo. A man spoke about the LGBT movement, how they were in the forefront of the protests. Everyone cheered, Turkish flags were waved.
Forum participants waving their hands instead of applauding (copied from Occupy) so as not to anger neighbors with noice--notice the covered lady in white in the back. It's not all secularists, kids
The Park Forum in Abbasağa Park in Beşiktaş

                These forums are taking place all over the country—at last count (the number seems to always be increasing) there were over 87 parks hosting park forums all over Western Turkey (Skim down to Other Parks and Public Forums in the link). Some are small—we went to the one in Üsküdar the other night and found a dedicated, diverse crowd of about 100 people—not a bad number for a neighborhood that is the heart, in Istanbul, of government support. They seemed to be focusing on what the movement could do next. One after the other, people came up and stressed that the problem was not with Erdoğan alone, but with the entire system that had paved the way for one dictator after the other. An old covered woman cheered. Passers-by out walking their dogs stopped, listened, and stayed.
Man Listening to Forum in Beşiktaş--he is at a statue holding a copy of the 1961 Turkish Constitution

                Many are large, with tens of thousands, like the one in Abbasağa Park in the neighborhood of Beşiktaş. There, in an amphitheater, people discussed the merits of trying to enter parliament. Some were for finding independent candidates of their own (‘We can do what the BDP did!) recommended one Turkish housewife, referring to the coalition party the Kurds formed with independents like Sırrı Süreyya Önder. A male college student said that they should stay away from the official paths of politics because the system itself was rotten.

                Every Saturday, the groups in Istanbul gather and march on Taksim Square. Yesterday (June 29th) there was a sit in on İstiklal Avenue and Taksim Square in memory of Medeni Yıldırım, the boy murdered in Lice. It was the same scene as the night before—Turkish flags and nationalists marching side by side with Kurds chanting in Kurdish, in the back ground the rainbow flag of the LGBT. The sit-in was held—tens of thousands of us filled the streets surrounded by riot police. I will never forget the two laughing Saudi woman in black burkhas cheering for us and giving us the peace sign. At about 8:30, the crowd started to disperse. Most everyone was heading toward the parks. We hopped a subway with everyone else and headed to Kadıköy where we learned that, almost right after we left, police had attacked the dispersing crowd. More tear gas and rubber bullets and dozens of arrests.
Our sign--Bingol Resist! For the 16 year old girl who was raped by the soldiers in Bingol Province. The soldiers were released.

                Today is the Gay Pride parade. A huge turnout is expected—the Gezi movement has come out in strong support of the LGBT community here. Last week the crowds at the Trans Pride Parade were enormous.

A sign at Yoğurtcu--(The State) Will Answer to the People for the Murders' The park forum was canceled because most of the crowd was down in Taksim getting gassed--again.
             (The video shows a protest song in the Square yesterday--'Zıpla, Zıpla, Zıplamayan Tayyiptir' or 'Hop! Hop! If you don't hop, you're Tayyip)

Riot cops blocking passage to the Independence Monument
   Things are changing—but Erdoğan’s government has issued an ultimatum to Twitter (open a branch under Turkish control or we will get rid of you altogether) and started an investigation into bank accounts with ‘suspicious foreign links.’ HuseynÇelik, the AKP’s public spokesman, blames the Lice killing and protests on the same ‘outside forces’ that they blame everything else for. Park forums outside of Istanbul have been attacked by police. It’s a deeply disturbing uncertain time.  

The crowd marching from Galatasaray High School with pictures of the casualties of the protests
The ambulance that was really an undercover police vehicle--it kept turning on its sirens and circling the park only to reappear again and do the same thing. It would cut a path through the crowd and then the police would march down the opened path.
The view of the sit in from the front of Burger King
Says 'Justice is on vacation, the killers are in charge'
The press on the roof of Burger King with protective helmets in case gas canisters should rain down and crack their skulls
An old couple slow dance in Yogurtcu Park at the Fenerbahce Fans 'Revolution Cafe'--the music is accordion
The white flag of the 'Taksim Solidarity' crowd

The Saudi ladies cheering us on, sorry about the picture--couldn't avoid the wires.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Carnation March on Taksim--3 Pictures That Speak A Million Words

          Three different pictures from last night's Carnation March seem to sum up the whole situation here in Turkey at the moment. I don't have actual photographs of them--sorry--but the description seems more telling anyway. Please bear with me.


We passed by Gezi Park earlier in the afternoon. The place is pristine nowadays. A herculean effort has been made by someone to beautify the place—new trees fill the park—as a Floridian, the white blossoms of the magnolias stuck out. Wide sidewalks have been laid and lined with brand new benches. Roses bushes and neatly trimmed flower beds festoon the green lawns—color exploding out of every corner. The government has accomplished in one week what no one could do for decades—turn this place into a pedestrian paradise. This Gezi Park has never existed. No space anywhere in Turkey is this clean. The side of the park that faces Taksim Square is lined with oleanders blooming a cheerful cotton candy pink. But it also has a line of police sitting in lawn chairs guarding the entrance behind police tape. They surround the entire perimeter of the park—relaxing in the grass, their heads propped up on their helmets. Billy clubs and riot shields nearby. This fantasy pedestrian park is completely empty of pedestrians. It is not only clean, it is sterile. The police hover like the angels with flaming swords guarding Paradise—it is right here in front of you, everything that you demanded, in fact, we've made it better than before--but you will never touch it again.

