Sleepless in Istanbul II

Bricks used for barricades in and around Taksim

More brief notes, quotes and interviews from inside the current uprising in Turkey from Istanbul.

The hours immediately following my last post on Tuesday 11 June felt to me like days than hours... and long days at that. This is possibly an opportunity to wax loquacious on temporality and revolt but for the time being I'll stick to humbly recounting a few observations from the events of Tuesday and Wednesday evening.

I arrived back at Taksim Square around 19:00 to discover the whole area totally filled with people, the sight of which, with the sun low in the sky, was awe inspiring. I met with some German friends and their Çarşi contacts and we together we climbed the steps to Gezi Park to watch the arrival of crowds of Çarşi ultras marching into the Square via Mete Cd. I think it is worth me taking a moment to give my impression of these proceedings. Such marches, carried out in or around the square, are not uncommon; over the last days I have seen small scale mobilisations from all the major groups participating in the movement.

However, in this instance the mobilisation was markedly different, or to be more precise, the manner in which the crowd reacted, and indeed interacted, with the ultras was markedly different. The crowds greeted them with massive eruptions of applaud and 'mexican waves', they chanted slogans and sang football songs. It would be obvious to compare the atmosphere to that of the terraces, however this would I feel be limiting, for it was my strong impression that this euphoria was articulating not only a shared passion for the various football clubs but was more directed at the ultras themselves, a celebration of their identity and their role in the uprising. This impression was reinforced by the range of different football scarfs visible amongst the crowd, of which I was able to identify Besiktas and Galatasaray.

At around this time I became separated from my German friend and his contacts and I was therefore left without anyone to translate for most of the following hours. As I moved away from the crowds and into the park the first clashes of the evening broke out (the first I witnessed anyway), the area of park around us was quickly filled with tear gas. I have two overlapping observations regarding the tear gas attacks, firstly I have repeatedly experienced gas being fired into extremely concentrated crowds, making the risk of a stampede a real possibility; in spite of this the crowds reactions to the attack have been hearteningly calm. To elaborate, each time I have been present in a crowd with tear gas falling I have witnessed people turning fully around waving their hands downwards and calling for calm, not, I might add stewards or anything comparable, but rather an ‘ordinary’ cross section of the crowds participants. Furthermore, the near aftermath of each volley of gas that I have experienced has been met by a vast spontaneous round of applause, followed by cheering and chanting. These reactions have an obvious impact on keeping people calm and maintaining moral, but they also appear to me to be a stirring act of defiance in the face of state brutality. An act of defiance that ties in closely with slogans such as: "cops, bastards, give us more teargas, it makes us high!" Speaking on Wednesday with a member of DISK trade union confederation, he linked these spontaneous reactions to a collective memory of the 1977 Taksim Square May Day massacre, in which "more people died from the stampede than the bullets".

Over the subsequent hours, I moved back and forth between the Taksim square side of Mete Cd and Cumhuriyet Cd, periodically retreating into the centre of Gezi Park when the gas became overwhelming. The street fighting and tear gas attacks were practically unceasing for the next six hours (or that was at least my impression), I was not in a situation to make detailed notes so I will not go into any further detail about them here, as this has already been much better covered elsewhere.

I will however make a few observations about my impressions of the way the crowds have been operating during these clashes. It is my impression that the majority of those facing the police, building barricades and engaging in different forms of street fighting are grouped into small informal friendship groups. With groups of people already personally associated meeting up, sharing information and pooling gas masks, surgical masks, hard hats and gloves. Along with this there is a presence of groups fighting together along organisational lines, be they the Marxist-Leninist party formations or the numerically smaller anarchist groups. These groups have a strong visual presence at the forefront of the clashes and are easily identifiable by their banners, flags and apparel (this is of course much more the case in terms of the vanguardist parties).

Nevertheless, I think the point has to be made that, as far as I have seen and as far as I have been informed, those fighting in organisational formations are greatly outnumbered by these more informal friendship groups. This appeared to be particularly the case as we moved further away from the square, having regrouped with a comrade we moved through the small side streets west of Cumhuriyet Cd and down along Istiklal Cd (an important high end shopping street). In all these areas, and again as we moved south in the direction of Sıraselviler Cd there was no obvious presence of any political party or organisation, rather the streets were packed with crowds of people, mainly, though by no means exclusively, young men, facing the police and reinforcing barricades. Furthermore, it was my impression that these patterns of crowd activity, namely self-organised spontaneous amalgamations of individuals and friendship groups, are much closer to the way in which the ultras act within the riots. It was my impression that the ultras organizations work primarily to bring groups of combative football supports to particular locations at particular times, but that when fighting breaks out they are operating without any sort of organisational coordination in much the same manner as the majority of the riots participants.

I met up with a Turkish German comrade and her friends from Istanbul and 1.45 am and she was able to translate the recent twitter feeds. She confirmed that rioting and street fighting had occurred in numerous locations throughout the city, particularly in the Gazi quarter. Furthermore on Tuesday evening their were various blockades along the main arterial roads in Istanbul, confirming the slogan "Everywhere is Taksim.” We finally set off home, taking a long route around via small side streets. Along the way we were guided by various passers by who informed us that small numbers of police had collected in some of the side roads and were arresting people returning from the squares as the fighting died down. I finally arrived at my hosts house around 3.30 am.

