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Gezi Park / Taksim Square

Gezi Park, early-June, 2013.  A prime minister's unsubstantiated allegations of desecration of mosques, attacks on pious women, and public drinking and sex (both, alas, missed by this observer) recall an ugly, divisive canard of the Vietnam War era. (Fuji X100). (Click on image to enlarge).

Gezi Park, early-June, 2013. A prime minister’s unsubstantiated allegations of desecration of mosques, attacks on pious women, and public drinking and sex (both, alas, missed by this observer) recall a cheap, divisive canard of the Vietnam War era. (Fuji X100). (Click on image to enlarge).

From Sofia, Bulgaria, a final post on last month’s occupation of Gezi Park and the trajectory of protests in Istanbul and throughout Turkey …

As of this past Wednesday, the Turkish government’s plan to for the “development” of Gezi Park and Taksim Square was put on hold.  A Turkish court, responding to a petition by Istanbul’s Chamber of Architects, held the project in violation of architectural preservation laws, this due to the historical character and functions of Gezi/Taksim.

From afar and in retrospect, an underlying difference between the protestors and the prime minister and his supporters springs to the fore.  On the side of the former there has been a focus on concrete issues and coalition-building;  on the side of the latter, however, there has been a ducking of issues and, instead, a retreat into intimidation, aspersions, and ad hominem attack.   A “scorecard” of sorts — and a cautionary tale of headscarves and Rambo — follow …

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Marchers approaching Gezi Park from Osman Bey and Harbiye; Istanbul, early-June, 2013. In the center, the uncompleted open trench for an automobile underpass under and through Taksim Square, the main element in the road widening project that initially sparked the Gezi Park occupation. (Fuji X100). Click on image to enlarge.

Marchers approaching Gezi Park from Osman Bey and Harbiye; Istanbul, early-June, 2013. In the center, the uncompleted open trench for an automobile underpass under and through Taksim Square, the main element in the road widening project that initially sparked the Gezi Park occupation. (Fuji X100). Click on image to enlarge.

During the Gezi Park occupation, marchers from the direction of Harbiye and the residential neighborhoods beyond it appeared to be more diverse in age and in walks-of-life than those marching from the night-spot-filled side-streets and central promenade of Istiklal Caddesi.  This past Sunday, such diversity was augmented by the large turnout for a lesbian and gay march to Taksim and Gezi Park.

A Road to Nowhere?

By itself, the Turkish government’s plan to shunt traffic under and past Taksim Square might indeed lessen vehicular congestion, thus freeing this iconic location from dominance by motor vehicle traffic.  In conjunction with the plan to replace all of Taksim Square and Gezi Park with a massive complex of shopping mall, mosque, and fantasy reconstruction of a 19th-century military barracks, however, the underpass will instead deliver more automobile traffic into the urban core, a further step toward transforming a vital, unplanned, dense, “legacy” urban agglomeration into just another suburb.

There Is No There There”

Had the early-twentieth-century American expatriate writer and aesthete Gertrude Stein still been alive, and had she visited Istanbul this month and last, she no doubt would have joined the protests at Taksim and Gezi Park and almost certainly would have attended the recent lesbian and gay march.

Nearly a century ago, describing the seemingly charming town of Sausaliito, north of San Francisco, Stein is said to have quipped: “There is no there there.”  In Istanbul, by giving primacy to the automobile and the development of giant office and residential towers and suburban-type mall complexes, the powers-that-be are compromising pedestrian flows and traditional street life, thus contributing to a future in which, without doubt, there will be almost “… no there there.”

“Seventy-Two Suburbs in Search of a City”

American writer and humorist Dorothy Parker, a contemporary of Stein, once described the megalopolis Los Angeles as “… seventy-two suburbs in search of a city.”  The present near-dysfunctional state of greater Los Angeles provides a cautionary tale for Istanbul as it continues its far-flung expansion and  conversion into a near endless checkerboard of malls, office parks, and gated residential “communities” all interconnected by automobile traffic.

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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!