Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Living in Taksim - Report June 15-16, 2013

It's been over two weeks. It's still hard to write, and we still cannot enter the park, so I'll try to tell this mostly through pictures and videos.

Saturday, June 15th. We thought negotiations had just started and were ongoing. Yet, there were rumors that the PM wanted things finished - he did not plan on talking to any other "representatives." Beautiful day, park full of people, "tourists," elderly and kids. I spent some of the morning there, and some of the late afternoon. The PM held a rally in Ankara, where he made clear that he wanted the park emptied. We suspected he'd want it done before his rally in Istanbul the next day, but didn't really expect it so soon - not before sundown anyway.

June 15, moments before the police entered the park

I went to my mom's for dinner. At some point before we sat down to eat, we decided to check out the square and saw that the police had started their formation. This was at around 20:20, they started giving warning, and entered the park within 15 minutes. Not an hour, like some press reported. It was barely time to empty the thousands of people in the park.

What was good to see was that people in the park (who were actually debating leaving the park gradually, although the official response was to stay) did not put up a fight endangering their lives - they were not marginal terrorists as the PM would have everyone believe, but people with a common sense. Here is a video of the police in the park - you can see our "tent" at around 54''.

The rest of the night and the next day was barely reported in the international news. I tried keeping in touch with my friends in, around, and away trying to reach Taksim all night. A group of people, including many injured, took shelter at Divan Hotel around the corner from me and across the park. They were repeatedly attacked and gassed, despite the MPs who were situated there (not from AKP, obviously). Here is another video, starting with the attack on the park and very clear footage of subsequent events. A friend who was at the hotel informed me frantically that the police was trying to get in - ultimately, they didn't. On twitter and elsewhere, we got pictures of huge crowds trying to get to Taksim - from the Asian side, from Gazi, Nişantaşı, Beşiktaş, all over. Obviously, the metro and other forms of public transportation towards the square were shut off, as usual. People still walked - but they were gassed and dispersed at different points. This went all the way into Sunday evening.

Buses to carry supporters to AKP rally
All of this was even more annoying and frustrating, because as anti-government protest attempts were being squelched, AKP was using public resources and transport to carry supporters to their rally. A bill sent from the municipality to AKP headquarters about the expense for the buses was produced after a day or two, but did not seem convincing. This may stem from other lies at the rally. Banners of "Çarşı," the left-wing supporter group of Beşiktaş, crucial to the resistance, were raised - only they were fake. Everyone (save for whoever made the banners) knows that Çarşı has a distinctive logo, with the Anarchist "A." One last note about the rally - it was not "organized" by AKP supporters like CNN and BBC suggested, but by AKP itself, using public resources. It's an important distinction.

Taksim on Sunday - no one but the police, gardeners, and us
I spent most of the day at my mom's, where I had to spend the night. When I got out to go back home, the whole square was empty save for the police and park gardeners. I felt invisible - no one asked me anything. I guess they thought I was "safe" since I'd already entered the square. My own place was within the police circle as well, so it was eerily silent - we were in the eye of the storm, and from what I gathered from friends' messages and Tweets, it was still a true storm around the square. Many were injured on Sunday, including many of my best students. At some point in the late evening, small crowds of men emerged from Kasımpaşa (PM's own neighborhood), carrying sticks (beating at least one tourist according to a friend who was an eye witness to the event) and not being gassed by the police. Their chants of "God is great" only made them more intimidating. In this video, you can see a police vehicle warning them, and taking absolutely no action.

So the park utopia ended on June 15th. We are waiting for Gezi park to re-open, probably in time for Ramadan. In the meantime, people started gathering at different parks and holding public forums. There is some kind of protest at some point of the city any given day. Other events have been going on, and a large debate has started. These few weeks have had a massive impact on the social fabric of the country. Previously apolitical generations have hit the streets for the first time. Groups that never before talked to one another fought side by side; Kemalists and Kurds, Anticapitalist Muslims and the LGBTT community. The gay pride march on June 30th was the largest ever. For the first time, the urban "white Turks" have realized that they have been following the Kurdish conflict from this (biased) media for the last 30 years. Paradigms are shifting, metanarratives collapsing. We'll see where it all leads, but this has been the most memorable and exciting June for anyone involved...