In Turkey a new wave of protest is spreading through the country. This time, it comes from the capital Ankara, in particular the campus of METU, the Middle Eastern Technical University.
The underlying motives for revolt are still the same. Resistance against savage capitalism and against a dictatorial style of government. Similar to Gezi, the direct stakes are a few hundred unsuspecting trees. Trees on the university campus, to make way for a road, as ordered by mayor Melih Gökçek.
Students at METU generally don’t like long time mayor Gökçek, and they like his party colleague Tayyip Erdogan even less. Plus, METU students have a reputation for being fierce warriors in battle.
Last December, Erdogan came to METU to monitor the launch of a Turkish military satellite built by the Chinese. He brought with him an army of 3000 police officers, 8 water cannons and dozens of ‘scorpions’ as a testimony to the students’ militant valour.
Although outnumbered three to one, a brave detachment of black-clad students clashed with riot police in the woods of the campus until late at night. At the costs of dozens of wounded, of whom one serious, they stood their ground until Erdogan was gone.
The regime struck back in the following days by rounding up the ‘leaders’, using anti-terror laws. A week later the students admitted that they had been rightfully demonized by the government press, and that they were, in fact, the root of all evil. Hundreds of students marched over the campus wearing masks of Darth Vader. The most malicious among them was carried by his fellow Vaders on a shield, right to the entrance of the campus, where the press was waiting for an evil statement.
The killing of the Kurds, the censorship of the press, the exploitation of the workers, the sell-out of public space for private gain, and more. For all these things he claimed responsibility, and for all these reasons, the METU students represented the embodiment of evil.
Let me tell you something about the stories surrounding the legendary Darth Vaders of METU. In the first few months of the Gezi uprising, they would go clashing with police every single night, on principle. The repression had been especially hard in the capital where authorities wanted to avoid insurgents from establishing an autonomous zone at all cost. Still, the Darth Vaders tried. Hell knows they tried.
Gradually the confrontation changed. It went from being about conquering a space, to just being there to be there, and to resist. Thousands of people, every night. On a rare occasion the cops wouldn’t show up. They’d be tired or something. Then the rebels would call the police. They’d say: “We’re here, you lazy bastards. Come and get us.” And they would keep calling until the cops finally came. Then tear gas and pepper water, rubber bullets, casualties, and chanting “Everywhere Taksim! Everywhere resistance!” Until late at night, when one or both parties would go home, and only the streamer would be left to film the smoldering barricades.
A few comrades from METU came to visit us at Kadıköy in July. And so I asked: “Why?” And one of them said: “What else can we do? We can’t give in. We must fight.”
Now the Ankara mayor tries to cut down trees right on the campus of METU. And what’s more, those trees were planted by the students themselves, many years ago. Like planting a dagger in the evil veins.
So METU rose up. That was two weeks ago. The resonance of the clashes in Ankara was nationwide, and when Ahmet Atakan was killed by a police officer in Antakya, it went out of control.
Not coincidentally, in Kadıköy there is another Gezi park situation going on. No trees this time, but the idea is the same. On the wave of the current real estate bubble in Turkey, the old train station in Kadıköy is to be transformed into a luxury hotel with a private pier. Not everyone is happy with that.
Today, as protests in solidarity with METU are flaring up again througout the country, people on the European side in Istanbul Istanbul had organized a Beşiktaş Tea Party. The idea was to take a thermos, come to the seaside, bring family and friends, and drink tea on the public pier.
Police arrived in full riot gear. There were tensions, but the people didn’t back down. They kept drinking their tea defiantly. Police hesitated. They didn’t know what to do. They made some arrests and retreated.
Before going after them to demand the immediate release of the detainees, the people finished their tea in triumph.
[edited on the basis of comment below]
In all the clashes I witnessed – whether it was in Madrid, in Lisbon or in Istanbul – I have always had the pleasure to encounter Brandon Jourdan in the first line. As dauntless cameraman for globaluprisings.org, he has produced yet another valuable documentary together with his better half, Marianne Maeckelbergh. For everyone who wants to know what happened at Gezi Park, this 30 minute video is a must see.
[Spanish translation here]
Istanbul, July 24
My time is running out. Soon I will have to leave the country. It prompts me to make another reflection on the concept of revolution, on the real, substantial change that all of us – or almost – want to see in this world.
Many people who call themselves revolutionaries consider the revolution to be something serious. Especially in Turkey. They hide out in their coves, plotting, drinking tea, smoking, theorizing, and accusing other revolutionaries of not being revolutionary enough. When they go out onto the streets with their banners, they sing their ominous chants, they spell doom to the ruling class, and they dream of Judgment Day when all counts will be settled.
