Gezi Park was officially re-opened for the public yesterday afternoon. Too bad the square was closed so nobody could get there. Authorities had lined up a ridiculous amount of police in Taksim, and they didn’t lose any time in attacking the people who assembled there between six and seven o’ clock. So once again, it was going to be a night of clashes.
After a month in Istanbul, you learn the basics about urban resistance. Let me fill you in.
First, organisation. Generally, people go in groups, or cells, of say six to twelve people with a certain affinity. Each cell is divided into buddies. Hook up with one other person. Look out for that person and don’t lose him or her. A number of cells together can form a cluster. These clusters may or may not have a political, social or football fan affiliation. They can be distinguished by flags, T-shirts or certain colours. Different clusters form a crowd. A crowd operates in a battle theatre, which is usually a neighbourhood.
Second, equipment. Standard gear for urban resistance in Turkey includes a gas mask, a helmet and goggles. If you don’t have a mask, use a scarf or a mouth cap. The best and definitely the coolest protection against tear gas, is the crocodile mask, the one that covers your entire head, featuring two looking glasses and a snout. Additionally, bring water, sandwiches, and a smartphone. Use the phone for quick updates on the situation. There exist certain apps for Google maps which allow you to report and check the deployment of police.
Within each cell there should be at least one ‘medic’, who carries remedies against tear gas. To this effect, people use stomach tablets dissolved in water. Fill up a spray can for quick and easy use. Other remedies include lemons and vinegar. Vinegar is mostly applied on the inside of your mouth cap or scarf, to ease the effects of the gas.
For advanced clashing, some people bring gloves to throw back tear gas cannisters, picks to open up the pavement, paint bombs in the form of balloons, bottles or light bulbs for use against vehicles and police shields (a very important target is the camera next to the water cannon). On certain occasions, specialised cells may also bring rudimentary shields, sticks, sling-shots, flash bangs, lasers and Molotovs.
Yesterday, the confrontations lasted for seven hours. I was on the ground with our streamer to report from the theatre that saw the fiercest clashes. It was Istiklal Street, as usual.
I have to admit, even urban resistance starts to become dull after a while. For the first few hours there was not much going on except for chanting, running, taking cover, and coming back. Water cannons and minipanzers – so-called ‘scorpions’ – kept patrolling the main street, blasting tear gas and chemical water into the side streets, with police units regularly entering the alleys to hunt for protesters.
At a certain point, as the evil storm troopers appeared from the gas cloud in the backstreets, we took cover in a shopping mall. Someone comes up to us. “Are you guys doing the livestream?”
“I was watching that.”
The man works in a shop that sells #OccupyGezi t-shirts among other gadgets. He supplies us with water and wishes us luck as we go back into action.
After dark, things become more exciting. The crowd has shrunk. Those who remain, are dedicated to continued resistance. They gather stones and bottles wherever they can and launch them at the water cannons and the scorpions as they pull up at the end of the street.
When things settle down a bit we take a break for tea. The owner of the tea house was following the livestream as well. He is a former police officer. He says he has been to the square to talk with the cops, and he was appalled by their ignorance. They have no idea what they are legally allowed to do. Many of them are freshmen acting like mad dogs. “If the repression goes on like this, I will take to the streets as well.”
Late at night, Istiklal bears all the signs of a battlefield. At a few hundred meters from the square, people have deconstructed a building site and turned it into two barricades. One of them is set ablaze. Over the full length of the street, the flames are rising high. Someone walks around with a megaphone, blasting the theme of Star Wars. Behind the other barricade, people take cover as police move in.
What surprises me tonight is the presence of children: young boys, maybe nine or ten years old. They are having the time of their lives, burning heaps of trash, shouting slogans against fascism, and throwing stones. In between the crowd, one of them goes around selling coffee and tea.
We are tired at this point. It’s two in the morning. But the police are more tired than we are. They attack with heavy use of tear gas, they defy the rocks, they disperse the crowd, and they clear the barricades. But they don’t have the energy to pursue.
They leave us in control of the street. Most of them have retreated. So we advance to Taksim. There is only a token police presence left in the square. And the park is open. For real. Earlier on, people had been evicted from it, but now they’re back.
It’s the first time in over three weeks that I enter Gezi. Around the fountain, a few hundred people have gathered to celebrate. They make music, they sing partisan songs, they dance. Everywhere, new trees, new grass, and new flowerbeds have been planted. The bulldozers that were used to start the destruction of Gezi at the end of May were the same ones that were used to bring in the sand and the earth for its revival a few weeks later. It’s a testimony to the victory of the people.
But victory comes with a price. Thousands of people have been wounded, dozens of them seriously. A 17 year old is in critical condition after having been hit by a tear gas cannister, yesterday. In total, five people have died.
In honour to them, without distinction of whose side they were on, a small memorial is unveiled in the early morning, consisting of five tiles bearing their names, placed on the grass, with candles.
Gezi park has been saved. But the Turkish uprising is not about Gezi Park alone. It’s about people who overcame their fear, who started to realise that there are no real differences between them, and that ultimately, they hold the power to shape their own destiny. They are not subjects to anyone, they are citizens. And as such, they continue to gather in their own public spaces every night around the country, to create a new way of doing politics, based on human values. It is a new way of living together, based on mutual respect. On some level, conscious or not, they understand that humanity needs a fundamental change, a revolution, in order to survive without descending into barbarism.
Gezi park, the successful resistance against the construction of a shopping mall in favour of trees, has become a very powerful symbol of this understanding.