Istanbul Taksim Gezi Park is not about trees

 Istanbul Taksim Gezi Park #occupygezi

Istanbul's central area of Taksim is currently the scene of a fledging 'occupy movement' as people react to this morning's 5am teargassing of protestors opposed to unchecked gentrification in the historic city.

These are some cursory notes on whats been unfolding in Istanbul's central square Taksim and the small green area within in - Gezi Park, as of Friday 31 May there is still little English language coverage, the best place to look is #occupygezi or in Turkish #direngeziparkı which is trending worldwide.

Searching for English language news or analysis of whats currently taking place in central Istanbul is not particularly fruitful, most likely the first thing you will come across is this Tweet from the Reuters news agency:

Along with a lot of information in Turkish there are quite a few Tweets pointing at the environmental nature of the protest with tree-saving and maintaing green space in an over urbanised city as the key issues. This is only the tip of the iceberg.

The recent wave of violence released by Turkish police under the rule of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's AKP ([url=]Justice and Development Party[/url]) government including this morning's tear gassing of protestors is in fact a growing trend which many are worried as seeing Turkey slipping further and further into authoritarian rule. Since the annual May 1st demonstrations violence used against protestors has intensified in Istanbul as people have taken to the streets to decry the worrying trends they see developing in their country. This is reflected around the country with attacks on university students in Ankara coupled with a rapidly destabilising situation in the South East as the Turkish border areas are dragged into the Syrian conflict.

Back in Istanbul years of rapid neo-liberal gentrification under the guise of urban improvement has seen swathes of the city transformed. Most recently the go ahead was given for the third Istanbul bridge which is due to see the city transform into an enormous monster spreading up towards the black sea. Many commentators see this as the death knell for Istanbul. In the city centre the central working class neighbourhood of Tarlabasi is currently being decimated while projects such as Galataport and the redevelopment of the Kadikoy train station see historical parts of the city flattened and redevelopment as global investment opporutinites leading to soaring prices and the replacing of large parts of the city with shopping malls and luxury apartments.

In Taksim square, Gezi park (hardly a park by European standards but more a huge traffic island made of of concrete with several hundred trees sitting in its midst) sees itself as the latest victim of a government which deploys heritage as an argument for redevelopment as it drags from the dust the idea of an Ottoman Army Barracks which suddenly must be developed as a shopping mall, replacing one of the last remaining open spaces a city which is already struggling to breathe from congestion, traffic and over development. Scene of protests for the last few days this morning saw police attempt to clear protestors with swathes of tear gas, hospitalising some with an attack which started at 5am while many were sleeping in a makeshift camp. Protestors belongings and tents were burned and newly planted trees uprooted. At 8am this seemed to cease as opposition politicians seeking to make political capital declared opposition to the ongoing destruction and arrived among the bulldozers.

Meanwhile a gathering has been called Thursday night in Taksim square at 19:00.

This is a super rushed account of what's happening and doesn't take into account many of the factors which play into this complex story, hopefully by tomorrow some more English language accounts will be coming out of the city with better analysis.

As of Friday 31 May I am trying to update the story with links below.

Title image credit @ekizilkaya.

Posted By

Jacques Roux
May 30 2013 14:03


Attached files


Jun 3 2013 14:34

More news on the strike: KESK, the leftist public workers union, has declared that it will merge its one-day warning strike with the demonstrations, and the KESK general strike will take place on the 4th and the 5th, bringing a total of 240,000 public workers on a strike. Meanwhile, DISK, the leftist private sector union which said it can mobilize up to 150,000 workers, has announced that it will be organizing warning demonstrations, with the slogan: "we will stop life if the government doesn't stop attacking demonstrations", reading leaflets in workplaces tomorrow and starting to take action on the 5th. KESK apparently called for a general strike for all unions on the 5th and the 6th, and I've read that DISK, TMMOB (engineers and archithects union) and the TTB (doctors union) are warm on the idea. Calls are made on Turk-Is, the mainstream public workers union, to join in as well although I don't think anyone aside from the opposition unions within Turk-Is (the Syndical Power Unity Platform) will even participate in the demonstrations.

My personal opinion: KESK's limited general strike won't have a large effect, unless the 240,000 striking remain on strike after the 5th or the 6th, quite possibly against the wishes of KESK leaders themselves. The demonstrators probably will urge them to do so, which they well might - and if they do, other workers there might follow.

