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.


1 comment:

jmchugh said...

Wow. Go Turkey! And be safe.