Channel NTV reported, ‘Gezi Park has been opened to the public! Police deny entrance.’

I stood at the steps of the park for the longest time staring past the drowsy cops into the bright, open, and empty greenery of the park. There was something deeply unsettling about the picture. Last week the park was overflowing with life and joy and optimism—with an atmosphere that was more than a festival, more than a communal expression of hope, more than anything I have ever witnessed. And now it was like a Moghul tomb, a place for the dead and forgotten, or no, more like one of the grand North Korean squares that remain ominously empty unless the government orchestrates a rally to force people to fill it. It was pretend public space—a grotesque violation of freedom dressed up to look pretty.  A beautiful menace.

Last night, a march on Taksim was organized to leave carnations in Gezi Park to commemorate the four people who have lost their lives in the recent protest—including one policeman. Tens of thousands gathered on the square and because there were too many people to orderly leave flowers anywhere, people threw them forward into the crowd toward a place where a press conference was being held. The sky filled with spinning blossoms of red and pink and white. The usual people were there--an old couple, a man with long hair and shoulder tattoos, a couple of shirtless football fanboys on each other's shoulders, couples, groups of girls in tank tops, middle aged housewives and fathers with sunglasses on their faces and kids on their shoulders. The crowd shouted the usual slogans. ‘Hukumet İstifa’ (Resign government!). Faşizme karşı omuz omuza (Shoulder to shoulder against Fascism) and our favorite, the nonsensical Zıpla zıpla, zıplamayan Tayyip! (Hop! Hop! If you don’t hope you’re a Tayyıp!!’--which is accompanied by everyone jumping merrily up and down). Instead of party flags everyone (except for a few diehard Atatürkçüs) carried neutral white flags that read ‘Taksim Solidarity’. About an hour after the crowd gathered—hundreds of riot cops and two or three TOMA tanks appeared at the top of the steps that led to Gezi. A small group of people marched up toward them with flowers—determined to lay them in the park. We expected no ‘intervention’ that night. The Istanbul mayor had bragged that ‘we won’t even add a bus stop without public approval!’ It seemed the mood of the government if not conciliatory, was at least ‘Let’s lay low a bit.’

I imagine there were insults thrown at the police—this was a march after 21 days of constant police attacks throughout the country. Arrests have started. Some people have disappeared. Hundreds have been hurt. The government is blaming Jews and foreign conspiracies and riling up its followers with outlandish stories of attacks on mosques. The commissioner to the EU Egemen Bağış is arrogant enough to issue threats to Angela Merkel for question police tactics--'People who try to mix in Turkey's affairs,' he said of her, 'Do not meet an auspicious end.' People are desperate--the protests can't just fade away as if nothing was wrong. I think in part people wanted something to happen tonight, something to show to the cameras of the international press that waited on the roof of the Burger King that things had not gone back to normal, that the same government that attacked its own citizens was still in place and eager to attack again.

Flowers were offered. In answer, a batallion of police broke through the crowd at the steps and marched into the square—people scattered in a panic. A TOMA tank appeared pointing its water cannon at random groups. Everyone had seen on the news how police added liquid pepper spray to the tanks, and how that spray caused severe burns. The square emptied--it looked like a stampede—and then the water cannons fired. I was hit in the leg—there was a slight burning sensation in my nose. I think they added gas but not much—and we dashed into the Ottoman Palace hotel. This is where I saw the second picture that symbolizes this whole movement.

In the doors of the hotel, a Saudi woman in black was screaming hysterically at the sight of the TOMA tank coming down the road. She had a chubby little boy in front of her who was crying and looking all around him as if for a way out of the panicked people pressing in on them from the outside. Inside another Saudi woman and a little girl were watching the first woman and sobbing. Someone tried to pull the first woman inside—the doorman I guess—and the woman fought him. ‘Get away from me!’ she shouted in English. ‘Get away from me!’ A crowd managed to pull her back into the lobby and sit her on a couch, and there, the four Saudi tourists gave full into panic, shouting and sobbing and staring fearfully out at the streets. ‘My son is out there!’ the woman started screaming. ‘What’s wrong with you people? I lost my son out there!’ A group of protesters taking shelter from the water cannons tried to calm her. Others went out to look for her little boy. The hotel doorman seemed irritated. ‘Would you please calm down! You’re making a scene.’

It wasn’t that he was cold or unfeeling I think. But we were all so used to these scenes by now. Nothing struck any of us as all that out of the ordinary. The first question was 'why was she screaming?' The second question was 'Why weren't we?' This panicking Saudi family had the normal reaction—the shrieks and screams and tears were far more reasonable than our urgings for her to calm down.

