From Occupy Gezi Park to Occupy Wall Street — a conversation

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Wednesday Afternoon — 06.12.13 — From Occupy Gezi Park to Occupy Wall
Street — a conversation

0. About this Wednesday
1. From Occupy Gezi Park to Occupy Wall Street (a correspondence)
2. Text from Retort
3. Text via Nettime
4. Short note on Friday Night

0. About this Wednesday

What: Talk / Conversation
When: 4:45pm – 6:45pm (Wednesday, June 12)
Where: 16 Beaver Street, 4th Floor
Who: Free and open to all

Friends of the space in Istanbul who have been active in the occupation of
Gezi park encouraged us to meet Bengi Akbulut, who has been here from
Istanbul to take part in Left Forum. We thought it could be a nice
occassion for a others who might be interested to come together to speak,
share knowledge, learn more and to think further about how these struggles
in Istanbul extend the arc of what some have referred to as the movement
of the squares. And what new developments, questions, insights,
potentialities may arise in this current struggle.

There have been two solidarity gatherings at Zucotti over the last two
weekends, our hope is this meeting is another form of solidarity with the
millions who have taken to the streets in cities all over Turkey, refusing
the force and violence of state/police/capital.

Also, we know that we have a very rich group of people who subscribe to
our list, so if you or someone you know can add to this informal learn-in
and sharing of knowledge, we encourage attendance.

1. From Occupy Gezi Park to Occupy Wall Street (a correspondence)

Below are some responses to questions we posed to comrades who have been
active in the struggles unfolding in Istanbul and the occupation of the
park since the start. Feel free to share with friends:

How did this begin and what were the intentions of your group? Did you
foresee the current upheaval and was this considered a potential outcome
of your struggle to hold the park?

As it is known, we all wanted to stop a plan of “requalification” of
Taksim Square which would have erased Gezi Park and its trees leaving only
a green roundabout, and placing a shopping mall, a Mosque and a ring of
pedestrian passages which would have left basically no public space as
such – and definitely no way for people to gather as a crowd. Honestly, no
one could have expected what came next in the rest of the country. Gezi
Park did not burst out of the blue; in fact, it is highly symbolic that we
finally broke into Taksim square exactly one month after the First of May,
a day when hundreds of citizens trying to gather and march around the
Beyoglu area had been brutally attacked and gassed only because of their
attempt to reach the square. Since that day, after we were humiliated and
chased away on the excuse of the construction works going on in Taksim,
unrest had never really stopped. Any small group trying to gather in the
streets around Taksim with any political demand would be systematically
gassed on a daily basis. The area was completely militarized right on our

The Taksim Solidarity Platform and the many groups it assembled had
already been active for months in its struggle to stop Erdogan’s pharaonic
plan to turn Gezi into a shopping mall and mosque roundabout, as well as
fighting against other gentrification processes going on. In this sense
you can see what happened on the First of May as a first convergence of
two streams: the unions fighting against Edogan’s assertive capitalist
depauperization of the working class, and the citizens’ movements
struggling for Taksim, Emek Cinemasi, and against a capitalist
understanding of the urban goods. Our network for the struggle to reclaim
the commons, Mustereklerimiz, was actively working in this direction,
sitting all these realities around a table since a few months. It was in
fact on the First of May that we tried to march together under a common

What Gezi Park has given us was this powerfully symbolic chance to get
together. Uprooting five trees touched some sensitive emotional chords
inside Istanbouli citizens. But sincerely, in the first three days we were
only a few thousands trying to stop bulldozers, and we’d do it outside
mainstream media attention.

The reality is that we continued our action despite the escalating
brutality of police, day after day. With our resistance we exposed a
simple fact: State violence against all political gatherings had already
gone too far. To a point that people spontaneously decided to take the
streets, even more, reclaim their ownership of the streets, liberate the
city from police, and set its own rules. And to do this even outside any
previous political involvement, and without knowing with who this fight
would be fought with. The rest is a miracle of solidarity and power of the

How do you contextualize the current conflict in the larger political
processes in Istanbul and Turkey?

