Went to the protest in Taksim today, though that makes it sound like it’s relegated to a certain area. Unless you’re in a very conservative district you’re likely to see people walking the streets with flags, people at their windows banging pots and pans, cars flashing their caution lights while the driver leans on the horn. What needs to be said is that the protests are largely peaceful. While there is a good deal of vandalism—graffiti, destruction of police apparatus, smashed signs and windows—it’s rather superficial and many of the protesters are opposed to this behavior.
We were there for a maybe four or five hours, and the experience was more than enough. I’d never taken part in a protest where there was a real threat of violence. There are reports that the police have killed a few people, and while none of them are confirmed, there’s plenty of video evidence on Youtube to show the brutality they’re willing to inflict. Here are a few photos of what we saw in Besiktas and Taksim. Thanks to my girlfriend for taking them.
First photo shows one area people were using to enter Taksim from Besiktas. When we got here we had to climb over several dividers to get to the hill. We were just about to climb over the last one when we heard people collectively shout and saw others scrambling through our periphery. Two water cannons sped down the street to force people to disperse. I made it to the largest tree in the photo before taking a shot of water to the back. The force wasn’t bad, just the chill it gave. And there was definitely something in the water, as people coughed after the trucks drove off. Probably pepper water, but really no way to tell. On our way up a man took hold of my arm and said ‘Government to resign. Tell this to everyone.’
Next is some graffiti on a wall leading to Taksim. There was graffiti everywhere—in a tunnel in Uskudar on the other side of the city where we caught the boat to Besiktas, on dumpsters in Kadikoy, and any clear enough space in Taksim’s heart—almost all directed at Tayyip Erdogan. This particular one asks if Tayyip urinated on a mosque. There were many others: ‘Faso Tayyip,’ ‘Tayyip naber?’ ‘O.C. [orospu cocugu] Tayyip,’ meaning fascist Tayyip, what’s up Tayyip? and Tayyip is the son of a whore.
Two from Taksim Square, both taken from the entrance. The first one is looking back on the large promenade preceding Istiklal Street. A little bit to the right is a large statue, not in the photo, where protesters from different political parties and social activist groups climbed up and together waved differing flags. Second one shows the street parallel to Istiklal. Hard to see, but protesters stood shoulder to shoulder all the way down. Same goes for Istiklal, tough we couldn’t see a decent photo. Unbeknownst to us at the time, the police had just left, ironically rendering Taksim the safest place to be. The mood was peaceful. People protested by chanting or waving an organization’s flag or did more innocuous things like chat and drink beer. There were so many people that not only were the police forced to leave, they couldn’t have gotten in if they’d tried, at least not without gunning people down.
This third photo is also from Taksim Square, one of an abandoned police van the protesters got a hold of. Most of the graffiti is self-explanatory, or its meaning I wrote about earlier. One thing that can’t be seen but should be said is that someone nestled an empty carton of ayran on the smashed windshield. Ayran is a popular drink in Turkey, like salty yogurt water if you can imagine, recently proclaimed the official drink of Turkey by Erdogan in place of Raki, a very popular alcoholic drink. Since Erdogan’s promotion of ayran, it’s become an inside joke among Turks to mock him for this.
Coming back down the way we came. Same place above where they shot water cannons at us. When we returned, there was a totaled police truck, which had been flipped and thoroughly ripped apart. A few idiots attempted to set the thing on fire, probably not realizing how dangerous that would be. Again two water cannons rolled through, and people hurled whatever they had at the trucks. For a moment both were caught in traffic, and protesters swarmed around. We sat on the hill for a while, and as the day waned and it grew a bit colder, we decided to head to the harbor.
But it wouldn’t be that easy. Before we left we found out Besiktas was being tear gassed. The harbor we needed to get to was in Besiktas, but it’s a large area and we figured we could get there. Not so. Police had blocked off the road to the harbor and were launching tear gas and spraying water. At the time we weren’t sure why they would block people from leaving the protest area since they had so little control of the situation. It seems more plausible that they were trying to keep other people from joining, cutting them off at the harbor entrance. We heard later that this was true; people were getting sprayed and gassed almost as soon as they stepped off the boat. This photo is on the street near Dolmabahce Sarayi Palace. It’s hard to see most of it set against the sky at dusk, but all that white smoke is from canisters of tear gas. A lot of strange things happened on this street, and it was the one moment of the protest that was genuinely frightening. At one point a group of people started attacking an ambulance, and once it got away from the protesters, the side and back doors were open, and it looked pretty empty. A guy running by said they got the door open and there were two men wearing suits, government employees. There were also rumors that ambulances were spraying tear gas. It was this moment in the protest where the demonstrators seemed disoriented and confused; bizarre conspiracy theories like this didn’t seem true, and most likely the demonstrators were getting a little paranoid after being cut off or were themselves plants by the government to get people riled up and attack innocuous forces. Seeing as how a few minutes after the ambulance was stoned, three water cannons flew down the street to clear the crowds. And this is when everyone got a little on edge. People ran away or towards the police seemingly at random, the crowd shifted weight a few times, and whenever a siren was heard or lights flashed everyone panicked for a moment. We turned back knowing we’d never get to the harbor, and were scared for a second when it looked like a police had set up a barricade on the other side, trapping everyone on the road. At 9:00 we made it to a different harbor, hopped on a boat and went back.
Today most of the protests have subsided due to rain, though supposedly they’ll continue tonight. I hope so. At the same time, it’s awfully tiring going out there day and night, again and again and again. As I wrote yesterday, it won’t matter much if Erdogan comes out victorious; his reputation has been tarnished, his totalitarian behavior exposed for all the world to see. His ruthless response to the plight of protesters—‘If you send 100,000, I’ll send a million’—shows his contempt for the population.
Anyone looking for updates on the situation can check here:
Hurriyet Daily News — A Turkish daily, one of the few in English
Zaman — Another Turkish daily, more conservative than Hurriyet
Halk TV — Live streaming on the events in Istanbul and Ankara