The boy was found—he was with his father. They came in and joined the women and after hugging each other tightly for a second they went back out into the street—their hotel was elsewhere it seemed. We asked the woman if they had to go—it could be dangerous outside. She started to cry, ‘I don’t know!’ And she went out anyway.

Clashes went back and forth all night. While we sheltered in the hotel, a gas attack came up from the direction of Istiklal Avenue and another wave of people ran into the hotel. The gas was trapped in there, however, and pretty soon we were all choking, our eyes red. We ran outside for the relatively fresh air. By this time, my wife and I just wanted to go home. Line upon line of police blocked every exit to the park. The same ambulance kept circling the square—it went by six times--sirens blaring as if it carried a patient. Later , according to a Twitter report, 12 police were seen climbing out of the back. There were undercover cops everywhere. One boy in a yellow ‘Qatar’ jersey sheltered in the lobby of the hotel we were at. An undercover cop in a black hat was yelling at him. ‘Look at you! You were supposed to wear a Fenerbahce jersey! Take it off and turn it inside out!’ ‘But why?’ the boy protested. ‘If I walk around with a shirt inside out, I’ll stick out even more!’ ‘Do it because I said do it!’ the policeman barked. ‘And wear your undershirt over it!’ ‘They’ll know me,’ the boy said, but did as he was commanded and went out into the streets with an inside-out Qatar journey worn beneath his undershirt. Taxi drivers waited calmly in their cabs as tanks chased protesters and gas plumes billowed around them. Cops, too? Dozens of undercovers reportedly pose as cabbies.
The crowd's chants changed.

'Police, don't betray the people!' they cried
'Don't throw stones!'

At some point, during one of the gas attacks, an aging, moping street dog loped into the hotel and cowered just behind the sliding glass doors. No one chased it out. The doorman called it over away from the door and the brunt of the gas and let it stay inside until the air cleared and the crowd went out again. The dog reluctantly followed them with an air of quiet resignation. I’ve seen pictures of the horrible effects of the gas on street animals. Kittens blinded, cats and dogs choked to death, dead birds.

The police filled the side streets. They were arresting people, according to rumors on the street. Istiklal Avenue—the main shopping artery—was filled with gas a mile down toward Tünel. Police were using rubber bullets again—I saw a rifle in one young officer’s hands. We hesitated going home—not wanting to get rounded up or stuck in a cloud of CS. Then we discovered, strangely, that the metro was still open—and made for the entrance. We reached home without incident--you would never know from the rest of the city the chaos at Taksim.

The final picture I would like to share is one that I wrote about in an entry a week or two ago, but one that keeps coming to mind again and again. A journalist friend said to me today that ‘As crazy as this is, this is still a first world police intervention, not a third world one.’ There were no massacres or disappearances or deliberate murderers. For the most part, no one was using real bullets. ‘But the third world part,’ I said. ‘The really scary part is not necessarily all this police violence, but the arrests that follow. People are starting to disappear into the jails in successive waves—and we know that with all the falsified evidence, the kangaroo courts, the fanatical judges and secret witnesses that they will never come out. Hundreds of people to disappear into Turkish prisons.’

Remember, please, the new courtroom I saw in Silivri during my father-in-law’s trial. In the old courtroom, there were about 80 seats for the press to the right of the prosecutor’s podium. Now the seats for the press are in the back corners, slightly lower than the rest. About 45 seats have been added for defendants—there were already over 200 in the old one. In the old courtroom there were about 150 seats for defense lawyers to the left of the judge—a huge number yes, but in the new courtroom, on each side of the judge are 180 seats for defense lawyers. A total of 360 seats!  This is a symbol of the future as the AKP would have it—gigantic mass trials, with the press given a symbolic but marginal place in the back, out of the way and without dignity. This is the fate awaiting all the doctors and lawyers rounded up by the police for helping protesters (in the government’s increasingly fanatical minds—terrorists helping the ‘interest lobbies’ and ‘dark foreign powers of infidels. Even now the PM is giving a speech in Samsun where he rants at a crowd of true believers about the heathens who go into mosques with shoes and get drunk and attack head scarf women. 'One of our prayers' he shouts. 'Can defeat all of them.)

A sketch I made of the courtroom--cameras are forbidden--three judges up front, the prosecutor (savcı) to the right.
3 defining pictures. A triptych of the State to come. The sterile, empty, newly planted park; the panicking Muslim tourists and jaded locals; the restructured courtroom. We will do our best to look just to the outside, mocking you in the process, and rending all justice forever out of reach of those who oppose us. We will accustom you to this treatment so that you find it normal. You will forget what you are entitled to. And in the end, we will judge you. You will come to our courtrooms and we will lie about you and no one will question us.
And you will never leave.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Democracy in the Parks

                The ‘waves’ of arrests have started. Yesterday, it was announced, that 2 out of 20 ‘supsects’ will be charged in the Çarşı wave (Çarşı is the Beşiktaş football fan club who lead the way against the police in many of the protests). The day before that, the news reported that 33 of 97 would be charged in the previous days wave of arrests. And that’s in Istanbul alone—there are more ‘waves’ in other cities.