The fight against AKP’s attempts to capitalize on the urban spaces of
Istanbul, – but also on the water resources of the Tigris and Euphrates
valley and turn them into profit for the famous 1% of Erdogan’s business
partners – was an ongoing one. It was a stance against an assertive system
of values which simply saw no use in public goods or even historical
memory. Therefore centennial neighborhoods like Tarlabashi of Fener/Balat
were threatened to be emptied of their inhabitants just because it would
be more profitable to turn them into luxury business areas; the
communities in South East where evacuated by force from their villages
because big construction companies won lucrative contracts to build
massive infrastructures; and old symbols – like Emek Cinemasi in Istanbul
– had to be turned into shopping malls. Such was the city according to
Erdogan: a home-work-buy-reproduce container for families of spenders.
Squares like Taksim not only were evaluated as dormant capitals waiting to
be turned into money, they were also a threat to the authority of profit.
Taksim is the main central square of Istanbul and definitely a political
symbol of defiance and workers’ struggle. And workers have been the main
target of Erdogan’s other privatizing campaign, that of enterprises; with
state factories being turned into stocks and long term employment
vanquished into a temporary, underpaid job, thousands of families fell
behind the wheel of Erdogan’s famous 8% GDP growth in these years. All
this while journalists, students and activists kept on being persecuted,
tortured and beaten outside any media attention.

In a word, it is now clear that in AKP’s “happy Turkey” no one was really
happy. But hadn’t we found ourselves fighting all together for the same
patch of park, we would have never met each other. Hadn’t we seen our
neighbours smashing their pots outside the windows all night in our
neighbourhoods, we would have never even known that everybody in this
country was sorely unhappy. It was just a matter of raising our voices
till we could hear each other.

As with the occupations and upheavals globally including here in new york,
we can imagine that with the growth of participants in this disagreement,
the groups that compose this struggle have grown, how would you give a
sense of the composition or assemblage which has come together to revolt?

The joke is that for the first time you have soccer support groups
fighting together. It is tricky, and sometimes it is scary. You have
Kemalists shouting anti-fascist slogans for the first time, you have
nationalists looking at Kurdish groups in the eyes, and share slogans, and
they both remained in the square for this all week. They know they have
to stay. And we bet they will remain till the end. It’s a work in
progress: something completely new is happening. It’s a square in the
heart of a country cleansing itself of decades of systematic burial of
whatever contradicted the ideologies it was built on – a practice which
denied the many traditions, languages, religions, cultures and histories
which have nurtured this soil. There were progresses, lately, true; there
were some seminal discussions about the Armenian genocide, there was a
promise of a peace process with the Kurds. But they were top-to-bottom
puppeteering for the sake of public image. It is in Gezi that the country
is finally getting together for the first time. We are here and we are
meeting each other. We now share common memories and a real, tangible
common history as we struggle to find ways to live together in Gezi. And
as we sit here together we hear about our resisting brothers under attack
in other cities and we know we have to remain here with our differences –
this is our future together. If it works in Gezi, it will work everywhere.

Relating to this composition, here in New York, as well as in images of
the revolt, the use of the Turkish flag and the image of Ataturk give
pause to many, the same way liberals or islamists might present the same
concerns in other contexts. Does this current conflict have a chance to
confront neoliberalism, islamism, as well as the patriarchal ethnocidal
state or are we (globally) perennially caught between these three faces of
capitalist expansion?

There are so many groups, individuals, flags, adrenaline, hopes, balances
– again, who knows where this is heading. There are people whose main
protest is to drink against Erdogan’s alcohol ban, there are people who
are here for the trees, there are people who come here for a revolution,
there are people who just come here to help distributing the food. It is
an open square we are riding on. For sure, we all have an enemy: the
capitalist policies of Edogan, because his religion of profit is what
unleashed police in the streets to protect his interests, it is what took
the rights of the workers who came here with their unions, it’s what
wanted to deny a park to hundreds of families and a house to hundreds of
inhabitants of gentrified neighbourhoods. So there are Turkish flags, ok.
But there are Kurdish ones too. And balloons, and drawings, and burnt
buses. There are the republicans shouting for the resignation of Erdogan,
and there are the Kurdish groups who in 60 years have been promised a
peace process for the first time only by Erdogan, and they have interests
at stake with his Government, but still came here because they know what
it means to be attacked by a State when you ask for justice and democracy.
There is everything. Does this stand a chance to confront our many
enemies? Who knows. It probably depends on how much we will let Gezi
change us. So that those Turkish flags for example, whatever they meant
before, might be taken back home one day as a symbol of something else.
Because after all, the real invisible flag, here, is that of our
resistance, and the power we can have when get together on a common ground
to reclaim a different way to live together.


