Occupy Gezi: a summary of the origins and development of the protests

The situation just gets worse. Even the international media practically ignored (what my friends and friends of friends described as) ‘heavy, brutal repression’, ‘police terror’ in Ankara and elsewhere while it dined off İstiklal and partied in Taksim, but now that literally lawless violence has returned to Istanbul too. People fear even more vicious violence: a few days ago, I drafted that there were ‘horrified whispers of civil war’ amongst my friends; now, it’s nonchalant newspaper comment.

I’m afraid this has been very roughly cut out of something else (which I hope to post tomorrow!), but here is a summary of the origins and development of the protests.


Staying up all night, tabbing back and forth between Facebook and Tweetdeck and Twitter and news and blogs (while holding my laptop in the air to catch my landlord’s wifi), gathering and translating and sharing and discussing the awesome or amusing or appalling events (until my browser crashed), yet again being somewhere-other-than-alongside-my-friends, I wanted to do something.

Then I found out that Riseup, which ‘provides online communication tools for people and groups working on liberatory social change‘, needed people to translate news from Turkish into other languages. When I asked how I could help, they suggested contributing to their pad on frequently asked questions (FAQ) about Turkish politics.

At the same time, I figured that other people would be better able to summarise the role of the army, the history of the governing and opposition parties, etc.; I saw an exchange over the potential role of the graduate with no future in the protests; and I continued to track events through citizens’ reports, including archaeologists’ live updates from the barricades… I’ve been chasing information up, down and around ever since.

Gezi Park

Topçu Barracks

Gezi Park is an unremarkable place, but it is relatively quiet and it is the only green space left in central Istanbul; I’ve been myself for some shade, a rest or a nap. The (Islamist) Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP)) and the Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi (CHP)) decided to demolish that last green space and replace it with a (the city’s 109th) shopping mall and luxury residential complex in the style of Ottoman barracks. The Kalyon Group, which has ‘close ties’ to the AKP, got the contract for the barracks; Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, got the contract for the mall (for the Çalık Holding company).

Occupy Gezi

On the evening of the 27th (“officially” from the 28th), a tiny group (tens) of environmental, cultural and social activists started occupying the park to prevent its destruction; they held sit-ins, teach-ins, musical performances, film screenings… On the 28th, associations of the Right to the City petitioned the Council to Protect Cultural Heritage to protect the park. Peace and Democracy Party (Barış ve Demokrasi Partisi (BDP)) MP Sırrı Süreyya Önder repeatedly blocked the mechanical diggers with his own body, and CHP MP Gülseren Onanç joined him in obstructing the bulldozers.

Police raided the camp twice on the 30th; they tear-gassed the protesters, ‘threw pepper gas flares [biber gazi fişeklerini atıyorlardı]’, ‘put them on the tents and burned them [çadırları üst üste koyup yaktı]’, and hospitalised at least one of the protesters. Then, before dawn on the 31st, they ambushed, water-cannoned and tear-gassed the camp’s sleeping residents; the tear gas canisters set some tents on fire with the protesters inside (though they escaped). They shot Önder and investigative journalist Ahmet Şık with tear gas canisters and hospitalised them, then occupied the space.

Şiddet ve direniş (violence and resistance)

State and parastate violence

Since then, the repression has continued: Turkish police have added CR and/or skunk gas, electric shock batons, plastic bullets, helicopters, armoured cars and industrial machinery to their arsenal; they have blocked ambulances from reaching the injured and used ambulances to deliver tear gas; they have used helicopters to mass-gas crowdslike insects‘, have gassed metro stations and have cut off electricity then gassed refuges, homes and hospitals; and they have driven through barricades, behind which people were shielding themselves.

Government-aligned, police-allied, armed youth gangs have lynched people. The government’s official and unofficial forces have killed several people, blinded many more (with targeted tear gas canister and plastic bullet shots to the head) and injured thousands. (In contrast, hundreds of police officers have been injured through protesters’ self-defence, and protesters have carried injured police away from clashes to receive medical attention. One police officer, Mustafa Sarı, has died; but no-one was involved in his accidental death.)