This is old school, this won’t happen. A real revolution means joy, unity, and fun. The Turks have understood this at Occupy Gezi, like the Spaniards before them. Satire is one of the most powerful weapons against authorities. It exposes their absurdity and their lack of moral justification. It shows the world that the emperor wears no clothes. And there’s no way to defend against it.
Classic revolutionaries base their ideas on theories, many of which have devolved into dogma’s. This is not a solid base for change. All the present political currents are rooted in philosophies that go back to the 18th and 19th centuries, sometimes even further. In our present, rapidly evolving information society, they are all heavily outdated.
Personally, I don’t believe in communism, or socialism, or nationalism. Up to a certain point I do believe in liberalism (the European original) and at the same time I’m fascinated by the idea of anarchism. All these -isms address social and economic issues, but in their core they are political theories. This is a major flaw. Nowadays, the most basic level is not political, but ecological. A 21st century revolution can only be aimed at a transition towards sustainability. This means in the first place environmental and energetic sustainability. Without it, there is no way to attain the necessary sustainability on a demographic, social, economic and political level.
The struggle must be fought on all fronts, simultaneously. There are infinite ways to do this. Opinions on the matter differ up to the point that many people have lost sight of their shared objectives, and instead engaged in conflicts over methodology. Some people who think of themselves as true revolutionaries are convinced that we should destroy and rebuild. Others think that we should try to change the system from within.
For me, all roads are fine as long as they lead to Rome. What’s important is that we agree on a starting point. Logically, this should be the idea of equality between peoples, races, creeds, genders, sexual orientations, etc. Until we cease to think that some of us are inherently better than others, we will keep causing conflict, suffering, death and destruction. The revolution will need to be a revolution of all humanity.
So let’s look at some of the fronts. Political, economic, legal, military and communicational. With regard to each of these I will make a case for ‘diversity of tactics’.
In Spain 2011, people rose up against a corrupt political class, shouting ‘they don’t represent us.’ In the occupied squares, citizens started organising in leaderless assemblies to provide a model for direct democracy. It was a glorious experiment, but in its radical ambition it was also very dogmatic. A wholesale rejection of representative politics is a severe limitation of your range of action. There is nothing wrong with founding a political party, or supporting an existing party, if it can help you reach an objective. You can always withdraw your support, and it doesn’t exclude simultaneous experiments with direct democracy in the squares or online.
Also, the idea of a movement being leaderless is completely unrealistic. There are always leaders, whether explicit or not, and you are going to need them. But there is a difference between ‘leaders’ and ‘authority’. A leader is someone who gets things done, either by him- or herself, or by inspiring other people to collaborate. Authority on the other hand implies coercion. “Do as I say, because I say so.” I have a problem with that, and with any society that is based on it. Authority is to be questioned, and to be fought if necessary. Another difference is that authority is tied to a person, whereas leadership is connected to a specific goal, and as such limited in time. A true leader is someone who steps up to do something, and who steps back when it has been accomplished.
On the economic front, there is a hell of a lot you can do. You can camp out in the square and shout slogans against capitalism, but it won’t really make a difference if you get your beer and chips at the local discount supermarket. You can also retreat to the countryside, work the land every day and try to be completely self-sufficient. This is already a lot more useful, but there are only few of us who can bear the hardships and the satisfactions of this kind of life. In between, there is a world of possibilities. You can support organic producers, as an individual or as a collective. You can support small businesses. You can boycott big businesses or any venture that is not respectful of its workers or the environment. You can set up cooperatives. You can start your own business. Why not? Capitalism offers opportunities, also the opportunity to erode it from within. The transition towards an energetically sustainable economic model is the biggest investment opportunity since the industrial revolution. There are whole new empires to be built, and old ones to be destroyed. There are new technologies to be developed, systems to be decentralised, people and potentials to be liberated. If you treat profit as a means and not an end, you can go a very long way.
On the legal front, injustice has to be denounced, remembered, and fought, everywhere. It’s not about what is legal or not, but about what is right and what is wrong. I don’t believe any of these two to be absolute, but I’m convinced that people have a very well developed sense of justice. Whenever possible, make use of the legal system with all its cavities to frustrate attempts at punishing people who were in their right, and to get the real crooks locked up. The laws are not sacred, not even the sacred ones. A law that is unjust should be challenged on the political front, and massively disobeyed until it is repealed.
Then there is the military front, for lack of a better word. In Spain, one of the founding principles of the indignado movement was the idea of nonviolence. I used to adhere to that. I substantially agreed with the notion that any society born in violence will be violent as a result. But since I came to Turkey I changed my mind. Gezi Park was the most joyful and peaceful society I have ever been part of, but it would never have been possible without active, violent resistance. The people who threw the Molotovs, who burned the buses, who beat back police and who manned the barricades in defence of our free republic were among the kindest and most generous people in all of Gezi. They responded proportionately to police aggression, and they were supported by the great majority of people who didn’t engage in active resistance themselves.
