My dear friend, Gokcen, has thrown herself into the middle of all the action of the recent Turkish resistance. She so kindly shared her inside view of all the protests and aftermath, and after reading and reviewing her stories, I was in tears. I am honored and humbled that she wrote this piece for Wandering Souldier, as it is an example of a firsthand account of international affairs from a local as opposed to a newscaster reporting from 3,000 miles away with inaccurate information. I hope you are as moved as I am by this piece. All photos and words are her own.
Give us a brief overview of the situation in Turkey right now.
Demolishing of the Gezi Park was the last drop after limitations on alcohol consumption, bans on abortion, restrictions for the celebration of national holidays, prohibitions to do demonstrations in Taksim square, destruction of the green areas and forests under the name of “urban development”, demolishing of the 90-year-old Emek Movie Theater, closure of the National Theaters for not being “profitable” enough and so on.
On May 31, after police’s excessive force towards the peaceful protestors who were camping in Gezi Park for three days, the demonstrations spread to 77 cities. On the evening of June 1, the police decided to step back, and Gezi Park and Taksim Square were occupied by the demonstrators for ten days.
After ten days, the first police interference occurred on June 11, and the last one was on June 15. Both were not different than a war zone, but on June 15 police brutality reached its highest level. The police got in the park with tear gas bombs, even though there were kids inside, destroyed all the tents, attacked the infirmaries, and even collected the gas masks and protective glasses of the people.
Right now, the park is under the control of police, and they don’t let anyone get in. The government offered a referendum, but the protestors reject that because, since the election system is also under their control, people don’t believe that it is going to be a fair voting. Secondly, having green areas which belong to the people is not an issue to question. It is a human right.
In the meantime, the Prime Minister’s angry and bumptious manner continues. He keeps calling protestors “looters”, “terrorists”, “vandals”, and accusing them about the 70 million dollar damage without thinking about 4 dead people, more than 7,000 injured people (59 of them had the risk of death), 11 people who lost their eyes, and 400 people, including doctors and lawyers, who were taken into custody.
Those people just wanted to be heard. Now we are witnessing how a peaceful demonstration, which started with 50 people, can turn into a violent mass by government’s failure crisis management and police’s excessive force.
What kind of positive outcomes do you hope come from this situation?
As you may know, this is not only about a park anymore. People just want their voices to be heard. According to the last election, the current government received 46.6% of the votes, but the Prime Minister has to understand that the Turkish Republic does not only contain his supporters. I am not sure if we will able to get the park back, stop most of the demolishing of green areas, which are under the name of urban development, or have more respect to our human rights, but I know one thing: We already started to get positive outcomes. First of all, this upheaval is unique because it was not organized by a leader, political party or association. It is purely organic and rose from the people’s free will. Secondly, it showed both ruling and oppositional parties that the people are the ones who are sovereign, and they shouldn’t underestimate the belief of any human being or the power of social media. Thirdly, people are more united than they’ve ever been before. Before the resistance, you could find football terrorism, racial and religious discrimination in this country by “nature love” and then the hunger for human rights and democracy broke all the prejudice. People were resisting shoulder to shoulder regardless of the team they support, sexual preference, or ethnic identity. Believe me, if super masculine Turkish men are applauding the gay parade in Taksim Square, something is definitely a positive outcome of this resistance.
And lastly, people’s awareness about the political decisions has increased. They now know that the real discriminators are the politics themselves and their lap dog media. The resisters, whose age average is 28, are not the zombie generation of computers, smart phones, and shopping malls anymore.
You’ve been photographing a lot of what is going on that people in other countries may never see on the news. What kind of action are you seeing on a daily basis? What kind of safety measures are in place for the people who have taken an active role in the resistance?
Right now, all I can see is police forces everywhere. The Gezi Park is closed to people, but besides that, the helpful and thoughtful manner of people towards each other. There are also different forums in various parks of the city. People, especially young people, gather there and discuss what they can do after this level. All the ideas are open to discussion. Hundreds of people listen each other with great respect. Notes are taken from every forum, prominent opinions of hatred and disrespect towards the government supporters should come to an end, and a way to compromise should be found.
I must say no safety measures were taken for the resisters. Even Red Crescent showed no support during the protests. In Gezi Park and in many places of the country, people created a world in which money is invalid but clean conscience is the only thing that matters. Before the police destroyed it on the evening of June 15, Gezi Park was a place where people could donate food, and find things like medicine for health needs, tourniquets etc., drinks (not alcohol), helmets, protective glasses, tents and books (they built a library). There were volunteer doctors and lawyers, in case of a police attack. Most of them also were taken into custody because of their help to the resisters.
I mean who can talk about safety measures, if there is a violent police force using 130,000 tear gas capsules, which are heavier than a coca-cola can, and targeting people’s bodies directly (supposed to shoot at a 45 degree angle at least). People ended up losing their eyes, organs, and had brain traumas.
