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Turkey: “A Tree Dies, A Nation Rises”

The situation in Istanbul turned violent when police cracked down on peaceful protesters on Friday, May 31. The peaceful sit-in started five days ago where several tens of people gathered to oppose planned by the government urban reorganization of Istanbul's only green spot: the Gezi Park. The brutality used by police forces — teargas, water cannons, fists and batons — to expel protesters from the park generated a broad outcry, as images of people including children and elderly sheltering themselves from teargas started flooding social networks.

On Saturday morning, thousands started converging to the nearby Taksim Square in support. Reports of large gatherings in support in other Turkish cities such as the capital city of Ankara, and in Izmir followed. What started as a peaceful sit-in to protect a park from being turned into a mall evolved into a broad protest demanding Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to step down, as Zeynep Dagli wrote earlier:

What started out as civilians opposing the building of a shopping centre in one of our few remaining green corners, has turned into a strong voice against a government who is unable to listen to its citizens. Erdogan said “I have decided and that's that” which is what escalated the pressure that has been hiding in everyone all along. Police has been spraying tear gas for hours non-stop against its own citizens who are offering food to the sleepless police in return. What is even more interesting is that a young generation who deemed to be apoliticial are one voice one strength, sunnis, shias, armenians, leftists, nationalists, jews are all one voice against a government who turned deaf. The youth is one voice since they never really felt that they were different.

While more and more people were gathering in Gezi Park and nearby Taksim Square, countless calls for attention from international mainstream media were sent through social media as local coverage was suppressed. Zeynep Dagli continues:

We get ZERO coverage locally. Facebook and twitter are our only source. Even that is being blocked by jammers around the square. Local media is suppressed by the government.
They have stopped broadcasting CNN, AlJazeera, BBC on the local digital cable.

This massive state-supported suppression has already been discussed just a few days ago by Human Rights Watch (HRW) Emma Sinclair-Webb:

One of Turkey’s most fundamental human rights problems is in fact intolerance of free speech. Politicians regularly sue journalists for defamation.  Editors and publishers are mostly unwilling to permit much criticism of the government for fear of harming their bosses’ other business interests.

Juan Cole continues along the same line:

Turkey’s political tradition has never been particularly tolerant of dissent, and unfortunately the AKP [Turkey's ruling majority] is continuing in a tradition of crackdowns on political speech it doesn’t like. Reporters without Borders ranks the country 154 for press freedom, and it has 76 journalists in jail, and “at least 61 of those were imprisoned as a direct result of their work.” Observers are astonished to find that Saturday morning’s newspapers in Turkey are virtually silent about the protests. Editors have clearly been intimidated into keeping quiet about these events.

Is it “just” for the trees?

Although Erdogan's government enjoys quite popular support, its plans for urban reorganization have become a major stumbling block. A very recent example is the inauguration on May 29, 2013, by PM Erdogan himself of a third bridge across the Bosphorus Strait. The bridge will require between 350,000 and 2,000,000 trees (different sources give different numbers) to be uprooted. During the inauguration, Erdogan referred to the occupation of Gezi Park: “It does not matter what you [the protesters] do. We made a decision… We will follow through with that decision.” This was perceived by many as a sign of despotism and nepotism as the privatization — for “renewal” — of Gezi Park is orchestrated by Erdogan's son-in-law.

A widely circulated image on social networks thus sums up the general feeling among protesters:

Taksim

Image circulated on social network starts with “This is not about a park” and ends with “This is about democracy”.

“Everywhere is Taksim, Resistance Everywhere.”

The situation has been extremely hectic since the early morning of Saturday, June 1. Brutal repression did not prevent people from all political and social backgrounds to continue gathering in Taksim Square and elsewhere in Istanbul and Turkey:

@myriamonde: protestors are ridiculously diverse right now. ranging from ultra nationalist turks to kurds, extremely apolitical ppl, football fans…fun!

@stevenacook: This isnt just IST [Istanbul]. Calls for protests in Adana, Izmir, Ankara, Eskisehir, Anatalya, Izmit, Bursa, Fethiye, Samsun, Yozgat, etc #Turkey

@TCilterkaan28: The solidarity of the Turkish Nation Turkey News Taksim Doctors also for the public squares? #occupyturkey pic.twitter.com/8AEAeb078o

@sciencewitch: People are writing blood types on their arms in case if emergency #occupygezi #direngeziparkı pic.twitter.com/5CEocyrhUI (via @beyinbilir )

A widely circulated image shows the actor playing Suleyman the Magnificent taking to the streets on June 1, 2013.

A widely circulated image shows the actor playing Suleyman the Magnificent taking to the streets on June 1, 2013.

Shortly before noon, PM Erdogan addressed the nation saying that “Turkey is well-functioning parliamentary democracy”, naming ongoing turmoil “serious provocations” and firmly condemning protests as “anti-democratic”:

@MahirZeynalov: Turkish PM Erdogan: All attempts besides elections are anti-democratic, illegitimate. #occupyturkey

@MahirZeynalov: Turkish PM Erdogan: Those who have problems with the government, they can deal with us in the ballot box. #occupyturkey

The speech was met with anger and irony online:

@YesimKitchen: @MahirZeynalov no LOL for this???

@ianbrealey: @MahirZeynalov Oh dear. He doesnt get it does he. For a peceful transition in a democracy he should incorporate opposition into policy.

@fhenriques: @MahirZeynalov So, he believes in a dictatorship of the majority instead of a democracy that represents everyone

@MaliciaRogue: Turkish Prime Minister's understanding of democracy is like Olympics: a 1-day election event organized every 4 years #occupygezi #Taksim

Unconfirmed reports of the use of agent orange, a chemical weapon used during the Vietnam War, emerged during the day, and were later denied. In addition, there were unconfirmed reports about the government blocking or being about to block internet and GSM communications within the country. Various sources reported 3G connection within Taksim Square seems to be misfunctional, which was later attributed to congestion rather than state-supported targeted blackout. Activists from Telecomix also denied internet blocking. Solidarity organizes despite communication breakdown:

@Bcdmir: #occupygezi I saw doctors, medical students, pharmacists sharing their mobile to help wounded people

@sciencewitch: Taxis carry people to Taksim without charge. Pharmacies hand out free masks. This is government against its own people. #occupygezi

To follow the ongoing events, check out hashtags #occupygezi, #Taksim, #OccupyTaksim, #OccupyTurkey, #Turkey on Twitter. The #OccupyGezi Tumblr is regularly updated with images, and Turkish Indymedia has set up a collaborative multilingual update of events. Meanwhile, a petition was launched on Avaaz calling for PM Erdogan to order the end of police brutality.

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