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In Turkey’s his­to­ry, “Gezi” is the most impor­tant resis­tance move­ment trig­gered by envi­ron­men­tal questions.

Mobi­liza­tion began on May 27th 2013 with a group ral­lye in Gezi Park to stop machin­ery brought in to cut down the trees. It became a de fac­to ZAD (translator’s note : “Zone à Défendre” in French, mean­ing a zone in need of pro­tec­tion) since it turned into an occupation !

Start­ing from this fix­a­tion point and the relays that ensued (press arti­cles, social media, word of mouth) by the begin­ning of June, crowds had start­ed fill­ing streets in large and small towns.

The demon­stra­tors chant­ed slo­gans, car­ried signs, car­na­tions at times. They were peace­ful. Gov­ern­men­tal response was dis­pro­por­tion­al­i­ty vio­lent caus­ing thou­sands of injuries, includ­ing sev­er­al instances of severe brain trau­ma, and muti­la­tions such as the loss of an eye. The forces of repres­sion world­wide use iden­ti­cal equip­ment, caus­ing sim­i­lar wounds. Five peo­ple died.

But how did we get to that point ?

It’s a long sto­ry meet­ing up with the country’s recent his­to­ry. On a polit­i­cal­ly tense back­ground, there came a last drop that over­filled the cup. That drop was Gezi Park.

In fact, every­thing began with ten trees or so. Yes, yes, a few trees. Some ten trees were to be cut down in a park that was to be razed to build some­thing else. An urban­iza­tion project like many oth­ers now in Istanbul…

A project I can add with­out hes­i­ta­tion to the list of all those « use­less and cost­ly projects » against which strug­gles are orga­nized, police respond­ing with all its vio­lent migh, leav­ing bat­tered vic­tims on the ground.

In Gezi Park, a hand­ful of peo­ple want­ed to stop the tree-cut­ting machin­ery. Of course, our dear media embroi­dered around this vis­i­ble part of the ice­berg for a long time on the theme of « a few mis­er­able trees », until they could no longer deny the fact some­thing impor­tant was going on. Some­thing that went far beyond. You could say they used the trees to hide the forest !

Gezi Park is next to Tak­sim Square in Istan­bul. A few of you may know the neigh­bor­hood. If not, you’ve missed some­thing because this neigh­bor­hood is the very sym­bol of cos­mopoli­tan Istanbul.

The square gives out on sev­er­al streets and the entire neigh­bor­hood teems with life. At the heart of the square stands a mon­u­ment cen­tral to all offi­cial cer­e­monies. The his­tor­i­cal tram serves as shut­tle between the square and Istik­lal Avenue… home of shops and restau­rants – some of which have become insti­tu­tions in Turk­ish gas­tron­o­my. Music-themed bars fill the adjoin­ing streets. Cross­ing them, you cross the path of the country’s musi­cal wealth. Live music, be it tra­di­tion­al, rock, punk, jazz… The French Con­sulate is also a part of the landscape.

But that’s not all. Tak­sim Square est the place for all polit­i­cal ral­lyes, the depar­ture point for all demon­stra­tions. It has seen all kinds. Hap­py moments, trag­ic ones… The most impor­tant was in 1977. Dur­ing the May 1st demon­stra­tions, 36 dead blood­ied the ground of Tak­sim. This date has entered the country’s his­to­ry as « the bloody First of May ».

Tra­di­tion­al May 1st demon­stra­tions were banned for many years there­after. In the past three or four years, they’ve resur­faced despite the ban. In Istan­bul, they always take off from Tak­sim. And par­tic­i­pa­tion grows every year. Five hun­dred thou­sand, one mil­lion, a mil­lion and a half… When demon­stra­tors chant the same slo­gans in all of the country’s towns, you feel a shiv­er down your spine. « Elbow to elbow against fas­cism ! » « Down with cap­i­tal­ism ! ». It’s impres­sive. The coun­try thrums… And you are there, thrum­ming with it…

Why did the destruction of a park and some ten trees anger so many people ?

From City Hall, the gov­ern­ment had announced an urban project for Tak­sim. Sev­er­al main roads con­verge there. Vehi­cle and pedes­tri­an cir­cu­la­tion prob­lably need­ed re-orga­ni­za­tion and the square required a touch of embell­ish­ment and renovation.

