Photos: A Spring Surges in Turkey
Worldwide attention has been focused on Turkey over the past two weeks as massive protests have come to life in cities all over the country. Plans to develop a shopping mall in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, a nine-acre area next to the transportation hub of Taksim Square that stands as one of the city’s last urban green spaces, sparked a small protest that began peacefully on May 28 before a violent breakup by police days later. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s dismissiveness of the protests only aggravated the situation in Taksim Square, and news of the police brutality sparked unrest in other cities across Turkey.
Gezi Park was the breaking point, but this uprising was the result of a buildup of resentment about infringement of individual rights, authoritarian control, and cronyism by Erdoğan’s regime. The Turkish media was silent at the beginning of the protests. More journalists are jailed without charges in Turkey than anywhere else in the world, and a fear of rebuke has rendered the media powerless. At the height of the first weekend’s events, when there were estimates of 100,000 people in Taksim Square, Turkish television stations chose to broadcast regular programming instead of covering the protests. Social media picked up the slack.
As Erdoğan calls for pro-government rallies across Turkey, the words of his televised speech from June 1 reverberate: “If this is about holding meetings, if this is a social movement, where they gather 20, I will get up and gather 200,000 people. Where they gather 100,000, I will bring together one million from my party.” His message is one of division, not unity.
The solidarity between different religious groups, age groups, rival football teams, and political groups left and right during these protests has been inspiring. It has sparked a revolutionary tone, galvanizing a much larger movement than the initial protest in Gezi Park. While Erdoğan refers to the protesters as “looters,” having them pelted with canisters of tear gas, shot with rubber bullets, and blasted with water cannons, they have stood up for their right to participate in the decisions their government makes for them, even as their own media leaves them in the dark. The global implications of this movement are not lost on the masses. It remains to be seen whether the same can be said for their leader.
The quotes accompanying these photographs are from protesters I interviewed in Istanbul during the first week of demonstrations. As many of them expressed concern about their names being used, I have kept the quotes anonymous.
Thousands congregate in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, ground zero for the protests that began on May 28, 2013.
Banner: GAS BOMBS ARE CHEMICAL WEAPONS. THEY MUST BE MADE ILLEGAL
“At the beginning, you really did not recognize any bad things. At the beginning, when he was in Israel and Davos, I was really proud of him. I was like, ‘Wow, somebody stands up against Israel. Somebody's really saying something.’ I was kind of proud of it. The economy is going well, but the people working here—I don't know if you know how much they earn—it's like 500 Euro maybe. And they're working six, seven days a week. I studied economics in Holland, and I have a really good education, and I believe here you really get the worst jobs. I know people working for 700 Turkish Liras, seven days a week, and the companies do not even pay your insurance, nothing. The economy may rise, but the people don't see it. The people really live on the minimum. The richest are really rich. But you know, the system in America is the same. It's really the same.”