Bianet: Being a “student” in Gezi resistance

It was towards midnight when my students, once again, came to rescue me in the moment of devastation under the influence of gas; they found me sitting on the ground at the corner of a side-street… I had run out of Talcid solution and water.
I was enormously excited when Bianet’s editorial director, Haluk Kalafat, first talked about the idea of collecting and recording the experiences and memories of the people who actively participated in the Gezi Resistance, both on the streets and on the literary side of it.

Now being actualized, this project ushers in both a source of personal happiness and a new era of sharing-and-unity for all components of the resistance. Besides, it reveals the potential of providing sincere insights and unique answers created within the movement itself against various campaigns organized by government and its integrated media to smear, discredit and criminalize the Gezi resistance.

Within another space/time dimension

When I sat in front of the keyboard, I suddenly realized that I did not remember dates exactly although it was not long ago; so, except for the first few days, it is almost impossible to talk about specific dates and about what happened when during the resistance. Then, when I shared my hesitant state of mind with friends, I discovered that it was a common mood amongst other activists. So, it is beyond my personal experience; a characteristic of the collective activism and life story of the Gezi resistance.

First of all, we have all found ourselves in a different conception of space/time dimension during the course of the Gezi resistance. Each moment expanded to become an hour and hours felt like years. We did not need to check our watches most of the time but when we did, for the most part we could not believe what the hour and minute hand were telling us.

It was the same for the rhythm when we were in a collective struggle to enter Gezi Park and when a new life was established inside the park. When we imagined that quite a long time had passed, and we once again tried to return to the square after running away from police, yet, we saw that the hand and minute hand had only slightly moved, like the tiny movements of an ashamed guest.

Inside Gezi, however, time flew by so quickly that sometimes it was just our cell phones’ screen that was telling us that another day had already passed. Life was slipping by with songs and chitchats; everybody was trying to help accomplish this or that thing in solidarity.

It was not only our perception of time but also of space that went through a metamorphosis. The huge Taksim Square and side-streets of Beyoğlu, which we often passed through, looked as if reconstructed, rediscovered. The streets, where we knew all the cafes, bars, bookshops by heart, or the square, which we usually just passed by quickly, was not the place for jaunting anymore, but was now the place of resistance and cooperation . We visited many arcades in Beyoğlu for the first time in our lives to find shelter from gas canisters and plastic bullet. Instead of flowers and sweets, we were holding vinegar and solutions in our hands. Yet, these hospitable, ancient buildings excused and welcomed us anyway.

İstanbul University, Faculty of Political Sciences is in Gezi
The first day of the Gezi resistance, according to us, was actually the noon and the night following the morning when they had attacked the tents in the park. That whole day, we came together with all the different groups, and tried to figure out what we could do now and how we could prevent another attack in Gezi Park.

In the 30th of May, we, together with a group of academics from İstanbul University, Faculty of Political Sciences, made a call to our students. Our purpose was to go to Gezi Park, together with our students and administrative staff, in support of our friends who pitched their tents in Gezi Park. We gathered under a banner saying ‘Greetings from Beyazıt Square to Taksim Square: İstanbul University FPS Academic Members, Students and Staff are on Guard for Gezi Park’. My beloved friend and colleague, Hakan Güneş. made that banner with his own hands. It represented the colorful spirit of Gezi.

In front of the faculty building, we made short speeches to announce why we were supporting the activists who pitched their tents in Gezi Park. Then, we were on the road; we had our own food and water. We reached the nearest point to Gezi Park by bus. We walked from the tram stop in Taksim to the park, chanting slogans along with our students whose number was increasing continually. Our students, with their eyes full of excitement and hearts full of struggle… together with us, they saluted the square and climbed the steps of Gezi without hesitation. When we entered the park, we were acclaimed and welcomed with slogans, just like other groups who came to show their support. It was like a climate that boisterously rouses the skies of Taksim and breeds the spirit of resistance that we will witness in the coming days. I vaguely remember what I said when I was holding the megaphone in my hand; I just remember myself saying that we came from Beyazıt Square, where people paid a high price in the past for showing their support for Mayday Square. Then, we gave the megaphone to one of our students, who had never been in a protest before. We witnessed our student’s sincerity mixed with astonishment, excitement and confidence. We were caught in an atmosphere of friendship and solidarity that goes beyond academic borders. I was proud not only as a teacher but also as a beloved friend of my students. Then, we entered the park. Gezi Park was already quite crowded. We found a place for ourselves and began chatting with people… sharing our cigarettes, water, and words in the shadow of a tree. Then, there was an enormous rumble; it was as if the revolution had taken place and the most welcome revolutionist party cortege was entering the park. Then, we realized that it was neither party, nor syndicate members but ÇARŞI that was coming to give Gezi a helping hand. We were watching ÇARŞI with acclamations and excitement. I admit that I have never watched a football fan group with such admiration before, and my admiration for them grew more and more during the course of the resistance.

After settling in Gezi, I found myself discussing with my friends, whom I hadn’t seen for ages, about how things were going to be from now on. The majority of people were expecting another police intervention. As the night grew, both the number of supporters and the energy in the park increased. Songs and slogans accompanied the speeches made from the desk. It seems that we were sharing the same feeling in our hearts; it was a delayed celebration of Mayday 2013 in Taksim. We were a giant spirit with all sorts of colorful banners and flags in Gezi against the imposition of a government that considered squares as the emplacement of its own power. The sense of humor, which was going to stamp its mark on the resistance, had already brought its smiling confetti, ironic balloons, and firecrackers of creativity. We were all on the side of freedom, ecology and polyphony. It was about 3 am when I left Gezi with my pockets full of the excitement coming from the park, and to be honest, I was hardly thinking of the police intervention, which was going to take place in a couple of hours. In the morning, when I got the news in a phone call, I don’t even remember how I got up and set forth.

