Compiled Notes :: May 31 -- June 3

Towards Taksim :: 3 June 2013
(These are reposted from facebook.)

May 31:
Just back from Taksim and the surroundings. Check Elizabeth's feed for photographs, but a few quick thoughts: (1) Turkish television seems to have been operating under a self-imposed blackout, leading to strange situations like this: I stop in at the bakkal on my way home and there's a fierce debate raging about the protests and what they signal about the government, with a question on the bottom, asking something to the effect of, "Who started this? The environmentalists or illegal organizations?" Mark had another good point about this. But newspapers seem to be publishing increasing accounts about this. (2) Based on what I saw and heard from people, there was tear gas being used steadily from the morning onward. Strangely enough, it wasn't that dense on Istiklal itself; I I felt the worst when I was waiting for the ferry at Kabataş. Some people said that the gas was even felt in Üsküdar, across the Bosphorus, when the winds were favorable. (3) Lots of chants of "Tayyip istifa" and "Faşmize karşı/omuz omuza." There were groups carrying flags of the Turkish Communist Party, a few LGBT flags, and a range of others that I didn't recognize immediately. But the crowd couldn't be reduced to a single demographic –– I don't want to hazard a guess at numbers, but Istiklal was packed shoulder to shoulder (take that omuz omuza) from the French Consulate to Demirören. After that, it was reasonably crowded back to Balo Sokak and Galatasaray. There was a second group of people massed on Sıraselviler at the German Hospital. I understand that there was another group of people on the other side of Taksim at Gumuşsuyu, and there were news reports on Milliyet of clashes between police and protestors at Harbiye as well. (4) My own personal sense of the situation is that nobody was really expecting that this situation was going to escalate like this. We went from a situation of several tens of people standing watch over a few trees on the edge of a park to several thousand people out in the streets around Taksim all day. The police don't seem to have much of a plan beyond firing gas and spraying pressurized water mixed with tear gas (which runs oddly red in the gutters). The government, from what I've read and seen so far, is torn between either (a) pretending that these protests aren't going on or (b) labeling everyone leftist provocateurs. Tomorrow is going to be an interesting day: There's the question of what form the protests continue in; the CHP is holding a rally in Kadıköy; and they're also rallying for the Mavi Marmara in Fatih. To everyone who's been out and about tonight, be safe. Herkese saygı, selamlar... (A last note at 12:52 am Istanbul time -- Elizabeth says the police moved in with force and tear-gassed everything in sight. We'll see what tomorrow brings.)

June 1:
Just home -- was in Eyüp most of the day and so missed most of the excitement in Taksim. I took the bus from Eyüp up towards Taksim about 10:30 pm -- all the public transport seemed to be turning around at Şişhane, with a few taxis and cars continuing on up Tarlabaşı. After the heavy police presence of last night, it was kind of disconcerting to find an Istiklal Caddesi completely turned over to people. Part of me was really happy to find so many people out, but I couldn't help but be anxious about the ways that scenes of graffiti and pavement stones and beer bottles are going to get heavy play in the yandaş media here in Turkey. Last night the Beyoğlu Belediyesi had staffed cleanup crews. When I arrived in Taksim about 11:00 pm, it was as though anything that might qualify as a 'public service' -- police, zabita, transportation, cleaning crews -- had been withdrawn or forcefully removed from the scene. Even as we celebrate an assembly of something public, something that's excited a tremendous number of people, I can't help but worry about the kinds of things –– images, objects, buildings -- that are going to frame our memories of these past few days. Thanks to everyone who's been sending notes from elsewhere, and best wishes to everyone in Istanbul.

June 3:
Thanks to all for the notes –– Glenn, a quick attempt to answer your questions which, I think, could be rephrased as: (1) What kind of revolt is this? Is it leftist? Atatürkist? Nationalist? And (2) what's driving the revolt? The shortest and most honest answer is that I'm not totally sure, but let me try to explain a little some of the things I've been seeing, reading, and speaking about.

1. As I think I mentioned in the last note, the media coverage is all over the map. In those papers relatively sympathetic to the anti-government dimension of the protests, you regularly see reference to the fact that leftists, Islamists, nationalists, Atatürkists, Kurdish––in short, people of all political persuasions--are all joining in the protests. Oftentimes, this will be summed up under the category of the "halk," the people. Anti-protest media sources (most of the television channels, government papers) tend to frame the protestors as either marginal leftist groups, stubborn Atatürkists, or misguided individuals incited to violence by social media. My own sense is that one of the most optimistic and inspiring dimensions of these protests is precisely the way that they've mobilized a wide swathe of people; perhaps more importantly, these protests have engaged a broad group of the population who might not necessarily have thought of themselves as "political." There's a lot more that I'm trying to understand about this, but one of the things that makes these events important and worth following is the possibility that we develop different forms of relationships between different groups.

2. Did this all come about because of a power grab? I think that's slightly mistaken––in part because the government's current power (and Erdoğan's authority in particular) hasn't been grabbed suddenly but accumulated steadily. One of the things that the government has been particularly successful in over the past three or four years (at least since I've been following more closely) is presenting transformations as a fait accompli. Whether one uses transformation, change, progress, development, or what have you, the narrative has been inexorable.

I think that that has been one of the things that has galvanized so many people over the past week: That this life we live could be different. Whether one wants to talk about the urban environment, codes of social behavior, norms of political and social association, global economic relationships, or what have you, one of the things that has been underlying these opposition protests, this uprising, is the desire to say: Our lives can be different.

It's important to note that even though Taksim has opened up a little, the police continue to intervene forcefully in Beşiktaş (another nearby neighborhood of the city) and in cities like Izmir and Ankara. Thanks again for the questions, and to everyone for the notes and thoughts.


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