A Short Retrospective Look on the 31st May Uprising in Turkey

Published on ZNet, by Ali Saysel, July 18, 2013.

With this article, I aim at summarizing the key events in the ongoing resistance in Turkey since 31st of May through an insider’s look from Istanbul, with the help of several opinions that has been published in Turkish mostly in alternative internet media and based on my exchange with friends who are somewhat involved in resistance to different extents.  

As of today, five people have been killed, three people have died due to cardiovascular and respiratory impact of heavy tear gas, more than ten have lost their eyes by tear gas bullets fired by the police and over one hundred have suffered head trauma. There were thousands of custodies and over one hundred arrests … //

… That evening, President Abdullah Gül ratified the annoying “alcohol law” restricting alcohol sales. This was interpreted as an insulting gesture of the power block united against the secular society.

The second week, Tayyip Erdo?an worked hard to take control and corner the movement. Firstly, creating a divide in discourse between true environmentalists concerned about the green and vandals and pro-coup groups trying to abuse this mobilization was considered useful. In implementation of this discourse, the police attacked Taksim square and cleared the resisters blockades, vandalized police cars and construction vehicles, the red flags hanging over the large Atatürk Cultural Center and the Ataturk statue.

Secondly, several conspiracy theories were considered useful and put in circulation through mainstream media. According to such theories, the “interest lobby” and the western powers, including major forces such as Germany was funding the resistance to topple down Erdo?an, the most powerful prime minister that Turkey ever had, exactly when the Turkish economy was performing at its best. Chief curator of such theories was the director of a mainstream TV channel sponsored by corporate groups close to Erdo?an, and he is now rewarded with the Prime Minister’s chief advisory office.

Thirdly, Erdo?an was signaling that he can come in some terms with the resistance. With a P&R effort, he first started negotiations with irrelevant magazine figures, then with other artists who showed up in Gezi protests and to the end of the week with spokespersons from Taksim Solidarity.

Here it is important to note several anomalies: Most of the things being negotiated were local demands concerning Taksim and Gezi, under the jurisdiction of Istanbul municipality, but it was the Prime Minister himself, not the Istanbul mayor, negotiating with the protestors. A parallel anomaly was Taksim Solidarity, which emerged from the local resistance in Taksim but now transformed itself to de-facto representative of the resistance in Turkey and negotiating the conditions for ending the occupation with the prime minister in Ankara.

On Friday, apparently, the spokespersons from Taksim Solidarity were quite convinced with Erdo?an’s concessions that ironically, the government would follow the court’s verdict in Taksim development, and even if the verdict favored the government’s plan, they would ask this to the public in a plebiscite. Taksim Solidarity had to find a way out to convince its partner organizations and the independent activists to end the occupation in Gezi and to create a new activism, maybe with a few tents kept in Gezi on rotational basis for several uses. In the meanwhile Erdo?an was preparing for a victorious finale in ?stanbul with his party’s “Respect to National Will” meeting in Istanbul. Time was short. Taksim Solidarity was lacking the organs to arrive at a quick decision. Erdo?an was in a rush to prove his ultimate power.

There were full day meetings around the Taksim area, imitating bottom-up democracy, however arriving nowhere. Heroic speeches were celebrated while rational talks were despised. It was understood late in the evening that, actually, relatively big partners of Solidarity were observing that the occupation in Gezi was quite unsustainable and were trying to pass a decision towards a controlled evacuation of the area. Left factions were accusing them for betrayal. The end result of the talks was a quite heroic public declaration that came early on Saturday morning. When the declaration was read on the news channels, it was understood that the resistance would go on, however what specific intentions did the resisters have for Gezi was obscure.

Erdo?an’s deep insult towards secular society was not yet satisfied. Saturday evening, quite unexpected at least exactly at that time, a much more brutal police raid swept Gezi when there were thousands of activists and visitors inside. The resisters were followed to kilometers away from Taksim, police force was fortified with transfers from other cities. Now, blockades were not only around Taksim but in everywhere, avoiding groups of people gathering and approaching Taksim from remote districts.

On Sunday, Istanbul was Erdo?an’s. Public transportation along the arcs connecting to Taksim and Be?ikta? was cancelled to avoid possible mass mobilization towards Taksim. Police was attacking small groups everywhere to avoid a mass unrest from the very start. On the other hand, special voyages and party envoys were carrying Erdo?an’s supporters from their home districts (some of them poor working class neighborhoods) to Kazl?çe?me meeting place where Erdo?an was preparing to preach on the international conspiracy, the moral looseness of the resisters and how it contrasts with “our” genuine values.

That day, Erdo?an once more fall victim of his utter contempt towards secular classes and the leftists.

On Monday, in return, two large labor unions KESK and DISK called for a half-baked, ill-organized general strike, which once more proved that labor unions, as well as political parties were not able to sufficiently address to their members and fellow workers. The setback of the unions’ parade before approaching to Taksim was helping to create a psychology of defeat. On the other hand, people were not submitting but gathering in various public parks in Istanbul, preparing for a third phase of the movement.

In one of his regular contributions in alternative internet media, an author identified the movement as “secular resistance”. The resistance was mobilized particularly with strong resentment towards AKP’s shift from conservative populism which supports its neo-liberal economic policies to an insulting Turk-Islamist ideology which risks sustainability of its economic order. The resistance had a mixed class character. While the left parties and unions were systematically making wrong calculations and creating a psychology of defeat, (a fact that would become more evident in the third phase), and while the nationalist Turkish left was searching for a military takeover in vain, the secular resistance dominated by young middle class individuals was now challenged with the task of organizing.

I will summarize the events after 18th of June, soon in a second article. For a background on the affairs in Turkey that had created large scale public discontent, the readers can refer to another ZNet article:
Gezi Park Resistance in Turkey: Reasons, Lessons and Possible Consequences.

(full long text).

Links:

turkey protests on Google News-search;

After the Flood: Life in Germany’s Disaster Zone, on Spiegel Online International, by staff *, July 12, 2013;
* [staff: Björn Hengst, Anna Kistner, Birger Menke, Hendrik Ternieden (Reporters);
Guido Grigat, Chris Kurt, Hanz Sayami (Graphics/Design);
Sara Maria Manzo, Thies Schnack, Martin Sümening, Leonie Voss (Videos);
Almut Cieschinger, Mara Küpper (Researchers)
].

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