Note From a Friend Re: #OccupyGezi

As most of you surely know, Turkey has been experiencing civil unrest since May 28th, when riot police in Istanbul forcibly evicted peaceful protesters from Taksim Gezi Park. The protesters had been there objecting to a plan that would level the park and replace it with a shopping mall. But after the eviction, and after the police violence that came with it, protests spread to cities across the country, and their cause came to encompass a wide range of concerns, at the core of which were issues of freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and the government’s encroachment on Turkey’s secularism.

Since the end of May, the violence against protesters has steadily increased, even as the Erdoğan government has ratcheted up its rhetorical attacks against its own people. Prime Minister Erdoğan has repeatedly made the claim that good Turks, with a narrow but earnest cause, have been infiltrated by fringe terrorist groups. Turkey’s Minister to the EU, Egemen Bağış, threatened on television that from now on the state will unfortunately have to consider everyone who remains there a supporter or member of a terror organization. And yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told reporters that the Turkish government was prepared to use elements of the Turkish Armed Forces to put these protests down.

Meanwhile, on the ground, police have been launching tear gas into crowds, and are shooting protesters with water cannons into which they have introduced a chemical that is corrosive to the skin. There have been beatings and waves of mass arrests. And according to The Guardian, middle-aged undercover police officers have been inserted into the crowds, hurling Molotov cocktails and waving Marxist flags, in an attempt to make the protests seem more radical, and more violent, than they are.

Gezi Park
Photo by Burak Su, via Wikimedia Commons

I bring this all up not because I am any kind of expert on Turkey, or on #OccupyGezi, but because I have the opportunity to spread the word about this story from a perspective that is too often under-served. Yesim, a fellow folklorist and colleague of mine from graduate school, has posted the following timeline on behalf of a friend who is there. And I wanted to pass it on, here:

Gezi Timeline

Not every media outlet neglects the voices of folks on the ground. The Guardian, in fact, has really excellent live coverage of what’s going on, complete with extended quotes from protesters. And I would highly recommend clicking over there and giving it a read.

My concern is that in the United States, amidst our own issues with the IRS, the Justice Department, and the NSA, this story is getting lost. And I would really rather that that not happen. Because awareness and outrage are the most potent tools in our belts, over here, for demonstrating our solidarity with the folks over there.

For more information — for more perspective from folks who are in the midst of it — have a look at the #OccupyGezi Tumblr, and at the #OccupyGezi hashtag on Twitter.