Policing Turkey

You probably have started hearing about the turmoil in Turkey again through Facebook messages and trending Tweets almost two weeks after I wrote about how the Turkish parliament failed to read Turkey and fuelled the widely reported unrest. Here's an update.

27 May - 2 Jun / Excessive Force

The picture above is essentially why people are angry - since the demonstrations at Gezi Park started on 27 May to stop the demolition of the last green public space in central İstanbul the Turkish police kept using excessive force time after time. The lady in red - an academic called Ceyda Sungur has become a symbol; even the Italian deputies wore red for a day to support Gezi Park protesters.

A survey showed 49% of the protesters went to Gezi Park after they saw the police action against the activists at the original sit in (on social media and TV) and 14% after watching Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan's TV interview where he acknowledged the use of excessive force but kept adding fuel to the fire by dismissing the protesters - thousands who occupied Istanbul's Taksim Square - as 'just a few looters. He also said that they will build a shopping mall or a museum at the park and that they haven't decided yet.

Other government officials didn't help either. One 2 June the mayor of Ankara (where there were also protests and fighting) tweeted that "if you are old enough to fight then you are old enough to be arrested and punished. Women, children, everyone..."

Police also attacked innocent young people in various other cities like İzmir:

As the police got more brutal, people started using every space available to them as infirmaries, such as this mosque.

3-9 June / Good cop, bad cop

Then on June 3rd the PM went on a 3-day visit to North Africa including Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia

While he was away, the deputy PM Bülent Arınç, following a meeting with the president Abdullah Gül, held a press conference to relieve some pressure by apologising for excessive violence against protesters and admitting that the original crackdown was unjust. It worked. Taksim and Gezi Park at one point looked like a festival space. 

When Erdoğan was away his Justice and Development Party (AKP) had announced that there would be no ceremony on his return but somehow a small rally was organised at the airport (and a speech written) and he addressed the crowds from an open-top bus

In his speech Erdoğan said that "terror groups", including one that claimed responsibility for a February 1 bombing at the US Embassy in Ankara, were manipulating the crowds. He added "The police are doing their duty. These protests, which have turned into vandalism and utter lawlessness must end immediately". (Full script here - in Turkish) Whilst this worked on his supporters, who chanted "Let us go to Taksim square and we will crush them", it infuriated the many peaceful protesters resulting in bigger crowds at Taksim in the following days.

Erdoğan then spent 4 days in İstanbul.

On his second day he gave a speech, pretty much echoing his harsh stand against the protests and the Turkish markets responded immediately.

(Reported by Benjamin Harvey, Turkey Bureau Chief for Bloomberg)

Democrat or sultan? This was the headline of a provocative article published by The Economist the next day, supported by the following cover image: 

Everytime Erdoğan spoke, the police got harsher. occupygezipics.tumblr.com shows, in pictures, how it all got worse chronologically.

So much so that people built an interactive map showing the location of the riot police and infirmaries:

On Sunday the 9th of June, Taksim Square was full!

Tuesday 11th June, the busiest day

In the morning of Tuesday the governor of İstanbul issued the following statement on Twitter: "Gezi Park and Taksim [Square] will ABSOLUTELY not be touched, you will IN NO WAY be touched. From this morning onwards you will be in the safe hands of the police." 

Then Erdoğan, on his weekly speech at AKP, warned that he will not show "any more tolerance" for protests.

The governor must have gotten the message because a few hours later riot police moved into Taksim Square with water cannons and tear gas and they cleared the square.

Then something really odd happened. As Luke Harding reported for The Guardian;

Turkish TV viewers witnessed this: a small group of four or five "demonstrators" throwing molotov cocktails at police. At one point they advanced on police lines in a comic Roman-style phalanx while holding the flag of a fringe Marxist party. The "protesters" were in fact middle-aged undercover police officers, staging a not very plausible "attack" on their own for the benefit of the cameras.

Here the 'protester' can be seen to be signalling the police that they are ready:

This is what the riot police can do with a high-powered water cannon:

This is what they managed to do with the (allegedly) staged interception:

The way this was presented by the media was quite interesting. International media reported it as police firing tear gas at the protesters whereas the Turkish media said it was "various marginal groups that were throwing molotovs and rocks to the police".  Later in the week the BBC would announce that it suspended its partnership with NTV in Turkey following NTV’s decision not to transmit the BBC programme World Agenda.

