The following includes facts and is a result of my participatory observations in Ankara and Istanbul (Taksim/Gezi) between June 5 and June 17, as well as the views of many people that I talked with. But first, I would like to write the facts about the forceful eviction of people from the Gezi Park.
It was Saturday. Probably more than a million people, including tourists, visited Gezi Park that day. Taksim and Gezi Park were full of people that were continuously moving (some were coming others were leaving). I went back to Ankara and brought my wife, my teenage kid and nephew to the park so that they could witness Turkish history in the making. It was a chance for them to see that what they heard about Gezi Park is a bunch of lies that are produced by those who cannot change the facts/realities, and who conjure and disseminate lies in order to create false images of reality in the public's minds, especially in the minds of their followers. In the park, they walked and heard the announcement that there would be evening and night activities such as theatre shows, poem readings, dancing, music etc. There was a festive mood in the park. We left Gezi Park and walked down Istiklal/Independence Street in Taksim just like masses of people did. Later, we decided to return the park. As we approached the large entrance, the park and surroundings were packed with people. We did not hear any announcement by police. But later, I learned that police asked people to leave the park and Taksim. It seems that people did not listen to police, because nobody expected that police would attack hundreds of thousands of people with gas and pressurized water.
Suddenly, police started using pressurized water containing some unknown chemical. People started running. In a few minutes, Gezi Park was covered with thick gas clouds. They also used something other than gas and water: I heard noises of bombs (extremely loud noises) and saw fires where the bombs fell inside the park. Police shot gas bombs at people all around the park and on the streets of Taksim. My wife, two teenagers and I found ourselves between the people and the police, and two gas bombs were thrown towards my kids. Luckily, two youngsters rushed and took the bombs and threw them back at the police. Eyes burning and lungs full of gas, everybody was gasping for air and some were screaming for help. At one moment, I thought I was going to die. I did not have my gas mask and protective helmet, because I did not expect police would attack during the day.
I lost my wife and kids in the crowd. I was choking and my throat and insides were burning. Like many other people, I rushed into a hotel at a side street, and stayed there about half an hour because the streets were full of gas and some police (not all of them) were threatening us with batons. (There were people who have their house right next door or around the corner, people who were on their way to their home who support the demonstrations: People were extremely angry).
I had to go back to Gezi to see what was going on and to get my car that I had parked right in front of it (about 75 meters from the Divan hotel where wounded people were treated). Once police moved down the street away from the Gezi Park, I left the hotel and ran towards the park. It was completely dark and completely empty. I saw fires on the street. My car was there, but was surprisingly the only car that was untouched. There were many police on the street and in front of the Divan Hotel and a lot of demonstrators along the street. Police were throwing gas at them.
I took my car and drove about 800 meters down the street where there was no police action. I followed a small crowd back to where the action was. We saw gas smoke in front of the Divan Hotel. (Later, I learned that police threw gas bomb inside the hotel. The Prime Minister was very angry at people and hotels that opened their doors to the people. He and other government officials said that these hotels will be punished. He was furious and said he knew who sent food to Gezi Park and let the doctors treat the wounded in their premises. He threatened them by saying that what they did will not remain unpunished). Police threw gas towards the street I was on and chased people. I ran back, took my car and moved further away. I lost my direction because I do not know Istanbul. I saw people looking for their kids, friends and relatives. (Today, Monday, I learned that there are over 450 missing persons. We also do not know what police did with the demonstrators they arrested). I was lucky because my wife and kids have mobile phones. Demonstrators/people were defending themselves in various streets, especially Istiklal (Independence) Street. I spent almost an hour trying to find my wife and kids. We left with the car. We saw a lot of people walking along one of the main highways. We went to a relative's house and saw that the mayor of Istanbul called the gendarme (a special section of the army, like the National Guard) for help to stop people walking on the highway. On Sunday, all the roads going to Taksim were closed down and public transportation was suspended. However, we saw people demonstrating around Taksim and later in other places in Istanbul. On Monday, the assistant Prime Minister declared that they will use the army if needed.
Right after the evacuation of Gezi Park, the Mayor of Istanbul (who behaved two-faced: as one person complained, he fooled people with kind and considerate words, like a devil before an attack, then ordered the police attack and lied afterwards) said in the news that police made announcements about 40 minutes beforehand for people to leave the park. This part of speech was right. But the following explanations of the mayor were sheer fabrication: He said that they evacuated the park after people left the park and there were only 29 wounded. On the contrary, the park (and all over Taksim) was full of masses of people when police started the attack. He said nothing about the attack of police on the masses of people all around the park, especially on Istiklal Street. He said nothing about gassing the people on the streets, because, we know that he and the Prime Minister consider everybody who went to Gezi Park their enemy. The Prime Minister, police and his other followers claimed the demonstrators were marginal groups. First of all, demonstrators are not marginal groups because millions of people are demonstrating all over Turkey. Erdogan, the police and their followers, claimed that the marginal groups have no right to exist and demonstrate, therefore they can be gassed, attacked, arrested and beaten up.
