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The Longest Day

Turkish revolutionary flag

Turkish protestors continue to occupy Istanbul's Gezi Park, in spite of the latest police crackdown last Tuesday night. Below is a first-person account of their resistance.

On the eve of this latest attack, I was sitting in the International Corner, talking to Turkish comrades about the next phase of democratic escalation: Gezi Park assemblies. Up to now, the protests had only been coordinated by the people who originally started them. They issued the five demands. But, they didn't represent all the occupiers. So, an assembly was created in order to involve everyone in Gezi in the daily politics of the park.

Around four, I walked down to see the sun rise over the barricades. There were two main roads leading down. One with fourteen lines of defense, and one with eight. Each of them was defended by different people from different backgrounds. There was a road of political barricades – the big one – with the communists in the first line and the nationalists in the second. There was a road of football barricades, with the Besiktas fans in the first line and the Fenerbahce fans further up. I chatted with the defenders in each line. They were among the friendliest and most generous people I'd met. They thanked me for supporting them, they never failed to offer food, water, chocolate, whatever they had. At that moment, they were at ease. Nobody seriously expected an attack before Thursday, because there was expected to be a meeting with government officials the day before.

Still, around six, the camp was rocked by general alarm. People rushed to the medical stand, where mouth caps and goggles were handed out to protect against the tear gas. The defenders rushed to the platform facing the square. Everything was quiet, it was a false alarm.

At seven thirty, it was for real. All the layers of barricades were useless. Police had come in through the back door. They are already in the square, on the West side and on the East side. Gezi park is like a fortress or an akropolis, to which you accede through stairs. It’s hard to attack if the defenders are determined to defend it. It seems as though they didn't make a frontal assault because their primary objective was to remove the revolutionary banner at the Atatürk cultural center.

Our elite troops – mostly football fans, anarchists and Kurds – poured into the square to engage them. But, many are opposed to violence; so, they sat down in front of the panzers, locking arms in front of police to prevent our people from attacking with stones. They succeeded. A clash was avoided, but police did take the building. They threw down all the banners except for two: the Turkish flag and the image of Atatürk.

But on the West side, in the construction yard, they clashed. Me and Jack were livestreaming from the front line. Police attacked with water cannons, tear gas and flash bang grenades. Our boys responded with rocks, sling shots and fireworks, forcing police to adopt the defensive position of a Greek phalanx. The tear gas succeeded in making people scatter, but once the cloud rose, everyone reassembled. Barricades were built with amazing speed. The troops gathered behind, banging their clubs on the metal to intimidate the enemy.

Police attacked again. We kept defending. Molotovs were used. Pieces of cloth were ripped to shreds and used to throw stones. Another round of tear gas was fired. Police actually used two different types of gas: CS gas and orange gas. The normal CS gas was a bit like the dense fumes of fireworks on new year’s eve, only much, much stronger. The orange gas was nastier. It sticks to the skin, and starts to irritate in combination with water or sweat. Goggles and mouth caps provided some protection, enough for a temporary retreat. The only problem was that you can hardly see a thing with goggles.

The battle went on all day and night, with pauses only for lunch and tea. As a tactical media team, we rushed into the first or second lines to broadcast live, then returned to the Audiovisual tent to recharge batteries as another team took our place. Mixing was done in Izmir for the Turkish channel and in Portland for the Global channel.

During the second wave of the attack, around nine thirty, one of the water cannons caught fire. Police had to use another water cannon to put it out. On the walls of our fortress, overlooking the square, people were clapping and cheering.

Police never managed to make a significant advance on the West side. After the third wave of the attack, around eleven o’ clock, they were forced back when a crowd of people started to gather around them. So, they attacked again. People scattered, and reunited in no-time.

In the camp, there were constantly stretchers going out and wounded coming in. To facilitate quick movement, people formed a line to open up the main road leading to the infirmary. All day long, ambulances kept coming and going.

At noon, we secured the West Side, and the greater part of the square. Hundreds of people locked arms to hold it as police retreated to the East side. It was amazing the way they marched back in between two lines of people chanting that we all stand shoulder to shoulder against fascism, and that Taksim is ours, Istanbul is ours. It was a parade of shame, it made me think of captured barbarian soldiers being forced to march through the streets of Rome.

