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A frequent characterization; Gezi Square, Mid-June, 2013.  To use New York terms of reference, a caricature as a cross between an end-of-career Robert Moses, a Watergate-era Richard Nixon, and Rudi Giuliani at the time of the fly-specked Virgin Mary affair might be more charitable. (Fuji X100). To enlarge, click on image.

A frequent characterization; Gezi Square, Mid-June, 2013. To use 20th-century New York references, a caricature of the Turkish Prime Minister as a cross between an end-of-career “master-builder” Robert Moses, a Watergate-era Richard Nixon, and  NYC ex-mayor Giuliani at the time of the infamous “fly-specked painting of the Virgin Mary scandal” might be more accurate and a bit more charitable. (Fuji X100). To enlarge, click on image.

I had intended to shift to another subject this weekend but because protest gatherings and out of proportion reactions by police continued Saturday and this evening here in Istanbul, I thought I’d post a few more photos from last month’s occupation of Gezi Park.

The photo above requires no additional commentary, except to add that while the accuracy of the caricature might be debatable, what is not debatable are the passions that the actions and style of the person portrayed have aroused in that no-longer-silent half of Turkish society who do not support him and who he, in turn,  seems to ignore or address with contempt.

Afterword posted July 3, 2013: In recent outbursts to the press,  Erdoğan lieutenants including his deputy prime minister and the mayor of Ankara have accused “envious” organizations of “diaspora Jewry” of being behind the Gezi Park occupation.  Although caricatures of Erdoğan as Hitler may be a bit over-the-top, such comments by his lieutenants, together with Erdoğan’s own statement not so long ago that “Zionism is a crime against humanity,”  may qualify the entire trio for caricatures not necessarily as Hitler, but certainly as Dr. Goebbels.

Köfteci. A street vendor of grilled köfte sandwiches, Gezi Park, early-June 2012. (Fuji X100). (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Köfteci. A street vendor preparing and selling  grilled köfte sandwiches, Gezi Park, early-June 2012. (Fuji X100). (Click on photo to enlarge.)

During the weeks it was extant, the Gezi Park encampment was organized and disciplined.  A committee of participating organizations put political differences far enough aside to ensure provision of essential services — sanitary, medical, and emergency.  Volunteers cooked and served in cafeteria-style kitchens well stocked with donated provisions.
Street Vendors
In addition to the means served to those encamped in the Gazi Park, the dense concentration of protestors, well-wishers, and the curious  attracted scores of ordinary street vendors.  Many such vendors were of types traditional to the streets of Istanbul — sellers of köfte, of  rice topped with shredded chicken, of hot boiled corn, and of circular bread rolls dusted with toasted sesame seeds (semit); others represented fast responses to the one-off needs of protesters.  The latter hawked Turkish flags and portraits of Atatürk, t-shirts emblazoned with slogans of protest, and simple painter’s masks and cheap swimming goggles, both passed off as protection against tear gas.  Beverage vendors did brisk businesses selling ice-cold bottled water and — rarely seen on the streets of Istanbul — beer.  Indeed, in the initial days of the occupation and demonstrations, polishing off a bottle of beer, as well as providing refreshment, was a principled statement of opposition to a regime intent furthering a sectarian-driven war to limit alcohol consumption. In the end, Gezi Park occupiers eventually banned beer vendors, this to disprove  the Turkish Prime Minister’s allegations of nightly drunkenness and debauchery in the protestors’ encampment.  According to one report, at least one beer vendor put up violent resistance to such expulsion, stabbing a protester in the process.)
Revolutionary melon slices for a revolutionary market. The slogan scratched onto the watermelon: "Taksim, the people's revolution is coming." But, no matter how progressive, red, and tasty such melon slices may have been, the going price -- five lira per serving -- was counter-revolutionary at best! (Fuji X100) (Click on image to enlarge).

Revolutionary melon slices for a revolutionary market. The slogan scratched onto the watermelon: “Taksim, the people’s revolution is on.” But, no matter how red and tasty such melon slices may have been, the going price — five lira per serving — was counter-revolutionary at best! (Fuji X100) (Click on image to enlarge).

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Atatürk Cultural Center, Taksim Square, Istanbul, occupied and bedecked with banners of left wing groups, early-June 2013. (Canon G10) (Click on photo for larger image.)