Participatory democracy means inclusive understanding, not exclusion of those who are not the followers of the governing party.
The European Union Speaker who said that Erdogan performed good deeds for democracy by the measures he took and arrests he made with the army is completely wrong. These Europeans cannot comprehend how the contemporary reactionary forces work: they ride the democracy train, using democratic rhetoric, while cunningly implementing their policies of anti-democratic change. The ruling party in Turkey has to: (1) take revenge on the Turkish army because of its policy of expelling reactionary elements from the army; (2) transform the Turkish army into the army of the reactionary party dictatorship.
The West, especially the U.S. administration, keeps creating monster rulers in Africa, Latin America, Asia and all over the world. Some of these monsters such as Saddam and Noirega later bit the hands that fed them, and the West engaged in policies to get rid of them.
There is another side of the situation: European rulers who invaded Turkey after the First World War, but lost in the end, have found a chance for revenge on Atatürk via the Erdogan government, just like the reactionary forces of the Ottoman Empire found a chance for revenge via the same government. Pursuing the aim of historical revenge, Europeans close their eyes to the fact that the main goal of Atatürk was to establish an independent state of the western type. They are, just like the reactionary forces in Turkey, taking revenge.
- Now there is no Gezi Park movement in Gezi Park, but people are demonstrating against the government all over Turkey. Everywhere in Turkey is Gezi Park. People say the issue is not saving a park from plunder and misuse by powers who abuse religion and religious beliefs to destroy democracy in Turkey using the name of democracy, freedom etc. The issue is the struggle against the political party that is making the Turkish state "a state of a reactionary party supported by the some Western interests". They say the issue is to fight the empire of lies and oppression. They say the party dictatorship of Erdogan is aimed at eliminating the democratic historical and cultural foundations of the Turkish republic, and that his followers see themselves as "soldiers of Ottoman Empire," not soldiers of democracy, freedom and human rights.
- The demonstrations in Turkey did not end after the forceful evacuation of Gezi Park. It is easy to guess that there will be many "Gezi Parks" in Istanbul and other cities.
- People in many cities in Turkey are still demonstrating. Police are attacking people in many places day and night in Istanbul.
- We do not know exactly how many people have been injured since the forceful evacuation of Gezi, but we can expect more death and injuries since demonstrations continue all over Turkey. However, we have some statistics from before the evacuation. The following statistics show the number of people who asked for medical treatment, excluding the number of deaths. A lot of people do not ask for medical help either out of fear that they will be included in the government's list of protesters (for immediate and later punishment) or because they think they do not need medical help. (the number of these people - e.g., I still have nausea from the gas - are probably hundreds of thousands. I also saw young demonstrators with dislocated shoulders and wounds all over their bodies. They did not seek medical help because they did not want to leave the struggle even for a medical treatment).
- Doctors, medical students and medical workers who helped the wounded in the park and in the Divan Hotel were arrested by police. The governing forces considers and declares anyone who treats the wounded as enemy to be punished.
- Lawyers who support the demonstrators were arrested.
- Today (Monday), the labor unions performed one day work stoppage all over the country.
- According to Statistics from the Chamber of Turkish Doctors, until June 14 (before the evacuation), there were 11,823 wounded and 5 deaths. According to the records from the Turkish Human Rights Foundation, 2,636 people were arrested. 48 people were arrested because of their Twitter messages. These numbers continue to increase since the evacuation. The government speakers declare that they will find and prosecute those who used the internet for the purpose of demonstration.
- There is a teenager and a university student in extremely critical condition in hospital.
- There is visual record of the police officer who shot at close range, with a 9 mm handgun, one of the protesters who died later. There are many visuals showing police brutally beating people. However, there is no action being taken by the justice department.
- People think that the Prime Minister divides the people as "US" and "THEM." Speakers on pro-governmental media use lies, curses and threats. They promote hatred, enmity and hostility towards people who are not with them. Strong and feverish hate speeches fill the airwaves day and night.
- While pro-government media incites hate and hostility, the little media that provides news about the demonstrations is being fined by the RTUK. (RTUK is a government-controlled institution theoretically similar to The U.S. Federal Communication Commission), and the license of one TV station was actually revoked.
- In order to justify their oppressive measures and policies, representatives of those in power ask people questions like "Do you want the terror to end?" There is only one answer to this question: "Yes", and then they declare that people support them.
- According to people, the Prime Minister does not tell the truth and uses and repeats many fabricated lies in his speeches that include:
- He said 17 people died during the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations. (He justifies killing by the fabricated lie that the US Embassy statement has invalidated.) This is only an example of many lies that are put into circulation and used by Erdogan and his propagandists.
- He repeatedly says that Gezi Park smells of urine and demonstrators shit everywhere in the park. (There is one modern toilet in the park, continuously cleaned by the attendants and open 24 hours. There are also modern portable toilets. There were over 900 tents and 10,000 people staying 24 hours in the park; and they were mostly highly educated young people: They do not have the custom of shitting where they sleep).
- He claims that girls with turbans (aka headscarves) are molested in Gezi Park. I saw girls and ladies with Turbans walking in Gezi Park and nobody bothered them. There is low probability for molestations, because people in the park are for freedom, human rights and democracy, not for the oppression.
- He claims that demonstrators engage in sexually indecent activities in the park. The Prime Minister also talked about girls sitting on the laps of men in the park. (He means girls are having sex with many men in the park.) I was there and spent a few nights, but, like everyone else, didn't sleep because there were always rumors about police attacks at certain hours of late night: People staying in the park were not there for sex, but for freedom, democracy and human rights. Furthermore, people resent such interference of government in their lives and decisions, and the fabricated lies. This is one of the main reasons that people particpate in demonstrations.
- He, angrily as usual, repeats that protestors entered the mosque with their shoes on and drank alcohol in the mosque. In order to believe such claims, a person would have to be really mindless or heartless. Many people who entered mosques were escaping from the police, and they were gassed and just trying to save their lives. Some hodja (a priest of the mosque) let them in and the mosque became a temporary infirmary to treat these people. People were in pain, some were in shock and some were screaming. Reacting to the lies, the hodja declared that nobody was drinking alcohol in the mosque. This hodja was punished for telling the truth and is not working there anymore.
- He calls Ataturk and Inonu (two founding leaders of Turkey) "two drunkards" and denigrates the people in Gezi Park by saying that they drink alcohol. People resent the Prime Minister calling the founding leaders "two drunkards" and resent the administration's interference in their personal lives. I saw some youngsters drinking beer in the park. It is their choice, as long as they do not bother other people. I also saw two or three drunk bums - if not plain cloth police - coming to the park late at night and trying to create disturbance.
- He talks about the 50 percent of the population that supports him. In the last election, 46 million people voted and the governing party received 21 million votes. The population of Turkey is nearly 80 million.
- The Prime Minister calls demonstrators "looters." There was not a single incidence of looting. Demonstrators were mostly highly educated and sensitive people with good hearts and a social conscious. They were from all walks of life, including high school and university students, artists and professionals, such as lawyers and teachers.
- He degrades and insults people who did not vote for him and who demonstrate against his deeds:
- He degrades women by saying that "pots and pans, all usual tune." (Namely, he calls women's demonstrations "hot air". He degrades the women who use their pans and pots to make noise on the street and from their houses' balcony to express their opinions and support for demonstrations).
- He calls demonstrators and his opponents a "bunch of hoodlums." (The fact is that a great majority of people with higher educations did not vote for him. Many of his supporters are uneducated, misled and misinformed masses. Some of these masses get financial and food help from the government. A lot of poor people vote for the governing party, because they get periodic food assistance.
- He continuously threatens his own people by stating that the government will hunt down those who participated in and supported the demonstrations and who provided food and shelter to demonstrators. These are a few examples of hunting down and punishing:
- Storming into Turkish homes and arresting youngsters that use Twitter and the internet.
- Announcing that "we know who they are" when referring to people and institutions that brought food to the demonstrators, as well as hotels that opened their doors to people who escaped from police gas and beatings. He threatens that they will not remain unpunished.
- Police storming into political party headquarters and arresting party personnel.
- Trying to find the names of doctors and medical staff who helped the wounded in and outside Gezi. I am sure they collected enough information about people for witchhunting later.
- He accuses BBC, CNN and other international media and journalists for their support of the demonstrations. I watched CNN last night and saw that their coverage is basically pro-government (supports Erdogan by saying that, e.g., he did a lot of good things for the country). The BBC provided more balanced news.
- He threatens everybody in Turkey by saying that he can hardly hold back 50% of the people." (He means that 50 percent of Turkey is ready to smash the demonstrators all over Turkey). I know there will be increasing attacks on people protesting in their neighborhoods by the organized groups in addition to the police.
Turkish policy in the Middle East was based on non-interference until the current government. The world press and intellectuals know that the the Turkish government is involved in the dangerous politics of the Middle East, such as meddling with Syrian and Iranian politics. It seems like Turkey will be deeply divided along religious sectarian lines, secular and religious lines, Kurdish and Turkish lines. I fear that Turkey could be transformed into just another Middle East country with civil war and terrorist activities. The solution is: (1) the Turkish government should stop meddling Middle East politics and stop being part of the bloody politics of the Western powers in the Middle East; and (2) there should be democratic governments in Turkey. As one religious person told me, "We are ruled by sons of iblis/devil/satan who are disguised as God's and people's servants".
Irfan Erdogan is a professor of communications at Gazi University in Ankara.