And the big resistance begins

gezi-direnisi1May 31st was the date of the most spectacular resistance of the recent past, let alone our personal histories. When we reached Gümüşsuyu from the ridges of Kabataş, where the smell of the gas already reeked in the streets, we faced the merciless and relentless police intervention. The only thing to do was to beat the police in the contest of how well we know our city. We tried to reach Kazancı following the side-streets of Cihangir but tear gas clouds were flowing downwards from the top of the hill . I followed the way through the back of the German Hospital and arrived at Sıraselviler; there I saw a huge crowd was gathered and I started to push towards the square with them. My friends, who had come out with me, were trying different routes to arrive at Taksim Square and Gezi Park. I don’t know how long it took, but we kept resisting without retreating. There were so many gas canisters so that even the German Hospital was affected at some point. I came across Ahmet İnsel when I was trying to get to Parmakkapı. It was such an inexplicable joy to say hello to a friend amongst such turmoil. Just after that, a rain of gas canisters began. Everybody was helping each other as much as possible while we were running away in different directions. We were also trying to communicate using social media and letting each other know the safe routes that could be followed.

We finally reached İstiklal Street towards the evening and joined the magnificent crowd gathered there. I don’t know if Beyoğlu had ever met with such a wave of opposition, but I was witnessing such a diverse crowd for the first time in my long personal history of struggle. Being united as a single body, we pushed for the Square tens of times and each time we were pushed back with pressurized water and tear gas. However, nobody was giving up; on the contrary, the crowd was still growing, while the people were becoming more persistent and their anger was increasing. The police wanted to intimidate the people with stun grenades while the people were making an unbelievable noise by hitting pull-down shutters. The crowd meant to say ‘we are not afraid; you should respect our determination and solidarity, and hence you should step back’.

I don’t know how many times I communicated with or came across my students, but each meeting is in my memory as a different story. How are you, teacher; the intervention is getting fierce in that place; we have a wounded person here; we took shelter there… The messages were coming one after another. I was extremely worried for my students after receiving some of these messages; sometimes I was really getting concerned. However, all of them, without exception, made me feel happy to see our friendship growing beyond the borders of the teacher-student relationship. It was towards midnight when my students, once again, came to rescue me in the moment of devastation under the influence of gas; they found me sitting on the ground at the corner of a side-street. I had run out of Talcid solution and water; they were generous enough to share what they had with me.

In the dawn of June 1, I came across two of my students, who were freshmen, in Ayhan Işık Street. I would not even have recognized them as my students, if they had not told me. One of them gave me her ringing phone and said, “Teacher, my parents would not believe me; please, can you tell them you are our teacher and we are just fine.” It was a worried voice on the phone, yelling out her daughter’s name. I said, “I am their teacher, they are fine.” The mother yelled at me, “Please tell them to go back to the dormitory.” I was only able to say that they should be proud of their kids. Then, I tried to become their teacher and I wanted to tell them to go back to the dormitory in a didactic voice. However, I did not have the right to say such a thing in that climate. Considering what I had been experiencing all the time, I was also a student and the pleasure of being a student was beyond all kinds of institutional identities.

1st of June was just a carbon copy of the day before, until the moment we entered Gezi Park. Yet, I have to mention what happened a short while before to give you the full picture. We found shelter in the UCTEA (Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects) building under severe police blockade on the 1st of June.

UCTEA was operating as a coordination center. We tried to confirm information coming from various sources and after checking its validity, announced it using our own internet accounts. We were pushed back by the police attack when we were on the streets moving towards Gezi to make a press release at 3 pm. We carried an activist into the UCTEA building. He was wounded in his leg by a gas canister and it was bleeding. The first aid was performed in a room which had been turned into an infirmary. Then the police leaned against the closed shutters of UCTEAin an attempt to enter the building and we established a barricade. There was an worried atmosphere inside the building.

We went out again after learning that the police had pulled back, and we headed towards Gezi Park. It is difficult to find words to explain our excitement when we got to the square. That excitement, however, was replaced with panic as we faced once again a dense gas cloud when we were climbing the steps of Gezi. When we entered the park, the crowd was so angry after the two-day long violence that nobody hesitated to protest against the police. As the police replied with gas canisters we could not breathe for a long time in Gezi Park. It was only after the pulling back of the police force that we could take some breath. The square, Gezi Park and side-streets of İstiklal became a festive place in the evening of June 1st. Beyoğlu was transformed into a huge tribute and the activists of the Gezi resistance were celebrating their victory together with all sorts of supporters.

The Birth of a New Generation in Gezi

It is best to leave what happened in Gezi Park after 1st of June for another article. Yet, I can mention that we had experienced an adventure all the way from the FPS forum in Gezi to Bostan, from the library to the front of ‘our commons’ tent; we discovered the spark of a new life all together. Gezi Amphitheater, that we created in Gezi, brought together a large number of people including our freshmen and graduates. We have all realized that a new generation was born in the Gezi Park resistance and in the Gezi commune. And this is not only a generation of the 90′s; people of all ages, who wrote this history, established strong, deep and unbreakable bonds with each other. These are the bonds that will carry us to a more free and democratic future.

Güven Gürkan Öztan
3 August 2013



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