Sleepless in Istanbul I

Taksim square in clouds of tear gas

Brief notes, quotes and interviews from inside the current uprising in the Republic of Turkey. All names have been changed to protect the anonymity of those involved. The views expressed by individuals and groups within these blog posts are not necessarily the views of the author.

I have been in Istanbul for 16 hours, but already there is more to tell than I have time to write. The purpose of the following blog is not to provide an in-depth analysis of the events that have lead up to the present situation, nor to provide a detailed scholarly analysis of the material base to which these events relate. One can find such analysis elsewhere, analysis to which, in time, I intend to contribute. Rather, the purpose of this blog is to provide sporadic updates, quotes, interviews, links and images from the front lines of the as of yet unsatisfactorily termed 'Turkish Spring'.

I arrived at night. Met by a Turkish friend at the airport I was promptly directed to a contacts house, an apartment located around 10 minutes walk from Taksim Square. My first hours in Istanbul were spent in the company of my host and his friends, a group who can broadly be considered as being part of the non-party politically aligned secular liberal-left. I arrive to find them already in the full thrall of a discussion about the policies of the Erdoğan regime, police repression and the unfolding protests, I make some notes.

For Arkados, the issue of Erdoğan's erosion of Turkey's secular culture is critical. He highlights the governments suspension of secular celebrations as state holidays and the repression of journalists, telling me "the religious agenda is in the government, the state brand of Islamism is becoming an obligation, you cannot live without subscribing", he was nevertheless quick to mention that "even the religious people are against him", to which his friend Arka added "within the protests there are people who voted for him". Arkados and his friends cited the protests in what they deem to be religious and conservative towns and cities. They discussed with me the process of the privatisation and liberalisation of the Turkish economy, as Arka puts it to me "he is selling this country". In our conversations they emphasised the very broad scope of participation in the protests and riots, both in terms of political allegiance and economic background, as Arkados puts it "all these groups coming together, I have never seen this before, this is not fucking Woodstock and it is not Yugoslavia, this is a new era". Eser told me that "people here are not discussing politics because they are fed up with politics, they speak of rights and democracy", to which Arkados is quickly replied "but that is politics, a new kind of politics, we are discussing everything now". Throughout the conversation Ozkan continually trawled the internet for the latest news, largely from blogs and social media, he brought up the issue of a delegation from Gezi Park that is set to meet with Erdoğan on Wednesday 12th June. The group expressed disgust, questioning who these people are and from where they received their mandate, Arka told me "every kind of political party is trying to get as much out of this as they can, they use it like an advertisement, but we ask them 'where were you? Have you smelt the gas?". I made my excuses and turned in for bed, the conversation came to a close with Arkados translating a phrase for me that had come up during the conversation "it's difficult to make them stand, but once they do it's difficult to make them sit again". I suppose we shall see.

I awoke at 9:00 am on Tuesday 11th June with a phone call from an anti-state communist comrade who tells me "they are attacking the square". This call was reiterated moments later by another call from a leftist Turkish contact who tells me "they stated to attack at 7 am I think, they are moving past the Atatürk Cultural Center, they are trying to clear out the place, they claim not the park itself, but their is gas and clashes all over the place". Running out into the morning sun I was surprised to find day-to-day life playing out quite normally around me, shops and small businesses were open as usual. The closer I got to the square the more I found signs of what was to come, old and young with Styrofoam masks, scarfs and other breathing protection, the occasional improvised flag. Suddenly I found myself turning a corner and facing the square, clouds of tear gas could be seen rising and I felt a tell tale sting in the back of my throat. Around 9.30 am I found Sıraselviler Cd blocked by riot police, a crowd of young men and women were throwing stones. I stopped to speak to them, a young woman spoke to me in English, she was quick to inform me that they were attacked first "we fight because we must defend ourselves, we are not wrong here", she frantically informed me that rubber bullets had been fired and advised me to take a different side street to enter Taksim Square. The fighting had subsided for a moment and I was able to weave through lines of riot police fairly easily in order to proceed to the area of the square immediately adjacent to the Atatürk Cultural Center. As with much of the square and Gezi Park this area has amassed a visually staggering array of improvised structures, crowds of people, flags and banners of countless different political parties and organisations, including those of Devrimci Anarsist Faaliyet, the Revolutionary Anarchist Initiative. As I climbed the steps toward Gezi Park I noticed that diggers were busied behind police lines removing some unprotected pieces of barricade, a sight curiously offset by the sight of groups of protesters cleaning up debris from the expanse of square between the steps and the police lines.

