by Gökçe Sanul and Ceylan Usaki Erali
Starting as a small scale sit down strike against the demolition of the Gezi Park, which is a distinct and rare green space in the heart of Istanbul, and the reconstruction of the Taksim Military Barracks, the protests have suddenly grown following the police crackdown. The demonstrations spreading in all over Turkey have been supported by 2.5 million people in 3 weeks. Obviously, Gezi Park was a symbol and the main reason for the protests was the authoritarian attitude of AKP Government interfering basic freedom rights such as freedom of press, freedom of artistic expression, right of abortion, selling of the alcohol etc.
The survey held online with 3000 Gezi Park demonstrators has shown that 39.6 % are 19-25 years old whereas 24 % of participants are 26-30. Moreover, defining themselves as libertarian, 70% of protestors don’t feel close to any political party and 53, 7% have participated first time in a protest (Bilgiç, Kafkaslı, 2013). Indeed, we could say that the young urban people, constituting the Y Generation of Turkey, has become the major actor of this resistance and aroused interest by showing a unique example of solidarity during the protests, by refusing any political authority as well as making the humor and creativity as the strongest reaction.
During Gezi Park demonstrations, Istanbul and all the other protesting cities have been through rough times and witnessed major brutality. In the course of events 4 protestors passed away. Turkish Medical Association has stated that 4177 people have injured. However, just in the middle of these brutal events, protestors’ –and their supporters’- come a long way about empathizing “the other” which fed even more the creativity and humor. Therefore, by referring the quote of John Lennon, we decide to write about the illusionary and impressive peace taken place in Gezi Park grown with the influential power of creativity.
“When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system’s game. The establishment will irritate you – pull your beard, flick your face – to make you fight. Because once they’ve got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don’t know how to handle is non-violence and humor.”
Occupying Gezi with Creativity and Humor
One of the most obvious characteristic of Occupy Gezi Movement was the sense of humor and creativity. The brutality of the police and the peaceful resistance of the protestors have been reflected either through the frames or the illustrations. Creativity and humor, being two crucial components of these demonstrations, have formed the language of the peace and emerged as an intriguing weapon against the violence.
Following the police attack with tear gas and pepper bomb on 31th of May, the protestors have started to re-settle in Taksim Gezi Park on 1st of June and the park was restored as a camping area of the thousands of protestors. Demonstrators who read the books to the police have also become the symbol of the passive resistance taken place in Gezi Park.
Day by day the community has grown and the facilities such as food distribution, library, medical center, veterinary were taken place in Gezi Park. Hayrettin Gunc, cofounder of “Architecture for All” expresses the definition of a new way of living together in Gezi Park with the rise in structures which could be defined as ‘spontaneous architecture’.
Within the park, we have seen the term ‘Çapulcu’ as the name of these facilities. Used by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during one of his speeches on Gezi Park demonstrations, the term ‘çapulcu’ was originally indicated the looters. However, the protestors have suddenly decided to describe themselves as çapulcu by attributing a positive meaning to this word. This quick adaptation of the word was the first significant humorous irony embraced by Gezi Park protestors. Translating in English as ‘Chapulling’, the word is used with the meaning of ‘fighting for your rights’ from the protestors and started to take place in Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary. In addition, “Everyday I’m Chapulling” has become one of the motto of these demonstrations and a video has been created.
While several activities like the yoga classes, formation of a truck garden, children workshops have been organized in the Gezi Park, an enormous production of street art, banners, posters and digital art have started to be created outside.
Gezi Park, which enables us to define the solidarity in a real sense and to be all together despite our different ideas, has created a unique soul. For that reason, hundreds of people who camp during days and nights, and thousands of people have enjoyed to be there after their work hours in order to experience this unique solidarity. These days in Gezi Park have continued until 15th of June when the police intervention get started.
On 17th of June, Occupy Gezi Movement has witnessed a unique and creative way of passive resistance with the appearance of the ‘standing man’. Erdem Gündüz, taking place in front of the Ataturk Cultural Centre, adjacent to the Gezi Park, has left his backpack on the ground, put his hands in his pockets and started to stand. The young man who stands for 8 hours in the same way has shown a creative way of passive protest and joined by 300 people. Surely, the standing man has also become one of the iconic figures of the Occupy Gezi Movement and inspired the digital artists.
While mentioning the iconic figures of the Occupy Gezi Movement we should refer to the photo below taken by Reuters reporter. At the very beginning of the protests, non-proportional force of the police has been revealed all over the world through that photo. Later, ‘Lady in Red’ has become one of the prior and persistent symbols of the peaceful protests of Occupy Gezi Movement.