Nonviolence can be extremely powerful in many circumstances, but in others it can be utterly useless. Not many authorities will allow a peaceful revolution to happen. So if you are dedicated to real change, you will need to be willing to use force, or to support the use of force, whenever there is no viable alternative. As the saying goes, “si vis pacem, para bellum”. If you want peace, prepare for war.
Like any other action, violent action needs to have a clear, justified scope. Usually, it will be about repulsing an invader, or conquering a space. It makes no sense to smash up banks or put Starbucks franchises to the torch simply because you don’t like capitalism. Remember, the capitalists never pay. They are insured, and the insurance companies will take it out on the people. You and your neighbour will end up paying for the bank you destroy, not the bank itself.
The primary opponent in a potentially violent struggle will be the police. In theory, their role is to ‘serve and protect’ the population, but in most societies they are an instrument of repression at the service of abusive authorities. A healthy society doesn’t need police. In Gezi Park, and in Puerta del Sol, the commitment of the citizens themselves was enough to guarantee everybody’s safety. If at any time I felt unsafe in Istanbul, it was because of the police being around, not because of them being absent.
The Turkish uprising has taught us a wealth of tactics on how to deal with them, ranging from personal protection measures, to the practice of building barricades, to the weapons you can use to beat them. Popular support is vital for any aggressive tactic to succeed.
These tactics need to be shared and studied and improved. If there is one advantage the people have over authorities, it is their organic way of organisation. Rebels can operate in small independent cells, there is no command chain to disrupt, no single person to be held accountable.
In the majority of cases, the use of force against police will be pointless. Throwing stones at panzers is little more than symbolic. But there’s a psychological aspect to the matter as well, which a black block friend of mine once explained to me. Throwing a stone at police is about the sense of empowerment, the feeling that you are not defenseless. It’s about realising that you are indeed capable of active resistance against authorities.
Which leaves the communications front. We are making headway on this one. The internet is in itself a revolutionary medium because it offers everyone the opportunity to be an active newscaster instead of a passive consumer. It has broken the monopoly of the state and commercial enterprises. There is no ‘official’ version of the news any more.
Contrary to popular belief, the revolution will be televised. But only once it is well under way. The big networks typically arrive at the moment when everybody already knows what’s happening through other media, and the mainstream can no longer ignore it.
It’s true that nobody can predict the moment of revolution, but once it happens, you can be sure that someone will be there to report on it in word and image. The revolution will be live. And we will be here to broadcast it.
This is already a major accomplishment. The presence of cameras and the possibility to livestream footage directly onto the web has forced authorities to be much more cautious in their repression of dissent. During the 1980s and 1990s, close to 3000 Kurdish villages were burned down by the Turkish military. There was no press around, and no cameras to show the atrocities to the world. Nowadays, it would be different. We are watching, and they know it.
There’s a lot to be done on the communications front. For now, we are still experimenting with live broadcasting. The next stage will be collaborative editing. With a handful of dedicated people we can start creating content in real time that can beat mainstream media both in quality and velocity. We can set the tone for the narrative, we can present it in full 4-D from every imaginable perspective. As my brother Naber likes to quote, “we will be our own historians.”
In a few days I’m leaving for other fronts of resistance. But don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on Turkey. The latest news from here spells more trouble. The decision by the court to declare illegal the redevelopment of Taksim has been overturned by a higher court dominated by AKP judges. Tayyip doesn’t cede, and neither do the people. They have no reason to give in after all they have accomplished in the past two months.
Last Saturday a couple who had met at the Gezi occupation decided to marry in the park. As part of her wedding outfit, the girl wore a white helmet. All the people had been invited to attend, except for police on duty. The bastards showed up anyway, and they treated the wedding guests to tear gas, chemical water and rubber bullets.
In response, the people chanted, as they have been doing many times before. “This is only the beginning. The struggle continues.”
Istanbul, July 18
The resistance in Armutlu is becoming an inspiration for citizens all over Turkey. At the moment, the neighbourhood is firmly controlled by the people. Police don’t even try to conquer it any more. They have lifted the siege. A few days ago, they made a final attempt to enter. We saw footage of that, it was epic. People threw down burning sofa’s from the roofs. Police employed armoured vehicles to break through the barricades, and didn’t succeed.
Aside from the burning sofa’s, the most interesting aspect of the resistance is the effective use of strong laser beams. When the vehicles moved in, people were flashing dozens of them at the drivers from the windows of their houses. It turned into a spectacular light show.
The demoralizing effect of lasers on an invading force can be huge. When the beam hits you, there’s no way you can see where you are going, but you know full well that’s it isn’t friendly terrain. The combined use of lasers and sound in the form of fireworks, flash bangs, chants and pot banging, may serve to further demoralise the invader.