What made you decide to jump in the middle of all the action?
First of all, I am a new graduate of the Global Journalism program so it won’t be wrong if I say “It is my job to jump in the middle of all action.” Since mainstream media was busy showing a penguin documentary, when all the city was on fire and social media could have many misinformation, I needed my own sources, pictures etc. People were making history in the streets, and I should be a part of it.
Secondly, during that time, even sleeping was such a guilt. All my generation and my friends were out there. It was impossible to sit at home and do nothing. After doctors and lawyers, journalism could be the third most important occupation that people need. The fight for freedom and human rights continues everywhere. Either it is on the streets, on the tip of my pen, or inside of my camera.
The whole thing is chaotic, but since you’ve been documenting it, what’s the craziest experience you’ve witnessed?
On the night of June 1, my cellphone rang, and it was my boyfriend but the voice was someone else. He was telling me, “We are in the ambulance and going to the hospital. He has been shot by the police with a gas bomb capsule, but he is fine so do not worry.” Of course, I was worried and ran to the hospital. The first time I entered the ER room, in which he was sleeping, it was a shock for me, but one thing came to my mind: Smile! He was shot from the head and had one break on the skull and I thought crying would not help. So I held his hand, whispered that I love him and then smiled. We stayed in the hospital for 4 or 5 days, and I tried to keep my smile on my face during that time.
But an even crazier thing was witnessing a man’s bloody face which was shot by police’s gas bomb capsule. He came to the same hospital that we were at. When I saw him, it was clear that he lost his eye, and besides worrying about my boyfriend, all I could do was try to calm down his crying girlfriend, who I never saw before, and lie to her saying, “He is not going to lose his eye.”
That was terrible and crazy enough.
How can people around the world help or show their support?
Because of the strong relationship with the government, Turkish mainstream media was either silent or tendentious. So what we did and are still doing is reaching out to international media via social media, especially Twitter. Besides media, every single human being who supports democracy and human rights is important for us. So people all around world can help us by spreading the word in their languages. English sources are, of course, important but being heard in every language will carry it to the global arena because democracy and human rights cannot be just a local subject.
Additionally, after all the clash in Taksim ended, on the night of June 17, a single man started to stand silently in Taksim Square, and it lasted six hours. Then suddenly the number reached to hundreds. Then it spread to the whole country. In different cities, people are showing their passive resistance by only standing in various times of the day. So I would call all the people who are reading this to stand with us, take pictures, and publish them on social media with the hashtag of #direngezi, #direngeziparkı, or #duranadam.
Why should people visit Turkey? What’s the biggest misconception about Turkey?
One of my friends told me that, “If I was a tourist, I would definitely want to come to Turkey right now.” Actually, he has a point because not only Turkish citizens but also the foreigner visitors are witnessing history here. Finally, the ruling party knows that “the opposition” is not a political party which occupies chairs in the parliament. It is on the streets. It is called people.
Moreover, I cannot say all the major misconceptions such as “Turks are barbarian,” “Turks can be very tricky. Especially salesmen can be very disturbing,” or “Watch out for sexual harassment” are erased with one click, but I can truly say Turks are giving a lesson to the world. You can not see such unity in any part of the world. People have become one regardless of what their religious, political or social beliefs were.
They have united against oppression and created hope about “People can make a difference!” I lived in Sweden for two years. It is one of the most civilized countries in the world. People are very nice and respectful. But even Sweden doesn’t have what Turkey has now. The soul, the energy, the courage, and protecting each other.
On behalf of the people in Turkey, what else do you want the world to know about the resistance, Turkey, etc.?
I want the world to know that the upheaval in Turkey is different than the other demonstrations we see in various parts of the world. Although there are provocateurs, what I have witnessed mostly is the majority of the people want to keep protests as peaceful as possible.
I saw people trying to make others calm down while they were under attack of gas bombs and water cannons.
I saw people closing the mouths of their friends when they were cursing to the police or grabbing their hands when they are about to throw stones to the police.
I listened to a German composer who played for democracy in the middle of Taksim square to both policemen and the resisters.
I watched a ballerina dance with her gas mask.
I saw a couple kissing behind the barricade.
I talked to people who built a workshop for kids in Gezi Park.
I photographed a young lady playing her flute on a burned down car.
I saw people sharing their food with policemen and reading books to them.
And I don’t know which nation could be that funny while resisting. The humor and the jokes on the walls and on social media still can make people laugh the next day they even after having beaten by the police. I mean there are people, who didn’t sleep at all the previous night and still can go the police and ask “Excuse me, sir! At what time are you going to start to ‘gas’ us because my friend is on the Asian side and he is worried he won’t make it because of traffic.”
I guess one quote of John Lennon, which was quite viral in social media during the protests, is going to be a good explanation about what we are trying to do:
“When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you – pull your beard, flick your face – to make you fight. Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humor.”
So World! Just keep the peace in your hearts and lands because after all this is the only thing we have!