The American Bear


Before and after the raid on the park Erdoğan staged massive rallies, in Ankara on Saturday and in Istanbul on Sunday, which he claimed were the opening salvos of AKP’s local election campaign. He was showcasing his preferred brand of politics: the populist leader holds forth, the crowds cheer. The message was that these crowds represented the majority of the real population. The resistance in the park was a conspiracy against his government and its roots were outside the country; the world media were biased and aiding the demonstrators; there was evidence that nefarious lobbies abroad were involved in co-ordinating the protests. This was a cartoon version of the nationalist rhetoric of yore (now laced with a larger dose of Islamic conservatism), maintaining that the nation is a solid block, and any dissent is the fault of ‘enemies’, internal or external. Turks are familiar with this; it was the favourite trope of the military coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980, but more saliently it is still the dominant tenor of school textbooks. The question is whether it still resonates. Law of the Father

Turkey arrests dozens in home, office raids | Al Akhbar

Turkish police arrested dozens of people at their homes and raided two media offices on Tuesday in a coordinated operation across the country to clamp down on nearly three weeks of mass anti-government unrest, lawyers and local reports said.

Officers raided the homes of around 90 members of the Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP), a small leftist group that has been active in Istanbul’s Gezi Park protest at the center of the nationwide protest movement, the Istanbul bar association said.

Police also searched the offices of the Atilim daily and the Etkin news agency, local media outlets linked to the ESP group, the NTV and CNN-Turk television stations reported.

NTV said 30 people were arrested in the capital Ankara and another 13 in the northwestern city of Eskisehir in a police swoop targeting 21 provinces overall.

Under Turkish law, the detainees may be questioned for four days before they are taken to court to be freed or charged.

Turkey has taken a tough stance against the tens of thousands of demonstrators who have been protesting since May 31 against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government, seen as increasingly authoritarian.

The Turkish government warned Monday that it may bring in the army to help quell the protests as two major union federations went on strike over police violence against demonstrators.

Police “will use all their powers” to end the unrest, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said in a televised interview. “If this is not enough, we can even utilize the Turkish armed forces in cities.”

Police have used tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to quell the demos, leaving thousands injured and four dead.

Tensions soared on Saturday when police stormed the flashpoint Gezi Park to evict protesters, sparking a weekend of heavy clashes.

Demonstrators have since struggled to regroup and the protests appeared to have lost some of their momentum with only sporadic clashes reported.

Erdoğan's chilling warning: 'these protests will be over in 24 hours' | The Guardian

Turkey’s prime minister defied a growing wave of international criticism on Wednesday and issued a chilling warning to the protesters who have captured central Istanbul for a fortnight, declaring that the demonstrations against his rule would be over within 24 hours.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s ultimatum, which he said was conveyed to his police chief and interior minister, ratcheted up the tension in Turkey after a relatively calm day following the mass teargas attacks by riot police in Istanbul city centre on Tuesday evening.

“We have not responded to punches with punches. From now on security forces will respond differently,” Erdoğan said after meeting a team said to be representing the protesters for the first time. “This issue will be over in 24 hours.”

The sense of a looming denouement at Gezi Park off Taksim Square in central Istanbul was reinforced when a deputy leader of Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) said the park had to be cleared of demonstrators as soon as possible.

Thousands of protesters again gathered at the park on Wednesday evening, with phalanxes of riot police marshalling nearby.

Turkish police storm Taksim square after week-long withdrawal | Al Akhbar

Turkish riot police fired tear gas and water cannon at hundreds of protesters armed with rocks and fireworks on Tuesday as they tried to take back control of a central Istanbul square at the heart of fierce anti-government demonstrations.

Hundreds of riot police backed by armored vehicles surrounded Taksim Square as bulldozers began removing barricades of paving stones and corrugated iron built by the protesters.

Police had stayed away from Taksim after officers pulled out of the area over a week ago and protesters were caught off-guard by their return.

Burak Arat, 24, said he was sleeping in Gezi Park when police moved in nearby.

