Solidarity with Taksim Square

June 6, 2013

Turkey's crackdown on protesters in Istanbul's Taksim Square sparked solidarity actions around the world. With mass demonstrations spreading to dozens of cities in Turkey, the regime of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan unleashed tear gas and violence, leaving many people bloodied and injured. At least two protesters are dead.

Here, Sherry Wolf and Carlos Enriquez report on two actions outside of Turkish consulates that were held to tell the Erdoğan regime that the whole world is watching.

IN NEW York City, a crowd of at least 150 gathered June 4 outside the Turkish consulate in midtown Manhattan. Generally, the participants weren't seasoned activists, but rather young people in their early 20's studying in the New York area while working low-wage service jobs (if they can find one). These solidarity protesters appear to be much like their Turkish peers back home whom we're watching on television and YouTube. In fact, they are the brothers and sisters and friends of the Turks taking to the streets in dozens of cities.

Few of the students I talked to at the solidarity protest had considered themselves self-consciously political before the rebellion that started in Istanbul on May 27 began to consume their every waking hour. They are mostly young, the children of Turkey's middle class, and they see themselves fighting for their futures and the direction of their country.

Fadime is a grad student at City University of New York whose first words to me were, "We do not want U.S. intervention. We want to be heard, we can take care of this ourselves." It was a sentiment echoed by many concerned that the United States would try to manipulate this crisis for its own ends. They are right to be cautious about U.S. intentions.

New York City activists march in solidarity with the mass protests in Turkey
New York City activists march in solidarity with the mass protests in Turkey (Sherry Wolf | SW)

One of the few explicit demands of the crowd was for the U.S. government to stop sending tear gas to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party. According to RT News, Turkey has imported 62 tons of "tear gas and pepper spray--mainly from U.S. and Brazil--over the past 12 years."

Every protester had stories of family and friends suffering terribly from the beatings and gas.

Destine Özuygur says that according to friends' texts and tweets, "There are far more than two people dead so far. I know two people myself who are dead from wounds and the gas. Police are attacking universities and hospitals." She continued, "One friend died from a gas canister tossed into a metro tunnel; people were trapped down there. Police are taping over their ID numbers so they can act anonymously."

Today is Destine's birthday, and she awoke to birthday messages from friends back in Turkey saying they wanted to send her early wishes because they aren't certain they'll be safe or even alive by evening. The extreme brutality of the Erdoğan regime is driving an intensity and political focus that many here--and there, it appears--had never felt before.

What's striking is how adamant these young Turkish women and men are about the need for winning a secular and democratic society back home. One where Kurds, Jews, Armenians, gays, everyone feels welcome, safe and respected. Over and over again, they repeated their desires for universalism and their hostility to Erdoğan's power grab and religious sectarianism.

One student who preferred to be identified simply by her initials, MK, insisted, "I am here for the women who have lost their lives." She talked about the lack of punishment and public condemnation of honor killings and domestic violence generally.

Cagri Sayin, another student who works part time in a restaurant, looked at me intently. "We support gay people," she said. "We don't think anyone should live in shame."

These protesters do not adhere, at least not yet, to any particular ideological program. They do not yet see a party or platform that they support in significant numbers. But they are intent on being heard and respected and winning, at the very least, public acknowledgment of their grievances.

It is the start of something, but it's not yet clear what. When I told them of a mass trade union march in New York on June 12 at City Hall, they were excited at the prospect of linking their struggle with ordinary U.S. workers.

When I suggested they leaflet at this weekend's Left Forum where at least 2,500 are expected at Pace University, they diligently wrote down the details. They are just now joining the global rebellion against the status quo.

The flyer being distributed is addressed "to the members of the press, international human rights organizations and the people of the United States of America." It calls for support for the rights of protesters back home to peacefully assemble and demands an independent investigation of the violence and prosecution of law enforcement officials responsible for "arbitrary and abusive use of force."

It ends with one single, and far from radical, demand: "We demand that Erdoğan should publicly apologize to the people of Turkey."

It's signed #OccupyGeziNYC.

CHICAGO HAS held two actions in solidarity with the people of Turkey--on June 1 and June 3.

The June 1 action brought out around 300 people on a Saturday afternoon, and the mass support--and the continuing resistance in Turkey--prompted the organizer to call for a second action two days later on June 3.

More than 200 people came out for the Monday demonstration. The majority of the crowd was made up of Turkish immigrants and people of Turkish decent. During the demonstration, people shared updates on the situation via friends and relatives back in Turkey.

Communication has been key to the dissemination of information since Turkey's mainstream media has essentially blacked out the movement, and the reporting internationally has been subpar. Many people have pointed to the state's abusive control of the media as one of the many motivations of the massive popular upheaval sweeping through Turkey.

The Monday demonstration began with a small gathering right outside the Turkish embassy. Activists unfurled banners that read, "Istanbul will not fall," and "Diren Gezi Parkı, Chicago Yaninizda" (Resist, Gezi Park--Chicago is on your side).

After gathering on the plaza for about a half hour, the crowd began marching down Michigan Avenue during rush hour through the most visible part of downtown Chicago.

Some of the most popular chants included "Occupy Istanbul, you are not alone," "Faşizme karşı omuz omuza" (Shoulder to shoulder against fascism), and "Hey hey, ho ho, stop the violence in Turkey," along with chants calling for a secular Turkey.

Chicago police confronted the protesters and forced the march to turn around as it approached within a block of Water Tower, the largest shopping center on Chicago's Magnificent Mile. Given that the occupation of Taksim Square began as a protest to stop construction of shopping mall, the police effort to divert the march from the city's glitzy shopping district was an irony lost on no one. The large group then proceeded to march back towards the embassy once more.

As the deaths of 20-year-old Mehmet Ayvalitas and 22-year-old Abdullah Cömert at the hands of Turkish police were reported, a somber mood fell over the crowd, which then took up chants against police repression and called for an end to the use of tear gas--exported to Turkey by manufacturers in the U.S.

Although the repression in Istanbul has been getting the most media attention, the violence in other cities, including the capital Ankara, has arguably been even worse, according to Turkish speakers at the rally. And many placed responsibility for the violence directly on Erdoğan, who has not taken any steps to rein in the brutality of police across the country.

The demonstrations in Chicago and all around the world make it clear that no matter where the movement goes, or how the situation unfolds, the whole world has its eyes on Turkey.

"The movement is going to go on until the prime minister stops the aggression against his own people and until he backs off his harmful policies," said organizer Erhan Duman. "The movement represents a reaction against the Turkish government turning Turkey into an unstable society."

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