I spoke to various members of Devrimci Anarsist Faaliyet about the mornings events and the general situation, they were pleased to hear that I was writing a blog for Libcom and informed me that they have an English language text about the uprising, this shall be posted in the coming days. Hakeem from Devrimci Anarsist Faaliyet, speaking in an individual capacity, had the following to say to me: "We are not here just for the trees or the green, it's a fight against the terrorism of the state and these capitalist projects for the city". Hakeem went on to state that "for us we want a general strike, but this is not happening due to the reformists in the unions". We spoke briefly about the rioting and the use of violent self defense, Hakeem informed me that "there are some who try to hold back the revolutionary groups calling them agent provocateaurs", but also mentioned the presence of plained clothed police within the protests. Hakeem went on to emphasise a point that I have had reiterated from practically everyone I have spoken to, namely that the protests have brought together vast numbers of people with very different views, including both the previously apolitical and those from political organisations, as well as different ethnic and religious groups. Nevertheless, Hakeem seemed positive that, at least at the moment, this practical truce was holding up stating "we fight together with one slogan 'against fascism we are together'". Our conversations were called short by an impromptu meeting, but I have agreed to interview some of the comrades within the coming days.

The situation within Gezi Park seemed markedly different from those I had experienced closer to the police lines. The area is packed with tents, info points, kitchen and medical areas. I met with various contacts and comrades from both Turkey and various European countries at the park. I intend to carry out interviews with several of these comrades, though this in part depends on the manner and intensity in which the situation develops in the coming days. I discussed the tactics being employed by the police with a comrade and independent photo-journalist who stated "the police seem very calculated, moving in partially, then out again". I went on to discuss this issue with a Turkish anti-state communist comrade who originates near the Syrian boarder, lets call him Himmet. Himmet described the police tactics as "a clever strategy" the attack having been expected on each of the previous days following the police retreat from the square. This delay had lead, according to Himmet, to less people being present and those who were present being fatigued. He went on to confirm a rumour that currently circulating on the internet that two different kinds of tear gas are being used, a normal variety and also an 'orange' variety, erroneously termed 'agent orange' by some present. Himmet spoke to me about his fears about a militarisation of the situation resulting from both an intensification of state violence and its potential use of Islamist militias'. Sporadic fighting began again around 14:20 (or at least that was when I became aware of it), this appeared to subside again, but I have had reports that further skirmishes have broken out while I have been writing this. Everyone is talking about the importance of the mobilisation at the square tonight at 19:00 pm, the clock is ticking and I have to return. Depending on what happens this evening I intend to move tomorrow to one of the info points within the square itself. See you there.

--
Title image shows clearance of Taksim square morning off June 11th, source unknown.

See our Turkey index for more articles, reports and features.

Comments

Jacques Roux
Jun 11 2013 16:08

Thanks for these comments, be great to hear more on what you have heard from people on the ground regarding this mornings clearance of the square and alleged staging for Turkish press of plain clothes police as protestors attempting to "throw" petrol bombs at police.

http://www.hurriyet.com.tr/gundem/23478548.asp
http://www.radikal.com.tr/turkiye/o_toma_nasil_yandi-1137143
http://webtv.hurriyet.com.tr/20/50660/0/1/taksim-deki-bu-molotofcular-kim.aspx

The videos are really surreal of people fighting nothing....

Also for anyone unaware Tim Pool via Vice has a great live stream today, worth watching tonight:
http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/tim-pool-live-streaming-from-istanbul

Steven.
Jun 11 2013 19:22

Hi, yeah great blog, thanks for posting!

Please keep us updated!

Jacques Roux
Jun 11 2013 23:05
Jacques Roux
Jun 11 2013 23:23

I have no idea what the lasers are about but they look kinda cool


Steven.
Jun 12 2013 08:54
Jacques Roux wrote:
I have no idea what the lasers are about but they look kinda cool

They probably got the idea from this:

Dominic.
Jun 12 2013 17:23

Hi Everyone. A great deal has taken place in the last 24 hours, I have had trouble with getting access to the Internet all day, a hostel has kindly allowed me to use their computer, however I am not in a position to add further content to the blog due to both time constraints and the Turkish keyboard I am using. I shall submit a long post tomorrow (the 13th June 2013) covering the events of last night and tonight. The fıghting last night was very intense and very widespread and things could well be both larger and more violent this evening. Along with comrades from Germany I am in contact with some of the football ultras and I hope to provide some notes and quotes on their role in the movement. Other topics I am trying to gather further information on include the blockades of the cities motorways and the role of the improvised hospitals ın some of the hotels around Taksım Square. From this point onwards I intend to concentrate on particular topics rather than report everything I witness.