“We will fight. We want freedom. We are freedom fighters,” the tourism student told AFP as he made his way to the square where burst of tear gas were ringing out.

“Our intention is to remove the signs and banners at the site. We have no other goal,” said Istanbul governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu on Twitter.

“We will not touch Gezi Park and Taksim, we will absolutely not touch you,” he added, urging demonstrators to stay away from troublemakers.

What began as a protest at redevelopment plans for the square has grown into an unprecedented challenge to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government.

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan called on protesters to withdraw from central Istanbul’s Gezi Park on Tuesday and said a wave of anti-government demonstrations was part of a deliberate attempt to damage Turkey’s image and economy.

“I invite them to withdraw from the park and I ask this as prime minister,” Erdogan told a parliamentary group meeting of his AK Party.

“The Turkish economy has been targeted through these events … Efforts to distort Turkey’s image have been put in place as part of a systematic plan,” he said.

Erdogan also declared that the government has “no more tolerance” for the mass anti-government demonstrations.

“This episode is now over. We won’t show any more tolerance,”he said.

They seemed to have got used to being tear-gassed. I’m not. Tear gas makes you cry, choke and spit at the same time. It is easily carried on the wind; you have no idea where it’s coming from but it suddenly hits you and envelopes you. It makes you want to get as far away from it as possible, but you don’t know which way to run. In Gezi Park

On the 'Turkish Model': Neoliberal Democracy with Teargas | Jadaliyya

On 28 May, upon awakening, alarming news from home flooded my screen: citizens were protesting the destruction of the Taksim Park, just outside the historic Taksim Square in Istanbul, which is to become little more than a busy traffic intersection featuring a shopping mall and a mosque if the city government proceeds with current plans. There were also reports of potential illegal sale of the Besiktas Ferry Station to Shangri La Hotel and the closure of the surrounding seaside to the public. Discussions of the brand new ban on alcohol sales between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m unfolded; and finally, a young woman detailed in a letter to a newspaper yet another instance of governmental indexing of women who get pregnancy tests at public hospitals, and (illegal) phone calls made to their male kin to report their test results. While it is the destruction of Gezi Park that has unfolded into protests across the country, these other news and much more are behind the citizens’ reaction to Prime Minister Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish acronym, AKP) government.

Most international news successfully reported on the documented police violence, and excessive use of tear gas and water cannons against citizens for a number of days. While outrageous, none of this is particularly surprising anymore to the citizens of Turkey, the much celebrated would-be model of “Islamic democracy” for the “Arab Spring.” The AKP government has made both its autocratic conservative preferences and its penchant for a security state clear since its sweeping reelection victory in 2011. Their record thus far has included the jailing of journalists, academics, and students without such niceties as due process, evidence, the right to a decent defense, and the rule of law. Turkey in fact ranked first in the world in the number of journalists jailed according to an OCSE report in March 2011. In addition to journalist and academics, Kurdish citizens, many of whom falsely accused of being involved in terrorist activities, have also been the victims of such mass incarceration. Held in jails without a proper trial for months, the Kurds went on a sixty-six-day hunger strike in protest, which only ceased with the intervention of Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlaw Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). It was partially in response to this hunger strike that the AKP is now negotiating with the Kurds to bring an end to Turkey’s twenty-nine year old counterinsurgency against Kurdish separatists.

Important as this attempt to end the war with the PKK is for the resolution of the Kurdish problem and for the further democratization of the country, other governmental policies point to a severe regression in Turkey’s democratic standards. Examples abound. Academic faculty have lost their jobs because they mention the oppression of Armenians, Kurds or Alawis in their classes. The Prime Minister has ordered the destruction of public artwork that offends his sensibility. His government has also banned a book that documents the relationship between the Turkish police force and an opaque Islamist group strongly entrenched in state security forces before its publication. Finally, last summer, in an attempt to derail public protests in response to the Turkish Air Force’s mass slaughter of thirty-four village smugglers in the Uludere/Roboski region of Turkey in December 2010, Erdogan made a public statement equating this massacre with women getting abortions, saying “every abortion is an Uludere”. He then pushed for legislation that would severely limit women’s access to abortion, as well as caesarian sections.

Citizens have protested against this onslaught of anti-democratic moves. Most protests, however peaceful, are met with the police’s generous use of tear gas and high-pressure water hoses, in addition to other forms of violence. This process of protest and violence has been ongoing since the demonstrations on Taksim Square on 28 May and until today 3 June, across Istanbul and the rest of Turkey.

Just a month ago, on 1 May, when citizens attempted to march to Taksim Square for Worker’s Day, they were met with police firing tear gas canisters in abundance. But we did not need this spectacle to know that the government’s commitment to its people safety and wellbeing was less than stellar. According to one report an average four workers lose their life daily in work-related accidents in Turkey. The same day, a number of people, including teenagers, were severely injured and hospitalized, with two suffering hemorrhages from the blows they received in the back of their head, and one losing an eye.

This is the kind of cruel absurdity that governs the lives of the people of Turkey these days, just as the international news celebrates Turkey’s robust economy and its much acclaimed role as a “democratic model” in the “new Middle East.” [++]

The laws to protect the environment from unchecked construction and development have been systematically undermined in order to allow grand government-favoured projects to go ahead without effective controls or regulation, and with no regard for human and environmental considerations. Compulsory ‘environmental impact assessments’ for new projects have had their rules changed so decisions are far more likely to favour the investor. Forest laws have been transformed. The law known here as ‘2B’ redefined some forests as ‘not forests’ allowing them to be felled and turned to construction sites. Recently the government added the category of ‘forests that won’t benefit from protection’. This change, along with the policy of ‘urban transformation’ fuelled a period of seemingly uncontrolled construction across Turkey. In an Orwellian masterstroke the government has recently put to parliament a new law ‘on the protection of nature and biological diversity.’ The draft bill would open the way to almost unrestricted exploitation of our natural environment. Twenty years ago a popular protest against a new gold mine turned into a call for local democratic rights. For years protesters against hydroelectric and coal projects along the Black Sea coast have faced similar intimidation to that seen today. Two years ago protesters at a coal plant were attacked for 12 hours by police with tear gas, pepper gas and water cannons. Today that gas has come to the heart of the republic and Gezi Park in Taksim, Istanbul. The fight to protect Turkey’s green spaces began decades ago | Pinar Aksogan | (via dendroica)

(via dendroica)

Dear Prime Minister, You have done a great favour to us today, of which you are not aware. I’ve seen a Galatasaray (football team) fan picking up a Fenerbahçe (another football team) fan off of the street who fell against the police, to whom you have ordered to kill. I’ve seen students sharing their water and bread with each other; Kurds and Turks walking hand in hand. I’ve seen women, whom you call whores, coming out of the brothel to give lemons and water to those who were injured. I’ve seen people, whom you call transvestites, opening their hotel rooms for refuge; I’ve seen lawyers and doctors sharing their phones, medical students responding in emergencies. I’ve seen elderly ladies giving out clothes soaked in vinegar. I’ve seen shopkeepers sharing their wireless network passwords, hotel owners taking injured in to their lobbies. I’ve seen a bus driver blocking the road to prevent the panzer from entering. I’ve seen pharmacists opening their shops at night. And rest assured, tonight our eyes were filled with tears not because of the teargas you ordered to be fired but because of pride.

Open letter from the Turkish citizens to the prime minister.

Thousands of people are protesting against the government right now because of the violence and injustice they’ve been subjected to when they were peacefully protesting against government’s decision to cut down the trees and demolish a park.

Please share and let the world know that these people will not stand this torment and injustice anymore. They are chanting “We’ll have revolution!” and “Government resign!” and courageously resisting the police against the tear gas and physical brutality.

(via careful-sweetheart)

(Source: lucrezialoveshercesare, via elizabitchez)

The Right to the City Movement and the Turkish Summer (2) | Jay Cassano

As I write this, Istanbul is under siege. The might of Istanbul’s entire police force—the largest city police force in Europe—is violently cracking down on peaceful occupiers in Gezi Park.

The protest, which began on 27 May, is ostensibly over a planned shopping center to be built over a park in Istanbul’s central Taksim Square. Nevertheless, massive popular movements like this do not emerge out of nowhere. Typically, they are the result of the tireless groundwork of activists over the course of an extended period. And then, something happens: a spark sets off the lighter fluid accumulating unnoticed at everyone’s feet.

The protests began with approximately seventy Right to the City protesters in Gezi Park on 27 May when demolition of the park was set to begin. These activists successfully stopped demolition and a little more than a dozen activists spent that night in the park. They erected two large tents, brought guitars, and made their opinions known to passersby. These activists were comprised of members of Taksim Solidarity and the Taksim Gezi Park Protection and Beautification Association as well as some unaffiliated but concerned individuals.

On 28 May, a coalition of Right to the City associations presented a petition to Istanbul’s Council to Protect Culture Heritage calling on it protect the park. At 1:30 in the afternoon on 28 May, bulldozers returned a second time. The protesters resisted and police used tear gas to clear the park. One activist climbed a tree and was unable to be dislodged, further stalling demolition. Demolition resumed and continued until pro-Kurdish rights Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and secularist opposition Republican People’s Party Members of Parliament Sırrı Süreyya Önder and Gülseren Onanç blockaded bulldozers. This yet again stopped demolition and a protest was called for 7pm that night. Protesters slept in the park again.

The day of 29 May was more low-key as a few hundred people came out for protests in the park and created a festival-like atmosphere with films and concerts. Throughout the day, activists planted seedlings in the park as a token of resistance. Numbers swelled and 150 people slept in the park that night as the state regrouped.

On 30 May Turkish police, unwilling to allow a major tourist hub to be blighted in this fashion, gave the occupiers a five in the morning wake-up call in the form of tear gas. In case the message was not clear enough, they also set fire to occupiers’ tents. With the park cleared and the state clear that it meant business, demolition resumed until at 7:50 in the morning, Önder yet again blockaded the bulldozers with his own body. After news broke on social media of the early-morning raid and concomitant police violence, people accumulated throughout the day and slept over in the park en masse.

The police tried the same tactics on the morning of 31 May, this time with several hundred people sleeping over in the park. The raid was more vicious than the day before and media was banned from the park. After this, Taksim Square officially became contested territory as police violence escalated and protesters clashed with police throughout the day.

In the ensuing mayhem, famed freelance Turkish journalist, Ahmet Şık was hospitalized after being struck in the head by a teargas canister. Onlookers claimed that Şık, who in 2011 penned a book about police corruption in Turkey that was banned from publication, was fired on intentionally from a distance of about ten yards. Önder himself was hospitalized after also being hit by a tear gas canister.

What likely would have blown over with no lasting impact suddenly ignited into one of the biggest mobilizations in recent Turkish history. Estimates during the day of 31 May put the number of protesters between five thousand and ten thousand, and police have attempted mass arrests of anyone occupying the park. Police forces have been making liberal use of teargas, resulting in a flood of instantly iconic images that capture the spirit of dissent. There are in fact reports that the police have used so much tear gas that Istanbul’s police force has had to ship in more from the nearby city of Bursa. On Friday, #DirenGeziParki [Resist Gezi Park] was, for most of the day, the number one worldwide trending hashtag on Twitter.

Late in the night on 31 May, the police barricaded the park and closed all of the roads and public transportation leading to Taksim Square. This completed the square’s transformation into a battleground as protesters attemptedand in some instance succeededto break the barricades. With news spreading that Taksim was barricaded, and growing outrage at the media blackout, residents of Istanbul began organizing in their own neighborhoods and marching together to Taksim. Unverified reports on Twitter estimated 40,000 people were on foot heading to Taksim, including thousands crossing the Bosphorus Bridge that connects the European and Asian sides of the city, which is normally closed to pedestrians.