Furthermore, using its own violence against its massed citizens as a distraction (and economic pressure to secure the Greek state’s illegal cooperation), the Turkish state is breaking its own laws in order to selectively attack key dissidents. A Kurdish socialist who had suffered torture in Turkey and sought asylum in Greece, Bulut Yayla, has been kidnapped and beaten by Greek police and abducted back to Turkey by Turkish police. Similarly, the ultranationalist Fighter’s Hearth (Alperen Ocağı) has taken the opportunity to attack socialists.

Popular resistance

Consequently, the resistance has grown. On the first night, I watched tens of thousands of people pour out of their homes, into the streets and across the city to protest in Istanbul and in other cities across Turkey. On the second night, I watched the protests spread throughout Turkey and around the world, including to the Turkish-military-occupied Turkish Cypriot community in northern Cyprus. Since then, somewhat reassured to have heard from some of my friends in Turkey (and myself offline most of the time), I’ve been putting this piece together. Despite the global media’s focus on the Glastonburystyle democracy festival in Taksim Square, violence against peaceful resistance continued in Ankara and elsewhere.

Masses of protesters have built roadblocks and (sometimes using the police’s own barriers or public buses) barricades; and, after police assaults, they have collectively cleaned up public spaces. (Anti-protest citizens have cleaned too.) Isolated individuals or small groups have damaged the property of businesses such as Starbucks that closed their doors to protesters fleeing brutality, turned over Turkish television news vans and set fire to AKP property. Edirne police have not acted against the protesters; and, in their own act of protest, perhaps 1,000 police officers have resigned instead of carry out their orders.

Away from direct intervention and confrontation, homes, shops and hotels have provided medicine, supplies and refuge; Turkish soldiers have given gas masks to civilians (and at least one police officer has quit(?) and given his own gas mask to a protester); and Gümüşsuyu Military Hospital has provided anti-acid and asthma medication.

The state of affairs

On the 6th, AKP supporters attacked anti-government protesters in Rize. At the airport on his return to Turkey (from a tour of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) on the 7th, Erdoğan met a crowd of supporters. Mirroring the secularist slogan that ‘we are soldiers of Kemal Atatürk [Kemal Atatürk’ün askerleriyiz]’, the Islamists shouted, ‘we are soldiers of Tayyıp Erdoğan [Tayyıp Erdoğan’ın askerleriyiz]’. They cried, ‘hands raised against the police should be broken [Polise kalkan eller kırılsın]’! They demanded: ‘Let us go, we’ll go and crush Taksim! [Yol ver gidelim Taksim’i ezelim!]’

Erdoğan made a show of telling the crowd to go home in peace. But he also categorised the protesters as vandals, flag-burners (after a years-old video was recirculated), Jewish financial lobby-backed useful idiots, ‘anarchists and terrorists‘, and cop-killers (after an exhausted and sleep-deprived police officer fell off a bridge and died).

He insisted: ‘We cannot close our eyes to their burning and destruction, their harming of cities, public property and our people. [Yakıp yıkmasına, şehirlere kamu mallarına, insanımıza zarar vermesine göz yumamayız.]’ And he recited a poem that stated: ‘[If] anyone attacks my family, I’ll strangle them! [Biri ecdadıma saldırdımı, hatta boğarım!]’ On the 8th, police-backed AKP supporters attacked anti-government protesters in Adana.

On the 9th, Erdoğan rallied supporters in Adana, Mersin and Ankara, repeated lies that protesters had disrespected Islam (by wearing shoes and drinking alcohol inside a mosque), and accused them of attempting a coup. The AKP’s Central Decision-Making and Administrative Board (MKYK) officially defined the protests as a ‘civilian coup [sivil darbe]’, for which protesters can and will be prosecuted.

Erdoğan darkly warned protesters that ‘patience has a limit…. if you continue like this, I will be obliged to speak in a language that you understand. We will respond accordingly.’ ‘You who started such a struggle against us will pay a heavy price. [Siz ki bize karşı böyle bir mücadeleyi başlattınız, bunun bedelini ağır ödeyeceksiniz.]’

On the 11th, Istanbul governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu repeated, ‘I state to you with certainty, one more time, that Gezi Park and Taksim will not be touched. Please alert your friends to my message. [Sizlere,Gezi Parkı’na ve Taksim’e dokunulmayacağını bir kez daha KESİNLİKLE ifade ediyorum.Arkadaşlarınızı lütfen bu mesajım yönünde uyarın.]’ ‘Gezi Park and Taksim absolutely will not be touched, no-one will touch you. This morning and from now on you are entrusted to your police officer brothers. [GEZİ PARKI ve TAKSİM’e KESİNLİKLE DOKUNULMAYACAK,SİZLERE ASLA DOKUNULMAYACAKTIR.Bu sabah ve bundan sonra polis kardeşlerinize emanetsiniz.]’ The police promptly attacked both Taksim and Gezi Park.