For a moment, it looked as if it would end there. Police held a corner of the square. They removed the barricades, we were waiting for their final retreat.

It was lunch time by then, and everything seemed suddenly peaceful and quiet. Within the camp, most people continued their business as usual. Police had taken off their helmets, they were sitting in the shadow, chatting, eating, smoking. Some of them were sleeping on their shields, others playing cards. Seeing them like that was weird. The bastards almost looked like human beings.

Then, around two o’clock, just as the wailing voice coming from the mosque invited people to prayer, police attacked again. They fired tear gas directly into the camp. Our defenders put on their helmets and stormed into the square to meet them. Water cannons moved in. The battle on the West side started all over again. A tear gas cannister bounced off the pavement, right between my feet while I was running for cover. We had to abandon Taksim and come back through another entrance. When I made it to the park, the atmosphere was becoming depressed. People started doubting if we would be able to hold the park.

One of my Turkish comrades turned to me. “Please, leave the park. I want you to be safe. This is not your revolution.”

I almost got angry. “Of course it is. We are one humanity. Every revolution is my revolution.”

What he probably didn’t realize is that resistance of Turkish citizens in Gezi Park is a major source of inspiration for people around the world. For me, it’s not only a pleasure to be here, it’s an honour.

Around four, I took a break. I managed to sleep a few precious minutes as the police start bombing the park with tear gas again. The fumes woke me up. I picked up my mouth cap, my goggles, my camera, and rushed to the West Side, where the troops continued to clash. They held their ground. A barricade was set on fire. A van was burning. And what’s more, the wind had finally changed in our favour. Tear gas and smoke now blew right back to the police lines. As the hours dragged on, we beat them back into one of the side streets. A barricade was built and torched, to prevent them from returning to it. I took a tour around and saw that police were getting some rest inside one of the bars, drinking coffee.

The afternoon ended, with people coming straight from work to converge on Taksim, to defend the park. Around seven o’ clock, the square was full. We were well over fifty thousand people, singing, chanting and celebrating. Police were in a corner. They had six water cannons ready. It was the highlight of the day. Everyone was united, left to right, against Tayyip Erdogan. Around eight, the Internet signal got jammed, and thirty seconds later police started throwing tear gas into the dense crowd. It was an unprovoked criminal act that caused a stampede and might as well have caused a massacre. It was the only time during the day that I feared for my life, as the crowd was pushing its way up the stairs and into the park. Adding to the chaos was the fact that many people, including me, were not expecting a gas attack, and hadn’t taken any precautions against it. Blinded, choking, crying, coughing, spitting and vomiting, we made our way back to the relative safety of the park. Fortunately, there were always people ready to spray your eyes with a milky substance against the worst effects of the gas.

The ferocious gas attack on the 50k crowd made people completely furious. As darkness fell, they started burning whatever they could burn. And because the street lights were turned off, the only thing you could see was the apocalyptic view of bonfires and the silhouettes of demons dancing around them. The air filled with smoke. The drum band played their music to lift up our spirits. And yet again, the Internet was jammed and police attacked the square with gas.

We left to look for an Internet connection. On our way out we were met by thousands of people moving in to reinforce the square, fully prepared with helmets and gas masks.

The clashes went on at the West side throughout the night. Around midnight, people started evacuating part of their stuff in case the park would fall. Ambulances were pulling up one after another to take the wounded from the infirmary to the hospital. Next to it, the Commons was serving tea.

As Audiovisuals, we also decided to evacuate our gear at half past midnight and make a strategic retreat to the Politechnical University to set up a new Media Centre. We were just in time. At one in the morning, police began attacking the East side with water cannons. The defenders who rushed down there to meet them ravaged almost the entire neighbourhood to put up a barricade. Police intentionally gas bombed the infirmary three times as they tried to make way on the East side. It was by far not their only crime of the day. Earlier on, authorities made massive arrests of human rights lawyers.

We left the park shortly after 1 AM. We barely avoided arrest by pretending we were tourists, and we made it to safety.

Over a thousand people were injured in yesterday’s clashes, at least sixteen with broken skulls. This morning, when we returned to the park, the fumes of battle had lifted. The rains had come to wash away the traces. The barricades were gone, we lost the square, but we hold the park.

Video from a piano performance in Gezi Park on June 12th


Originally published on Turkish Revolution

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