Monday, 3 June 2013

About Gezi Park: Last Weekend's Protests in Pictures

The pictures below tell the story that most Turkish media are trying to cover up: the massive, ongoing, mostly peaceful protests of the secularist half of Turkey against their government's behaviour.

They complain of increasing authoritarianism and the steady erosion of Ataturk's Turkish Republic in favour of increasingly Islamic laws (such as a ban on alcohol adverts and changes to dress codes).

The protests were sparked by PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's plans to pave over one of the only remaining parks in Istanbul. But within a day, hundreds of thousands of protestors were flooding the city's streets - and they weren't chanting about trees

Erdoğan, however, has hopped between describing protestors as "a few looters", "extremists" and "arm-in-arm with terrorists"… and asking why people were upset over "four or five trees".

I set off with friends and a cameraphone (apologies for poor quality pics) to see what was really happening.

We arrived into a peaceful scene in Taxim Square. A vandalised bus and police car looked oddly out-of-place.

The Turkish PM has labelled the protestors 'terrorists' and conservatives obediently parrot his words back when asked (or even when not asked)...

although if so many terrorists in one place could be this peaceful, maybe there's hope for us after all.

A lot of character and fun was displayed. Flags were waved and pots were banged in unison.

Gas masks were to be also seen everywhere, as were 'V for Vendetta' styled masks.

There was some vandalism, although this chap isn't really going for it. Many protestors also shouted at vandals, or tried to stand between them and their targets.

These signs tell police that a bit of pepper spray isn't going to stop protestors: they are 'the generation that fix a gas leak by lighting a match'...

… whilst enterprising street vendors also made the most, selling flags (terrorists are also, curiously, often Ataturk fans), water, dust masks and even kofte sandwiches.

Paradise found: we reached Gezi Park without seeing any sign of the police.

A pepper gas plume in the sky was the only indication of trouble...

…although there was some vandalism and, here, bottles fly as protestors try to put out a mysterious fire.

A lady looks unimpressed at the sight of this smashed bus. Some upset protestors told me that undercover police were deliberately causing the damage themselves in order to report it, although this seems unlikely. More likely - as with any protest - a few hooligans tagged along.

The media presence, at any rate, was tiny. This chap seemed to work for a minor Turkish news channel. He was interviewing a protestor.

Some mess was made, although afternoon scenes were calm and good-natured. In fact, I saw protestors gathering rubbish into bin liners (sadly didn't manage to get a picture of this).

Dodgy breasts; dodgy PM: it was clear that this was a specifically anti-Erdoğan protest.

Some refined their message still further.

There was - as is always the way with terrorists - some beer and a good amount of sing-song.

Many extremists also took photographs and videos, suspecting perhaps that media coverage would not be fair. It wasn't and isn't.

One of the nicest sights of the day was this rainbow (LGBT) flag. Kudos, Turkey.

Down from Taxim is Beşiktaş. As we arrived here things got more violent. This burning police car the first sign of trouble.

…and some protestors were clearly planning for violence.

The police responded in kind with water cannon. Pepper gas was also fired in huge quantities. (It bloody hurt.)

The water cannon almost got me. Actually could have done with washing the tear gas off...

…although there was an incredibly well-organised response to the gas: lemons, dozens of 'helpers' and some sort of chemical spray in washing up bottles to counter the blinding and stinging effects. Struggling a little here, thus the blurred photos.

Some people were really suffering - this boy and his friend were crying...

and I'm not sure what kind of 'extremist' these ladies in headscarves were supposed to be.

The crowd retreated, chanting and coughing. Some - perhaps 3 to 5% - threw rocks.

Barricades were formed to stop the riot vans advancing. This one is being removed to let an ambulance pass.

(Perhaps the terrorists gave up on this one.)

A friendly couple. Turks don't realise that the 'peace' sign in reverse is an antiquated version of the middle finger for Brits. Or perhaps they were just rude, being terrorists.

A few terrorists resting - these guys, friends of mine, are some of the least terrorism-prone individuals I have yet come across.

 Through the smashed window of a Metrobus, on which I commute every day to my place of terrorism work.

Smashed police car - it is these pictures, not the enormous quantity of peaceful scenes, that most Turkish media exclusively show.

One of the more distasteful sights of the evening: a tequila shot stand. Bad call?

"Tonight, we are the law!"

This picture is wonderful: three generations of (I presume) the same family waving a flag, peaceful again.

It is now Sunday, on the outskirts of Istanbul. Families, shoppers, couples, children and the elderly marched, clapped, sang and were generally very well-disguised by terrorist standards.

Pots, pans, turkish coffee makers and catering equipment were the impromptu orchestra that gives this protest a unique 'ding! ding! ding! ding!' sound.

More extremists and terrorists wave flags and take photographs.

In the foreground, some senior terrorists march...

while others brought paintings of Ataturk with them...

…although - I'll concede - even the youngest terrorists were clearly intent on violence.

But it's odd, you know. Some of these terrorists don't particularly look like terrorists.

 If you have come this far, well done and thank you. Please spread these images and let people know that these protests are huge, ongoing and in the name of the secular democracy that Ataturk set up and - in the eyes of hundreds of thousands of protestors - the current government is trying to erode.

Outside, the sounds of hundreds of pots and pans being banged tells me that this protest isn't over or even petering out. They're determined to make their voice heard over the Turkish press's disgracefully biased reports and PM Erdoğan's full-on insults. Let's hope they succeed. 

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