All over the world we can see, mostly on the social networks, but also in the press and media, how very large demonstration are taking place in Turkey. It all began in Gezy Park in Istanbul and now there are demonstrations all over the country in solidarity with the cause that Gezy Park demonstrators are deffending, and also against the reaction of Erdogan’s government that is strongly repressing the protests using police violence. On this occasion, I will interview two people, Derya Çalık, a Turkish student and activist, and one of the people who is behind the FB page “Occupy Gezy”. Derya Çalık has a degree in International Relations and is studying two MA’s (Philosophy and International Relations). She is concerned with what is happening in her city and in her country, as are many other people who have been on the streets lately or who support from their homes. The “Occupy Gezy” Facebook page is a virtual space to share all sorts of information related to what is happening in the streets in Turkey, with the purpose of letting people all around the world know what is happening and how people on the streets are living these moments.
Voices IV: An interview with Derya Çalık
G.Y: Can you explain to us about the social protest culture in Turkey?
D.C: Generally, the way in which Turkish society protests is very reflexive. Despite the fact that a lot of changes are happening in the country lately, people are not happy with many of them. Turkish people have no experience, and this results in difficulties to organize for protests.
Here in my country, people are afraid to take part in the political debate. People prefer to be out and far away from politics instead of taking part. On one hand, it is possible to understand this situation, because if we look at the past, we can see several examples when taking part had very negative effects on people. For this reason, to demonstrate or to be an activist is very difficult and scary. Mostly for those people who don’t belong to any political party or organization, whether it is illegal or legal.
Taksim, Beşiktaş and Kadıköy are the most used squares for carrying out protests, they are the most important squares and parks in the city. Until now, the Internet was barely used for these kinds of issues.
To fight against the police is a very important part of the protests because Turkish police are very harsh and violent with the citizens who are demonstrating, even if they are not talking about a political or ideological demonstration. You have to be careful with police because they don’t stop until they make people suffer.
G.Y: Do people use the public space often to carry out protests? Historically, what has been the government’s position regarding these movements?
D.C: Yes, people often uses squares to demonstrate. In Turkey, social movements and protests didn’t get to do significant changes until now, because there’s never been a political figure able to guide these movements, and they disappeared in a natural way.
In Turkey there isn’t a strong opposition to the government, and the opposition that we actually have doesn’t know how to lead a change from a movement like this. Government, from its side, thinks that people who demonstrate in squares are “radical groups who don’t know anything about history”, who have no idea about politics and whose only objective is to provoke society.
Also, in the eyes of the government, carrying out protests in the squares is not a legitimate way of claiming and obtaining rights. According to the government, the only way to state ideas for the people is to take part in the elections and to vote for the parties. Government, because it has the absolute majority, believes that it can do whatever it wants, ignoring what the other social actors say after the elections. This doesn’t help–it makes people feel provoked.
G.Y: Lately we have seen harsh images all around the globe. It all began because of a construction plan to pave a mall center where Taksim Gezi Park currently is. Is the construction plan part of a bigger urbanism project? Can you tell us about it?
D.C: In Turkey, until now, we have seen many protests in different parts of the country, but this is the first time that I’ve been in a protest of these circumstances, so big and spontaneous.
It all began with a protest to avoid the take-down of Gezi Park. Many youths and activists went there to protest the mall center project that would destroy trees and the park itself. It began as an ecologist protest. It did not have a political or an ideological agenda.
It is known that the government has a project to build a commercial center there, but they deny it. Erdogan, the prime minister, says that they will build a military quarter (as a historical symbol), because they want to preserve history. But it is evident that they want to build a mall center since they are already negotiating with businessmen who want to open their stores in the mall.
The mall is part of a bigger project. The city changed a lot during the last few years. They want to totally change the ambience of Istanbul. To give an example, there are some old historical areas where the government, with its projects, always supports businessmen to build new modern and high-rise buildings instead of keeping those areas as they are and taking care of preserving the old constructions. They want to throw out the people who live there because, generally, they are in a disadvantaged economical situation.
G.Y: Can you explain the latest facts to us and how the situation became so violent?
D.C: As I said before, it all began as an ecologist protest, but somehow it became very violent in a way that’s difficult to explain. People who were demonstrating had no intention to fight against the police, until they began throwing tear gas in the park.
In the beginning ,we were in the park with our books since we decided that our protest would be to spend a night in the park reading. Some actors, writers, and even politicians supported us. Already during the first night, police attacked with tear gas.
We didn’t stay there because they didn’t allow us to. We had no other option but to leave the park. On the 31st of May, the police began “doing their job in a perfect way”.
