I just came back from an event in Toronto to support people in Turkey, who tried to protect trees in a park soon to be demolished and replaced by a shopping mall. (Istanbul has close to 100 shopping malls by now.) Citizens who care about nature were against the project from the beginning, but authorities choose to ignore them, as it is often the case in Turkey. When the bulldozers of the municipality invaded the park in the night of May 27, a few people reacted spontaneously and gathered in the park for a sit-in. This was a nonviolent action, I emphasize nonviolent!
Riot police was sent to the area, in numbers far beyond the numbers of the protesters. People wanted to see the court order to rip out the trees, which could not be presented (it still cannot be!). Police and bulldozers did not take any further action at that time. The following dawn, while occupiers were sleeping in their tents, police attacked them without warning, water cannoned them and burned some of the tents with everything in it. This is how it all began.
These people were unarmed, nonviolent citizens. They did not say or do anything to provoke the police!
Police stopped the attack for that day. Protesters continued to occupy the park.
Next dawn, same thing happened again. Police attacked them with more violence and brutality. They started to use pepper spray and tear gas. Water cannons continued. A Member of the Parliament, Sırrı Süreyya Önder, stopped the bulldozers by using his own body as a shield. He demanded to see the authorization to demolish the park, it could not be produced! Bulldozers stopped again. By that time, some of the trees were already ripped out. Later that day, Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Mayor Topbaş and Istanbul Governor Mutlu held a press conference: Topbaş claimed that no trees had been ripped out, no shopping mall was to be built, that it was just a measure to broaden the pavement and the trees would be planted elsewhere. (Actual pictures, already on social media, proved him wrong!) Mutlu assured that the police did not use disproportionate force, using water cannons were always the measure of first choice in such situations. (Again, pictures on social media were proving him wrong!)
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Erdoğan was speaking at a meeting which was covered by the mainstream media. His language did not show any sign of reconciliation, on the contrary, he preferred the language of hatred, which Turkish citizens are very familiar of. Erdoğan considers this type of language as “the art of public speaking”. He blamed the leader of the opposition Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and held him responsible for what was going on. Erdoğan was taking the situation very lightly, saying that “he doesn’t care about a bunch of people who are making a fuss around a few trees.” He continued his speech with a clear statement that he is determined to continue the project, no matter what. And he rounded it all up with a threat to the opposition party which had a meeting scheduled for June 1 (which later on was cancelled and all party supporters were invited to join the resistance in Taksim, by then called the Gezi Resistance or #occupygezi) : “For each hundred thousand of you, I’ll bring a million of my people. Don’t make me do this!” These words obviously intimidated the public in general.
Meanwhile, activists remained calm, they read their books, worked on their projects on site, shared their food and chatted. Again, no weapons of any kind, no violent act whatsoever. They even wanted to share their food with the police and asked their commandant for permission to do so. Just at that moment, police fired a water cannon, destroyed their food and everything around them.
From that moment on, police did not stop! Domestic mainstream media did not cover and broadcast any of this. They still don’t! Rumor was that the mainstream media was advised not to broadcast any of this, because Mr. Prime Minister wasn’t comfortable watching it. Social media was the only source of sharing information. It was used wisely and responsibly by the activists, no call for violence, just spreading the word about the current situation. Even in its plain and simple description, the situation was terrifying.
The attacks continued the whole day. Then something incredible happened: Citizens throughout Istanbul, which is home to over 12 Million people, were alarmed by pictures and information which was shared on social media. In the night, people started to show their support to the little group of occupants, they gathered in their own neighborhoods, made noise with pans and pots. Police attack was continuing. Then, members of fan clubs of rival soccer teams, who would never come side by side otherwise, gathered and marched to Taksim Square. Police attacked them as well. But worst-enemies-forever type of fans were determined to stay united, they supported each other in camaraderie like never before (and maybe never again!). Citizens witnessed this kind of sincere support and could not resist joining them. A group of several thousand people marched from the Asian side of Istanbul to the European side of the city. This was a march over almost 15 km, they marched until dawn. These unarmed, nonviolent people were stopped by the police at several points on the European side, with tear gas and water cannons. No explanation, no justification for this kind of action! Surprisingly, people managed to stay calm and avoided violence. Social Media was still the main source of information.
Tension was growing. It was like a bushfire: Many other cities joined the #occupygezi movement. People gathered in city centers to show their solidarity. No weapons, no violence! In most cities, citizens were exposed to excessive police force: Massive use of tear gas, pepper spray, water cannons. This worsened the situation. However, police chiefs in some cities chose not to intervene with this peaceful event. Guess what: Nothing happened, people sit together for some time, sang and shared pictures of the gathering using the hash-tag #occupygezi on twitter. Then they went back to their homes!
Police still attacks people in many cities of Turkey, the capital Ankara, Adana, İzmir, Bursa, Mersin, Antakya …
At some point on Saturday, the center of attention, Gezi Park in Taksim, was allegedly cleared by the police. People were gathering again in the park. At that moment, police started attacking them again! Several times! They were trapped! When they wanted to flee from the park, police followed them on the streets, beat them up, pepper sprayed them, shot them (yes, police indeed aimed at their bodies) with tear gas capsules!
This continues 4 day in a row now! No word from Prime Minister Erdoğan or President Gül! Just like all these is happening in another country. In fact, in that case most probably they would be very talkative and eager to comment.
How do I know about all these:
1. Through social media, can’t help but follow twitter and facebook. Follow #occupygezi for more information in English.
2. My brother Yunus Günçe, an actor, comedian and showman, has become inevitably a part of the movement, as many other celebrities in Turkey. He is an eyewitness of the horror.
3. Through international media, which, contrary to the Turkish media, broadcasts live from Istanbul and other cities.
to be continued…