The next evening. We are sitting on the grass of Yoğurtçu Park, plotting with comrades from all over Turkey. The occupation of the park keeps steadily gaining a more permanent form. The main Çapulcu cafe has its own storage space now. The library is growing. There is a fenced off playground for kids. There are a couple of tents, and some corners are turned into an open air living room. During the day, there had been organized a ‘free market’, where people could barter things with no money involved. In the evening, there was a forum as usual, and a concert. Above all, the parks have become a place for people to meet, outside of the commercial scenes that have come to dominate social interaction.
So we sit around, like many other groups of locals. We talk about the situation in Armutlu. “Police won’t be able to enter Armutlu,” one of the girls says, and she hints that the Kurds have something to do with it. The armed wing of the PKK is right around the corner from Antioch, in Syria, and they are not happy with what the government is doing.
A quick reminder of the delicate situation in the Kurdish lands at this moment. Ever since the second Gulf War, the Kurds in northern Iraq have established their own autonomous region. A year ago, they did the same in Syria in the midst of the ongoing civil war. Of course Turkey is extremely concerned about this. They know they’re next. They try to anticipate it by giving life to a peace process, but until now, the attacks of the Turkish army on Kurdish guerrilla’s inside and outside Turkey continue. The repression of the Gezi Park protests further angered many Kurds, so now their patience is wearing thin. They want some proof that the government is serious about the peace process. This week, from Iraq, the armed wing of PKK launched an ultimatum. ‘If you want peace, show it. If you want war, you can get it. You have until Wednesday,’ was more or less the content.
No way the Turkish government will ever answer to an ultimatum by people they consider terrorists. Yesterday – Wednesday – the Kurds were attacked by the Turkish army in Syria. They repulsed the attack and subsequently took one of the border posts. Turkish military was forced to retreat, allowing free traffic of people, supplies and weapons between the Kurdish territories in Syria and Turkey.
Effectively, the attack on the border may be the end of the peace process. If so, then politics will merely continue with different means, as the saying goes. For the Kurds, the ultimate goal to be attained through peace or armed struggle is not necessarily an independent Kurdish state any more. As a mountain people, the Kurds are suspicious of central government, even if it is their own. Many of them prefer local decentralised democracy. The autonomous regions in Syria and Iraq are a perfect testing ground for this. After militants conquered the border post yesterday, they reportedly handed control of the territory to the local people’s assembly.
Lately, the popular forums are beginning to spread to the universities. Yesterday we were at the campus of Boğaziçi Üniversitesi. Before the forum began, the students had organized an iftar, a Ramadan banquet, together with the Anti-Capitalist Muslims. Surely not all people who participated actually observe the Ramadan, and some were not even Muslims, but it perfectly fitted the spirit of Gezi Park. For one, because it is all about sharing and being together, and for two because it wasn’t organized by any authority, be it political or religious.
The students have good reason to organise themselves and to resist in the months to come, as the government is working on a law which will allow police to provide ‘security’ inside the universities. Contrary to the government’s stated aim, it will be more likely that the presence of police will turn the campuses into battlefields.
On the short term, resistance is spreading in the southeast. Inspired by the determination of the people in Armutlu, heavy clashes broke out in Adana last night. They will continue this evening. Police are reportedly moving extra forces into the city as the rebels call on all people of Adana to rise up.
Istanbul, July 14.
For the past week, both the repression and the resistance are gaining steam again. On Monday, eight members of Taksim Solidarity were arrested on trumped up charges including the founding of an illegal organization with the ‘intent to commit crimes’. Other members were charged with the possession of suspicious materials, such as gas masks. Police raids were performed throughout Istanbul. Our own primary cove got raided twice in the aftermath of the Gezi occupation.
On Wednesday, fifty Occupy Gezi detainees started a hunger strike to protest against the witch hunt. Amnesty International and human rights organization IHD called for the immediate release of all peaceful protesters and for the government to protect the freedom of expression and demonstration. Pending trial, the Taksim Solidarity members were released on Thursday.
Four members of the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB) were arrested on Monday as well. The Union played a vital role in spearheading the occupation of Gezi Park by starting the lawsuit which finally canceled the redevelopment project of Taksim. The Union is important in Turkish daily life because it can grant final approval to certain urban planning projects. On Wednesday, the government launched an offensive against them by rushing through a midnight bill, which cancels the Union’s privileges and takes away an important part of its income.
Yesterday, the architects and engineers demonstrated in Istanbul and Ankara, together with thousands of sympathizers. Police attacked the crowd, leading to renewed clashes that lasted throughout the evening. Tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets were used.
