Protesters in Istanbul Rioted to Save Their Internet
This year, Turkey’s protesters have turned their attention from small, endangered urban parks to the slightly more on-trend issue of online freedom.
The reason is that a new law was announced over the weekend that would award the Turkish government tighter control over the internet, allowing it to block websites without seeking a court ruling first. Considering that the government already controls the country’s mainstream media, it’s no surprise that news of these restrictions on the country’s primary source of objective information didn’t go down very well.
On Saturday, internet-freedom activists took their anger to Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the epicenter of last year’s Gezi Park demonstrations. Much like 2013’s protests, Turkish state police were out in force, spraying crowds with water cannons, trying to demolish their barricades, and chasing protesters off down Istikal Avenue with paintball guns. Yet the crowds regrouped and began building up more barricades down alleys and sidestreets, before police attacked them again with water cannons and gas bombs. The clashes continued late into the night, with demonstrators chanting, “Hands off my internet!”
"If I don’t stand here and protest, we will lose all our freedom," said Ceren, a 24-year-old college student. "With Turkish mainstream media under [government] control, we only have the internet. If we lose the internet, nobody in the world would even be hearing about this protest."
Is the East Mediterranean the Next Front in the War on Terror?
Collaborative efforts by the Greek and Turkish governments to fight terrorism have been in the headlines since June, when Turkish dissident Bulut Yayla was abducted from Athens and somehow wound up in Istanbul. Yayla allegedly had links to the DHKP-C, a far-left group that’s banned in Turkey and has claimed responsibility for a series of bombings. The Greek police denied all knowledge of the extradition, but evidence from various reportssuggested that this was bullshit. Yayla is still being held by the Turkish police on terrorism charges. His lawyer has been trying to go to Greece for the past six months in order to turn in crucial evidence relevant to the investigation into his abduction, but has been unable to get the necessary visa.
Until recently, other Turkish leftists in Greece were prepared for a similar fate: extradition followed by inevitable imprisonment. Among them were four Turks who were arrested in August after the Greek authorities seized a boat allegedly carrying guns and explosives from the Greek island of Chios to the DHKP-C in Turkey. They went on a hunger strike that lasted more than 50 days to protest their possible deportation. One, Mehmet Yayla, has particularly pressing concerns about going back to Turkey—he said he was tortured by the authorities there and survived two assassination attempts before fleeing the country.
Thanksgivukkah Is Coming and It Will be the Greatest Night of Our Lives
Thanksgivukkah 2013 is just around the corner and no one is more excited for it than me. Okay maybe Rob Reiner. That’s right, Thanksgiving, the national holiday where we give thanks for the previous year’s harvest and the first night of Hanukkah, the Hebrew festival of lights both fall on the same day. This quirk of the calendar has created one giant, starchy, delicious, guilt-riddled holiday for us to enjoy. It’s one of the rare occasions when something secular and something Jewish combines perfectly. It’s basically like if Liev Schrieber and Naomi Watts’ wedding ceremony was made into a national holiday minus the chocolate fountain. It’s also the opposite of watching George W. Bush light a menorah… or struggle to say “mazel tov” in that stupid hillbilly accent.
I don’t know about you but my inner Mandy Patinkin is kvelling! But before we get into all the wondrous things about Thanksgivukkah let’s take a step back and figure out how exactly this “mitzvah” (blessing) happened so that we may adequately thank “Adonai” (God, or as my people call him “G-d”) for allowing us to be alive during this once in a lifetime opportunity.
How to Survive Thanksgiving
Turkey’s Fight for Freedom Has Caused an Authoritarian Crackdown
Özde looks like Audrey Hepburn. She has wide-set hazel eyes that are fringed with flicked-up long lashes and a button nose sprinkled with freckles that a dozen teenage boys must have gone crazy over already. She pulls her woolly cable-knit cardigan down snugly over her thumbs and breaks up a toothpick into smaller and smaller pieces: halves, quarters, eighths, sixteenths, until it’s impossible to break it any smaller. She displays all the unintended habits of the awkward teenager that she is, yet she speaks with the conviction of an old timer. I find myself wondering what the Turkish policemen made of her when she started throwing rocks at them in Taksim Square.
Ali is 22, but he looks older. That’s not unusual—Turkish men almost always age fast. Maybe it’s something to do with this country’s strange fashion for facial hair. Maybe this year Ali has just aged a little bit faster.
Imge is 18. She draws circles instead of dots above the “I” in her name. “We are the 90s generation,” she says. There’s a subtext to what she’s saying—hers is the generation that isn’t meant to care about politics. Their parents passed down apathy as a defense mechanism. They saw how the Turkish army overthrew the government in a coup every decade from the 60s to the 80s, and they knew about the hundreds of thousands of political prisoners, all of them locked up without trial. They learned that the safest thing to do was not to speak about any of it, and then they taught their children not to speak about it either. But something didn’t go to plan. Somewhere along the way, the 90s generation rebelled and started to speak.
Turkey Really Doesn’t Want Gay Men to Have Sex
In Turkey, it just got harder to enjoy a good old-fashioned no-strings-attached hook-up—at least if you’re a gay or bisexual man. Last month the Turkish government banned Grindr, the app that advertises itself as a way to “find gay, bi and curious guys near you” and had 125,000 users in the country.
If you try to access the app now—in the name of research, I tried—a message will appear stating that the Telecommunications Communication Presidency (TIB, by its Turkish acronym) has banned the site “as a protection measure.” Protection, presumably, against men having sex with each other.
"I managed to buy a gas mask in a store through miming – ‘Police! Poom poom!’ [the sound of tear-gas being fired] – but when I paid for it, I just confused the shop-owner when trying to mime ‘receipt’. It was great being able to say ‘OK Glass, Google Translate ‘receipt’ to Turkish’," says Pool.
The Brother of a Turkish Protester Murdered by the Police Speaks Out
On June 1, the second day of Turkey’s nationwide protests that began in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, Ethem Sarisülük, a laborer and human-rights activist, was shot in the head by a policeman in Ankara. After spending 13 days in intensive care, Ethem’s heart stopped, and his family announced his death on June 14. Ten days later, Ahmet Şahbaz, the police officer who killed Ethem, was released from jail by a judge on the grounds that he acted in self-defense, a move that was greeted with a lot of anger on social media and in the streets. (Ahmet’s trial was suspended by a judge last week, and advocates criticized this as another way the government was helping to protect the police.)
For the past few weeks, demonstrators have been gathering at Taksim Square in Instanbul every Saturday to demand justice for Ethem, and the cops have been responding with tactics reminiscent of those that led to the deaths of Ethem and two other protesters. Recently, I talked to Ethem’s brother, Mustafa Sarisülük, about the day Ethem was shot, the government’s response to Ethem’s death, and Turkey’s long-standing tradition of state terrorism.
VICE: Police violence in Turkey got a lot of attention in the international media thanks to the Gezi Park demonstrations, but it’s not a new phenomenon—over 140 people have been killed by the police since 2007. What was your point of view on the subject before the current tragic string of events?
Mustafa Sarisülük: “State terrorism” would actually be a better way to put it than “police violence.” With the current turn of events, many think the police are in favor of the AKP [the political party that has dominated Turkey for a decade], hence the violence. It’s not as simple as that—the police are an armed paramilitary force used by the state. From the beginning of the Republic of Turkey, the state has employed despotism, violence, and massacres. Thanks to the Gezi Park protests, the oppression is now seen by the whole society.
Did you or Ethem have to face this kind of state-sponsored terror before?
After the “deep state” events in the 90s [that revealed the existence of shadowy paramilitary groups within the government], I felt an urge to be involved because of the level of human rights violations, violence toward the people, and extrajudicial killings. Even as a kid in junior high, Ethem used to join me at the protests. Since then, we exercised our rights and freedoms of assembly, protest, and expression. We both faced violence and custody repeatedly.
The Battle for the Heart of Istanbul Rages On
Early on Saturday night, the protest village of tents and flags that had been set up in Istanbul’s Gezi Park was razed, and its inhabitants emphatically tear-gassed and cleared, at the behest of Turkey’s combative Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In response, anti-government protesters (mostly, but not exclusively, made up from Turkey’s young urban middle class) took to the country’s streets all weekend, building barricades and clashing with riot police, with crowds of several thousands blocking major highways and bridges in an effort to join them.
On Sunday—after a morning of tear-gassing in Istanbul, Ankara and other major cities—Erdogan delivered a set-piece speech to a huge pro-government rally on the outskirts of Istanbul. Designed to be a show of national unity under his Justice and Development Party (AKP), his speech was defiant and paranoid. He derided protesters as “marginal” and blamed the international press—CNN and BBC, in particular—for being “provocateurs.”