The prob­lem was, among oth­er things, that the project involved the destruc­tion of the park, one of the rare parks in an urban set­ting. One of Istanbul’s lungs, a bit of breath­ing greenery.

Destroy the park for what replacement ?

I must give you a bit of this park’s his­to­ry . Under the Ottoman Empire, there stood a casern there instead of a park : Halil Pasa’s Artillery Casern. It was built in 1803 by an Armen­ian archi­tect, on an Armen­ian and Mus­lim cemetery.


In 1909 the sol­diers of the Artillery bat­tal­ion mutinied for they wished to impose Sharia Law. The Ottoman army put down the mutiny. Up until now, this casern had always been held as a sym­bol of obscurantism.


Lat­er, in 1921, the casern’s inner court­yard became « Tak­sim Sta­di­um », the first Turk­ish soc­cer sta­di­um. Then, on the advice of French urban­ist Hen­ri Prost, the sta­di­um was shut down in 1939, demol­ished the fol­low­ing year and the Repub­lic of Turkey offered Gezi Park to the peo­ple of Istan­bul.


The recent urban­iza­tion project pro­ject­ed build­ing a repli­ca of the casern, as part of Turkey’s Ottoman cul­tur­al heritage.

Build­ing an exact repli­ca of this casern, all right, but to what use ? As a cul­tur­al cen­tre ? A library ? A museum ?
No !
Are you ready : the plan was for the casern to serve as a shop­ping center.
Do you see the sym­bols ? A tem­ple to the glo­ry of obscu­ran­tism and of the mer­chan­diz­ing society !
Such a sym­bol, in a Turkey where sec­u­lar­ism los­es ground every day, where every bit of pub­lic prop­er­ty is sold off to huck­sters, where a Prime Min­is­ter (Tayyip Erdo­gan, now Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic) is a friend of Berlus­coni… Well, peo­ple couldn’t shut up any longer.

« The Gezi spirit »

The ranks grew of the small hand­ful of peo­ple near the trees. One of my friends who was there that day told me :

Peo­ple came in the hun­dreds, then in the thou­sands. We had trou­ble under­stand­ing our­selves what was going on. At first, there were a few tents, then a real vil­lage, so we orga­nized. Food, water, cloth­ing came from every­where. A cit­i­zens’ assem­bly was con­sti­tut­ed and it was in con­stant debate. The entire move­ment was peace­ful. There were fam­i­lies, chil­dren, all kinds of peo­ple from every socio-cul­tur­al stra­ta. And one night, the police charged. Vio­lent­ly. Very violently. 

With exam­ples in France, you know very well what police repres­sion can be like with cur­rent equipment…

The vio­lence was impres­sive, but the ones resist­ing also had their weapons :

intel­li­gence, prac­ti­cal­i­ty and, most of all, sol­i­dar­i­ty and a sense of humor. This cock­tail, more explo­sive than a Molo­tov was the essence of Gezi. The « Gezi spirit ».

Slo­gans, signs and tags to make you fall down laugh­ing erupt­ed like fire­works, turn­ing to ridicule the dec­la­ra­tions, orders and speech­es deliv­ered with utmost seri­ous­ness. Of the mil­lions of exam­ples, I remem­ber the bright faces of three young women tag­gins a wall in ref­er­ence to a piece of advice by Tayyip, then Prime Min­is­ter : « Fam­i­lies, have at least 3 chil­dren ». On the wall, I saw : « Are you sure you want 3 like us ? » I recall the slo­gan chant­ed as the tear gas rained down : « Your tear gas doesn’t both­er me. When I was lit­tle, I ran after the truck spray­ing against mosquitos ! »

Sol­i­dar­i­ty was a sto­ry in itself. Help­ful­ness sprung up nat­u­ral­ly. In the midst of real strug­gles and demands, dif­fer­ences die down of them­selves… All those dif­fer­ences aimed at bet­ter man­ag­ing peo­ple, sep­a­rat­ing the elder­ly from the young, women from men, social class­es, believ­ers from non believ­ers, they all dis­ap­peared among the peo­ple gath­ered in Taksim…

A friend said :

I saw things I’d nev­er seen in my life. An FB sup­port­er help­ing a GS sup­port­er to his feet. [Translator’s note : FB and GS are two oppos­ing soc­cer teams]. Unheard of ! A Turk lend­ing his arm to help a Kurd to walk, or the oppo­site. Can you imag­ine ? Old ladies bring­ing cut lemons, vine­gar, so that peo­ple could cleanse their faces of the tear gas. 

