Some notes and reflections on what has so far transpired during #occupygezi as we enter the 6th day:
The occupation began with a few dozen people protesting the demolition of trees in Gezi Park by a private company at 2 AM. Gathered under the group Taksim Dayanışması (Taksim Solidarity), they called for support and some stayed the night in order to keep guard of the park and the trees. That morning, the bulldozers came back and tried to continue demolishing the patch of land on the far edge of the Park. This drew more protesters to the park; they came with tents, books, musical instruments, and food supplies. On Mat 28th we started peacefully occupying the park, taking shifts during our time off work during the day and trying to stay the night as well.
That day we had also heard that the historical, public and still-in-use Kadıköy port in Beşiktaş was sold off to a nearby hotel for private use. On the second day (the 29th), construction on the third bridge, which will destroy millions of trees and bring more traffic congestion to the city, kicked off with a ceremony. That evening the occupation in the park grew bigger; people danced and cheered throughout the night. At dawn, riot police intervened with intense tear gas and water cannons, chasing occupiers down streets with riot control vehicles. The riot police also burnt many tents, private equipment and musical instruments inside the park, creating a fire hazard.
On the third day (May 30th), after this first police attack on a peaceful occupation, we gathered once more to hold an assembly. That evening, the occupation was even bigger than before, and many stayed the night. At some point it was reported that 30,000 people were in the park. By the time the riot police intervened, once again at dawn, there were still more than 2000 people. Tear gas and water cannons were used heavily, injuring several people. Riot police later barricaded the park and kept a large number of troops within.
We gathered across the park (on the Divan Hotel side) at 10 am in protest to read and listen to a press briefing by the Taksim Dayanışması Platform. The riot police intervention on a mere 500 people was brutal. At some point I saw five tear gas canisters beside me and was subjected to pressurized water (also chemically enhanced). As we ran towards safety I felt I couldn’t go much further and took refuge on the side of a building not too far from the tear gas clouds. Immediately I was attended to by three people who were running by me, providing me with antacid-water, lemon and emotional support. It was quite a relief to see such an intense encounter with tear gas – which causes stinging in the eyes, skin and throat as well leaving you nearly asphyxiated – washed away so easily. I derived strength from this solidarity even though I still felt terrible.
The Gezi Park is right next to Taksim Square, which is considered the main center of the city. It is reached through at least four main routes and some sub-routes. Throughout the day the crowds trying to reach Taksim in protest from all sides grew. The riot police kept using tear gas and pressurized water to keep people away from Taksim. This was reminiscent of what transpired on May Day earlier this year, when the government decreed that demonstrations in the square would be banned and then brutally attacked anyone trying to get there (one might add that such a ban is unconstitutional on several levels).
Throughout the night and well past midnight people on the front lines who were gassed pulled back as others from behind took their place. When the police were able to break the wall of people, they would progress towards side streets, gassing residential areas. As they did, people re-gathered their strength and reassembled near the square. There was no apparent ebbing in the action throughout the night. The protests continued into the new day.
At around 3 pm on June 1st, after almost 40 hours of resistance, many injuries, and numerous lies from government officials, the riot police pulled back. As they did, people flooded the main square towards the park only to find themselves in a cloud of tear gas.
Despite this last ditch effort of retaliation on the part of the riot police, the park was reclaimed from all sides by a heterotopic multitude. This was simultaneously a victory over the riot police against their brutality and violence, a violation of the unconstitutional and authoritarian ban on demonstrations in and around Taksim square, as well as a reclaiming of the May Day that was stonewalled a month ago.
After several hours in the park, we heard of riot police attacking a group in nearby Beşiktaş. Many went to provide their support. The attacks continued from 8 pm well into the next morning and Beşiktaş, a residential area, was subjected to severe tear gas. We got news from friends in the neighborhood of tear gas seeping through windows, making babies cry and even vomit.
Meanwhile in Taksim, some groups remained. There was major debris from the previous clashes. Early Sunday morning Gezi Park, Taksim Square and parts of İstiklal avenue were cleaned up by activists, some of whom had stayed to guard the trees before, and others who were newcomers to the movement.
This morning the city seemed quiet and rain was falling as if to clean the trees of tear-gas. What seems most hopeful is that such a mobilization was triggered by a will to protect Gezi Parkı. People from all walks of life came to support each other against police brutality and violence. This solidarity in the face of police violence symbolized the materialization of a discontent against neoliberalism and those guarding it. The chants heard during previous nights were filled with rage against the police, the current government and especially the prime minister. They communicated outrage against growing inequality, consuming, painful urban transformation and a total disregard for democratic values of participation.
02 June 2013, İstanbul