Additional news: more police brutality in Ankara, the Rector's Office of the Aegean University in Izmir has been occupied, and the demonstrators in Taksim gave the names of the Kurdish victims of the massacre in Roboski (Uludere) and the Turkish and Arab victims of Reyhanli to the trees - a meaningful demonstration of internationalism.

Jun 3 2013 19:45
While masses of protesters battled police armed with tear gas bombs in Istanbul Saturday, CNN-Turk chose instead to air an episode of Spy in the Huddle, a three-part documentary on penguins.

The broadcast poured lighter fluid on online accusations of a countrywide media blackout over riots in Taksim Square, where demonstrators protested a government initiative to turn a park into a shopping center and army barracks.

Jun 3 2013 20:37

It is true that many of the slogans and language used by a significant portion of the protestors on Saturday [June 1] were Kemalist-inspired, but perhaps more significant was the fact that the protests were not wholly dominated by a Kemalist narrative. This makes the current unrest qualitatively different from previous widespread protests organized in 2007 by the Kemalist elite against a plan by Erdogan to stand as president. These protests, in contrast, are constituted largely of young people without political affiliation, and therefore more akin to the forms of protest we've become accustomed to in recent years across Europe and the Occupy protests in America.

Most significantly however, for a country that is very patriarchal, women have made up a huge portion of the protestors. Thus, the one clear generalization that can be made of the protests with certainty is that they are pluralistic; reflecting many different segments of Turkish society. Turkish nationalists marching alongside Kurdish nationalists, liberals marching with socialists, straight and gay, men and women, environmentalists and trade unionists. And perhaps must strikingly of all—in a country passionately divided by which football team you support, the scene of rival football supporters coming to each other for protection in the face of police oppression.

Jun 4 2013 03:15

any news of similar protests in neighboring countries? do you think that might happen?

jef costello
Jun 4 2013 10:41

This is going crazy on facebook. Probably twitter too.
From what I have heard there has been widespread censorship and people are circulating images, videos, callouts via social media and instant messaging. In an extension of the solidarity you can see in a lot of the videos and images there are also contact details for doctors and medical help being widely circulated.

Solidarity with all comrades and protesters.

I've tried to give as much info as possible, but Turkish is difficult enough to translate as it is and I don't actually speak it. I'll fix any mistakes if you let me know.

A summary with lots of footage from Istanbul over the last few days. It shows a lot of what others have said, the nervous energy of first time protesters, the banging of pots, throwing tear gas back at cops. Some of the water cannons appear to be shooting clear water others green/yellow liquid, not sure if this is just dirty water or if it has tear gas in it.

Translation of a medical student telling people what to do at a makeshift hospital in a mosque.

“Guys, we are not at med school. We are not at a hospital. We have three equipment in our hands. Pain killers, deltolin [sic?], bandaid/gauze. To those who are short of breath, give deltolin. Painkillers to those in pain. Tend to the ones that require sutures. There are orthopedists here. Direct them and trauma victims to the center. Carry those that are short of breath together with the deltolin. Those with limited knowledge or those that are still in school. Interns, generalists will be gathered towards the right. Otherwise, we are creating chaos here and nothing else. You are excited and you want to help. But emergency treatment does not work like this. Especially in a mosque.. People with breathing problems this way, deltolin and the trauma victims under the lights. Wrap the wounds, stitch them up, provide pain killers. You cannot do anything else. Measuring blood pressure will not do any good. Listening to their breathing at length will not work, you cannot put a breathing tube, you cannot operate. This is a mosque. Do what is necessary and we will guide you. Other than that you are creating chaos. Stay calm and try to maintain 3-4 doctors by the patients. If you are not sure about something, seek guidance. Direct the patients to where they should go . There is nothing else you can do. “
— at Bezm-İ Alem Valide Sultan Camii - Dolmabahçe.

Police casually hosing people. I think this is a few days old.

Antakya, not sure if those are fireworks or volleys of tear gas grenades in the background.

Wish someone hadn't drawn all over this image

Sorry for the translations, I don't speak Turkish.
Why is the media silent.