For the last week there has been another worrisome development as small cells of AKP supporters have intimidated and attacked protesters with sticks. Yesterday they tried to do so as well in Istanbul, but they were quickly and effectively beaten back by the crowd. Gun shots were reported as the AKP supporters retreated.
Over a month ago, armed AKP goons attacked and severely brutalised 19-year old protester Ali Ismail Korkmaz in Eskişehir. After a month in coma, Korkmaz died last Wednesday, bringing the official death toll of the uprising to six (five plus one). Immediately after the news was published, demonstrations broke out all over the country, particularly in Eskişehir, Ankara, Antakya (Antioch) and in several districts of Istanbul.
A meeting of the Popular Forum of Kocamustafaşa in Istanbul’s Fatih district was attacked by armed AKP supporters on the same day as people were commemorating the murder of Ali Korkmaz. The attackers intimidated people to stop organizing forums. The day after, there were at least twenty times as many participants, and the AKP supporters didn’t dare to show up again.
In Antioch, on the coast near the Syrian border, the protests over Ali’s death were particularly fierce after police attacked people in order to prevent them from marching. The city has a rich history, not only as capital of the Seleucid Empire and as one of the original metropoles of early Christianity, but also as a place of popular resistance. “You can conquer Antioch,” they say, “but you can’t hold it.” Every night, there have been demonstrations and clashes, centered around the neighbourhood of Armutlu.
Friday night, the people of Armutlu actively resisted police aggression as toma’s moved in to try and pacify the neighbourhood. The toma is the backbone of police repression. Without it, they don’t dare to move. So in order to successfully resist, it’s vital for insurgents to neutralize them. There are various ways to do this, all of which have been experimented since the uprising started, and subsequently shared on the Internet up to the point that they made it to Wikipedia (though the ‘countermeasure’ reference has recently been removed).
The toma has a couple of weak spots, which include the engine, the tires and the turret. As I mentioned in an earlier post, paint bombs are used to temporarily disorient either the driver or the gunner by throwing them against the windshield or the camera next to the water cannon.
To immobilize it permanently, people use a remedy that works against any combustion engine and which consists simply in putting a wet towel over the exhaust. This can be difficult, because the exhaust is pretty well protected, and it means the crowd will have to be able to surround the toma. Be aware that a toma doesn’t only spray water through the cannon, it can also spray water vapour through a number of dispensers all around the vehicle. The water is treated with a chemical substance that burns the skin like pepper-spray.
If people do succeed in trapping the vehicle, they may also decide to overturn it by force. This may require leverage. But as Archimedes teaches us, even the world itself can be lifted out of place if you have a proper foothold.
Usually, it will not be possible to surround the toma, which leaves people with the option to try and neutralize them from a distance. The most effective measure that has been experimented for this is the Molotov cocktail.
Molotovs have been used with success against vehicles, including tanks, ever since they were first used by fascist militia in the Spanish Civil War. They got their name from Finnish soldiers who used them against the Soviets in the Winter War of 1939-40, as a present for Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, who tried to make the world believe that the bombs dropped on Finland were actually emergency aid packages.
In regard to toma’s, the Molotov is generally deployed to overheat the engine by creating a fire underneath, or to melt the tires. The device consists of a bottle filled with an inflammable substance and a rag. Usually, people stuff a soaked rag down the bottleneck, they light it and they throw it. This can be very dangerous if the resister in question doesn’t know what he or she is doing. When the mouth of the bottle is not properly sealed with ducktape it can cause a premature explosion. People with a certain experience use a safer and more effective way. They cork the bottle and ducktape the soaked rag to the other side. This allows the thrower to use the bottleneck as a handle, expanding both the reach and the precision. As for the inflammable substance, professional clashers prefer a mixture of gasoline and oil, which makes the fire burn longer and more difficult to extinguish, even with water.
This leaves the most vulnerable part of the toma, the turret. Those people determined to neutralize it are forced to attack it from above. This requires access to buildings and a friendly neighbourhood, a neighbourhood like Armutlu.
On Friday, police lost a toma in Armutlu when people dropped an entire 10.000 liter water container on it from the roofs, Neapolitan style. Other devices recommended by insurgents as effective countermeasures against toma’s include washing machines, dish washers and refrigerators. In the midst of the resistance in Armutlu some people even threw their furniture out of the window, not to damage the toma’s, but to help the defenders build their barricades.
After their humiliating defeat, police didn’t dare to enter Armutlu again yesterday evening. The neighbourhood has been liberated. The people are in control. In the evening it was not necessary to use refrigerators and dishwashers in combat. Instead, some very determined insurgents used them to further reinforce the barricades. They also covered access roads with oil, to prevent the easy passage of any type of vehicle.
These are just a few of last week’s highlights in Turkey. In Istanbul there has also been a demonstration by journalists and sympathizers on Friday, to protest against censorship and the ongoing smear campaign of government-friendly media. Police took a day off. Maybe they understood that it wouldn’t be smart to attack them, from a public relations point of view.