The state claimed that the protesters had attacked the police. Governor Mutlu supposedly revealed ‘the Revolutionary Headquarters member activist who said he was a police officer and who was found with a Molotov cocktail in hand [polis diye söylenen ve elinde molotof kokteyli bulunan Devrimci Karargah üyesi eylem[ci]]’.

And he declared that ‘the person in Taksim with a walkie-talkie who looks like he’s probably armed, who[se photograph] has been shared on social media, who claimed to be a police officer, has been arrested. He’s an SDP [Sosyalist Demokrasi Partisi (Socialist Democracy Party)] activist/agitator. [Taksim’de telsizli ve muhtemelen silahlı görüntüsü sosyal medyada paylaşılıp, polis olduğu iddia olunan kişi yakalandı.O SDP’li bir eylemci.]’ On the basis of that allegation, 70 more people were arrested at SDP HQ (and will be prosecuted with planted evidence).

Even if he were not an agent provocateur, and even if he were a member of the SDP, clearly it would be no excuse for destroying Occupy Taksim and Occupy Gezi in Istanbul and Occupy Kuğulu in Ankara, and singling out and water-cannoning disabled persons (as ‘a protester in a wheelchair got their share of pressurised water [tekerlekli sandalyeli bir gösterici de TOMA’dan sıkılan sudan nasibini aldı]’). As one protester observed, ‘the “Tomas” (water cannon vehicles) that are able to push away and separate hundreds of people within seconds… could not get rid of this group of provocateurs for over an hour now. Why? This is all a planned game to be played in front of the international media.’

Moreover, there is photographic evidence that the firebombers were state agents provocateurs; they (also) had police-issue gas masks and walkie-talkies, and coordinated the performance with the riot police via hand signals.

Afterwards, the state attacked Çağlayan court, and arrested and beat at least 73 lawyers in the court for defending protesters’ legal rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression. One eyewitness lawyer decried, ‘here there is no law [burada hukuk yok]’!

And still it gets worse. On the 12th, Erdoğan claimed that until then the state had ‘not responded to punches with punches’, warned that ‘[f]rom now on security forces will respond differently‘, and instructed his police chief and his interior minister: ‘This issue will be over in 24 hours.’

Media (self-)censorship

Meanwhile, Turkish television has shown programmes about penguins and dolphins (though a Greek news channel has reported that a protester provoked a police water cannon in order to die on television, and Facebook has shamed itself equally by censoring the page for a Gezi Park Global Call for Solidarity); and one of the few Turkish newspapers that did address the protests accused the BBC’s Turkish-language service (BBC Türkçe) of being ‘provocative [provokatif]’ and its economics editor of ‘provocation [provokasyonu]’.

Some shameful (or shameless) Turkish media has now moved beyond censorship into propaganda. On the 11th, Sabah claimed that ‘demonstrators… attacked police with stones and ball bearings’, then with ‘stones, Molotov cocktails, ball bearings and fireworks…. provok[ing] police… to stage an operation on Gezi Park’, so eventually the police were forced to act to restore public order. CNN Turkish (CNN Türk) alleged that ‘marginal groups attack[ed] the police with Molotovs and stones [marjinal gruplar polise molotofle ve taşlarla saldırıyor]’. Yet CNN International stated that ‘police fire[d] tear gas at protesters‘.

Remarkably, after the police had spent the entire day attacking peaceful protesters in public and lawyers in court, after Governor Mutlu had warned parents to withdraw their children from the protests ‘for [their] beloved children’s safety [sevgili çocuklarımızın güvenliği için]’, while the police continued their assault on the citizenry through the night, international media opined that Turkish authorities had been ‘[u]sing the type of language which will have many wondering whether the city authorities are serious about dialogue with the protestors’…

The party line

The AKP has sent streams of tweets (sometimes fifteen each) to academics/scholars/etc., think tanks, diplomats and Turkish and foreign media‘s newspaper, magazine, TV and social media journalists, in which it insists that Turkey has ‘first class… democratic standards’, that the ‘protests in Turkey do not bear any similarities to the revolutions in the Middle Eastern countries’, and that ‘Taksim is not Tahrir,Erdogan is an elected PM,not a dictator’; it argues that the protesters are ‘people who couldn’t get success at the elections‘, who are using ‘chaos’ to try to win power.