Not sure of the translation but I think it means
They who dare to attack women cannot be prime minister.
[img]birine kol kanat gerenden başbakan olamaz[/img]

Injured people in Beşiktaş area of Istanbul.
Barricades in same area with truckers showing solidarity

The university students have set up medical support in the buildings but the whole area is being very heavily gassed. Viedo of uni entrance on Sunday

More from Besiktas, like in all the other videos the protesters aren't damaging cars or property (aside from building barricades) It is surreal to see them firing water cannons at a protesters who are retreating through a traffic jam.

Bursa 01:30 Sunday night I think

Central Ankara

People from Ankara and keçiören Marching through Ankara.



Police shooting teargas canister into protester's chest after he ignores tear gas grenades falling around him. (might have been something else like a beanbag round, tear gas grenades do more damage I think.)

Protests in Izmir

I cannot really work out what this means but the photo is from Tunali Caddesi one of the main streets of Ankara.
"Melih says this challenge. Tunali is like a beautiful experiment now. Let us Build a barrier from the stones for any 'dokunanlara' (I have no idea what that means.)

David in Atlanta
Jun 4 2013 10:52

The Irish SWP is circulating a statement on facebook from their Turkish comrades that states that the Kamalists came out after the police were forced away from the park. Anyone know if that's accurate?

jef costello
Jun 4 2013 11:11

Link? What is a Kamalist? In Turkey Ataturk is widely popular and pretty much every party claims to be maintaining his legacy as far as I remember. Criticising Ataturk is on a par with saying "fuck the troops" in the US.

Jun 4 2013 11:21

Workers in several working-class neighborhoods in Istanbul have taken to the streets, shouting general strike, general resistance.

Caiman del Barrio
Jun 4 2013 11:42
jef costello wrote:
Link? What is a Kamalist?

I'm assuming he means Kemalist ie Attaturk worshipper.

I was only in Turkey for a week & only met certain types of people (those in tourist industry/areas or young/educated, English-speaker, etc) but the tension between the conservative, ultra-religious rhetoric of Erdogan's party & the largely secular (or nominally/culturally 'Muslim') urban middle class was palpable. Erdogan seems deliberately provocative with his statements about alcohol, women, etc, almost an Ahmadinejad-esque populist, aiming at rural working classes.

Are there any obvious economic imperatives here? I mean, the issue seems to have gone way beyond that of the park & the mall development. Do the urban youth object to rampant developmentalism or do they see it as a necessary imperative to stimulate economic growth?

What role have the military played here? Don't they consider themselves defenders of the Turkish constitution & secularism? I see they've been supporting the police in public order in a couple of instances, what are the odds of them attempting a Tahrir-style manoeuvre if this continues to grow?

Jun 4 2013 12:18

The opposition within Turk-Is, the main public sector trade-union in Turkey, have declared that they will be going to work late, slowing work, demonstrating before going to work or afterwars, reading leaflets or striking.

David in Atlanta
Jun 4 2013 12:18

I don't normally link to SWP posts but under the circumstances.
Latest statement from the Turkish Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party

Jun 4 2013 12:54

You should not, the Turkish SWP is, in essence, a pro-government organization.

This just in: DISK and TMMOB (leftist public workers union and the engineers and architects union) will also be going on strike tomorow.

jef costello
Jun 4 2013 13:12

Avukatlar Çağlayan Adliyesi'nde Hükümeti protesto ediyor.

Lawyers are protesting Turkish Government at Caglayan Courthouse.

According to this blog 261 people have been arrested so far in Istanbul.

David: thanks for the link, I can see why you didn't post it.
Leo: I hope you are all well in Ankara.

Caiman del Barrio
Jun 4 2013 13:26

This article, from former UK ambassador & self-styled 'dissident' Craig Murray, on the latent Kemalist-fascism behind the movement, is doing the rounds. Seems quite contentious IMO, but it's the first attempt in English to analyse the strengths & weaknesses of the movt and its relationship with nationalism:

Jun 4 2013 13:48
Caiman del Barrio wrote:
This article, from former UK ambassador & self-styled 'dissident' Craig Murray, on the latent Kemalist-fascism behind the movement, is doing the rounds. Seems quite contentious IMO, but it's the first attempt in English to analyse the strengths & weaknesses of the movt and its relationship with nationalism:

That is moronic. Any close reading will reveal that it's based on no real information as to the actual composition of the movement over the last days, but a somewhat/very simplistic version of recent history which does the very thing the article starts by denouncing - i.e. implicitly divides sides up into black hats and white hats. I imagine the only reason it's "doing the rounds" is that it might feed into some lame Counterpunchy-style cold war politics which isn't happy until it can reduce any political unrest in the region into a sinister US/Zionist plot. None of the available evidence from the outside, or the accounts on here from people present in the events, points to a Grey Wolves/CHP/MHP/Deep State plot.

edit: which is not to say, of course, that the CHP/MHP/Army etc aren't currently busy trying to figure out how best to take advantage of the situation, but then so, naturally, are all the other political tendencies (other than AKP loyalists).

Chilli Sauce
Jun 4 2013 20:10

Re: military and police.

My understanding is that there's traditionally a distrust and a tension there. But I've also heard that the military has been called into certain protest hot-spots to help the cops quell the situation (could also be inflated Twitter rumors--there's a fuck ton of that in Turkey). That being said, Turkish police are incredibly militarized generally and as fucked up as things have gotten, the pigs could still get a lot more aggressive if they wanted to. I mean, it would involve mass causalities, but there's a history of that in Turkey unfortunately.

jef costello wrote:
Link? What is a Kamalist? In Turkey Ataturk is widely popular and pretty much every party claims to be maintaining his legacy as far as I remember. Criticising Ataturk is on a par with saying "fuck the troops" in the US.

I tried to go into that a little bit here, Jef.

General Strike
Jun 5 2013 06:04
Chilli Sauce wrote:
But I've also heard that the military has been called into certain protest hot-spots to help the cops quell the situation (could also be inflated Twitter rumors--there's a fuck ton of that in Turkey).

I've heard directly from a comrade in Ankara that this has been the case there. Seems it was mainly limited to clearing the main square and I haven't heard of it happening elsewhere. I have seen photos of soldiers handing out gas masks to protesters though.

Chilli Sauce
Jun 5 2013 07:32

Police arrest Twitter users, from the BBC:

state-run Anatolia news agency reported that police had arrested 25 people for tweeting "misinformation".

An official from the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), Ali Engin, told Anatolia they were being held for "calling on people to protest".

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that Twitter was a "menace" being used to spread "lies".

Jun 5 2013 08:38

Speaking of the "twitter menace"... still has two reporters in Istanbul tweeting nightly from Taksim on @wearerabble for anybody who doesn't have enough Turkish to follow most of #occupygezi.

Jun 5 2013 09:05

Also the latest longer piece by the Rabble journos:

(tear gas makes us high)

Fortress Taksim

Organised political parties and groups tend to converge around stalls inside and outside the park.
One of these is Revolutionary Anarchist Action (DAF), an anarchist-communist collective and the oldest organisation of that persuasion in Turkey. They distribute flyers and their Meydan newspaper, which has decent production specs for a free political paper.

One of DAF’s members in Istanbul is Özlem Arkun. She says that protestors have already won some victories in the last week. “The courts stopped demolition of Gezi Park so we can say the people have won here. But this is not just about the park, it is bigger. We know that in a few weeks the actions could be over, people could return to their work and this space could be empty. But this will still be an opportunity for a new start for the struggle. What has happened this week will have a lot of impact on the social memory. People realise what can be done if they move together.”

She argues changing the daily life of the people and the city is key for the continuation of the gains made in the Taksim Uprising, but also holds out hope that the general strike this week might broaden the reach of political radicalisation among workers. But she didn’t agree that the movement was middle-class – although it had its genesis there, it had become much more mixed as it expanded.

The Green Left party, a recent merger of the Green Party and the Labour and Democracy Party, also had a stall in Gezi Park. A member of their co-ordinating committee Ayse Öklem told us that although the Taksim Uprising also contained those who wanted the old Turkey, before the AKP, back – such as nationalists and Kemalists – the majority were looking for something new. The large number of those who consider themselves non-political owed, she said, to the issues of public space and individual rights, which transcended formal politics.

Ayse also felt the character of the police intervention in Gezi Park was pivotal to the development of the protests. “If, on the first day, the police had come and laughed at us I think we would have 2,000 or 3,000 people. But when they use violence more people will come, and every time such a movement will grow.”