It was time for them to do something about the protest because the issue was talked about all over Istanbul. On Friday evening, a lot of people went to the park after work, so more and more police arrived. That was the start of what would look like a war between police and people demonstrating. Police were not only in the park, they were all around the Taksim neighborhood. At night they closed all access to the Taksim neighborhood. They blocked it to prevent more people from arriving to the square. That’s how the violence began.
G.Y: What does Gezy Park mean for Istanbul? Can you explain a bit about the historical importance of this square?
D.C: There used to be a military quarter during Ottoman times. In the year 1940 it became a park. It is not very big but is one of the only parks in the city, especially in the center of the city. There are barely any trees in Istanbul; that’s why it is important to keep the park, we want the city to breathe.
G.Y: Violence got very extreme in the last few days in Istanbul. We can see images of the police using tear gas, water cannons, and other forms of physical violence. Amnisty International says that there have been two deaths and many injured. What is the reality on the streets?
D.C: It’s all true. What the police are doing isn’t to stop people who are demonstrating, it’s to torture them. They used violence in a uncontrolled way against society. It was unbelievable to see how the police were treating their own people that way.
G.Y: What is the position of Erdogan’s government about the construction plan and about the recent protests? And about the excess on the use of violence by the police?
D.C: When the violence escalated on the 31st of May, Erdogan’s governmen didn’t say a word even though people were waiting for them to say something.
Yesterday (June 1st), Erdogan finally spoke. He said: “The police are doing their job, it is normal” and “we are going to continue with our projects, we won’t stop them because of the radicals”. Demonstrations got more revolutionized because of his words. He also said that if they made some mistake with the use of tear gas it would be investigated. Erdogan, as he always does, ignores citizens and accusses “radical groups” of provoking society.
G.Y: How is the national and international media covering and reacting to these events?
D.C: According to the Turkish mass media there is nothing to say. I believe they are all sold. The don’t even want to mention this issue. They don’t makeany effort to show what is actually happening. Television continues with its regular programming as if nothing is happening in the streets of our country.
Mass media in Turkey almost never supports anything that is against the government, this is one of the main problems. During the AKP regime, the media’s attitude was incomprehensible. They are still in the government’s side, trying to avoid to criticism of police behavior.
G.Y: Yesterday, demonstrations began spreading all over the country. Where do you think these protests may lead?
D.C: Demonstrations began in Istanbul and have extended to the south of the country. There has been support in a lot of cities, not only in Turkey, I have seen a lot of protests all over the world in our favor.
I think it is evident that Turkish society is learning something from this protest. All that is going on will serve us as an example that we will never forget. Another thing we learnt is that, once again, the Turkish police have no conscience.
Voices V: An interview with one of the people behind “Occupy Gezi” Facebook page
G.Y: The “Occupy Gezi” Facebook page has been up 3 days and is reaching 20,000 followers. Who is behind this page? Is this a social media response to the lack of mainstream press and media coverage?
O.G: I’m a marketing manager. Ashamed to say, as a petite woman I was just afraid to go off to the streets, so I did what I know best: I started a page to gain some international exposure. Thousands were on the streets and using social media for communication and organization, but none of them had a chance to translate or anything. No mass media broadcasted anything so WE needed to do something for international public opinion.
Two other friends joined me; one used to be an observer for an NGO, and the other one has a Political Science degree but works in a completely different field.
G.Y: What sort of information can people find on your Facebook page?
O.G: We have been translating the trending conversation, newspaper articles, statements from influencers. As reliable information is very hard to find, we try to get information from the people on the streets and trusted the tweets containing photos and videos. We tried to create a channel where people could read the recent situation and get some background information. We tried to cover everything so that a random person with no information could understand what’s going on and support us in our fight for free speech and human rights.
G.Y: I heard that there have been problems with communications in Turkey lately because of the use of jammers by the police inhibit wi-fi signal. Is it true? Can you explain a bit about this?
O.G: As we started to have serious connectivity problems. I switched to a VPN (thanks to my geeky side). We don’t have a proper 3G connection when we go to a crowded concert, so it’s not a coincidence that people couldn’t get any signal on the streets–the crowds were estimated to be over 100K at times. But many people reported jammers too and it was impossible to connect even on the streets, which were not any more crowded than a large mall. The shops, restaurants, hotels and residents of the area provided free wi-fi acces by removing their passwords to overcome the problem.
Later, another friend who lives in the UK joined us; in case we lost our entire Both pictures are shared from Rinternet connection, we planned to rely on her. So we became a little group of 4. We belong to no political or ethnic organization, we’re just ordinary, concerned people.