Surrealism / Illusion
Beginning from the very first attack of the police to passive resisters, every single one who got involved somehow in protests had hard times to position the events rationally in their mind. During this 22 days of violence –by its any meaning-, fear, hope, strength, disappointment, excitement, fun, despair, solidarity, anger –even rage- and lot more other strong feelings, to keep the mind crystal and to stay in the rational frame has been a hard task for these opponents with high ability to analyze.
As the time passes by, the extremism on physical and mental violence, the suffocation created by strongly sided media and all the statements of Prime Minister (PM) and his fellas created this state of “surrealism”. During the first week of demonstrations, urban protestors saw, lived and understood how wars were happening. Most of these young protestors now have a broad understanding on conflict strategy and various chemicals used by police!
Along with all the brutal interventions of police force, general attitude of PM and ruling body was to refuse to acknowledge and to declare the severity of conflicts, irrational attacks of police force and the basic demands of People. This overlook of the Component came mostly into existence with the conventional media elements which played ostrich. For instance, CNN Turk broadcasting penguin documentary during the first harsh attacks of police force, gave birth to this new symbol of sided media: penguin. (As a natural reaction to this suffocation caused by mainstream media and to the need of making itself heard, Ustream–based broadcastings have started from Gezi Park under the name of Çapul TV, Gezi TV as well as the radio station Gezi Radio.)
Various forms of violence made, in a way, protestors’ head swim. Right after the very night where police “emptied” Gezi Park, municipal employees received orders to plant more than 20 new trees and landscape the park as if nothing happened. This concrete and brutal trial to erase the collective memory ended up again to lose the perspective of the reality for a while.
Meanwhile, this atmosphere of “non-real”/ “surreal” has been strongly felt within the resisters as well. Starting with the physical reaction to exorbitant violence of police –thus to tear gas- people went beyond their fear to ruler, during conflicts.
One of the other moments which shook protestors’ strongest feelings and the Reality perception was Klavierkunst playing John Lennon’s song “Imagine” in the middle of Taksim Square which was (still is) surrounded by heavily armed policemen and large police vehicles. On one hand hope, serenity and solidarity felt by the courtesy of music and on the other hand constant tension originated by police force around…
While having all senses open to the full extend, to witness/live powerfull and mostly absurd scenes caused one to become the spectator of his/herself within these surreal situations. Meanwhile, government’s absurdly violent discourse and actions, made it each time even harder to see clearly the happenings and to decide how to react on them. This foggy state of mind, along with intense violence of every element of Component, led protestors to despair at some point. The fact that there were no one/no institution to have a discussion with in some rational level, made it worse. Apart from the admiration to surreal visual moments, it resulted in frustration and twist in perception.
Nevertheless, 12 days of some kind of utopia and a month of counter-pressure has been lived! During the occupation days in Gezi Park, everyone has experienced this unfamiliar strength and hope generated just by standing together and being open. Not just for protestors who have been living in the park but for anyone who physically lived the situation, a brake in their prejudices has occurred. One of the most surprising facts which were articulated was that “different groups of people which would never stand together, lived in great peace all together in the park”. Political, ideological, natural, personal, social and any other reason preventing people to tolerate the other were suspended in the Gezi Park. All this state of high sensibility, understanding, emotional intelligence, empathy, kindness created an illusion: the belief to be able to have absolute peace with all open minded people around. As the name illusion implies, after getting normalized (which is highly needed for anyone who took part in process) old prejudices and walls would come back. Still, without a shadow of doubt, it is sure that every single person who experienced Gezi Park events, has evolved emotionally in some degree.
We, of course, need time to find back the balance and to digest the whole process. But having lots of, lots of people who overcome their idée fixe (even for a limited time) feels like revolution…
Gökçe Sanul was born in İzmir/Turkey. Being graduated from Koc University, International Relations Department she started to Cultural Management MA Programme in Istanbul Bilgi University where she has also worked as a teaching assistant and taken an active role in some prominent projects on Turkish cultural policy. Believing in the transformative power of arts and culture she has continued to work as an independent researcher and decided to pursue academic career in the field of urban cultural policies.
Ceylan Usaki Erali
Born and lived (most of the time) in Istanbul. Trained as product designer, humanitarian designer and cultural manager. Worked here and there as social volunteer, cultural manager, scholar. Tries to understand social and cultural events through her designer and human point of view. Making plans all the time and have them evolved by the time.