For the same reason they hesitated to attack the banquet of Anti-Capitalist Muslims that had been organized in Istiklal Street at sundown on Tuesday to celebrate the first day of Ramadan. For hundreds of meters, the faithful sat down to eat and share, together with the people of Gezi Park. Police was present, they lined up a toma and ordered people to disperse.
We were waiting for it. ‘Do it, Tayyip! Do it! Spray those Muslims in the midst of their ritual, and your government won’t last for another week!’
He didn’t do it. Police backed down. The government has no intention to de-escalate the situation, but they’re not stupid, not at all. Apparently, Tayyip hopes that people will give in under mounting pressure from subservient police, provocateurs, courts and press. From their side, protesters continue to defy him, all over the country, every day. One of their slogans which you will find on banners and t-shirts is, in fact, ‘Boyun eğme’.
Don’t bow your head.
P.S. A warm salute to all our comrades in France on this July 14. Remember the Bastille! Don’t wait for the situation to get desperate in order to rise up. The best time for revolution is now…
[Spanish translation here]
Istanbul, July 9
Gezi Park was officially re-opened for the public yesterday afternoon. Too bad the square was closed so nobody could get there. Authorities had lined up a ridiculous amount of police in Taksim, and they didn’t lose any time to attack the people who assembled there between six and seven o’ clock. So once again, it was going to be a night of clashes.
After a month in Istanbul, you learn the basics about urban resistance. Let me fill you in.
First, organisation. Generally, people go in groups, or cells, of say six to twelve people with a certain affinity. Each cell is divided into buddies. Hook up with one other person. Look out for that person and don’t lose him or her. A number of cells together can form a cluster. These clusters may or may not have a political, social or football fan affiliation. They can be distinguished by flags, t-shirts or certain colours. Different clusters form a crowd. A crowd operates in a battle theatre, which is usually a neighbourhood.
Second, equipment. Standard gear for urban resistance in Turkey includes a gas mask, a helmet and goggles. If you don’t have a mask, use a scarf or a mouth cap. The best and definitely the coolest protection against tear gas, is the crocodile mask, the one that covers your entire head, featuring two looking glasses and a snout. Additionally, bring water, sandwiches, and a smartphone. Use the phone for quick updates on the situation. There exist certain apps for Google maps which allow you to report and check the deployment of police.
Within each cell there should be at least one ‘medic’, who carries remedies against tear gas. To this effect, people use stomach tablets dissolved in water. Fill up a spray can for quick and easy use. Other remedies include lemons and vinegar. Vinegar is mostly applied on the inside of your mouth cap or scarf, to ease the effects of the gas.
For advanced clashing, some people bring gloves to throw back tear gas cannisters, picks to open up the pavement, paint bombs in the form of balloons, bottles or light bulbs for use against vehicles and police shields (a very important target is the camera next to the water cannon). On certain occasions, specialised cells may also bring rudimentary shields, sticks, sling-shots, flash bangs, lasers and molotovs.
Yesterday, the confrontations lasted for seven hours. I was on the ground with our streamer to report from the theatre that saw the fiercest clashes. Istiklal Street, as usual.
I have to admit, even urban resistance starts to become dull after a while. For the first few hours there was not much going on except for chanting, running, taking cover, and coming back. Water cannons and minipanzers – so-called ‘scorpions’ – kept patrolling the main street, blasting tear gas and chemical water into the side streets, with police units regularly entering the alleys to hunt for protesters.
At a certain point, as the evil storm troopers appeared from the gas cloud in the backstreets, we took cover in a shopping mall. Someone comes up to us. “Are you guys doing the livestream?”
“I was watching that.”
The man works in a shop that sells #OccupyGezi t-shirts among other gadgets. He supplies us with water and wishes us luck as we go back into action.
After dark, things become more exciting. The crowd has shrunk. Those who remain, are dedicated to continued resistance. They gather stones and bottles wherever they can and launch them at the water cannons and the scorpions as they pull up at the end of the street.
When things settle down a bit we take a break for tea. The owner of the tea house was following the livestream as well. He is a former police officer. He says he has been to the square to talk with the cops, and he was appalled by their ignorance. They have no idea what they are legally allowed to do. Many of them are freshmen acting like mad dogs. “If the repression goes on like this, I will take to the streets as well.”
Late at night, Istiklal bears all the likes of a battlefield. At a few hundred meters from the square, people have deconstructed a building site and turned it into two barricades. One of them is set ablaze. Over the full length of the street, the flames are rising high. Someone walks around with a megaphone, blasting the theme of Star Wars. Behind the other barricade, people take cover as police move in.