If Taksim isn’t Tahrir, what is it?

Indeed, many commentators have insisted, ‘#Taksim is not #Tahrir. People in #Istanbul #Turkey are protesting to preserve democracy not to overthrow the system.’ Some foreign observers have doubted the sincerity of protesters‘ calls for Erdoğan’s resignation, and judged that ‘the majority of the protestors do not really expect this to happen, nor do they seek a fundamental change of the Turkish regime’, so their demands ‘should be taken with a pinch of salt‘. I find those comments impossible to take seriously, and honestly insulting to the hundreds of thousands of people who have risked their lives to make those demands.


I was in Istanbul when Hrant Dink was shot on the 19th of January 2007; and I was one of the two hundred thousand who marched to commemorate him and challenge fascism; and I knew there were direnişçiler (resisters), because they were my friends and neighbours in Istanbul and Kayseri (and England and Greece), or had been passing acquaintances in the south-east; but I was – and, clearly more significantly, my friends were – surprised by the uprising. In fact, the (other) protesters were surprised, too.

I know people who are on the streets now; but I don’t know what will happen today, let alone tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, or the day after that. Nonetheless, whether the protesters want Erdoğan to resign because they are pacifist democrats or secularist authoritarians, I know that they do want him to resign.


And the idea that Turkey is a (true) democracy is far from the reality. Erdoğan does win ‘fair elections by big margins‘, but a lot of that is due to the ‘abject failure of parliamentary opposition‘. For example, I know people who vote (and therefore contribute to Erdoğan’s apparent popularity and mandate to rule), but who make an entirely negative decision based upon which of the AKP and the MHP is the least immoral and corrupt at the time of the election.

Yet, worse than the lack of effective representation, women, ethnic and religious minorities, and gender and sexual minorities all endure social and state oppression. And, as the repression of Occupy Gezi has highlighted (but only highlighted, because for many people in Turkey, such violence has long been an everyday risk), there is mass police brutality against and torture of dissidents and other non-conformists. Police routinely use excessive force with impunity, regularly use sexual abuse against Kurdish and Alevi women and children as a tool of humiliation and terror, and casually use rape as a punishment.

For instance, transgender/transsexual individuals are socially excluded to the point of destitution, thus economically forced into sex work, then persistently arrested; in custody, the overwhelming majority are beaten, and many are tortured and raped. The third assault on a woman that I saw in Istanbul involved a man belt-whipping a prone transgendered person on the main boulevard between Taksim and Tünel (İstiklal Caddesi). The police didn’t intervene. (The public did.) When I went to the police station and complained, one of the officers was kind enough to (sincerely, not threateningly) communicate to me that I should leave immediately…

(One way or another) Taksim is Tahrir

Protesters have explicitly demanded: ‘We want justice. We want democracy. We want our freedom.’ It is somewhat remarkable for commentators to inform protesters that actually they do not.

BBC economics editor Paul Mason understood that the protesters’ hopes were precisely ‘about getting rid of Mr Erdogan and making Turkey a secular democracy’. He asked, ‘[i]s this the Turkish Tahrir? Not unless the workers join in.‘ In fact, as I will go on to show, the labour movement was already a constituent part of the movement against neoliberal development (through both working-class communities’ informal action and trades unions’ official activity).

Çapulcular (Chappullers)


Originally, Erdoğan blamed the protests on ‘a few looters‘ (or pillagers or marauders – çapulcular), CHP agents provocateurs, (local and foreign) ‘extremist elements…. who live arm-in-arm wih terrorism’ and (worst of all) Twitter.

So, naturally, they immediately reclaimed çapuling as a term for spectacular non-violent resistance (dancing on barricades amidst tear gas, reading books to riot cops).

Now, in recognition of the seriousness of the revolt, he has acknowledged some genuine environmental concern… and blamed ‘”terror groups”… radical Marxist-Leninists‘ (the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C)), indeed, at least ‘eleven different terrorist organisations‘. Who are they in reality?