Before continuing, I would like to give my impressions of the self-organising manner in which medical provision was provided during the clashes on Tuesday night. There are various aspects to this. Throughout the skirmishes young men with stretchers were continually running towards the front lines to retrieve the injured, I didn't keep count of the amount of people I saw being ferried back in this manner but the numbers were shockingly high. Alongside the improvised stretcher bearers I also saw Ambulances driving to and from the sites of conflict, particularly along Mete Cd.

This may not seem particularly striking, however what was impressive about this was, on the one hand the speed and efficiency by which the stretcher bearers were able to transfer the injured and also the manner in which the crowd reacted to this, in places forming long lines of hundreds of people arm in arm in order to form out of human bodies clear passages for the injured. In a manner similar to the way in which the crowds reacted to the tear gas, each stretcher and each injured person was met with cheers and applaud. I cannot be certain how many people were taken to official hospitals and how many were taken to the various improvised medical centres around the square.

According to reports from friends and contacts the hospitals are increasingly considered unsafe as doctors are under pressure to report all those suspected as having received injuries at the protests to the police. This has lead not only to the increased use of the improvised medical centres within Gezi Park but also to the use of the major hotels adjacent to the park. In various hotels, including the Divan, Intercontinental and the Hayet, medical centres have been set up by doctors, medical students and hotel staff in order to treat injuries without the danger of subsequent arrest entailed by going to one of the major hospitals.

The following (Wednesday 12th June) my German comrades met once more with their contacts in Çarşi and carried out an interview. I won't mention any more on this at the moment, but I intend to assist in translating it at a later date. I then met up again with members of Devrimci Anarşist Faaliyet before meeting once more with various comrades, the contacts from Çarşi and a member of DISK trade union confederation. I made some notes on our conversations which I shall edit in tomorrow. The whole day was calm, however with the passing chimera of Erdogan's farcical meeting with 11 government chosen 'representatives' of the Gezi Park occupation an imminent attack on the park was widely expected. We moved to the square with our contacts around 22:00 and were again met with the site of tens of thousands filling the square and park. The mood appeared resilient, even upbeat. Relief was provided when an enormous grand piano was carried into the middle of the square, videos of which have since gone viral. I can't pretend I was terribly enthused by the sound of John Lennon's 'Imagine', especially after the third encore. However, thats only me, the impact on the crowds was nevertheless profoundly moving, here is the same pianist (Davide Martello) playing Bella Ciao some time later:

I spent the evening and early hours of the morning traipsing the park and nearby streets, the expected attack did not come. Throughout today (Thursday 13th June) the halcyon calm around the Park has continued, whilst Erdoğan's violent speechmaking to the AKP in Ankara continues. The police presence appears to me to be building up, particularly in the area around the Atatürk Cultural Center and this appears to be broadly confirmed by international news coverage. I shall now return to the park, I intend to try to travel out to Gazi or other area's if the fighting picks up there but this may prove impossible. As I speak the street outside has erupted with the sound of people banging pots and pans and honking their horns. Until then just remember: "Everywhere is Taksim! Everywhere is Resistance!"

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

Posted By

Jun 13 2013 18:30


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Chilli Sauce
Jun 14 2013 07:38

These are great write-ups D, please keep them coming.

each time I have been present in a crowd with tear gas falling I have witnessed people turning fully around waving their hands downwards and calling for calm, not, I might add stewards or anything comparable, but rather an ‘ordinary’ cross section of the crowds participants.

I wanted to just say that it's the same situation in Ankara. As soon as tear gas canisters are fired, the hands go up and you hear 'yavaş, yavaş' (slow, slow) said in a calm voice. And I really do think it makes a big difference. The chances for stampedes are very real in those situations and the pigs have no qualms about firing into tight a sidestreet that may have hundreds or even thousands of people in it.

It also really makes me appreciate just how shit the steward system is we have to put up with on the London marches. In general, participating in the protests here in Turkey have given me the practical experience to critique the sh*t out of the preplanned, top-down, and basically lifeless A-B marches given to us by the TUC.

Jun 14 2013 17:41

Thanks Chilli Sauce, yes It's probably pretty well established practice but it was my first experience of it.

Jun 14 2013 17:49

There is nothing in particular to report today, the situation in Gezi Park is calm. I am working on getting some good contacts in the Gazi quarter and some other things.

Jacques Roux
Jun 14 2013 18:35

Article about police complaining about conditions - by being tired, underfed and stressed they are likely to act more violently. Done on purpose by those in charge so as to manipulate the situation...

Remember watching a short film by a guy who spent Mayday or something in the back of a police van in london with a bunch of riot cops who sat in there all day and sweated and couldn't wait to get out and let out their boredom / frustration.

Jun 15 2013 16:39

The situation is still calm, but anything could happen tonight or tomorrow night. I have been securing a range of interviews, so depending on how events transpire there will be new posts up in the next two days.

Jun 15 2013 16:45

Labournet TV's video:

Also the comrades at Global Uprisings are working flat out on a documentary that I think will be very good: