In Turkey during the last decade of AKP government individual freedoms were in a recess. Party’s unprecedented 53% majority in the last elections paved way to a borderline authoritarian regime where media was pressured for self-censorship, journalists and political activists were detained for terms averaging a year.
Despite a recent so-called peace process with Kurds and attempts in the Parliament for a constitution based on a bipartisan consensus, a small sit-in at Gezi Park near Taksim Square in central Istanbul originally started to protest building a shopping mall destroying the park turned a nationwide civil disobedience movement against ruling AKP and the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It started at Taksim but spread throughout the nation despite very harsh police violence.
Izmir, the southwestern city famous for its cosmopolitan lifestyle was one of the first cities to adopt #OccupyGezi movement. On the second day of Istanbul demonstrations the city joined in. Started as a peaceful gathering of different views and creed where people chanted and danced the rally turned into an unrest after police attacked the 10000 strong group with brutal force on May 31st. Skirmishes on streets ended when police decided to withdraw after negotiations and among applaud of the citizens. On the second day a daily routine started.
Central Izmir is a city organized by parallel and diagonal streets connecting several squares. June 1st witnessed roadblocks set up by demonstrators on every square in downtown and police attacking through diagonal streets from one end towards the sea using heavy teargas bombs, water cannons and plastic bullets. Roadblocks held for several hours then people retreated only to return within minutes of the police raid. For almost 12 hours that process went on until police were exhausted against tens of thousands of citizens who can replace themselves easily with reinforcements. Towards the evening in Istanbul, authorities cave in to leave Taksim Square to the protestors but police brutality continued elsewhere.
In the meantime government stayed silent except for a few vague remarks by minor officials. Mainstream media played the three monkeys. However on the third day Prime Minister Erdogan declared they will build the mall no matter what with remarks like since AKP won the majority of the votes, they do not need to ask anyone’s opinion. These and the authoritarian remarks by him claiming that if thousands of people are revolting he could send millions against them ignited a new level of resistance on the third day.
Citizens of Izmir hailed thousands occupying the streets by banging on their pans on balconies, cars continuously honking their horns. Towards the evening all neighborhoods were a battle zone again. A new phenomenon that we call “thugs” entered the scene in Izmir. These are people carrying unified batons with plain clothes backing up the police and going after the protestors in side streets and beating them up. That day more than 250 people detained only in Izmir and spent the night in police busses, most of them beaten and without any medical assistance. They saw a doctor only in the morning around 10am and released later next day.
As I write these words in 5am in the morning Occupy Izmir still goes on in the streets outside my window in Izmir. This is a non-political citizens’ resistance against oppression by a government continuously declaring what people should or should not do. A hundred years old question lingering in the minds of the citizens of Turkey is now crystal clear:
Will the state finally be for the people or people will still keep on acting as if they are servants of the state?
One thing is for sure; tomorrow will start as today, people will gather in squares and struggle on for their voice albeit their Prime Minister will leave the country for a visit to North African countries.
All pictures by Stratos Moraitis
Everyone including soccer fans joined in
Plainclothes thugs beating up a demonstrator with police
Barricades set up on every corner
Gas as a daily routine
Fury of gas and water cannons
Love under gas
First day barricade
LGBTT organizations join in
A photojournalist in distress
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