Urban professionals

Considering them no-longer-necessary, the Islamists have wilfully spurned the liberals with whom they confronted the secularist nationalist authoritarian establishment. Architects, urban planners, academics and leftists ‘have long opposed the plans’. Chappullers who’ve noted archaeologists have also spotted sociologists, anthropologists, philologists, philosophers, economists and translators. As chappulling is now their very existence, so their professions are now types of resistance:

What’s your job? [Mesleğiniz nedir?]
Engineer chappuller, whats yours? [Mühendis çapulcu, ya sizin?]
Archaeologist chappuller… [Arkeolog çapulcu…]

The occupiers who were appointed for negotiations with the government were lawyers, architects and doctors. (The doctors had been radicalised in the line of work, confronted first with the effects of the government’s healthcare privatisation programme, then with the victims of its repression.)

The notoriously-teargassed woman in a red dress, Ceyda Sungur, is a Research Assistant in the City and Urban Planning Department of the Architecture Faculty of Istanbul Technical University (İstanbul Teknik Üniversitesi (İTÜ)). And the first hospitalised protester was an archaeology student (though, economically-speaking, archaeologists are closer to labourers than other professionals).

On Friday, at least, ‘almost every person there was either typing on a phone or recording the scene on a tablet‘; and on Monday, the majority were middle-class university students and other youths; there certainly were many graduates and professionals.

The urban poor

However, at the same time, poor neighbourhoods, such as the AKP-and-socialist-voting working-class community in Ümraniye and the (CHP-voting but) social democratic Kurdish and Alevi working-class community in Gazi, hit the streets in solidarity ‘against fascism [faşizme karşı]’. Even poor, rural villages have showed solidarity with the resistance. And that’s something that has been missed or under-appreciated in breathless reports of a bourgeois revolt: many of the people in the square have been middle-class; but many of the people in the streets have not.

In fact, many of the people in the square may not have been middle-class either because, as anthropologist Emrah Yıldız notes, as demonstrated by the life and death of factory worker and Redhack (socialist hacker) activist Mehmet Ayvalıtaş, many working-class people have access to and make sophisticated use of hi-tech gadgets and social media.


Istanbul’s informal built-overnight (gecekondu) housing is unsanitary and unsafe. Moreover, the city is at great risk of an unimaginably catastrophic earthquake; and its poorest, most dangerously-housed citizens are the most vulnerable of all. Thus, Erdoğan has stated his intention to ‘destroy half of Istanbul’s buildings‘. Yet the historic buildings are not consolidated and their communities are not rehoused in their established neighbourhoods. Whether forcibly or ‘market-evicted’, they’re expelled to banlieues, and their neighbourhoods are demolished and replaced by gated communities.

The past and/or future victims of social cleansing have included historic Sulukule‘s Roma (who had inhabited the place since 1054, whose emptied neighbourhood the construction firm then illegally ‘excavated without supervision… [with] heavy machinery [ağır iş makinaları[yla]… denetimsiz kazı yapılmıştır]’); Tarlabaşı and Dolapdere’s Kurds, Roma and transsexuals; Tophane’s workers and artists; and Fener and Balat’s Kurds and Laz. Hence, ‘the targeted squatters‘ have resisted the government too.


Workers, notably striking blue-collar and white-collar workers, have participated in the occupation; shield walls of bus drivers and lorry drivers have blockaded police vehicles in Istanbul and phalanxes of taxi drivers have blockaded police vehicles in Ankara.

Indeed, the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (Devrimci İşçi Sendikaları Konfederasyonu (DİSK)), Theatre Actors’ Union (Tiyatro Oyuncuları Meslek Birliği (TOMEB)), Turkish Union of Chambers of Engineers and Architects (Türk Mühendis ve Mimar Odaları Birliği (TMMOB)) and the Tobacco, Drink, Food and Allied Workers’ Union of Turkey (Türkiye Tütün Müskirat, Gıda ve Yardımcı İşçileri Sendikası (Tekgıda-İş)) were founding members of the Taksim Solidarity (Taksim Dayanışması) movement against the Topçu Barracks Project (and thereby founding members of the Taksim Gezi Protection and Beautification Association (Taksim Gezi Parkı Koruma ve Güzelleştirme Derneği)). And the Istanbul Branch of the Archaeologists’ Union (Arkeologlar Derneği İstanbul Şubesi) is a member of Taksim Solidarity as well.