The following two lıvestream ıs worth a look for those who havent seen ıt yet.

http://www.livestream.com/revoltistanbul

I shall include a lıst of useful links along with tomorrows post.

Dominic.
Jun 12 2013 17:26

I have seen the lasers glinting through the gas and onto the buildings, I am fairly certain they are from the mounted water cannons.

Jacques Roux
Jun 12 2013 19:14

Thanks Dominic.

This video says protestors use lasers to block view of drivers of TOMA water canon vehicles so they cant aim http://ntdtv.org/en/news/world/middle-east-africa/2013-06-10/riot-police-disperse-protesters-with-water-cannon-in-ankara.html

Also seen reference of lasers being used to guide people throwing rocks etc. at the police in the dark.

This is al old article from the DM 2008 in Greece which shows protestors using lasers to dazzle police http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1094892/Greek-rioters-use-lasers-police-violence-boys-death-continues-second-week.html

OneKlart
Jun 12 2013 20:15

I agree with Jacques. If you look at the photos Jacques posted (particularly the second one) you can see the light is more spread out at the water cannon trucks than it is in the crowd. Unless there is a lens somewhere in the path of the light between the trucks and the crowd then the only way this can happen is if the light comes from a small source in the crowd and spreads out ("diverges") as it travels towards the filthtrucks. Source: I are a sciencetist.

Dominic: thanks for sharing your thoughts and information. Stay safe comrade.

Ed
Jun 12 2013 21:35

Hey Dominic, nice one for the write up and look forward to the next one (especially the stuff about the ultras!).. keep safe!

Dominic.
Jun 13 2013 01:15

Quite honestly I was guessing, so much was going on when I saw them that I didn't have a chance to ask anyone. I saw them at the same moments as I saw water cannons, however I also saw them on the opposite side of the park earlier in the day where there was not a heavy police presence so I think that the above explanation makes more sense.

Dominic.
Jun 14 2013 18:07

It's the evening so there is the nightly cavalcade outside, pots and pans and car horns etc.

Cooked
Jun 14 2013 19:45

About the lasers. They are sometimes used in sweden to confuse/blind drivers of copcars/ambulances/fire engines. Afaik the laser diffuses when it hits the windscreen and makes it very hard to see anything. Same thing if the cops wear visors. If they don't wear visors they get it straight in the eye... which has a similar effect.

edit: found a helpful video on youtube

se around 00:15

Jacques Roux
Jun 17 2013 16:17

Thanks Cooked - why do people in Sweden want to stop ambulance drivers?!

Found this on TOMA page on wikipedia, on fighting and disabling TOMA water cannon

Quote:
According to an activist in Cihangir featured on Occupy Wall Street, "the only way to stop a TOMA is to throw paint on its window so that the vehicle loses orientation ... To paralyze it, you either have to put a wet towel in its exhaust pipe or burn something under its engine or you and a dozen others can push it over. This kind of battle-info is circulating all over Turkey at the moment."

From here http://occupywallst.org/article/instanbul-is-burning/

This blog has interesting info on the effect Grand Theft Auto has had http://kotaku.com/turkish-rioters-find-common-ground-in-grand-theft-aut-511363570

Quote:
"Gta'da polis döven nesile sataştın" - has become an unofficial rallying cry for the movement (check out its Twitter usage), and it roughly translates to "You are messing with youth who grew up fighting police in GTA".
Cooked
Jun 17 2013 18:39
Jacques Roux wrote:
Thanks Cooked - why do people in Sweden want to stop ambulance drivers?!

Good question... it happens in plenty of places though. I think London has seen it's fair share of people calling for an ambulance only to attack the crew when they arrive. I'm not sure it's quite the same though since as far as i know only vehicles have been attacked in Sweden.

I wouldn't want to guess other peoples motives but I reccon the mechanisms are similar to the recent riots in Stockholm. It generally happens in neglected suburbs with various social problems. It's not like it happens constantly but there have been plenty of incidents. More often it's the police and the firetrucks that get attacked.

All my info on this is from the media as I've only been in Sweden for 10 months or so... have my source in mind.

Ghazanfar
Oct 14 2015 14:26

i have found the the best way to stream cnn live for free is http://www.livenewsbox.com/american/cnn-news-usa.html