The anchormen and women state these figures blandly, not questioning the logic behind the arrests at all. It’s the ‘Terror Intervention’ division of the police. They are conducting house raids early in the morning. They are stopping Terror.

It is all so familiar—three entries ago I talked about how this would go down. I remember how it felt back in 2011, when every day on the news you heard about how many were charged in that day’s ‘dalga’ (wave) of arrests of Kurds. The unquestioning, docile news teams spouting out the Turkish Government’s version of events and everyone unquestioningly swallowing every word because they had been trained from preschool to regard Kurds as terrorist and every kind of political activity as splittism provoked by secret forces bent on destroying Turkey.

So will all the unrest and horror of the last three weeks just get swept under the rug or sent to prison?

                The standing man protests continue—people stand in silence along the wharf and at the Bull in Kadıköy. People stand at the meeting for press freedom in Brussels. And crowds still fill Taksim Square. But now the Gezi Park movement, with Gezi itself lost, has spread to all the parks of Istanbul this week. At 9:00 the town meetings start. We went down last night to Yoğurtçu Park to see what was happening.
               They’d set up a stage in the park where anyone could sign up to speak. The audience showed their approval by waving their hands in the air, a tactic they probably coopted from Occupy Wall Street, but with the very logical reason of not wanting to disturb the neighbors who surround the park with clapping. A girl spoke about the corruption in the last election—the buying of votes, the casting of ballots by the dead. One foreign resident stood and suggested that Turkey call for foreign election monitors to ensure that there is no tampering with results. A lawyer stood and, after greeting all the undercover cops in the crowd, to mass laughter, urged cooperation and persistence. Many stood and spoke about the need to organize.

                Some of the character of Gezi Park has been brought to each of these mini-Gezi’s. Last night there was a ‘Revolution Market’ where cookies and drinks were distributed for free. A wide range of people were present--most of whom would never have been caught dead together a month ago. One man spoke on behalf of the LGBT community whom, he said, had been at the protests from the start, had born the brunt of a lot of police violence, and who remained one of the most oppressed groups in the country. Everyone cheered their support. Another man stood and spoke about the injustice in the investigation into the massacre by Turkish warplanes of 34 Kurdish villagers--most Turks regarded this issue as irrelavent, believing, as their news told them, that these 34 boys were all smugglers anyway, and probably terrorists. But everyone cheered their support. Whatever else comes of these townhall style meetings, these people are, perhaps for the first time, getting together and listening to each other’s views and building tolerance. I can’t stress enough for American friends what a radical change that is for Turkey. Your political views can get you arrested or attacked here. People defend their positions with hysterical screaming and protests. It is against the law to insult Atatürk and Turkishness. Anyone against you is a terrorist. For all of these people with different opinions to sit around quietly and listen is a revolution of its own.

                Sadly, there was some bad news. A park in another district, Yeniköy was attacked by amob with clubs and knives. The mob, about 30 people in all, was apparently organized by the District Mayor (Muhtar), Engin Cevahiroğlu. If there were any justice in the current rulers of this country, he would be immediately relieved of his position and prosecuted, but we save that sort of justice for protesters standing silently in the squares. Those against us get the Gas, those for us get pardoned.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Standing Men and Women of Kadıköy (photos by Stephen Freer)

There is a new form of protest sweeping the country now—it started last night at 8:00PM after the brutal crackdown of the weekend (detailed in my last entry) with one man in Taksim Square and now seems to be spreading everywhere—it’s called duranadam, the standing man, although there are standing women and children as well now. We came home to Kadıköy today to see if the movement had spread here, and indeed it had. At Altıyol, where the famous Bull Statue serves as a meeting point, about twenty people stood facing down the hill toward the sea.


There was an old man, many young people, and a couple of middle aged women. People stopped to wipe sweat off the protesters, or buy them water. A couple of Kurds from Adıyaman stood beside me as my friend took pictures.

‘Do you think they will keep going?’ he asked.

‘I hope so,’ I told him.

‘What will happen to them? Will the police attack them? Will standing become a crime here, too?’

Down at the wharf one lone boy stood next to the Roma flower sellers.  He was more serious—he did not acknowledge us when we set that water bottle at his feet—just nodded slightly and kept his eyes focused upward on the flag.

Finally, in front of the Atatürk statue, a bearded young man with a backpack was pacing back and forth as if keeping guard. His friend kept him supplied with water, wiped sweat off his face, and then took a turn when the other got tired.

‘I’m a sea captain,’ he told me. ‘I left my ship when all the violence started against the protesters, and I came here to do my part. We are keeping watch here in front of the founder of my country.’

‘Have any police bothered you yet?’

‘Not yet. No one seems to have noticed us.’

I saw a man that I could swear was an undercover cop—they’re everywhere, but I didn’t say anything.