(As well as a raft of community associations,) DİSK’s Board of Directors and Board of Chairpersons (DİSK Yönetim Kurulu ve Başkanlar Kurulu) declared support for the site, and planned to take part in the community watch to protect the site, before the crackdown on the 31st. The dawn raid may have been an attempt to break the protest before organised labourers and community members could arrive to consolidate it.

The breakneck-speed growth of resistance was spontaneous, but it did grow around an existing organisational skeleton and flow along existing networks, including those of the labour movement. As journalist Jay Cassano notes, there is a direct link between anti-IMF, anti-World Bank Diren İstanbul and Diren Gezi Parkı; and Taksim Solidarity itself identified the Gezi Park action as a continuation of the struggle over the commemoration and celebration of May Day in Taksim Square (where the Revolutionary Worker’s Party (Devrimci İşçi Partisi (DİP)) declared, ‘Taksim will become Tahrir! [Taksim, Tahrir olacak!]’).

Worker journalists in labour movement media reported on the events at Gezi Park from the very beginning and supported the community watch (nöbet).

Independent traders

Small family businesses, such as neighbourhood bakers and greengrocers, see the face of economic inequality, insecurity and poverty every day, so they’ve joined the protests too.

Anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist, revolutionary Muslims

Like the presumption of the urban poor’s and the slum-consigned underclass’s support for the AKP, the presumption of observant Muslims’ conservativeness, and even the perception of Islamists’ and socialists’ only-temporary cooperation in pursuit of shared interests, is too simplistic, because there are also Anti-Capitalist Muslims (Antikapitalist Müslümanlar (@kamuder)) and (anti-imperialist) Revolutionary Muslims (Devrimci Müslümanlar (@isyanveislam)). The other day, I toasted the revolution (online) with a circle of observant Turkish and Kurdish friends.

Football hooligans

Many members of football fan clubs (who are not generally members of the bourgeoisie), who are experienced in street-fighting and clashing with the police, have suspended their rivalries and worked together to protect the protesters (the vast majority of whom did not engage in confrontations with the police).


A socialist hackers’ (hacktivist) collective in Turkey, RedHack (@TheRedHack; @RedHack_En; @r3dh4ck_uk) have been active in the occupation, engaging in direct action to achieve freedom of information and leaking secrets. Both RedHack and Anonymous activists have participated in #OpTurkey, where they have used distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks (in which they use mass hits to overload computer servers) to take party, administrative and police machines offline.


There are feminists too, who have reclaimed the streets in order to campaign for women’s rights and against the plight of the graduate without a future. The Association of the Women of the Republic challenged violence against women, primarily caused by economic problems, and the blight of ‘graduate youths’ wandering around unemployed [üniversite mezunu gençlerin işsiz dolaştığ[ı]]’.

The AKP’s attempts to restrict abortion and encourage women to have three children have lead çapulcu women (and men) to wear clothing (and write graffiti) that asks, ‘Mr. Prime Minister! Would you like 3 children just like this one?


Even nigh-universally socially excluded communities, such as the non-heteronormative members of society (gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals, who identify as LGBT in organisations such as KAOS GL, but who encompass lesbians, gays, bisexuals, the transgendered, queers, the questioning, the intersex, asexuals, allies and pansexuals (LGBTQQIAAP)), have been safe and welcome at the protests, so they have been able to ally with everyone else in the struggle for freedom.


There are huge numbers of ultrasecularists in Turkey, and an increasing number of them in the protests, but they are an opportunistic minority amongst protesters.

The Republican People’s Party has kept a quiet presence at the protests, ostensibly to ensure that it remains about political issues rather than party politics; in fact, it may be because when CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu tried to speak to the crowd, ‘protesters sang over him, preventing him from being heard’. After all, as one of the activists observed, ‘they fought for three days, and then the parties came…. That’s not right.’


Similarly, there are huge numbers of ultranationalists in Turkey, and an increasing number of them in the protests, and they are an even more opportunistic minority. Ignore all of the awe-struck reportage of communists and fascists standing side-by-side, Kurdish separatists and Turkish imperialists holding hands. It’s bullshit. At best, the Grey Wolves are practicing tactical tolerance; in reality, they’re continuing to intimidate and attack all of their many enemies even within Gezi Park, let alone in the shadows.

