The course of the protests that started as a demonstration against the construction of a shopping mall in place of Gezi Park under the guise of building a replica of former Ottoman military barracks influenced people in different ways. As a Kaldıraç (a monthly revolutionary socialist magazine) poster hanging in Taksim says, “Now everyone has a resistance, solidarity and violence story to tell”. Those who lived through the Gezi Resistance in Ankara and Istanbul recounted their experiences for BirGün (Turkish newspaper). I, on the other hand, did not write what I have been through but wrote what I have witnessed.
When I arrived at Taksim on the day of May 31st, around noon, the police had already encircled the protesters and were beating them violently as if trying to intentionally injure or even kill them. We resisted till 11.00 pm and had to retreat all the way down to Tünel. However, thanks to the determination of the people and their relentless march despite the tear gas and sound bombs, we managed to make it to the square again. Meanwhile, those who saw the events on TV or followed it on the Internet were filling up the square. When the police realized that the sound bombs and tear gas weren’t no longer effective, they started aiming the bombs directly at our faces. After a while, first a friend of mine got hit on the leg and I got shot on the collarbone. People whom I had never seen in my life helped me. Those who live in Istanbul would know this: In this city, where one third of the total population lives, every morning people struggle to go to work and live a hectic live where you are always on the move. Nobody thinks of other people, it is commonplace to get into fist fights while trying to get on the bus. However, throughout the resistance, people looked out for one another as if they were siblings, despite not knowing one another’s names or hometowns. We are living in such beautiful times that are worth all those meaningless years.
MURAT İLTİR: “POLICE VIOLENCE DOESN’T SURPRISE US ANYMORE”
On Sunday, June 2nd, we got tear gassed starting from the morning till the night. It seemed as if the police had gone mad. They were attacking even those who were taking shelter at bus stops by firing at the bus stop windows. Towards the evening, a civilian vehicle appeared out of nowhere and intentionally drove over people. With that incident police violence escalated too. They started aiming gas bombs and rubber bullets directly at people’s heads. At some point during the attack, I saw a pepper gas canister coming my way and out of reflex raised my arm to protect my chest. It hit me on my arm. I don’t even remember how we managed to find a side road and ran away from those streets where the police violence was out of control. Police brutality doesn’t surprise me anymore, because lately we have been exposed to it continuously In a protest at Cebeci right after the Reyhanli bombings, a friend got shot in the head by a teargas canister. Police persistently kept tear gassing a protester who got hit by a car. Despite what the police think, the physical and psychological assaults of the Police have made us even more undaunted in terms of resisting.
MURAT EKŞİOĞLU: “ POLICE BROUGHT IT ALL TO THIS POINT”
On Saturday morning, May 31st, I wanted to go Taksim around 5.00 am to show solidarity with the protesters who were severely getting beaten up by the police. However, I was assaulted by the police when there was no conflict or crowd gathered to require police intervention. A policeman fired at me for no reason and I got hit by a pepper gas canister in the head. I wasn’t doing anything. I almost lost my life without even making it to Taksim Square. It is the police who brought these events to this point. For the last week, most of us have been trying to keep going despite getting only 2 or 3 hours of sleep, because we know that somewhere the police is tormenting people.
Gezi Park has become a symbol now, but it wasn’t the people in it who turned it into a symbol. It was the Prime Minister’s adamant, inconsiderate statements that turned Gezi Park into a symbol. The PM insisted on saying, “This is what I want. I will rebuild this place the way I want. Whatever I say will happen.” Before, I didn’t really have an opinion on these issues. I wasn’t a protester type of man. If I wanted to protest against a building, I would simply refuse to go there. If I got angry at a corporation, I wouldn’t buy stuff from there. But, this is my country and I am obviously not going leave my country. The tear gas canister that hit me in the head could have killed me just because I refused to stay home when people were being tormented by the police…
THE TRAGEDY OF THE OBSERVER
During the events, neither did I got injured like Ekim Çiftçi or Murat İlter nor did I come very close to death like Murat Ekşioğlu. I inhaled as much pepper spray as everyone. I felt the uncovered part of my skin burn. Gas and sound bombs fell next to my feet many times. There was also an incident where a protester, with whom I was side by side waiting at the corner of a street, got hit on the helmet by a gas canister. I was shocked as much as he was. However, what I am going to tell you is not about the prices paid while resisting but about the estrangement and unification I experienced on the night of June 11th, which was a Tuesday.