‘I am ashamed of our press,’ the ship captain said. ‘I am ashamed they stayed silent for so long. My country is a beautiful country, but this Tayyip is a bad man.’

Chemical Warfare Begins Here

First of all—none of these videos are mine. I don’t claim them. They are from You Tube and Twitter, and have been circulating the social media that Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdoğan called a scourge. This weekend saw one of the worst police crackdowns yet in the ongoing police attacks on protesters in Turkey. (The newspapers here call these attacks ‘interventions’) The usual tactics were used of course—dousing people with pepper gas (This time the American Hospital, the German Hospital, and the Dutch Consulate all tasted the Gas as well as all the hotels and businesses that have been sheltering gas victims from the beginning, yes the Divan Hotel, but also the Hilton and the Ramada.) They also used their time honored water canons from the back of a police tank, but with a little twist. CS liquid pepper gas in the tanks—enough to cause first degree burns on the skin. At first, the police simply denied that anything was added to the water. Then Istanbul’s nefarious governor Avni Mutlu said that it was ‘medicine’ after a picture of police pouring something into a water tank while wearing gloves appeared on the accursed social media.

Yesterday, the head of police training was interviewed on Channel A and said that yes, well, liquid CS pepper gas had been added but he didn’t see the big deal because they had been using that for years (against whom I wonder?) And people got sprayed with the stuff directly anyway, so why were they complaining if they added it to water, which was actually a dilution? He suggested the pictures of people with first degree burns were just fakes or allergic reactions.

 Nevermind that on the packaging it says ‘Prevent the spread of this solution to sewers, drainage systems and surface water. Keep away from eyes and skin.’ Other warnings include ‘Keep away from children. Do not spray directly into open spaces. If any is spilled clean immediately. If solution comes into contact with eyes or skin wash immediately with plenty of water.’

The evolving lies—each new crime admitted only when the scourge of the social media forces them to.  Here is a chilling video of a girl being sprayed with the stuff at Gezi.

Another tactic they are using to disperse protesters is arming thugs with sticks and knives. Today in the Radikal newspaper, the AK Party’s district chairman admitted these people were out there but denied the party had put them on the streets. Never mind this video showing these Brown Shirts roaming the streets with a police escort.

The police were hunting down doctors treating the wounded as well—raiding makeshift hospitals.

A new protest started last night—the Standing Man. All over the country people are just standing still. Last night they filled Taksim Square. This morning a girl started in Beşiktaş. Of course, the arrests have ensued. Standing still and doing nothing is now defined as terrorism in Erdoğan’s Turkey.
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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Where is all this going? The week in Silivri, the weekend in Gezi Park

I must be careful of words—the old cliches don’t work anymore. Freedom, democracy, liberty, tolerance—the wrong people have used them for the wrong things for so many years. Sometimes with good intentions, sometimes with bad. My ears hurt to hear them.

So let me paint a picture.

Gezi Park, Taksim Square—The heart of Istanbul. To the left of the stairs that lead to the park, the Kurds dance the Halay in an everwidening circle. The Kurdish flag flies and the radio blasts guerilla songs. A crowd moves past them—‘Turkey for the Turks’ Kemalists most likely with red star and crescent banners emblazened with Atatürk’s face. They chant ‘We are soldiers of Mustafa Kemal!’ Down the path a little bit, they will come across a group of gay men marching in the other direction chanting, ‘We are NOBODY’S soldiers.’ They are hamming it up big time. Between the two converging groups you find a tent for the Turkish Socialist Party—old school hardliners, and another tent of middle-aged Armenian churchladies distributing cookies. Down in the main square, some Black Sea people dance the wild horon.
A week ago--you would never have seen an Ataturk flag and a BDP banner together...

A few weeks ago, things would have been very different. The Kurds and Kemalists would have been fighting in the streets; the gay men harassed or jeered, maybe by the Black Sea boys, the Armenians would have been trying to keep a low profile and everyone would have beeb watching what they said—as afraid of each other, even, as they are of the government. But in Gezi Park this weekend they are all here, speaking out, without fear or censure. They don’t necessarily like each other—make no mistake about that--but they tolerate each other, they leave each other alone.

The media calls it a carnival or a festival or a party. But it’s much more organized than that—a funhouse reflection of a state. And together our protesters have created a miniature city within a city that reflects the dream of Martin Luther King—however ephemeral, however tenuous, however fast the army of police and marauders approach, people feel ‘free at last’.

Together, these disparate groups have built a ‘Museum of the Revolution’ pasting pictures of the police attacks and subsequent resistance in the abandoned trailer of the construction crew’s foreman. They have transformed the overturned and looted cars of the civil police into day-glo platforms of free speech—everyone grabs a spray can and writes what they think. And, in a first for Turkey, they write it with no fear or hesitation.

They’ve created a ‘Market of the Uprising’ where they distribute drinks for free. They set up a ‘children’s studio’ where kids get messy with tempera paints and create whatever they hell picture they want on huge sheets of white paper, emerging from their efforts covered in color.

They have trash teams that do clean up of the grounds and somehow have managed to publish two newspapers ‘Tomorrow’ and ‘The Future’ which they distribute among the hundreds of thousands of people who come to visit every day. They’ve set up a television station (online of course), a radio station, several different websites in a multiplicity of languages. They’ve created a ‘Parliament’ where different people come and debate each other and a moderator turns off their microphone whenever they get aggressive or insulting.

Now let me give you a bit of what Erdoğan’s AKP has in mind for these people—in case you couldn’t guess from the continuing brutal police attacks and arrests in Antakya, Ankara, Eskişehir and Izmir. Or from the tortures of detainees here in Istanbul (

You see,  I could not make it down to Gezi Park until Friday because the rest of the week my family was kept busy by the KCK show trial of my father-in-law and hundreds of others. The trial took place in Silivri and has been going on for almost two years. For some reason, my more enlightened work colleagues at the protests were under the impression that everyone had been released. This was a devastating blow to our morale. How could people aware enough to come to Gezi NOT KNOW??

For the past year and half, the trial has been held in Silivri prison’s old courtroom. The first time I was there, I counted about 60 chairs on the right of the court room for defense attorneys, another 60 on the left of the courtroom for government officials and parlementarians, in the middle over 200 chairs for defendants, and in the back a small section for visitors. Well we’re in the new and improved courtroom now. Recently completed, AKP authorities have added another section for defendants—I think it is up to 250 chairs now. There are now 180 chairs on the right for defense lawyers and 180 more on the left. The section for the journalist and parliamentarians is now in the far back corner where it is difficult to see or hear and numbers maybe 45 chairs—3 in a row and 15 deep. Only the first two rows could see anything.

What is the symobilism here? What needs is the government anticipating? Even larger mass trials with hundreds of defense attorneys and a pliant press that sits obediently and silently in the back?

The crowds here--these are the people that the Prime Minister is expanding the size of his courtrooms for.
These chairs are meant for groups like our young protesters—the children painting in the ‘art’ tent. The old lady distrubiting lemonade. The bagpipe band I saw perform on the square.

And when the protesters are brought here, what sort of justice awaits them? Well, let me give you a sample. Most things you’ll be forced to buy from the prison. Socks for instance. Your family won’t be able to bring much to you at all. And take a book because you’re going to be there a while. We waited a year while the court read the indictment aloud—it was over 2000 pages (you need that many for mass trials of over 200 people at a time) and while we waited for them to finish reading, our relatives and friends languished in prison, many nearly dying in a hunger strike last fall. The reward for the hunger strike? More of the police attacks the protesters are eating on the square and a year and a half of no visitations, five months of no outside contact, ten days in isolation. But if you have been reading this blog, you know all this.

So what happens to the protesters once the indictment is read?

These days, at our trial, the suspects are coming up one by one before the court and giving the statements of defense. They are allowed to do this in Kurdish now. There are three translators in the courtroom, though they have a hard job at times. After decades of prohibiting the language, no one is confident that they speak it well enough for a courtroom. And in many cases they don’t. Still, here is what some of the defendants said. I am summarizing from notes—this is not a word for word dictation and it’s been twice translated. But please government reporters and conspiracy nuts, rest assured, I am not hiding any sudden outbursts of ‘Hey everybody, I’m a terrorist! And I’m gonna get you!

These girls--some of the drunks and looters (chapulcu) Erdoğan spoke about. Will they be arrested when the show trials begin?

A man named Kemal Aydin was first—he once was the local chairman of the BDP offices in Esenler. After paying respects to the court and judge, he reminded them that he was a member of a legal political party, whose bylaws and platform had been submitted to the Constitutional Court and approved.

‘You say working for this party is a crime. Going to rallies, making phone calls—crimes. We submitted all the paperwork to your courts. Everything I’ve done has been legal and open. Your courts recognized our legitmacy—then how now are we criminals?’

Our protesters might make a similar argument—that civil disobedience is a legally recognized right protected by most constitutions in the world.

 ‘I am an activist,’ Mr. Aydin went on. ‘And I feel a great responsibility to my conscience. In our thirty years of activism, five of my relatives have lost their lives. One was my brother, one was my daughter, and three were my nieces and nephews. If you want to open a case against us, then you should start by opening their graves.’

This little looter girl and her drunk dad will be rounded up maybe, and the little drunk soccer fan above them, too.
The judge started to ask about contents of certain secret files whose contents have not been read aloud to the court—do we have no idea what they said. Have no doubt that enthusiastic police are preparing similar secret files for the protesters.

‘Our secret witness Haydar says you were present at rallies where terrorist slogans were chanted,’ says the judge.

‘Excuse me,’ Mr. Aydin answers. ‘But who is this secret witness, Haydar? How can I respond to that if I don’t know who he is? How do I know that your secret witness was not coerced into confession by torture or even real?’

Here you are—terrorist slogans at rallies. This is what the Prime Minister says about the Gezi Park protests now. Terrorist and secret agents agitating the masses. How many secret witnesses might this government find, how many ‘Haydars’ to accuse those braveyoung people in Taksim and Ankara and Beşiktaş and Izmir. They are clearly getting the stage ready—hundreds have been arrested already—five today were arrested in Adana (June 8th).