Solidarity protests have spread organically to other cities, mostly as an expression of anger at police brutality. Protesters have taken to the streets in the cities of Ankara, Izmir, Izmit, Eskişehir, Kayseri, Antalya, Kutahya, and no doubt others. Radikal reports that protesters were tear gassed in Izmit and Eskişehir and dozens were detained in other cities. At the time of writing, it appears that numbers are only going to continue to grow and demonstrations will continue to escalate.

The police violence has been nothing short of excessive. According to the Turkish alternative news site Bianet, at least one hundred protesters have been injured. But this was reported during the day on 31 May and so seems like a conservative estimate at this point, especially given the level of violence and the use of tear gas, which is widely considered a chemical weapon. The Turkish Radikal daily has a series of videos available putting police violence on display. According to a live blog on the leftist website Sendika [Turkish-only], police have in multiple instances blocked ambulances from accessing the injured.

The reaction of the police prompted Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch, to declare Friday that “the display of extreme police violence yet again against peaceful demonstrators in the Taksim Park spells the government and local authorities’ deep intolerance of the right to assembly and non-violent protest in Turkey today.”

The Right to the City Movement and the Turkish Summer | Jadaliyya

[…] The entire plan for Taksim Square’s redesign is part of an overall neoliberal turn that Prime Minister Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) are central to. Istanbul’s city center has been undergoing a rapid process of gentrification, especially in the historic neighborhoods of Sulukule, Tarlabaşı,Tophane, and Fener-Balat, which housed the poor, the immigrants, the Kurds, and the Roma. The goal of this so-called “urban renewal” is to make room for more tourist attractions, or to—at minimum—“clean up” the neighborhoods, removing working class urban dwellers who might scare off tourists. The idea is that this new and improved city center will attract foreign investment in Istanbul, which is to be further developed into a financial and cultural hub at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East.

Some outlets have linked the Gezi Park protests to the AKP’s recent restrictions on the sale of alcohol. Journalists doing so are attempting to portray the Gezi Park occupation as a conflict between Erdoğan’s Islamism and the country’s secular ethos. The secularist opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has also taken this stance, and has tried to coopt the uprising by turning the movement into a symbol of culture wars between a secular youth and an older Islamist generation.

Attractive as that framing may be to Western media, it could not be further from the truth. While many protesters are without a doubt staunch secularists who are motivated by opposition to the AKP’s increasing social conservatism, there is no indication that this is what ultimately brought thousands of people out into the streets. In fact, when CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, came to Gezi Park to speak, protesters sang over him, preventing him from being heard. It is clear that the movement thus far is about a conflict in visions for urban space between ruling elites and the people who actually live, work, and play in the city.

This connects to protests held in 2009 in Istanbul against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which took place under the banner of “Diren Istanbul — “Resist Istanbul” — cleverly shortened in translation to “ResIstanbul.”

Throughout the Arab uprisings, Turkey remained ostensibly stable. Some commentators proposed Turkey as a model for post-uprising Arab states, most especially Egypt. The mixture of a “moderate” Islamist prime minister and a “secular” constitution made NATO-member Turkey an attractive prototype for a new Middle East in the eyes of Western pundits. Others, along with myself, have pointed out that Turkey is a poor choice of role model, given its ongoing conflict with its Kurdish minority population as well as myriad other dynamics.

Today, it seems as though Turkey’s internal divisions are surfacing in a way not seen for some time. What we are seeing in the Gezi Park occupation is the sudden explosion of this Right to the City movement, with some general anti-government sentiment mixed in. For now, an Istanbul court has temporarily suspended construction of the park, pending a hearing on the matter. As time goes on, and if this movement continues to grow, rifts are likely to occur and the meaning of the protests will become as contested as the physical space of Taksim Square. But for the time being, between the massive May Day protest and now this nationwide movement less than a month later, we may finally be in for a summer of uprising in Turkey.

Turkish police withdraws from Istanbul protest square | Al Akhbar English

Thousands of protesters celebrated early Sunday after police withdrew from Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the focal point of nationwide protests against Turkey’s Islamist-rooted government.