Atatürk Cultural Center, Taksim Square, Istanbul,  bedecked with banners of left wing groups, Gezi Park occupation, early-June 2013. (Canon G10) (Click on photo to enlarge image.)

This past Saturday night, police once again ran amok in Taksim Square, Istanbul, using tear gas and high-pressure streams of chemically tainted water to drive away protesters.  The attack was minor, however, in comparison with the police’s violent ejection of occupiers and visitors to Gezi Park the Saturday before and their night-long violent siege of Taksim five days earlier.

A Change of Banners

During the two-week-long occupation of Gezi Park, adjacent Taksim Square was a locus of protest for left-wing demonstrators, many of them representatives of fragmented parties driven   ideologies more than  constituencies. As part of the Gezi occupation, a group of protesters took over the long-abandoned Atatürk Cultural Center building, a 1960s structure fronting on Taksim.  The steel-lattice-covered facade of the Atatürk Center made a perfect multistory bulletin-board for the banners of revolutionary sub-sects.  The first act of the Police upon clearing the Center of occupiers was to remove their banners and replace them with a triptych of a giant prim portrait of Atatürk flanked by two equally immense Turkish flags.  This ensemble conspicuously lacked the immense portrait of Turkey’s Prime Minister that is usually hung alongside that of Atatürk at the his outdoor rallies and as a backdrop to his lengthy television addresses).

 

Atatürk Curlutral Center, the morning after a brutal siege by police a week and a half ago.  Immediately after the siege, the police removed banners hung by left-wing groups and replaced them with a portrait of Atatürk flanked by two Turkish flags.  In an uncharacteristic departure from the usual iconography of of the present regime, a portrait of Prime Minister Erdoğan is conspicuous in its absence. (Fuji X100).  (To magnify image, click on photo)

Atatürk Cultural Center, the morning after a brutal siege by police a week and a half ago. Immediately after the siege, the police removed banners hung by left-wing groups and replaced them with a portrait of Atatürk flanked by two Turkish flags. In an uncharacteristic departure from the usual iconography of of the present regime, a portrait of Prime Minister Erdoğan is conspicuous by its absence. (Fuji X100). (To magnify image, click on photo)

Issues Crystallize Discontents

The occupation, demonstrations,  vigils, and battles around Gezi Park and Taksim Square this month provided a political and physical rallying point for overall discontent with the authoritarianism and sectarianism of the Erdogan regime and with its aggressive contempt for that half of the Turkish polity who do not support it.  Underlying this broader discontent were several sets of concrete issues that kicked-off the protests in the first place, including the relationship of policy-makers and profit-makers in the urban sphere, and the nature, ownership, and future of the urban landscape (more on this in a subsequent post).

Iconography of Urban Space

A subset of these issues involves the iconography of urban space and urban constructs.  For decades, Taksim has been destination and site for political marches, celebrations, and (all too often violently repressed) protests. Taksim, thus is  a  symbol of both the political cohesion and the political and social conflicts of the Turkish Republic.  The present plans of the Erdogan government to replace this meaning-charged open space with a full-sized replica of a late-Ottoman-Empire military barracks razed a century ago speaks volumes about the political, social, and cultural attitudes and intents of the present government, as does the government’s plan to demolish the Atatürk Center, once venue for concerts, opera, and theater, and named after the founder of the modern, secular Turkish Republic.  The reconstructed barracks, by the way, is slated to be one element of of a giant shopping-center and mosque complex planned to obliterate the footprint of what are now Gezi Park, Taksim Square, and the Atatürk Center.

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Commentary on coverage of the Gezi Park occupation and related demonstrations, part of an exhibition of political cartoons, Gezi Park encampment, early-June, 2013. (Fuji X100). (Click on photo for larger image.)

Commentary on Turkish domestic television’s minimal coverage of the Gezi Park occupation and related demonstrations, part of an exhibition of political cartoons, Gezi Park encampment, early-June, 2013. (Fuji X100). (Click on photo for larger image.)

An appeal to the world's press, apparently in as many languages as the young people responsible could muster on short notice, Gezi Park occupation, Istanbul, first half of June, 2013. (Fuji X100) (Click on image to enlarge.)