Jun 5 2013 10:41

more stuff: (some interesting articles, mostly from a left-socialist or Mandelite background) (updated every few minutes)

jef costello
Jun 5 2013 14:14
Chilli Sauce wrote:
jef costello wrote:
Link? What is a Kamalist? In Turkey Ataturk is widely popular and pretty much every party claims to be maintaining his legacy as far as I remember. Criticising Ataturk is on a par with saying "fuck the troops" in the US.

I tried to go into that a little bit here, Jef.

Thanks, I was mostly interested in the context of the statement David referred to because it's a fairly meaningless description in Turkey.

Jun 5 2013 19:51

An article entitled 'Doctors, Workers and Teachers Stop Work' is reporting there being 850,000 strikers today:

Chilli Sauce
Jun 6 2013 08:10

It definitely happened, but I'm struggling to find any in-depth sources that covered it in English.

Jun 6 2013 08:40

several messages about strike rallies, etc. here: ... most Turkish leftwing orgs, unions, etc. have better things to do at the moment than updating or creating english-language pages

Jun 6 2013 12:07
iexist wrote:
Did the strike happen

Chilli Sauce wrote:
It definitely happened, but I'm struggling to find any in-depth sources that covered it in English.

This is the piece I linked to yesterday (I was on my phone, and it is only a phone link above):

The article is in Turkish, but just to sumarise the numbers, it says 850,000 in total.
DİSK: health, ports, electric-gas sector
KESK: education, health, municipal, and population and tax office workers 250,000
TTB Doctors 90,000
TMMB Engineers and architects 410,000

To be honest the last number seems unbelievable, which of course would reflect on the total.


Jun 6 2013 16:00

Well, it looks like the calming effect of having Erdogan out of the country and Arinc playing nice cop to his nasty, is over. After Erdogan talking tough to the media in Tunisia this morning (see FT "Turkish markets rattled as Erdogan digs in" - paywall, soz), Rabble reports big demo heading back to Taksim (this photo - - from approx 20 mins ago).

One of the reporters on R4 Today this morning used the amusing but winning analogy of an air of anticipation, like waiting for "daddy" to come home, and knowing he's gonna be angry. Well, it seems he's signalled the kind of confrontational attitude that got people out onto the streets in the first place - and it seems to be having the same effect.

I guess we see what transpires tonight when he gets back, summons his cabinet and demands to know why the cops aren't cracking heads. Or something...

edit: some stuff from that FT article, while I mention it:

The country’s main stock index, the BIST 100, fell more than 7 per cent before recovering to close 4.7 per cent down, while the lira weakened against both the dollar and the euro. The dollar climbed 0.1 per cent to Tl1.8925 while the euro gained 0.5 per cent to Tl2.4862.
The market fall in the wake of Mr Erdogan’s remarks took Turkey’s stock exchange to 20 per cent below its recent high, meeting the definition of a bear market.

also, FWIW

On Wednesday the Turkish writer and Nobel prizewinner Orhan Pamuk voiced his support for the demonstrators as he accused the Erdogan government of being “oppressive and authoritarian”.

Jun 6 2013 16:07

(Huh, I hadn't realised we could embed tweets here - sweet!) Rabble also helping to break a story about a SIPTU (largest Irish TU) press release about arrested KESK unionists in Istanbul

Jun 6 2013 19:32

got this from a friend inside Turkey:

''Dear friends, currently the mainstream global media is keeping an eye on Taksim, Istanbul. Thus, the police forces have backed off and they have remarkably scaled down the number of attacks against the protesters. However, in the meantime the police terror in Ankara as it is now is on a much larger scale compared to the very beginning of Istanbul attacks. Tear gas is relentlessly being thrown inside apartments, people are suppressed by plastic bullets, illegal custody and physical assault. Things have escalated quickly and the scale of these attacks are rapidly increasing. We need to make benefit of social media once again to show the world what's going on in Ankara right now. Here is a message from the people of Ankara: ''We have supported the protesters of Istanbul from the beginning, and now it is your turn to support us and the rest of Turkey. This resistance is clearly not limited to Istanbul, it has taken over all of the country. The festive atmosphere in Istanbul is just a trick to fool global media and soothe off the masses, yet nothing has been accomplished yet and things have just started actually.''