What surprises me tonight is the presence of children. Young boys, maybe nine or ten years old. They are having the time of their lives, burning heaps of trash, shouting slogans against fascism, and throwing stones. In between the crowd, one of them goes around selling coffee and tea.
We are tired at this point. It’s two in the morning. But police are more tired than we are. They attack with heavy use of tear gas, they defy the rocks, they disperse the crowd, and they clear the barricades. But they don’t have the energy to pursue.
They leave us in control of the street. Most of them have retreated. So we advance to Taksim. There is only a token police presence left in the square. And the park is open. For real. Earlier on, people had been evicted from it, but now they’re back.
It’s the first time in over three weeks that I enter Gezi. Around the fountain, a few hundred people have gathered to celebrate. They make music, they sing partisan songs, they dance. Everywhere, new trees, new grass, and new flowerbeds have been planted. The bulldozers that were used to start the destruction of Gezi at the end of May, were the same ones that were used to bring in the sand and the earth for its revival a few weeks later. It’s a testimony to the victory of the people.
But victory comes with a price. Thousands of people have been wounded, dozens of them seriously. A 17 year old is in critical condition after having been hit by a tear gas cannister, yesterday. In total, five people have died.
In honour to them, without distinction of whose side they were on, a small memorial is unveiled in the early morning, consisting of five tiles bearing their names, placed on the grass, with candles.
Gezi park has been saved. But the Turkish uprising is not about Gezi Park alone. It’s about people who overcome their fear, who start to realise that there are no real differences between them, and that ultimately, they hold the power to shape their own destiny. They are not subjects to anyone, they are citizens. And as such, they continue to gather in their own public spaces every night around the country, to create a new way of doing politics, based on human values, a new way of living together, based on mutual respect. On some level, conscious or not, they understand that humanity needs a fundamental change, a revolution, in order to survive without descending into barbarism.
Gezi park, the successful resistance against the construction of a shopping mall in favour of trees, has become a very powerful symbol of this understanding.
Istanbul, July 7
It’s not hard to predict the weather once you get to Taksim Square. Yesterday evening it was obvious straight away that there was tear gas in the air.
Police had blocked all the exits and kept considerable reserves in the park and in the square itself. For streaming purposes we took up position from one of the terraces. We saw the communists marching down Istiklal street behind a banner that was obviously inspired by the events in Egypt. “Government resign”, it said.
After the communists came the anarchists of çArşı. After them came the representatives of Taksim Solidarity. They brought the court order, which declared the redevelopment of Taksim and Gezi Park to be illegal. They showed it to the line of riot police and demanded access to the square. In response, they got showered by a toma (water cannon, literally the abbreviation in Turkish means ‘device for intervention in social situations’).
At that point the crowd had grown as far as the eye could reach. To disperse it, police attacked from behind. A roaring toma came steaming down the street, flushing people into the alleys. When Istiklal was cleared, the attack continued on the far side of the square where another crowd had gathered. It took a while, but then silence fell, and all that was left was a the desolate image of Taksim under police occupation.
I decided to go down to look for action. At a time like this, I want to be among the people. I exit through two lines of police, into Istiklal Street. Not surprisingly, most shops had closed. Some of them had their shutters half way down, to quickly accommodate people seeking shelter from gas attacks. A small perfume shop continued business as usual.
When there’s civil unrest in Istanbul, you will witness four types of vehicles that you don’t usually encounter in a shopping street. Toma’s, ambulances, bulldozers (to clear barricades), and small panzer vehicles.
The panzer vehicles have a turret on top, you can see the helmet of a gunner sticking out of it. It races back and forth, slowing down at the intersections to allow the gunner to shoot tear gas into the side streets. In some cases his aim is faulty, resulting in shattering glass as the cannisters hit the windows of a shop, a bar or a home. The mini panzers also serve as a supply vehicle for the troops. They pull up at a police platoon, someone opens the back door and quickly hands out fresh tear gas cannisters to the officers.
Somewhere half way down the street I join a crowd behind an improvised barricade of trash containers. They play along with the same old game of cat and mouse, retreating to the side streets and re-emerging after every police attack.
In one of the alleys I meet a friend, comrade Z., the Kurdish girl who had gotten into a fight with a nationalist girl over the word Kurdistan. Once again, she is covered with bruises. She took three direct hits on her arm and shoulder when police machine-gunned the crowd with rubber bullets. And she’s ready for more.
We go up into Istiklal again. After the bulldozer cleared barricade, it’s people themselves who prevent the vehicles from passing. A young girl and a middle-aged man sit down in front of one of the mini panzers. They refuse to stand up. A crowd forms. Once we sit down alongside them, others follow. The engine roars, a cop gestures for us to move. But we sit. So they throw a gas bomb and drive off between the dispersing crowd. Keeping a defiant cool, my friend takes her time to tear out her scarf and goggles. She’s right next to me, but I can hardly see her. So I get a little nervous. “I’m sorry to disturb you, but we are in the middle of the cloud here. I think we should move.” I take her by the hand and we run.