2. Text from Retort

Istanbul Uprising: The Flip-side of the Anti-capitalist Coin

It seemed as if the world had entered the age of the austerity riots. And
then Istanbul erupted. Let there be no mistake, Istanbul cannot be lumped
in with Athens, Barcelona, Lisbon or New York. What is happening in Turkey
is the flip-side of the anti-capitalist coin. It is an uprising against
development. It is a street battle for cities that belong to people and
not capital. It is resistance against an authoritarian regime emboldened
by an economic boom. What we are seeing unfolding in the streets of
Istanbul is a convergence between Turkey’s small but growing
anti-authoritarian left who has been organizing various campaigns of
social relevance in the past years and a large section of the urban
population loyal to the Kemalist ideals of modernisation, secularism and
nationalism. This being said, the situation in Turkey is extremely complex
and necessitates an understanding of many different political situations
that have been developing over the past decade.


As many may already know, the origin of the current uprising stems from
the proposed development of a park near Taksim Square, at the heart of
Istanbul. The development of Gezi Park is only one part of a massive urban
renewal project the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has put
forth for the city and country as a whole. It includes gentrifying schemes
for the city’s poorest neighborhoods such as Tarlabasi, the construction
of a third bridge to connect the two continents that Istanbul spans and
even a massive plan to open up a third channel connecting the Black Sea to
the Marmara Sea, to facilitate containerized shipping, which has been
referred to as Erdogan ‘s “crazy project”. The neighborhood of Taksim is
where a great number of city development projects are happening and where
there is a rich tradition of rebellion and protest. To put things into
context it is useful to look at the significance of Taksim Square as a
point of rebellion and convergence.

On May 1st 1977, half a million workers and revolutionaries flooded Taksim
Square for one of the most epic demonstrations to date. This demonstration
came six years after a bloody coup wherein three Turkish student
revolutionaries, accused of being enemies of the state, were hanged by a
military tribunal. Their memory immortalized, the Turkish left picked up
from where the executed revolutionaries had left off plunging into the
seventies with force and multiplying in numbers. During that year’s
demonstrations, 34 people were killed in the square by what is believed to
be paramilitary gunmen on roofs as well as during the ensuing panic. In
addition to being the gateway to Beyoglu, the most culturally vibrant part
of Istanbul, with probably more bars and cafes per hectare than any other
city in Europe, Taksim Square has also carried this particular tragic
memory since the 1977 massacre.

The riots that have taken place most Maydays in Istanbul over the past
seven years have all centered around protesters attempting to reach Taksim
Square. The first of these clashes was in 2007 when the Turkish Left
wanted to commemorate the massacre on its 30th anniversary. The state
prevented this, and far-left militants fought back in the streets with
molotov cocktails and rocks. The situation was the same up until 2011, two
years ago when the government finally realized its mistake and allowed the
left to have the square for the day.

But things have developed since two years ago, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan ‘s
AKP government decided to introduce their massive urban renewal project
for Istanbul which also included a re-visioning of the square. Under the
rhetoric of making the square a pedestrian zone, the Erdogan government
(which is also in charge of the municipality of Istanbul) adopted plans,
without any input from residents, to dismantle large swathes of Taksim to
construct various shopping malls and development projects for the rich.
The battle over holding demonstrations in Taksim on Mayday resumed this
year as the state decided to use the redevelopment of the square as an
excuse to prevent protests from taking place. Gezi Park, the focal point
of the current rebellion is being slated for demolition to make way for
the construction of a replica Ottoman-era army barracks, Topuco Kislasi,
that will most likely be used for commercial purposes. It is not a
coincidence for the AKP government, with its roots in Islam, that the
original barracks were the site of a major Islamic uprising in 1909. This
comes in addition to a decision to name the third bridge after Sultan
Yavuz Selim, infamous for the mass-murders of the Alevite population of

