Turkey’s Weekend of Protests and Jubilation
"There is now a menace, which is called Twitter," Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared on Turkish television on Sunday. “The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”
Made in one of two speeches given to Turkish TV yesterday, it is a statement that characterises the social unrest in Turkey as much as it seems to validate it. While mainstream Turkish media has largely tried to ignore the tens of thousands of protesters on the streets of Istanbul, Twitter has offered them a way to organize themselves and publicize their cause. What began as a peaceful protest about the destruction of a park to make way for a shopping center has turned into a broader expression of Turkish discontent. Many sections of society are angry at what they see as a concerted attempt by Erdogan to transform the democracy he is charged with maintaining into an Islamist dictatorship. A combination of gentrification, government corruption, and hints of a crackdown on personal freedoms, such as drinking alcohol and kissing in public, has provoked the biggest social uprising in Turkey for a decade.
And let’s not forget the media blackout—a lack of press freedom tends to be a decent sign that a country’s top-ranking officials are getting a little too power hungry.
During the weekend, protests spread to more than half of Turkey’s 81 provinces. Most notable were those in the capital, Ankara, where violent clashes between riot police and demonstrators resulted in more than 700 injuries, and in Istanbul, where the number of wounded has reached 1,000. You can only guess those figures are rising as we speak, while officials have announced that more than 1,700 arrests have been made.
On Sunday evening, fans of the city’s Beşiktaş football team commandeered a digger and drove it at riot police, and those who didn’t feel up to joining the struggle in the streets hung out of windows, adding to the din that has engulfed parts of the country by banging on pots and pans.
VICE currently has a number of reporters and filmmakers in Turkey. We called one of them on Sunday to make sure they hadn’t suffocated in tear gas plumes and to get their perspective on the latest from the ground. There’s also a selection of images from the weekend’s events in the gallery above.
VICE: Have things calmed down or are they getting more violent?
VICE Reporter: Things have calmed down in Taksim Square for sure. Protesters have built barricades all around the park, so it’s very hard for police vans or bulldozers to enter. But since 9:30 PM tonight. clashes between police and protesters have gone off in Beşiktaş and it’s been brutal. They’ve been using tear gas and other gas which has made people vomit. It has been alleged that it is Agent Orange, but I can’t confirm or deny that.
Have you encountered many injured people?
When you walk on the streets here every five minutes you’ll see someone who has an injury, be it a bruise or someone suffocating from tear gas. There are six makeshift clinics at Taksim, staffed with volunteering doctors and medical students because police aren’t letting ambulances through. There were 500 people needing treatment in the medical center I was in yesterday; these people can’t get to hospitals. On Friday one protester was in front of a hospital and she saw 40 ambulances taking people in—at that point the official numbers of people who had been injured was less than 40. So I can’t confirm injuries, but obviously a lot more people are injured than the media is reporting. At least where I am right now, Gaviscon, which is used to help the effects of tear gas, is sold out.
I’ve heard some reports that police have destroyed benches and billboards to make it seem like protesters did it. Have you seen that?
There are a ton of rumors floating around about all sorts of things. The first night we were here people were screaming about young people being killed openly on the streets by police, which is still unconfirmed. Then yesterday there was a lot of talk about Turkish Greenpeace confirming that Agent Orange gas had been used against protesters, but again I think that was just a rumor. I’m not saying it can be ruled out, but it’s hard to confirm. It is possible that police have gone into crowds intentionally causing a ruckus, but it could also have been football hooligans or anarchists. We actually spent time yesterday with a group of protesters who’ve spent the entire time gathering all the rumors and then trying to fact-check them.