We retreat to a bar, to drink beer with friends. All around, in the alleys, the game continues. The roof terrace is inaccessible because of the constant tear gas.
When we return to Istiklal, things are relatively calm. A group of cops is sitting down, resting. We ask them for directions. Now, I had forgotten all about it, but for today’s occasion I was wearing my ‘original Çapulcu’ t-shirt. Earlier on, someone had warned me that it might get me into trouble.
One of the cops notices. “Are you a Turkish çapulcu, or a tourist çapulcu?” he asks.
Screw you, I thought. “I’m a Kurdish çapulcu.”
They were not amused, and not meant to be. The commanding officer comes over, he doesn’t want us talking to his men, and he forces us to move on.
In general, there are two types of cops. Some of them do it for a job, and some of them do it because they are scum. We met the first type. A hundred meters down the road, we met the other type as well. We walk along our street when we are stopped for no particular reason, if not for the way I’m dressed. An angry little fellow in uniform asks us where we are going.
“What’s it to you?” my friend responds. So they encircle us. Angry cops on all sides. They want me to open my bag. They are looking for proof that we are terrorists. Anything will do. A mask or a helmet means terrorism in the first degree. If you are Kurd, even a lemon can get you locked up. “Well well,” the little cop says when I tear out the tear gas cannister I keep as a souvenir. As if it were me planning to fire it at them.
In a situation like this, always be aware that the behaviour of bastard riot cops is similar to that of dogs. Basically, they’re cowards. They may bark, but they don’t dare to act when they’re alone. They only feel strong in packs. There’s no reason to be afraid of them, and even if you are, you should never show it. The little guy didn’t have the guts to arrest us, probably because I’m a foreigner, and press. Or, as he called me: a ‘gavur’, which is a derogatory term for a non-muslim, an infidel. And he’s damn’ right. Next time I will wear a t-shirt saying ‘original gavur’.
Among the other cops there was a Kurdish guy. “What are you doing here?” he shouted at my friend in Kurdish. She returned the question. “What are you doing here? Why did you become a cop?” Heavy discussion ensued. Another police officer steps up, and without us being any kind of threat, he pepper-sprayed her, and me, twice, from point blank. For fun. I was lucky to wear glasses, so it didn’t touch my eyes. But my friend was less fortunate. Not only did she get a direct hit on her eyes, but on her exposed body parts as well.
Pepper-spray is a particularly nasty substance. Where the effects of tear gas wear off in a matter of minutes, pepper-spray will burn your skin for three to four hours. And when you shower it off, it starts burning all over again. My friend was blinded in agony as they put us against the wall. The officer who assaulted us mocked her for being a cry baby. They considered arrest, but that would mean they would have to provide some kind of relief to her. They didn’t feel up to it, so they send us on our way. And me, I learned a lesson, one that all Kurds and most Turks already know. You cannot reason with these people. The only thing you can do is fight them.
The pain of getting pepper-sprayed is so intense that it takes a long time before you can open your eyes. I had to guide my blinded friend through the crowd, through the alleys, in hiding against incoming tear gas cannisters, and down to the port.
That’s where we met another platoon of police. So we walk up to them. I describe the situation. To her: “You are now in front of six cops, please translate.” To them: “This is what one of your colleagues did to my friend. What’s the remedy?”
They didn’t even know. It took an experienced passer-by to advise the use of lemons. We get one from a vendor of clams, but it’s not enough. Whenever she tries to open her eyes, she cringes in pain. It wasn’t until we were on the boat to Asia that she could finally see again.
When we are back in Kadıköy, sitting at a bar with a group of Kurdish musicians, she talks about ‘home’, Kurdistan, the place that doesn’t exist.
More than once she’s been on the verge of picking up arms and joining the guerrillas in the mountains. “If the peace process breaks down, I will definitely go.” Many young people do. Some of them are only fourteen years old. Usually, they get killed within two years. But if you live longer than that, you learn how to survive.
There are two complementary reasons for someone to join an armed uprising. One is the fight against oppression, against the attempt of alien authorities to annihilate your culture and to forcefully assimilate you to theirs. Two is the rejection of normal consumerist life, the desire to be free.
Up in the mountains, and only there, the Kurds can truly be free. Free from the state, free from religion, and free from patriarchal society. In fact, among the ‘terrorists’ there is full gender equality. Also in battle. If I am to believe my friend, half of the Kurdish warriors are women.
I’ve witnessed Turkish and Armenian girls in action against police. They’ve impressed me with their bravery. But Kurdish girls are a whole different ball park. For your own good, don’t mess with them.