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Report from Istanbul

Guest Correspondent: Brandon Thomas.

It has been one week since protests over the planned destruction of a park in Taxim Square erupted in Istanbul and unleashed a virtually ceaseless flow of information, photography, and video footage over the internet. Twitter hashtags #occupygezi and #direngeziparki became top trending topics globally. Facebook updates switched from oversaturated bathroom selfies to ominous confrontation warnings and images of ‘biber gazi’ encounters. Reports of how the originally peaceful protest ignited into all night standoffs between police and civilians made headlines all over the world.

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Protesters read to police on the second day of a sit-in to save the Taxim Gezi Parkı, a small green space at the heart of Istanbul’s cultural center in Beyoglu.

Though analysts may argue over the root causes of the movement, the view from the streets is much less complex. So far it appears that police use pepper spray and water cannons (and perhaps rubber bullets) to disperse otherwise peaceful crowds. People gather with flags and banners and signs attempting to march in support of other people with flags and banners and signs. They want to go somewhere, but they encounter a squad of police who say they must go home instead. This is the catalyst for conflict. People don’t want to go home, so they attempt to go forward. Police attempt to stop them. Conflict escalates, lines are drawn, words turn into weapons….

This continuous conflict plays out in the streets like trench warfare. An armored vehicle takes a position across from a scrap pile of debris drug together by a crew of protesters. Riot police fire pepper gas canisters and streams of water which disperses the crowd until the wind clears the fumes and they return back to the front lines alternately cheering, booing, and chanting anti-government slogans. It gets grittier though. Paving stones are pulled up and thrown. Graffiti is everywhere. Shop windows are bashed in. Sometimes there’s blood.

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Police standoff against protesters on a main street in Istanbul. The vehicle in the center is a TOMA, a riot control vehicle equipped with armored plating, bulldozer, roof-mounted water cannon, and a 150 gallon water tank.

However, the protesters are not just the youth, the disenfranchised or the marginalized, but everyday members of Turkish society. I watched a fully covered teenage girl kick a gas canister down the street, a middle-aged woman squirt lemon juice in stinging eyes, a child handing out free sandwiches. Once, when the police advanced with particular severity, people were pushed out of the street and across a trim green lawn. When their backs were against the wall at the Hilton, the concierge opened the double doors and smiled “Welcome.”  Inside, bleary-eyed protesters dusted off as the well-moneyed patrons tried to look casual and hide their surprise.

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In the early morning of June 1, thousands of citizens marched across Istanbul’s iconic Bosphorus Bridge to join ongoing protests in Beyoglu.

The almost universal solidarity is amazing to see. On Saturday police withdrew from Taxim Square. People were jubilant as they arrived. However they soon got restless with nothing to direct their anger towards and some got a bit destructive. A building was set aflame. Abandoned police vehicles were targeted for abuse. Still, the constructive protesters seem to outweigh the provocateurs. A bucket brigade was assembled to douse the fire. Time will tell if it’s enough to keep the movement’s credibility.

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An abandoned and toppled police vehicle in Taxim square. The sign reads “Pepper gas doesn’t work on a nation that uses a lighter to check the gas tank.”

Anyway, these are the things going on last weekend in Istanbul. No one seems to know how important these events will be. Many people believe this is the beginning of the end of the current political party’s administration. Some think the military will intervene. After seeing the beauty and the horror of this powerful people’s movement, it’s difficult to say.

Still, at the end of the day, the images speak for themselves and alternately tell stories of hope and anger, violence and peace. This transmediation, as useful as it is dangerous, shapes the process of interpretation and creates a visual shorthand for understanding events. And like the future of the Turkish public, the way we will remember this past week in Istanbul remains to be seen.

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Wreathed in tear gas, a young protester waves the national flag atop a makeshift barricade on the streets of Besiktas.

Brandon Thomas is an MA student currently living in Istanbul, Turkey.  The author received these images through Twitter, Facebook, and various other social media sites.  Like most viral images shared online, photo credits were not appended to the files.  Any information on the photographers always is welcome.

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Report from Istanbul

Discussion

5 Responses

  1. Hariman says

    Sabine: Thanks for the tip, which Brandon can check on when he gets back online after some traveling he’s doing this weekend. The post is intentionally combining his first-person observations on the street with viral images that are circulating within Turkish social media, so it is possible that some of the images could have been “repurposed” without his or others’ knowledge. At the same time, viral images can generate mistaken attributions that also can go viral, so we’ll have to see which way this one breaks.

  2. Brandon says

    Sabine,

    I haven’t heard that this photo may be from the Istanbul Marathon, however I can suggest that this is likely untrue for a couple of reasons.

    First, cars are clearly visible on the bridge at the same time as the people. To my knowledge this is incongruent with the general rules of the marathon as well as evidence from several other photographs of the race. However, the marathon sponsors have been contacted for further information.

    Second, the image was carried by international and domestic news agencies, including Haber Turk which apparently received the story from Dogan News Agency reporters Ramazan Eğri and İhsan Yalçin. The photo went viral online after being tweeted by Bursa MP Aykan Erdemir on the morning of May 31.

    Unfortunately, an analysis of the image’s metadata does not confirm a creation date or location.
    However, perhaps you are confusing the image from the article with the one seen here. This photo was taken at the 2012 Istanbul Marathon and erroneously attributed to the protest movement. The original article and photograph can be seen here.

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