Turkey: Who Will Kneel Before Whom?

Marchers carrying the banner of a folkloric dance association, Istiklal Cadessi (Avenue), Istanbul, , 1 June 2013,  The hundreds of thousands of other marchers that passed through Istiklal that day ranged from trade unionists to nationalists, to fringe leftists, to lesbians and gays, and to just ordinary people. Marching phalanxes from Istanbul's football (soccer) fan clubs added a tough working-class edge. (Fuji X100)

Marchers carrying the banner of a folkloric dance association, Istiklal Cadessi (Avenue), Istanbul, , 1 June 2013, The hundreds of thousands of other marchers that passed through Istiklal that day ranged from trade unionists to nationalists, to fringe leftists, to lesbians and gays, and to just ordinary people. Marching phalanxes from Istanbul’s football (soccer) fan clubs added a tough working-class edge. (Fuji X100)

As of yesterday morning, I had planned to write a reflective post on the significance and of the confluence of urban issues that sparked the present protests in Istanbul.   I abandoned this idea at 9:00pm last night, when Turkey’s self-styled “Leader” — in a manner redolent of European diplomacy Anno 1938 — unilaterally broke the agreement he had reached on Friday with an umbrella organization of protestors and let the police loose on the occupation encampment in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, at the time packed with a Saturday night crowd of visitors and well-wishers.

A police riot ensued.  I watched scores of protestors and bystanders overcome and burned by tear gas being hand-carried by their fellows to a nearby hospital.  In a side street, I stood with the front-line of peaceful, albeit very vocal, demonstrators as the police, without provocation, sprayed them with jets of chemically tainted water and fired tear gas into their midst as they retreated.  Last week, an acquaintance told me that when the police come to clear the Gezi he and his friends would stop them with “smiles and hugs.”  Sadly, neither worked well against police batons and chemical weapons.

So, instead of focusing on  urban issues, the next several posts to this site will comprise a photographic tribute to the millions of Turkish citizens who peacefully demonstrated and occupied parks and streets these past weeks.  Despite stereotypes presented in the Turkish and Western press, these were demonstrations and not “riots” (the only rioters I saw were the police themselves).  Also, not all demonstrators were young or naive and not all were from the left or the privileged middle class.  And, not all protestors demonstrated or camped in Gezi Park; some simply took to their balconies in residential neighborhoods across the city, banged together pots and pans and shouted: “Tencere, Tava, Tayyip Istifa” (Pot, Pan, Tayyip resign.)

A word on the approach behind the photos in this and the next subsequent entries:

Photojournalists tend to work with extreme telephoto lenses to capture dramatic and “decisive” moments and isolate iconic images.  I photograph mostly up close-up and with moderate wide angle lenses.  I look for context and for ordinary, prosaic moments.  Thus, the photographs that follow attempt to portray the ordered and optimistic nature (to date!) of the present protests and show the diversity of ordinary citizens unjustly accused of looting and rioting.

The Turkish Prime Minister announced that he would never kneel before "looters/freebooters" occupying Gezi Park and the marchers demonstrating on their behalf.  This marching folklorist carries a sign liberally translated as: "Even when we dance Zeybek (a traditional dance involving crouching steps), we do not kneel!"

The Turkish Prime Minister announced that he would never kneel before “looters/freebooters” occupying Gezi Park and the marchers demonstrating on their behalf. This marching folklorist carries a sign liberally translated as: “Even when we dance Zeybek (a traditional dance involving crouching steps), we do not kneel!.” It remains to be seen who, in the end, will be the one(s) kneeling. (FujiX100)

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