Turks stand around, Egypt gets offended, & more

Protesters face up police in complete, unmoving silence in Istanbul's Taksim Square.
Protesters face up police in complete, unmoving silence in Istanbul’s Taksim Square.

Supporters of June protests against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have changed tactics again.

Yesterday, hundreds of imitators of Taksim Square’s now famous “standing man” took to streets across the country in an act of passive resistance.

By remaining completely unmoving, staring at a fixed point, and making no sound, protesters are immune to arrests by the legions of armed police ringing Taksim Square and Istanbul’s historical districts.

In library-like silence (many of them reading), protesters stand for hours on end in silent opposition to the brutality of police tactics and the uncompromising government response to criticism.

Protesters form a hugging circle, physically supporting each other over hours and inviting passersby.
Protesters form a hugging circle near historic Galatasaray High School, inviting passersby to join.

Across Besiktas district and on nearby Istiklal Avenue, one of Istanbul’s most iconic streets, small groups of protesters stages similar silent sit ins over hours, vowing to remain for days and months. Some carried signs declaring solidarity with anti-government protests in Brazil, which were met with similar police violence.

Similar protests took place across Turkey, including in Ankara, at the location where one protester was allegedly killed by police.

Today, the Turkish Doctors’ Union (TBB) released the number of injured and killed in the police actions over the weekend. According to TBB (whose estimates are usually higher than the media), 7,822 were injured (though this included “pepper gas-related [burn] and respiratory complications”), with 59 in serious or critical condition.

In addition, four protesters and one police officer were killed, one pregnant woman lost her baby during the gassing of Divan Hotel, and 11 lost eyesight.

A disturbing number of reports mention eye, brain, or facial injuries from rubber bullets aimed at the head, which can be lethal. Rubber bullets are intended to be ricocheted off pavement to minimize their impact. They were widely used in clashes with protesters before the clearance of Gezi.

Protesters read in silence on Istanbul's Istiklal Avenue in protest.
Protesters read in silence on Istanbul’s Istiklal Avenue in solidarity with Brazil.

In the shadow of this news, Erdogan has vowed to “strengthen” the power of police forces against anti-government protests, which he has branded as the work of “internal traitors and external collaborators.” Quoted by Hurriyet, he said:

“Within the authority the law provides, from now on, our police will not overlook any lawlessness, will continue to fulfill its duty. We will further strengthen our police… in every way… so that we will increase the intervention power against these events…

It is their most inherent right… When you do not obey, the police use this authority.”

Following the PM’s lead, members of his party are suggesting the protests were planned for several months and represent the interest of a foreign-led “interest rate” conspiracy to undermine the AKP government.

Alarmingly, Erdogan is now directly blaming the main opposition party, the Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP), amid widespread arrests of political opponents connected to Gezi. More than 70 were detained on charges of supporting journalists, including journalists.

Arbitrary arrests are on the rise, and many detained over the weekend are still missing, having not been allowed to contact relatives or legal aid.

Personally frightening is that Erdogan has now questioned the legitimacy of Turkey’s yellow press cards, issued by the Prime Ministry to journalists, essentially giving himself carte blanche to arrest any critical members of the media (not that I have one of those anyway).

Police look bored in Gezi Park, watching the "standing man" protests. Gezi remains closed to the public.
Police look bored in Gezi Park, watching the “standing man” protests. Gezi remains closed to the public.

Meanwhile, Erdogan’s personal spat with the European Union continues. The United Nations Secretary-General has issued a condemning statement, while the EU are considering suspending accession talks due to start next month. Turkey’s EU Minister earlier refused to meet an EU delegation, forcing them to postpone their visit.

In Germany, which has a large Turkish expat population, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have put the rejection of Turkey’s EU membership in their election platform.

A father brings his young daughter to the standing protests.
A father brings his young daughter to the standing protests.

While hundreds imitate the standing man in their own form of silent protest, Gezi remains closed to the public which it was allegedly cleared to protect, occupied now not by protesters, but by bored police.

In Turkish news:

  • The government continues work on its internet censorship bill, which Interior Minister Muammer Guler said would protect against the spread of “false news.” Given the rose-tinted falsity of news published by hilarious government outlet Andalou Agency and pro-government Sabah Daily (which believes the protests were caused by Turkey’s rich economic potential), one hopes their Twitter accounts would be the first targeted. Unfortunately, looking at the history of media laws in Turkey, it is much more likely to target anti-government news, false or otherwise.
  • Turkey’s development plans may be threatening an entire endangered peoples in Northern Iraq, the Marsh Arabs. Global Post reports that Turkey’s plans to build several expansive hydroelectric dams on rivers that feed the marshes will probably be the final nail in the coffin of their way of life, unless they can convince the Turkish government not to build.

Elsewhere in the world:

  • Egypt is seeing a record number of blasphemy cases filed by Salafi (hardcore, Saudi-style) Islamists, who are buddy-buddy with the government of President Mohammed Morsi. According to the New York Times, though blasphemy laws have occasionally been employed to protect Egypt’s Christian minority from hate speech by Salafi preachers, the vast majority are filed by Salafis against Christians, who were accused by one lawyer of a “systemic campaign” to insult Islam. Egypt is also experiencing Occupy-style protests in front of the Culture Ministry over the perceived Islamisation of their culture program by a government that once described ballet as “indecent.”
A water cannon from the Turkish Department of Anti-Terrorism waits in Taksim. Protesters were previously alarmed by the presence of federal forces at the protests.
A water cannon from the Turkish Department of Anti-Terrorism waits in Taksim. Protesters were previously alarmed by the presence of federal forces at the protests.

One thought on “Turks stand around, Egypt gets offended, & more

  1. The theme that’s common to all the protest movements is the tension between individual freedom and collective order and allegedly, security. Underlying this abstract conceptual tension is usually another basic biological factor: too many people are struggling for a share of declining resources and jobs that pay for the necessities of life. I believe the world is overpopulated by at least one order of magnitude. There would be less tension, less conflict, if instead of 7 billion, there were 700 million humans on planet earth. There might then be a realistic prospect of achieving sustainability too. Most of the protest movements around the world are an outlet for unemployed and underemployed young people. I recall reading somewhere that Turkey has a big problem of youth unemployment. John, have you any information on the employment status of the protesters?

    Keep up your excellent reports, but also keep a low profile, keep out of the crossfire.

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