Perhaps police will use secret witnesses or phone recorders to prosecute this terrorist member of a marginal group
Osman Akdağ is another defendant who tried to explain to the court where he was coming from.

‘I have never spent more than one month together with my children. I spent 28 years in exile and when I came back, I was arrested within 3 months for ‘terrorist’ activities. How could I manage such a range of ‘activities’ in just three months!? I spent many years in prison in this country. So did my children. Many of my friends in prison suffered severe torture. One man lost his eyes. Two set themselves on fire to protest their treatment—one of these guys had been so badly maimed by police torture that he was paralyzed and we had to carry him to the toilet. And my story is not unique, hundreds upon hundreds of people experienced the same sorts of things. The only thing that prison gave me was time to learn to read and write—but the funny thing is one of your pieces of ‘evidence’ is a notebook that supposedly belongs to me. Well that notebook is 18 years old and was written long before I’d learned to write it. How is that possible? And how could I have written it in Turkish when I still can’t write that language? I write only in Kurdish!’

Police brutality, eyes put out, fabricated evidence—the net has widened now. Everyone in Turkey can now experience these things. How many eyes have been put out by plastic bullets in Beşiktaş and Ankara? Two young men have lost their lives to beatings—I heard rumors of a third this morning-- most likely by secret police—Abdullah Comert died in Hatay, the other boy in Eskişehir.

Perhaps these are the foreign spies that the AKP say instigate the crowd.
Defendant Ahmet Demirsoy speaks after the lunch break. ‘I am a conscientious objector,’ he tells the court. ‘I do not believe in violence of any sort.’

I think of the gay men with the sign, ‘We are no one’s soldiers.’

‘I am against all forms of militarism,’ he continues. ‘I saw villages burned, children shot and killed. I have worked to have everyone’s rights recognized. I emphasize the word everyone. Any militarized country says to its army, ‘You will kill take this gun and kill or you will die.’ They turn us into murderers or martyrs. I refused. I cannot be a terrorist, and I am no robotic follower. You say you have telephone recordings that show I was part of a ‘terrorist group’. Let me discuss one of your recordings. I was speaking to a French friend who had trouble pronouncing certain letters. He said, in French, ‘Lets go to Akhtamar’ but it came out like a guttural ‘Amara’ (The Kurdish name for the village Abdullah Ocalan was born). That is admissable evidence for you. The misunderpronounced name of a city spoken in a language your police could not understand.’

I think of all the foreigners I saw in Gezi Park yesterday—the marchers with signs in French, German, English and Dutch. How will police use this agains them? The police shout out for people not to listen to ‘provocateurs’ right before they gas them. The Prime Minister warns of foreign agents. What is it they have planned? They can twist anything you say into evidence. One of the tweets used to arrest the Twitter writers was ‘The police are here. Don’t come!’ This is proof of terror and incitement to violence?

The last person to speak is Mehmet Kıymaz. He repeats the argument that they have all been brought in for working for a party recognized as legal by the government. ‘I lived and worked in Küçükçekmece for  22 years. I retired in 2008 and became the BDP party’s accountant there. As the accountant, I was very busy and had to intend every single meeting and rally we had. It was my job! And now you say I am guilty for ‘my presence at certain meetings?’ I am guilty for performing my legal duties as accountant for a legal political party? Some of our people are very poor, as you know. I gave them bus money to attend our rallies—men, women, children. They couldn’t have gone otherwide. Bus money! And because of that you accuse me of funding terrorist organizations?’

The people in Ankara, from what I understand, were arrested by a similar leap of logic. By their protest in the street, they were fomenting a coup. Every action taken by a protester is interpreted as incitement to violence, a terrorist acts, plotting and meddling.

On Friday, June 7th, we got the news. 14 people in the KCK Silivri trial were released leaving 90 more behind in prison. And the one hundred or so who have been released are still being tried—let me emphasize that. Life sentences are being planned for many of them. And this is just at Silvri. KCK trials are being run all over the country—two more are in Istanbul alone. And people think they are all released. We’re forgotten—even by those who shouldn’t forget. After a few years they will forget about our protesters, too. They will sit in jail, yesterday’s news.

The government has already done away with the army in the Ergenekon case, for better and worse, and the Kemalist with the Balyoz case. Now the Kurds of the BDP are being finished off. One by one the opposition is being picked off. I suppose they have the Gezi Park protesters in their sights now. A big spacious courtroom is waiting, and 30 years of precedence.

Some more of the vandals and provocateurs who need to be rounded up for a mass trial
As you resist, remember what waits for you if you lose, and if you win, remember all of those who went before you. I admire what you’ve done. The whole world does. Carry forth in peace and fairness, and remember that democracy is for us all.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Update on the Turkish Protests

So where are we this week? So much has happened, is happening. Where do you start? I'm sorry but I have no pictures this week--maybe later. But I felt the need to get down what was happening NOW. I have included come Youtube video links that tell part of the story.