The government, while acknowledging some excesses by police in two days of clashes, called on the demonstrators to leave the streets after protests in 48 cities.

But hundreds of people were occupying Taksim Square on Sunday, showing that the protests which have led to the arrest of some 1,000 demonstrators are not over.

Rights groups denounced police violence, with Amnesty International saying that there had been two deaths. Turkey’s Western allies Britain and the United States have called for the government to exercise restraint.

According to official figures, the clashes over the last few days have left dozens injured. Amnesty put the figure in the hundreds and said that some protesters had been left blinded by the massive quantities of tear gas used by police.

Website Mashallah News says it has verified claims that police used expired tear gas on protesters.

Overnight Saturday, however, protesters in Taksim Square were celebrating their victory over the police, dancing and singing, with some even launching fireworks.

“Government, resign!” protesters shouted as the police retreated.

“We are here Tayyip, where are you?” they chanted, taunting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

What began as an outcry against a local development project snowballed into a broader protest against what critics say is the government’s increasingly conservative and authoritarian agenda.

And since the first clashes on Friday, the unrest has spread to dozens of other cities across the country.

On Saturday, police in Ankara blocked a group of demonstrators from marching on parliament and the prime minister’s office.

Speaking at a rally Saturday, Erdogan acknowledged: “It is true that there have been some mistakes, extremism in police response.”

But he added: “I call on the protesters to stop their demonstrations immediately.”

He also vowed to push forward with controversial plans to redevelop the square – the issue that sparked the protests.

The interior ministry promised legal action against police officers who had acted “disproportionately.”

At Taksim Square, a popular tourist destination and traditional rallying site in Istanbul, the mood was defiant.

“We are still ruled by a prime minister who thinks people are lambs and declares himself the sultan,” said 19-year-old law student Batuhan Kantas, sitting exhausted on the ground.

Update: This post was from early June 2nd. THings have since escaleted again. Check here for updates.


In Turkey, at least 100 injured as police use teargas, water cannons against protesters at Gezi Park:

“These people will not bow down to you” — protest banner

Police raided the camps of demonstrators at dawn on Friday. The demonstrators have been in the park for days to protest plans to build a shopping mall. Clouds of teargas rose around Taksim Square, a historic venue for political protest in the country.

Two Tumblrs are claiming to collect unconfirmed pictures of the protests: and

Protests began on Monday after developers destroyed trees in the park. It has since widened into a demonstration against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s political party, perceived policy brutality, and the government’s stance on Syria.

The Istanbul Medical Chamber said at least 100 people sustained minor injuries, some when a wall collapsed as they tried to flee teargas. Amnesty International said it was concerned by what it described as “the use of excessive force” by the police.

Continue reading:

Photos: Reuters photographers Osman Orsal and Murad Sezer

And then there are the wild cards. Israel has announced that it intends to carry out further air strikes against Syrian territory. According to the (London) Sunday Times, Assad has given orders that any further attacks will be responded to by missile strikes on Tel Aviv. A second wild card is ‘chemical weapons,’ which was a focus of President Obama in his statements while visiting Turkey. As numerous analysts and Syrian military leaders have commented, it would be senseless for Syria to use chemical weapons while having control of the air and being able to bomb rebel positions. Thus it is clear that the only military purpose of using chemical weapons at this point would be to encourage US intervention. Who would have the motive for such a step? Hardly Syria.

Iran War Weekly | May 20, 2013

(via jayaprada)

(via randomactsofchaos)

In what critics are calling the most extreme act of censorship in decades, a Turkish state prosecutor imposed a gag upon all media coverage relating to the bombings on Sunday, a decision hailed by Erdogan. The gag follows the reports that Syrian opposition groups may have carried out the attacks. … The Turkish government has arrested nine individuals in connection with the bombings, claiming they are members of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C). The government has yet to produce evidence substantiating its claims that these individuals are Syrian operatives or that they actually carried out the attacks. Reports suggest Syrian opposition involvement in Turkish bombings