Unfortunately and dangerously, Nationalist Action Party (MHP) activists (fascist Grey Wolves (Bozkurtlar)) and other extreme nationalists (ulusalcılar), who accept or even approve of authoritarian police repression of ‘workers, Kurds, socialists, [and] Alevis’, are trying to infiltrate the movement to protect their own interests. Many more (by Turkish standards, moderate) nationalists might leave the movement if it makes common cause with pacifist Kurds.

What do they want?

The ‘sight of an urban middle class using its fingers to dig up cobblestones, form a human chain and pile them 3ft (1m) high to make a barricade screams the words “Paris Commune“‘ to the BBC’s economics editor Paul Mason; and the ‘Istanbul Commune’ of Gezi Park, too, wants la république démocratique et sociale (a democratic and social republic).


They are primarily ‘libertarian [özgürlükçü]’ and secular; a minority are conservative. Most don’t identify with any political party; a small minority have a party political allegiance but say that their political party is irrelevant to their decision to protest; and only a still smaller minority even feel influenced (let alone compelled) by their party.

They object to the AKP’s Islamisation of school education (through their requirement upon universities to treat religious schooling as equal to academic schooling and the subsequent Islamisation of the bureaucracy, and through their reduction in access to secular schools, and their increase in all schools’ faith-based learning environment and curriculum); and to its increasing Islamisation of public morals, such as its interference with the sale and consumption of alcohol and the act of kissing in public.


Regarding secularism in Turkey, it’s worth clarifying three things: first, Turkish secularism is not true secularism, because it does not accept that religious conservatives should have the same freedoms as liberals (so, for example, Turkish secularists do not believe that headscarved women should be allowed to work in a public capacity); second, when they say they’re secular(ist), they don’t necessarily mean that they’re Ataturkist; and third, when they say that they’re Ataturkist, they don’t simply mean that they’re secular(ist).

As a masked woman observed, ‘We’re all here…. Communists, anarchists, democrats. It’s not an Ataturkist movement.’ But there are Ataturkists within the movement; and they are authoritarian nationalist secularists.

Regarding the politics of the protesters, it’s also worth noting that nearly 8% are AKP voters (which tallies with a guesstimate that around 90% of female protesters wear Western-style clothes). Islamism is a concern, but it is not the protesters’ primary concern. And the lazy, pseudo-mathematical analysis that 50% of people vote for Erdoğan and 50% vote for someone else, therefore half the country is for him and half the country is against him, and it is a conflict between a liberal, secularist, urban, middle-class half and a conservative, Islamist, rural, peasant/working-class/plebeian half, is bullshit.

True democracy

Their political priorities are governmental authoritarianism, police brutality, civil rights violations, media (self-)censorship and last but not least the park (which is a concern for the majority of protesters); and the majority of them have never protested before. Nearly all of them want an end to police violence and the acceptance of civil liberties; a significant minority want a new political party. Only a very small minority want a military coup; and they are political opportunists, not committed resisters.

Protection of the natural environment

Obviously, Occupy Gezi is opposed to the ‘pillaging of our ecological heritage [ekolojik değerlerimizin talan[ı]]’. Yet the environmental movement is ‘not that strong in Turkey‘; environmentalists and greens genuinely are ‘marginal’ groups; and their protests have been ‘attacked… by police with tear gas, pepper gas and water cannons’ for years without a popular uprising. ‘This is a protest for democracy.’

Protection of the historic environment

Interestingly, although the threat to Turkey’s natural heritage was the initial trigger for protest, a far greater fuel for protest was the threat to (at least some parts of) Turkey’s cultural heritage, community property and public memory.

Occupy Gezi represents the ‘victims of urban transformation [kentsel dönüşüm mağdurlar[ı]]’. It ‘will not permit [the reconstruction of] Topçu Barracks’, the demolition of the Ataturk Cultural Centre, ‘or the pillage of any of our natural and living places [Ne Taksim’de Topçu Kışlası’na ne de tüm doğa ve yaşam alanlarımızın talanına izin vermeyeceğiz]’. It is ‘against the indiscriminate destruction of all Byzantine, Ottoman and Republican-period history in the name of profit [Bizans, Osmanlı ya da Cumhuriyet dönemi ayırt edilmeksizin İstanbul’un tüm tarihinin rant adına yok edilmesine karşıdır]’.

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