An appeal to the world’s press for adaquate coverage,, written in as many languages as those responsible could muster, Gezi Park occupation, Istanbul, first half of June, 2013. (Fuji X100) (Click on image to enlarge.)

No editorial text necessary, the placards speak for themselves.

Useful albeit incomplete advice, Gezi Park occupation, Istanbul, early-June 2013. (Fuji X100). (Click for larger image.)

Helpful but incomplete advice, Gezi Park occupation, Istanbul, early-June 2013. (Fuji X100). (Click for larger image.)

A dose of lemon juice is just one part of a well-prepared teargas antidote kit; an aerosol spray of over-the-counter antacids mixed with water is equally important.  Last Saturday night, just following the police invasion of Gezi Park, I found myself in the midst of an unprovoked police barrage of  chemically-tainted water cannon spray and exploding tear gas canisters.  In the aftermath of the attack, young people equipped with spray bottles of homemade antacid brew approached those afflicted with irritated skin, searing eyes, and shortness of breath (this observer included) to  spray them with antacid solution.  My thanks to these properly-outfitted good Samaritans.  The various antacid solutions, by the way, uncannily resembled, in taste and color, the Maalox liquid once swigged by a generation of harried, ulcerous office workers and milk-of-magnesia, one of the more unpleasant pharmaceutical mixtures regularly spooned out to children back in the years of my childhood. But, the relief the concoctions provided was more than welcome nonetheless!

Banner  illustrated with the face of poet Nazim Hikmet and the first lines of his allegorical poem about a chestnut tree in Gülhane Park; Gezi Park, Istanbul, early June, 2013

Banner illustrated with the face of poet Nazim Hikmet and two lines (“I am a walnut tree in Gülhane Park; neither you know this nor the police”) excerpted from one of his most famous poems; Gezi Park occupation, Istanbul, early June, 2013. (FujiX100) (For larger image, click on photo.)

Two banners, two presences — the first inspiring, the second prescient — above crowds gathered in Gezi Park, Istanbul, earlier this months.

The banner at the top bears the face of long-exiled Turkish communist poet Nazim Hikmet (b.1902, Salonica; d. 1963,Moscow).  It also contains the best-known lines from his famous poem “The Walnut Tree” (click here for full text in English-language translation), about his own experience hiding from the police amongst the walnut trees in Istanbul’s Gülhane Park.

The banner below is headed “Addicted to Pepper Gas/Gezi.”  The anarchist sign in place of the  “e” and the addition of the letter “I” puns “Gas” with “Gezi.”  Gezi Park was cleared of occupiers last Saturday night at 9:00pm by police indiscriminately firing round after round of tear gas into  crowds of peaceful occupiers and visitors, children and elderly included.  I watch scores of victims, some unconscious and some badly burned, being hand carried to a nearby hospital or conveyed by shuttling ambulances. An “addiction” overdose indeed!

Banner text: Pepper Gas/Gezi. Gezi Park Occupation, Istanbul, early-June 2013. (Fuji X100) (For larger image, click on photo.)

Banner heading: ‘”Addicted to Pepper Gas/Gezi.” Gezi Park Occupation, Istanbul, early-June 2013. (Fuji X100) (For larger image, click on photo.)

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The text of the banner:

Hey, Tayyip!
Be human, show respect and be respected,
Turn your face and heart to God and your people,
Show respect to the souls of our ancestors: Turks, Kurds, Armenians, and Jews,
With a single heart they gave their blood for our unmatched homeland.
We know our constitutional rights.
Together, using Article14 of the constitution,
We will burn out your light bulb (the logo of the ruling AK Party).

(tr. Serhat Güven)

This banner moved me, and not only because I am active in one of the communities it mentions.  As a native New Yorker and the product of an immigrant world, I know the culture of inter-communal respect, public participation, and inclusive politics that commitment to diversity can engender.  And, as someone who, over the years, has also lived and worked in self-proclaimed mono-ethnic, mono-linguistic, and mono-religious countries that, even up to the final years of the 20th-century, marginalized, expelled, and murdered Gypsies, Muslims, and Jews, I know that acknowledgement of the legitimacy of diversity can comprise a giant step towards enduring democracy.  I do not know which group raised this banner and wrote its appeal to Turkey’s “Leader,”  but, whoever they are,  I do thank them respectfully.