Laaltain: How come a small protest against government’s decision to construct shopping mall in a park turn into such a massive phenomenon?
İpek*[i]: Turning point, which is 31st of May, was quite unexpected. First couple of days was a normal protest. The police was attacking the people who stayed at the park every morning from 28th to 31st of May. However, on 31st of May, they attacked heavily and more than once. After seeing this violence, the crowd, which was unexpectedly big, started gathering around 7 in the evening to take the park back. That night didn’t end till the six in the morning neither for the police nor for the protesters. At the end on Saturday, the police backed down, the protesters took the park back. This was a huge success and after that Gezi Park became a symbol for everyone. Everyday thousands of people started coming to the park.
Laaltain: What is the social, political and ideological make up of most of the protesters? And how the agenda for the protesters is being set?
İpek: The composition of the protesters isn’t homogeneous at all. There are environmentalists, leftist groups, LGBTs, secular nationalist (ulusalci) and anti-capitalist Muslims. These groups have never been together before. This diversity within the group makes the movement unique and more meaningful in Turkey. Majority of them (79%) are not associated with any civil society organisation or political party. They are also the young ones usually referred to as 90s generation. Around 56 percent are university/master graduates, while 45% of the protesters have never attended a protest before.
The agenda and the demands are being set at the meetings organized by Taksim Solidarity (an umbrella organisation). However, the Solidarity has been criticised for not being able to represent all of the factions present in the park.
Laaltain: There has been massive media black out about the protests. How were the protesters able to communicate with rest of the world and has the international coverage and framing of the issue been fair?
İpek: The media black out was a shame in every way. For example, on 31st of May, when we were going to the protests, we were really scared and waiting for a heavy attack. When I talked to my family, they did not have any idea about what was going on at Taksim. The social media was the best thing happened to the protesters, I guess. People were using twitter and facebook to post about exact time for gathering, informing about the police violence with pictures and videos, and asking for possible help from lawyers and psychologists.
The international coverage was essential when you don’t have any news on your conventional media. It did have some disadvantages though like there were spurious analyses as naming PM as dictator and calling the movement Turkish Spring. Live broadcasting for 8 hours by CNN has been heavily criticised by the government for possible manipulative framing. Yet, I still believe that international coverage was quite important because it made the protesters feel being heard.
Laaltain: Analysts say this is kind of a citizens’ fight for urban space. To what extend do you agree with that and what else is at stake?
İpek: It is absolutely a fight for urban space. Yet, we can extend the definition of urban space by adding the freedoms like drinking alcohol or public display of affection/love. The government was not only taking our park but also lately trying to take our freedom in public place. The alcohol sales regulation, the public pressure for moral values and a suggestion for the ban on abortion were the examples why people felt stuck in their own country. They needed to breath freely and happily. In addition to this, the way the PM deals with the issues is problematic because it is like dictating his own values on society. He was not really involving any other about the policy decisions he was coming up with.
Laaltain: Is the perennial tension in Turkey between Islamism and Kemalism also a driving factor in the protests? If so, to what extent?
İpek: In the beginning, it was not the case. However, when the protests became huge and had some media coverage, Kemalists and secular nationalists joined the movement. Their drive was aimed against the Islamist outlook of the ruling AK Party and the government. This is why as the government and PM just heard these voices, they hated the movement. Rather than listening to the other people, the government thought that the movement is led by the Kemalists, so they suppressed it badly. Yet, it was not the case at all. The movement was much more than that. For example, on two Fridays when some o f the protesters at the park were praying, the leftist groups stood hand-in-hand surrounding them in order to secure their space for the pray. These kind of examples are simply ignored by the PM who apparently does not want to hear them.
Laaltain: In what ways does this government differ from the past ones? When it comes to state repression, how would you compare it with the military or with deep state supported regimes?
İpek: It is different because it has the majority of the seats in the parliament after a long spell of inefficient coalition governments. It enjoys massive support from the business world for their focus on economic growth. It has done good work in eliminating army’s highhanded role in politics and for the peace process in Turkey. As it became stronger with increasing support, it has been acting like a state on its own at the cost of democracy. Also, the PM is a figure that makes this government different. He does not know any diplomatic way of communication; he is too straightforward and never thinks before he talks. He behaves at the same time like a dad, governor, mayor, everything to the society.
Laaltain: How have you been involved in the protests and how have they been meaningful to you personally?
İpek: I went to the park everyday after work. I suffered from tear gas when the police used it around the park. Yet, I have not stayed at the park in the tents. It was really meaningful to me. Just to see those different groups together was an amazing feeling. I did not think that people in Turkey would be so keen and brave to be there for that long time. I have more faith in Turkey’s future now.
Laaltain: What are the recent developments and where is the situation leading to?
İpek: After the huge attack and kicking people out from the park on 15th of June, the resistance has not stopped. People are gathering together every night at 9 at their local parks. It is an open forum, everyone has a chance to talk. Some of them talk about their experiences during protests, some of them talk about next steps of the movement. Now, the meeting notes are shared at a blog. It is very interesting to see that people did not give up. Also the quality of the discussion is great as well because people now talk about LGBT rights and Kurdish issue so openly. The movement might come up with a candidate for the local elections against the ruling party. Therefore, I would say that the movement will be evolving into something more meaningful and concrete.
Laaltain: Any message for the rest of the world?
İpek: Thanks for the solidarity and support. Her yer Taksim her yer Direniş (Everywhere taksim everywhere resistance)
[i] The name has been changed to protect the identity of the interviewee
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