That night, Taksim Square -where civil unrests started similar to the Occupy Wall Street movement but built up more independently and progressed by means of a construction through collective wisdom- was more like Cairo’s Tahrir Square rather than New York’s Zuccotti Park, because of the excessive police brutality and the hubris of the government. On the same day, police intervention had started in the morning; hence it didn’t take them too long to attack the protesters who gathered at the square to listen to the press release that Taksim Solidarity Platform was going to make at 7.00 pm. After the overture that started with gas bombs that made even those who had been making fun of pepper spray (“I got used to the pepper spray, it doesn’t affect me as much anymore!”) severely choke on gas, the police orchestra went on to crescendo. The crowds accompanied this music with their shouting. After the gas bombarding that lasted for about two hours, police entered Gezi Park.
I still can’t remember what was going through my mind as I watched from a distance how the police destroyed the tents, stands, flags and everything we had built together for Gezi Park and watched flourish for days as if it were an being of flesh and soul. Of course, it didn’t take too long fo the police to direct their violence and hatred from banners, flags, tents and posters (in other words thoughts and opinions) to a living target. When the police found a Kurdish teenager and started kicking him in a circle, I couldn’t keep silent at the sight of this violence I had been photographing and intervened. I almost got punched by the police when I said, “Enough! What are you doing!” to the policeman who was about to join the beating festival by kicking the teenager in the face. Police realized that the press was everywhere, so they took their victim away so that they wouldn’t give away any visual evidence of unjust violence. They probably took him to another place where the torture would continue.
Following the first crackdown, protesters first retreated to the park and then to Harbiye Avenue, from where they again marched back to the square and stood in front of the police. Later on, this crowd got driven into side streets leading to Taksim thanks to the water cannons. Meanwhile, a group of policemen were at the entrance of Gezi Park throwing tear gas and sound bombs to the thousands of people in the park. At the same time, another group of 40 policemen was heading to Istiklal Avenue following the protesters who ran towards that direction. I couldn’t stand watching what was happening at the park, so I decided to follow that group. Riot police gassed every corner of the avenue and forced the crowd into the side streets. After taking shifts at the side streets, they once again entered the avenue. Apparently some of them hadn’t found the intervention enough, because they started shouting, swearing at the protesters who were 100 meters away from them as well as openly threatening the protesters with their batons. In response, the resisters were waving the flags that they were still holding in their hands. This response infuriated a policeman, he took out his grenade gun shouting, “Now you will see!” and fired the tear gas canister after taking a couple of minutes to aim the gun at one of the protesters. From where I was standing, I didn’t have the chance to see whether the canister found the target, but the enthusiasm of the policeman, the greeting of his friends and his screams, “Yes! Hooray!” were self-explanatory.
What affected me more than this unrestrained violence was what laborers who work at Istiklal’s entrance had gone through. Employees of one of the diners at that area that had pulled its shutters down because of the police violence that started at 8.30 pm, wanted to see if it was safe to run away from that war zone towards midnight. I noticed the workers’ attempt at leaving the diner as I was half-heartedly walking towards the square and watching the policemen who were celebrating their victory in a not so humble way. When a group of five men and women went out to the street and were about to leave the police blockade to reach one of the streets that lead to Tarlabaşı, the police appeared out of nowhere and stopped these people.
A policeman, whose body language and gestures gave the impression that he wouldn’t hesitate to kill someone, pointed his gas grenade-gun at the group and approached. He put the gun against his head and asked him who he was. The fear and hopelessness felt in that reply got ahead of what he actually said. He was trying to explain that he works at a diner at Istiklal and they got stuck inside because of the events. However, the policeman’s gun was still against his head. I was watching what was happening in horror. A few minutes after, another policeman came and confirmed what the worker had said. The worker had somehow become the spokesman for the group. When the police officer kicked him, but vulgarly told him that they were free to go, it was probably the happiest moment of their night.
These were some of what I witnessed in that long dark night as I was recording the police brutality with a my camera in hand, my gas mask and helmet on. Of course it is not easy for me to recount all that I saw at Beşiktaş and Gümüşsuyu for days: those talks I had with my friends from Ankara who were fighting to stay alive, incidents in Muğla, İzmir, Hatay and Malatya, which I didn’t witness myself but constantly heard about. Long story short, this was one of those nights that I lived through, where our desire to create a government with a common democratic understanding and our trust in one another augmented once again. This was one of those nights among many others when our feelings towards police forces, government and its polarizing politics turned into disgust. On the night of June11th, just like a camera that captures everything around it, I recorded all the brutality within my sight of range. The cost of witnessing all that violence for me was chronic insomnia.
Source: BirGün Pazar.
16 June 2013
This post is also available in: Turkish