And I saw, the lists stream­ing on inter­net. Shops pro­vid­ed their wi-fi code so that every­one could com­mu­ni­cate. Young peo­ple with cam­eras filmed and pub­lished non stop. Phone num­bers streamed by — lawyer, doc­tors, nurs­es pro­vid­ing their per­son­al num­ber to help the wound­ed or the arrest­ed. Makeshift infir­maries sprung up in hotels, in closed park­ing lots.

  • “La femme en rouge” une des icônes de Gezi

And dur­ing all this time, the Prime Min­is­ter talked of small groups, of ter­ri­bly dan­ger­ous ter­ror­ists in the streets…For the gov­ern­ment, this crowd was noth­ing but a few « çapul­cu » (pro­nounce thcapould­jou), which means maraud­ers, van­dals, loafers… This also you will have no trou­ble under­stand­ing right away, because it is exact­ly was is going on for the ZADists in France, when the media describes them as drunks and dope­heads liv­ing in garbage.

When we look at the coun­try even in a super­fi­cial way we see what the gov­ern­ment is try­ing to demon­strate. « The god­less are against the believ­ers. » As if repub­li­can sec­u­lar­ism oppressed believ­ers. If the many Mus­lims resist­ing with us had con­sid­ered that the Repub­lic oppressed them, they wouldn’t have been there, at one with us.

Remem­ber the sym­bol of Gezi Park, of obscu­ran­tism and cash. Cash most­ly, obscu­ran­tism being at its service.

What is remark­able and sur­pris­ing : the young gen­er­a­tions every­one con­sid­ered indi­vid­u­al­is­tic and apo­lit­i­cal. « They don’t care, they’re con­sumers, that’s all they want, every­thing for them, no con­science…». Well, they fooled every­one. Even I was dumb­found­ed see­ing the par­tic­i­pa­tion of young peo­ple in my fam­i­ly, the chil­dren of friends, who had nev­er been inter­est­ed in pol­i­tics. « Down with cap­i­tal­ism ! ». « Erdo­gan, clear out! ». You become con­scious and rad­i­cal­ized through strug­gling and resisting.

What did we win ?

The project was with­drawn. The park stayed. Tak­sim Square was cov­ered over with cement. It’s lousy.


But things aren’t so simple.

After Gezi, sev­er­al events sparked protests. Projects of the same ilk abound, the recent pres­i­den­tial White Palace with its one thou­sand rooms, the project for a third bridge over the Bospho­rus, the rev­e­la­tions con­cern­ing the cor­rup­tions of gov­ern­ment mem­bers and of those near­est Erdo­gan, the cat­a­stro­phes linked to work­ing con­di­tions, con­test­ed results at munic­i­pal elec­tions where rig­ging is sus­pect­ed, the trans­for­ma­tion of pub­lic schools into Coran­ic ones, the arrival of the scarf in schools, admin­is­tra­tions, the nation­al assembly…Sexist and racist dec­la­ra­tions by elect­ed mem­bers or Islamo-Con­ser­v­a­tive per­son­al­i­ties encour­ag­ing vio­lence against women…I can find you at least one for every day in the two years that have gone by since Gezi.

What mat­ters most is this : the Gezi expe­ri­ence changed some­thing in depth. Per­haps not for every­one but for many, and for a great num­ber in the younger generation.

But the great­est vic­to­ry was in real­iz­ing the strength we have when we come togeth­er for a struggle.

Gezi served to open eyes and to open the way. More and more peo­ple under­stand that eco­nom­ic lib­er­al­ism is what keeps on spoil­ing every­thing in Turkey as well as in Europe. Over here, it spreads under the veil of obscu­ran­tism the bet­ter to advance under the mask of a with­draw­al into a com­mon identity.

Now, there’s all the rest. Oth­er strug­gles. And we know we can do it together.

« Gezi Spir­it » are you there ?


Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges  —
Translation & writing by Kedistan. You may use and share Kedistan’s articles and translations, specifying the source and adding a link in order to respect the writer(s) and translator(s) work. Thank you.
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Naz Oke
REDACTION | Journaliste 
Chat de gout­tière sans fron­tières. Jour­nal­isme à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mar­mara. Archi­tec­ture à l’U­ni­ver­sité de Mimar Sinan, Istanbul.