Sleepless in Istanbul

Date:

I have been in Istanbul for 16 hours, but already there is more to tell than I have the time to write. The purpose of the following blog is not to provide an in-depth analysis of the events that have lead up to the present situation in which I find myself, nor to provide a detailed scholarly analysis of the political, social and economic superstructure to which these events relate (one can find such things elsewhere and in time I intend to contribute to this), rather the purpose of this blog is to provide sporadic updates, quotes, interviews, links and images from the front lines of the as of yet unsatisfactorily termed 'Turkish Summer'.

I arrived at night, being met by a Turkish friend, who promptly saw me off to a contacts house who has kindly allowed me to stay for the coming days. My current base is around 10 minutes walk from Taksim Square. Arriving at night my first hours are spent in the company of my host and his friends, a group who can broadly be considered as being part of the non-party politically aligned secular liberal-left. I arrive to find them already in the full thrall of a discussion about the policies of the Erdoğan regime, police repression and the unfolding protests, I make some notes. For Arkados, the issue of Erdoğan's erosion of Turkey's secular culture is critical. He highlights the governments suspension of secular celebrations as state holidays and the repression of journalists, telling me "the religious agenda is in the government, the state brand of Islamism is becoming an obligation, you cannot live without subscribing to it", he is nevertheless quick to mention that "even the religious people are against him", to which his friend Arka adds "within the protests there are people who voted for him". Arkados and his friends mention the flurry of protests in what they deem to be religious and conservative towns and cities and continually refer to the expanding government censorship and control of the mainstream media. They discussed with me the process of the privatisation and liberalisation of the Turkish economy, as Arka puts it to me "he is selling this country". In our conversations they emphasise the very broad scope of participation in the protests and riots, both in terms of political allegiance and economic background, as Arkados puts it "all these groups coming together, I have never seen this before, this is not fucking Woodstock and it is not Yugoslavia, this is a new era".

Eser tells me that "people here are not discussing politics here, because they are fed up with politics, they speak of rights and democracy", to which Arkados is quick to reply "but that is politics, a new kind of politics, we are discussing everything now". Throughout the conversation one young man continually searches the internet for the latest news, remaining largely silent, except when he finds a new snippet, largely from blogs and social media, he brings up the issue of a delegation from Gezi Park that is set to meet with Erdoğan on Wednesday 12th June. The group express disgust, questioning who these people are and from where they received their mandate, Arka tells me "every kind of political party is trying to get as much out of this as they can, they use it like an advertisement, but we ask them 'where were you? Have you smelt the gas?". I make my excuses and turn in for bed, the conversation comes to a close with Arkados translating a phrase for me that had come up during the conversation "it's difficult to make them stand, but once they do it's difficult to make them sit again". I suppose we shall see.

I awake at 9:00 am on Tuesday 11th June with a phone call from an anti-state communist comrade who tells me "they are attacking the square". This call was reiterated moments later by another call from a leftist Turkish contact who tells me "they stated to attack at 7 am I think, they are moving past the Atatürk Cultural Center, they are trying to clear out the place, they claim not the park itself, but their is gas and clashes all over the place". Running out into the morning sun I am surprised to find day to day life playing out quite normally around me, shops and small businesses are open as usual, the closer I got to the square the more the more I found signs of what was to come, old and young with Styrofoam masks, scarfs and other breathing protection, the occasional improvised flag.

Suddenly I found myself turning a corner and I could see the square, clouds of tear gas could be seen over the park and the air became increasingly difficult to breath. Around 9.30 am I found Sıraselviler street blocked by riot police, a crowd of young men and women were throwing stones before retreating once. I stopped to speak to them, a young woman spoke to me in English, she was quick to inform me that they were attacked first "we fight because we must defend ourselves, we are not wrong here" she said, she frantically informed me that rubber bullets had been fired and advised me to take a different side street to enter Taksim Square. The fighting had subsided for a moment and I was able to weave through lines of riot police fairly easily in order to proceed to the area of the square immediately adjacent to the Atatürk Cultural Center. As with much of the square and Gezi Park this area has amassed a visually staggering array of improvised structures, crowds of people and the flags and banners of countless different political parties and organisations, including those of Devrimci Anarsist Faaliyet, the Revolutionary Anarchist Initiative. As I climbed the steps toward Gezi Park I noticed that diggers were busied behind a police line removing some unprotected pieces of barricade, a sight curiously offset by the sight of groups of protesters cleaning up debris from the expanse of square between the steps and the police lines.

I spoke to various comrades from Devrimci Anarsist Faaliyet about the mornings events and the general situation, they were pleased to hear that I was writing a blog for Libcom and informed me that they have an English language text about the uprising, this shall be posted in the coming days. Hakeem from Devrimci Anarsist Faaliyet, speaking in an individual capacity, had the following to say to me: "We are not here just for the trees or the green, it's a fight against the terrorism of the state and these capitalist projects for the city". Hakeem went on to state that "for us we want a general strike, but this is not happening due to the reformists in the unions". We spoke briefly about the rioting and the use of violent self defense, Hakeem informed me that "there are some who try to hold back the revolutionary groups calling them agent provocateaurs", but also mentioned the presence of plained clothed police within the protests. Hakeem went on to emphasise a point that I have heard again and again from practically everyone I have spoken to, namely that the protests have brought together vast numbers of people with very different views, including both the previously apolitical and those from political organisations, as well as different ethnic and religious groups, yet he seemed positive that, at least at the moment, this practical truce was holding up stating "we fight together with one slogan 'against fascism we are together'. Our conversations were called short by an impromptu meeting, but I have agreed to interview some of the comrades within the coming days.

The situation within Gezi Park seemed markedly different from those I had experienced closer to the police lines. The area is packed with tents, info points, kitchen and medical areas. I met with various contacts and comrades from both Turkey and various European countries at the park, I intend to carry out interviews with several of these comrades so stay tunes for more updates. I discussed the tactics being employed by the police with a comrade and independent photo-journalist who stated "the police seem very calculated, moving in partially, then out again". I went on to discuss this issue with a Turkish anti-state communist comrade who originates near the Syrian boarder, lets call him Himmet, he said that he thought it was "a clever strategy" as the attack was expected on each of the previous days (which have been comparitively placcid), leading to less people being present this morning and those who were present being fatigued. He went on to confirm a rumour that is currently circulating on the internet that two different kinds of tear gas are being used, a normal variety and also an 'orange' variety, erroneously termed 'agent orange' by some present, further information on this to follow.Himmet spoke to me about his fears about a militarisation of the situation, stating that it was potentially possible that those groups with their origins in the Marxist-Leninist armed struggle may being to react in armed insurrection and stated that it was similarly possible that the regime may begin to make use of armed Islamist organisations.

The conversation was brief and at this stage I have no further information or evidence to back up these claims. Sporadic fighting began again around 14:20 (or at least that was when I became aware of it), this appeared to subside again, but I have had reports that further skirmishes have broken out while I have been writing this. Everyone is talking about the importance of the mobilisation at the square tonight at 19:00 pm, the clock is ticking and I have to return. Depending on what happens this evening I intend to move tomorrow to one of the info points within the square itself. See you there.

Title image shows clearance of Taksim square morning off June 11th, source unknown.

Brief notes, quotes and interviews from inside the current uprising in the Republic of Turkey. All names have been changed to protect the anonymity of those involved. The views expressed by individuals and groups within these blog posts are not necessarily the views of the author. This article has been pasted from a blog by Dominic over at Libcom.org. where it was posted on Tuesday, June 11th.

Like what you're reading?
Find out when we publish more via the
WSM Facebook
& WSM Twitter