More brief notes, quotes and interviews from inside the current uprising in Turkey from Istanbul.
The situation has dramatically escalated in the last 24 hours. I am sure that no one reading this needs me to inform them of that, turn on your television, check your twitter account. But I simply can't emphasise enough how profoundly the atmosphere has shifted in light of these events, things have entered a new phase. Time is very limited, so I shall therefore briefly recount the events I witnessed with a few observations and impressions.
In the days and nights following Tuesday 11 June, the situation around Gezi Park was largely calm. Each night there were mass mobilisations around Taksim square as well as around the old police station in the Gazi quarter. Yet all the while this was coupled with a creeping build up of police forces near the park. With Erdoğan’s ultimatum to evacuate the park by June 16 concerns were high every night that the government would attack, yet day after day all remained calm. Then they attacked. On Saturday evening while trying to write another post I was alerted via SMS and Twitter that police had swamped the park in a surprise attack, the news was met all around with the a now familiar sound; people everywhere banging together pots and pans. With little further information I ran toward Taksim square via Sıraselviler Caddesi. Finding the road blocked by riot police and guarded with a water cannon I moved towards Istiklal Cd, then further to Tarlabaşı Bulvarı, at each entry point towards the park I was met with the same site; phalanx of riot police, water cannons and armoured vehicles.
Yet, everywhere I was also met with the sight of thousands upon thousands of people flooding the streets, chanting and singing, raising fists and 'v' signs. I moved back towards Istiklal which was by that point tightly packed with people. The police began firing tear gas and dowsing the crowds with high pressured water. The effect was, more than anything I have yet seen, both horrific and inspiring. Under each attack people tried to move forward, throwing back gas canisters, before finally having to retreat their skin and faces burning, but each time this occurred new crowds of people stepped forward to fill their place. This rhythm continued along Istiklal for perhaps an hour, perhaps more, I have stopped making any real attempt to document the times of attacks so generalised are they. Eventually under heavy water cannon fire and use of percussion grenades the crowd was pushed back from the Taksim square side Istiklal Cd.
By this point I had, quite accidentally, ended up very close to the front. The force and speed with which the police moved forward took me completely off guard; It was at this point that I was first hit by the water cannon, which struck me, luckily, in the middle of my back pack. The force of the water cannon very nearly knocked me flat on the ground and trying to run up Meselik Sq I again found myself at the back, turning around I could see lines of police meters behind marching up. There appears to be a much greater presence of very large policemen in full riot gear. The gas was so heavy and the combined power of percussion grenades and water cannon fire so powerful and terrifying that I genuinely feared there would be a stampede. Running through the crowds towards Sıraselviler Cd the crowd was met by another heavy line of advancing police, they were extremely close and firing gas and percussion grenades directly into the crowd. A crowd in that moment consisting of screaming running people, men and women from the very young to the very old. Throughout this whole experience I was profoundly afraid. Words simply escape me in expressing the level of terror.
Retreated along the length of Sıraselviler Cd, everywhere people were building barricades and moving steadily forward towards Taksim. The water from the water cannons induced a pronounced burning sensation, though I did not experience any actual corrosion or the kind of pain widely reported by others effected (though I assume the composition of chemicals in different water cannons varies and the effects vary based on exposure). After showering, crying and changing my clothes at a friends apartment I spent most of the evening around Sıraselviler Caddesi. I wanted initially to try to move West and then North towards Harbiye to see the crowds that had gathered from those marching in from Gazi and other areas, but once outside again that seemed recklessly stupid, so I stayed in the area.
The streets all around were again packed with people building barricades and trying to push forwards towards the square. I have two observations on this, first the tactics being used by the crowds were offensive but almost entirely non-violent, some stones were thrown, but for the most part people proceeded by erecting barricades moving forward towards the square, throwing back tear gas canisters, then retreating under water cannon and volleys of tear gas, to be replaced by more crowds of people. I was struck by what I can only describe as the incredible bravery of those around me, meeting each volley of gas and the aftermath of each percussion grenade and water cannon blast with cheers and applaud, chanting and singing. This process continued long into the night, I tried to keep my distance from the front, but I saw innumerable people being carried back suffering gas inhalation and physical injuries. Scenes like this played out across the city. Major roads were blockaded, many hundreds of thousands flooded over the Bosporus and from the suburbs of Istanbul towards the centre. All the while reports flooded in of increasing state terror, attacks on hospitals and the international hotels functioning as clinics, mass arrests and beatings.
In the calmer days between Wednesday and Saturday I have been attempting to set up some interviews. Today, that is Sunday 16th June, I interviewed a non-party aligned Kurdish journalist. I shall attempt to write up this interview in the coming days. Even as I left for the interview at around 15:00 pm people were already gathering in the streets and during the interview clashes began again nearby along Istiklal Cd. As I returned along Sıraselviler Cd huge long lines of people were tearing up the paving stones, passing them along in great lines, building barricades. I returned to my friends apartment and tried again to write a post, but massive rioting broke out again along the street. Reports, of mass mobilisations across the city are coming in, along with increasingly horrific reports of state terror. Mass arrests and AKP gangs attacking neighbourhoods with knives, reports of the military being mobilised. I wish I could write more about all of this, particularly the events of this evening, I wish I could draw a clearer analysis on events and cross reference sources, but at the moment there just isn’t the time. I shall try to edit this post again tomorrow to improve the content.
Tomorrow, Monday 17 June there will be a 24 hour general strike and yet another new phase in the situation is likely to unfold. Every day everyone I speak to asks me whether people outside know what is going on here, they ask me whether people know what they are doing. I don’t know what those abroad can do, I do not know what the best tactics to be used are. But I do know that the sight of solidarity demonstrations across Europe, the sight of Brazilian protesters raising banners and slogans in solidarity with Turkey do filter through and they embolden and enliven peoples spirit of resistence. So keep it up, do more, do it better. I don’t know what to write anymore but I do know I need to go to sleep.