When the protests first broke out in Istanbul’s Gezi Park last week, I’ll have to admit I wasn’t phased…at first. The Turkish citizenry is particularly active when it comes to protesting. While studying abroad last fall, I got fairly accustomed to seeing the police with their riot gear out in Taksim or Kadıköy. And while I didn’t witness the event, I was aware that at one point during my stay at Boğaziçi University, a particularly violent clash with the police took place when some Kurdish students and their supporters attempted to start a march to the AKP offices. There were burning tires and the like.
More recently, the Turkish police clashed with protestors during May Day commemorations. On May 1st, the government banned individuals from staging demonstrations, going so far as to “lock down” parts of the city. Taksim Square and Istiklal Street–the place where the current protests began–were closed off. But people–being people–found their way to the sites regardless. On this occasion, too, the police turned to water cannons and tear gas.
I was vaguely aware of the Gezi Park protest when it first started. I didn’t think much of it, other than predicting that it wouldn’t achieve it’s aim of deterring the government from tearing down the park. I remember feeling sad that while I had been to Taksim many times, I never actually ventured into Gezi Park (one of the few remaining green spaces in the heart of Istanbul–though other parts of Istanbul do, admittedly, have plenty of greenery).
Even when the first crackdowns began, I remember not being shocked. In fact, the only surprise I registered was surprise that the protest had gathered so much attention. Yet it soon became obvious that the protests were getting attention for very good reasons.
The fact is that even in a state that is no stranger to police crackdowns on protestors, these current protests are incredibly important and unprecedented. One reason why: While the protests started in Istanbul, they quickly spread to many of the country’s urban centers. Ankara, Izmir, Mardin, Eskişehir, Sinop, and many others have joined in the fray. Even in Istanbul, the protests quickly spread to different neighborhoods; in Beşiktaş, the crackdown was particularly brutal.
Unfortunately, unless you’re a Turk or a Turkophile, you probably have found it incredibely difficult to understand the details of what has happened in Gezi Park, much less the significance. Thus, I’ve compiled a list of news stories that should help clear up any confusion. Without further ado:
Hugh Pope | “Dining with Al-Qaeda” blog: Pope breaks down how the protests unfolded from his “ringside” location–his apartment on Istiklal Street, downwind of the first unrest in Taksim.
Caitlin Dewey | Washington Post: Dewey provides a brief guide to the beginnings of the protests, complete with tweets and pictures.
Umut Uras | Al-Jazeera: A particularly detailed breakdown of the protests: how they began and what they mean.
Tumblr | Photos from the protests (deemed “Occupy Gezi” and “Diren Gezi Parkı”). Warning: Some photos may be graphic. For the record, “diren” translates to “resist” from Turkish.
Andy Carvin | Storify: Carvin documents the creative side of the Occupy Gezi protests, with the most recent development being the coining of a new term: “chapulling.” The word is an anglicized version of the Turkish noun “çapulcu,” which translates roughly into “looter” and has been used quite a bit by PM Erdoğan. Inside the story: Awesome photos, admirable innovations, and a very entertaining music video.
Recent developments: The deputy PM has apologized for the police violence, but the protests are continuing, and the demonstrators are demanding that the demolition of Gezi Park be cancelled.
Whit Mason | Foreign Policy: “The protests across Istanbul aren’t about Islamism, the elite, or even religion writ large — they’re a call for a real liberal democracy.” While previous protests have usually drawn support from only specific segments of the Turkish public (usually Kemalists/secularists or socialists/communists), these protests have pulled in all types of Turks–young and old, right-wing and left-wing, professionals and housewives, and yes, secularists AND devout Muslims. In short, these protests are about a variety of grievances. Some people are angry about the AKP’s religiously conservative policies. Others (like minorities–specifically Alevis) are angry about the government’s lack of recognition of their rights. Yet others are angry about the ambitious construction projects being launched by the government–including the demolition of Gezi Park (to make way for Istanbul’s 94th mall and then some). Yet all of these factors (and others) boil down to a common theme: Erdoğan’s misconception that he alone gets to decide and execute his party’s social and economic policies. How did I first know these protests were different? When my hijabi (women who wear the headscarf) friends were protesting alongside by friends who are secularists (and think the AKP is going to turn Turkey into Iran).
Michael Koplow | “Ottomans and Zionists” blog: Koplow breaks down what (likely) will and will not happen once the protests die down. In short: Erdoğan will not resign, but the AKP will likely kill his plans to strengthen the Turkish presidency (so that he can become president once his 10+-year run as PM comes to a halt in 2014). Any action will come from the ballot box. In short, this is not a Turkish spring (mostly because the Turkish winter was before the AKP came to power, not after).
Aaron Stein | The Atlantic: Stein talks about the “unifying” aspect of the protests, in turn breaking down the common misperception that the AKP’s voting base is made up entirely of religious conservatives.
Mustafa Akyol | Hürriyet Daily News: “It’s all about Erdoğan.” Tensions within the AKP–especially the diverging views of President Gül and Deputy PM Arenç–show that it’s more about personality than the party when it comes to Occupy Gezi.