Letters from the Resisters, No. 1: The Trees That Put Democracy to the Test

Zeynep Ayata, Koç University  – June 21, 2013Resistance Diary

My dear friends, I am writing to you all to ask for your help and support.

What started really as a protest to save the trees turned into a widespread demonstration against the government.

Before I tell you what has happened last night, I should perhaps give you some general information about the protests. The protestors are dominantly young university students. They certainly have the support of their parents, who have tried to show their anger against the government by turning on and off the lights in their homes in the evening and hitting pots and pans with spoons to make some noise. But those people were not in the frontline. The apolitical youth were in the streets to protest. The football fanatics have joined their forces. The protestors were also predominantly women. The political youth demonstrated together with people from completely opposing views to theirs. Turkish nationalists, Kurdish nationalists, what is known as Kemalists, socialists, communists, the anti-capitalist Muslims, and the apolitical ‘rich’ bourgeois kids were all side by side for several days. They were not violent, they were unarmed. You may have seen on the news some protesters throwing things at the police. They were throwing back the teargas capsules that were thrown at them, simply trying to return the favor. They have fought with humor (cartoons, videos, jokes, etc.) and not violence. The local, national media did not cover their story for several days. They have tried to raise their voice through social media.

In return they have received nothing but violence and maltreatment. Hundreds of people have been detained and illegally kept in custody. They have all experienced some kind of violence and torture at different levels. The police used teargas and possibly other kinds of gas in residential areas, in mosques where the wounded were being treated, in local shops where the protesters had taken refuge.

Meanwhile in Gezi Park a ‘commune’ established itself. It had its own library, cafe, and children’s playground. Concerts and bale recitals took place. People erased graffitis that were degrading to women and homosexuals from the walls surrounding the park. They set up their tents and started living there. Other people brought in medicine and food to support them. The gay and lesbian community set up a stand, the Kurdish communities had several, the Armenians another. No one insulted another, no one harmed another. For the first time in decades this country experienced peaceful cohabitation in that small park.

I do not want to turn this letter into political propaganda. So I will not get into what the Prime Minister has said and done during the past 2 weeks. I will however tell you what has happened on June 11th 2013.

At around 6.30 in the morning the police forces made a move to enter Taksim square in order to take down the ‘political’ posters and flags that were hanging on the walls and the buildings. The governor declared that they would not enter the park or harm anyone, and that they were only there to do some ‘cleaning’. Before 8 am, only half an hour after the police had entered the square, a dozen people started throwing stones and molotov cocktails at the police. They were wearing proper gas masks; they had helmets and gloves on. They were positioned at the Tarlabaşı entrance of the Square, and therefore not in the park. They were holding the flags of a socialist party (SDP) as if they had the intention to denounce themselves. The police who supposedly were there to take down the posters had showed up fully armed with their teargas and intervention ‘machines’. The local media who had not covered the stories properly for several days were broadcasting live from the square while the police was kindly asking the violent protesters to stop. Every one I know believed this to be a scene premeditated by the police and the government. I have to say that I cannot disagree. Several pictures circulated in the social media and even newspapers showing the same ‘protestors’ carrying guns and walkie-talkies. The police who are capable of pacifying hundreds of people in a few minutes could not pacify 20-30 protestors for almost 2 hours while the governor kept repeating that they would not enter the park. Meanwhile more than 70 lawyers were illegally held and taken into custody inside the Cağlayan Courthouse. We have been told by our lawyer colleagues the next day, which the police only asked for their identification, kept them under surveillance for several hours, and released them without legal detainment. At the same time people started to gather in the square and the park to show their support for the protestors. In the afternoon the police started getting even more violent in the square while simultaneously the Prime Minister said in his weekly speech at the Parliament ‘finish this’. Which they did.

By the evening, thousands of policemen were in the square. The governor finally announced that they would enter the park and pacify all the protestors – when hundreds of supporters who trusted him and his previous statements had already showed up in the park with their friends and family. The police attacked everyone in the square and slowly moved on to the park. There were announcements of children being lost by their parents in the park, hundreds were wounded while doctors asked for help and medical supplies, we could see fires on several spots on the square, and news reporters could not speak on live TV from exposure to excessive teargas.

Yesterday the Human Rights Association has made a call to the Council of Europe to adopt an interim measure decision due to extraordinary circumstances. The EU Parliament has held a plenary session yesterday on the Gezi Park protests and will continue today. It is crucial that the EU and the international community help us raise our voice. This is an issue of fundamental rights and freedoms. This government has for several years, and remarkably so in the past two months, infringed upon our fundamental rights, our freedom of expression and assembly, right to privacy, right to information, etc. All we want is for these events to be known as a struggle for the protection of our human rights and democracy and as nothing else. Please help us send this message to our friends in Europe. All you need to do is to tell our story to the people you know, to the decision makers at these institutions. I know this all sounds desperate, but to be honest we are desperate. The level of oppression and violence has become too heavy for all of us. So please give us a hand.

Thank you. Best,

Zeynep Ayata
Koç University, İstanbul

Please cite this publication as follows: Ayata, Zeynep (June, 2013), “The Trees That Put Democracy to the Test”, Vol. II, Issue 4, pp.62-65, Centre for Policy Analysis and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, ResearchTurkey. ( )