Tencere ve Tava Proteso (The Pots and Pans Protest)

On Sunday night, June 2nd, we were sitting in the living room, watching TV with Grandfather, Delal’s aunt, and a friend visiting from Silivri. Suddenly, a noise rose up from the street, growing louder and louder. We all went out onto the balcony to find our whole neighborhood hanging out the window banging pots and pans. The clamor came from every direction—from Çamlica in the west and Ataşehir in the East. I swear to God the very air seemed to be alive and vibrating. We ran in and got our own pots and pans. ‘I feel like I’m getting something big off my chest!’ our aunt said as she pounded away on a frying pan.

And so weren’t we all, the entire city.

Last year, during the height of the Kurdish hunger strikes, we joined a civil action campaign to turn off the lights and put candles in the window for all the prisoners. I remember how miserable and alone I felt—our window the only dark one as far as they eye could see. You felt targeted, marginalized. Now everyone was on the same side. We felt safe, empowered. Cars poured out into the street honking horns. The gigantic apartment high rises in Ataşehir blinked on and off like Empire State Christmas trees. Behind them a storm was pouring in over the mountains, tall black thunderheads—lightning darted behind the hills. It seemed even God himself had joined in. And this was in a neighborhood known for being staunch supporters of Erdoğan’s party, the AKP.

Every night at 9:00 since then, the same thing has happened. Last night in Kadıköy the workers at the Opera House from actor to concession stand worker poured out into the side streets armed with giant pots. Taxis honked at them as they went by.

But I will add one thing—Grandfather would not come out with us. At first he protested, ‘No, don’t go out. It’s rude! You’ll wake people up.’ We laughed, we insisted, we pointed out everyone was doing it and finally he emerged with the biggest pan of all, but then almost unconciously, immediately crouched behind our balcony walls, instinctively afraid. In his 83 years he has seen enough of Turkish state oppression—he perhaps had the sense to be scared.

Here’s some videos of similar pots and pans protests around the country.


Ulus (Istanbul)


A song by the popular group ‘Kardeş Türküler’ about the pots and pans protest

A week of tense calm

The KCK show trials continued this week—all of our time has been occupied with that and so we did not have time to go down to the protests this week. But lots of things have been happening. On Wednesday, in Izmir, police arrested38 people for messages on their Twitter accounts—this AFTER Bulent Arınç, the Deputy Prime Minister, made a somewhat conciliatory announcement that made it seem as if the government might back off a little. Newspapers (official ones) started spreading rumors that foreign agents were provoking protests and then arrested foreigners in Istanbul and Ankara, claiming some of them had diplomatic passports. The suggestion was—we’ve caught them! This turned out to be false. They were all hapless Erasmus students.

In Hatay and Eskişehir two students have been beaten to death—most likely by undercover cops. Our friends protesting in Beşiktaş report gangs of what look like undercover cops harassing protesters, cutting lights, and at times luring people into alleys and beating them. Rumor? Wild guessing? Maybe, but this is a country where hundreds were disappeared by similar people in the 90s and I have seen the undercover cops at Kurdish protests myself, so, it’s certainly possible.

Protests in Beşiktaş (Çarşı)

On Tuesday, Erdoğan told the protesters that ‘he could barely restrain 51% of the country (from attacking them)’ and then went on a North African tour. When he arrived back last night hundreds of his supporters met him at the airport. They ecstatically chanted his name and told reporters that they wanted to go down to Taksim and drive the protesters out.

A friend of ours at school was riding in a taxi last night when the driver told her a story—he was shaking, nervous, she said.

‘I was at the Marmara Hotel, waiting on a customer when I overheard this conversation between some officers and their chief. ‘What’s going on in the square?’ asked the chief. ‘Nothing much,’ an officer answered. ‘People are just wandering around basically.’ ‘Send them some gas,’ the chief said. The officer refused, ‘Didn’t you hear me? I said they were just wandering around.’ The chief got angry, ‘I said send them some gas!’ The officer turned to his fellow policemen, cussing under his breath and said, ‘You heard the order! Toss them some gas!’

I don’t know how much you can trust a taxi driver’s story. There’s a rumor that many are undercover cops. They have been known to say provocative things to lure people into talking and ‘revealing their true colors’.

That’s where things stand. Meanwhile the park seems a happy and hopeful place. People put up memorials to Hrant Dink and the Robowski Massacre. The plant trees. Restaurants are bringing food to protesters. Volunteers come by with medical supplies, tampons, vitamins, rain coats, whatever is needed.

A friend shared another inspiring story—she was on the metrobus when a gang of Çarşı (Beşiktaş football hoodlums) got on wearing bandanas over their mouths. An old woman approached them and without a word pulled each of their faces to her and kissed them on the forehead. She knew they were going into battle with the police (Çarşı youths famously stole one of the police vehicles and used one of their own water cannons against them) and was sending them on their way.

People are hopeful. Tremendously hopeful.