These events even reminded people of a caricature by the Italian arist Marco Marilungo:

Little did people know that Erdoğan was planning to use those "molotov coctails" in his speeches in days to come.

Whilst all this was happening, the police went into the main courthouse in İstanbul and took dozens of laweyers into custody.


On the same day, the European Parliament passed a motion for a resolution on the situation in Turkey where they condemned "the state violence of the Turkish Government against the demonstrators and the people of Turkey". 

The Dutch MEP Ria Oomen-Ruijten said "If Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan would have been more sensitive, If the language would have been more sensitive, and also the style of governing for those who didn't vote for him would have been more sensitive, than it wouldn't have happened”.

The following day (12 June) all the lawyers were protesting the previous day's events at the courthouse and especially the police actions. They were standing up for their colleagues.


What's all this for?

On Thursday 13th June, one of the most popular pictures in the Turkish social media was this image from Manchester:  

People, once again, were trying to emphasize that the aim of the #occupygezi movement was to demand a better (deliberative) democracy. Like before, this message was going to be lost on deaf ears.

Both the PM and the governor held talks with Taksim Solidarity Platform (TSP), who claimed they represented the Gezi Park protesters but failed to put the above message across. The PM proposed to wait for the ongoing legal process and then decide the faith of the park by a plebiscite. (Don't worry if you don't know plebiscite is; we didn't either!) People didn't have faith in this process due to past experience.

Then Turkey’s European Union minister, Egemen Bağış, said in a televised interview "Everyone who enters Istanbul’s Taksim Square will be considered a member or a supporter of a terrorist organization". This is like saying "Everyone who enters Trafalgar Square (or Times Square) will be treated as a terrorist". Just imagine...


15 June / A disgraceful day in Turkey's recent history

Protesters ignored Bağış's threat and many mothers went to Gezi Park with their children and spent the day on group activities.

At around 9pm police intervened once again in Istanbul's Taksim Square using tear gas and water cannons to quell the protesters an hour after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ultimatum to evacuate the Gezi Park before June 16.

Journalists were allegedly not allowed to report from within the park or take pictures.

This woman was not allowed to go back and search for her child:

What happened next was the worst thing that has happened to this country in the last 30 years.

The police followed the protesters, who left the park, to a nearby hotel that was being used as an infirmary for the last few days, and fired tear gas inside the hotel - something you wouldn't expect even at times of war as hospitals and safety zones are immune from attack under the Geneva Conventions!

People reported gas up as far as the 8th floor. Here is some footage from inside the hotel:

People who have gone down the main street from the square were safe.

But the police had lost the plot. They then attacked the A&E entrance of German Hospital.


It wasn't enough. The police then continued on to another hotel. Here they collect people's medication (water bottles with anti-acid solutions like Rennie and Talcid) as well as hats and masks:

Lots of children and women were affected, both physically:

and emotionally...

An elder, well respected reporter, Can Dündar said about the events "I have never seen such a thing, such a battle can't be. I have reported on so many wars, I have never seen such violence against innocent civilians. Everyone should do what he can please, this is a very serious situation. The political consequences are very serious. Such things cannot be done to women and children... As a father, I beg you, I beg the authorities, don't be a party to crimes against humanity!"

He later wrote more on his newspaper column (in Turkish).

Another seasoned reporter, Uğur Dündar, says "these scenes cannot be seen even at wars" (in Turkish):

The police blocked the bridges that connect Europe to Asia and stopped the boats between the two sides in order to stop people from coming over for support but thousands decided that they would walk instead, at 0:30am! They were stopped by the police and (guess what) tear gassed.

16 June / No lesson learnt

After all this, the PM Erdoğan has rallied tens of thousands of supporters in Istanbul, telling them it was his duty to clear a city square that has been the focus of anti-government unrest, accepting no responsibility for the physical and emotional damage caused in the last 18 days.

"The attitude across Turkey with the pretext of Taksim's Gezi Park is not sincere. It is nothing more than the minority's attempt to dominate the majority... We could not have allowed this and we will not allow it," he said.

Sporadic clashes continued in Istanbul throughout the day.

And if you thought all of this was for a park, please continue on to this article about Reading Turkey.

Ekin Caglar, 16 June 2013, Turkey


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