Those who have been defending Gezi Park have been at it for a long time.
In addition to large trade-unions, many participants come from a
relatively newer independent left, with younger generations embracing more
anti-authoritarian ecological tendencies with an emphasis on “right to the
city” kind of activism. They all converge under the grouping of the Taksim
Solidarity Platform, which focuses on preventing the transformation of the
city into an even more elaborate capitalist playground built upon public
space. This was not their first campaign against urban renewal. Two months
ago clashes broke out between filmmakers who were trying to save a famed
turkish cinema, Emek, from becoming yet another shopping mall and police
who deployed pepper spray and water cannons. It is also important to note
that some of the main protagonists who are involved in the fight for Gezi
Park are also those behind immigrant solidarity demonstrations and actions
such as providing free meals for migrants or organizing demonstrations in
front of immigrant detention centers in Istanbul.

The fight to save Gezi Park was not in the public consciousness of Turkey
until the police raided it two mornings in a row on May 29th and 30th.
Outrage at the brutality of the police was the spark which set the whole
country on fire and transformed the struggle into a nation-wide rebellion
against the current government.

Neoliberal Islam

The ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) should be contextualized
within the transforming geopolitical landscape of the Middle East. They
have strong roots in political Islam and continue the tradition of other
political parties from the 1990s that had been suppressed by the military,
sometimes while in power. In fact Erdogan himself previously has been
imprisoned for inciting the public to “Islamic sedition.” The stated
aspiration of Erdogan and his cadre is that of “The Neo-Ottoman Project”
which aims to make Turkey the economic and political powerhouse of the
Middle East and North Africa. Erdogan ‘s political power-plays in Syria
and Libya must be contextualized within these aspirations.

Unlike the European Union or western states, Turkey has seen a vast
economic boom (with annual growth rates of almost 10%) in the recent
years. Even though both the trade deficit and real unemployment is running
high and massive privatization is selling off what is left in the hands of
the public, the crisis is being contained in Turkey and the current
government is riding high on this situation. This is perhaps what sets
the revolt of Istanbul apart. This is a revolt against boom-time
development, destructive urban renewal projects and the
hyper-modernization of cities. The Istanbul uprising illustrates the
opposite pole in the ongoing fight against capitalism, and complements the
struggles against austerity of recent years.

Turkey was one of the prime targets of the neoliberal restructuring of the
1980s, during which then prime minister Turgut Özal facilitated massive
privatization schemes targeting its factories, mines and the overall
infrastructure of the country. The AKP government, and Erdogan in
particular, was successful in bringing that neoliberal regime into the
21st century, shrouded by an Islamist populism. In addition, he
successfully promoted Turkish firms with Islamic bases, as a neoliberal
force in the global marketplace. This can be most notably seen in Northern
Iraq where the major source of capital is in fact Turkish. We should
remember that the Turkish model has been proposed by western powers as a
possible way out of the uprisings that marked the Arab Spring. Thanks to
those fighting during the past days in the streets of Turkey that
neoliberal Islamic model has now been thrown into serious question.

Ergenekon and the Kurdish Struggle

Erdogan’s aspirations have not been totally uncontested and there have
been various threats against his regime, notably from a cadre of generals
and intellectuals who see themselves as defenders of the Turkish secular
nation-state and who have sent various warning signals to Erdogan in
recent years. The most significant counter-reaction from Erdogan came when
he launched a multi-city police operation against dozens of members of the
military, intellectuals and public figures with allegations of organizing
a coup against his government. These police operations, and resulting
criminal cases against the conspiracy known as Ergenekon are ongoing. It
is imperative to realize the significance of these arrests and resulting
court proceedings. Unprecedented for a nation brought up on successive
military coups, the arrests and trials of high ranking military officials
and others were met with rallies and demos around Turkey as huge crowds
embroiled by the ascent of the AKP defended the secular old-guard elite.
These arrests and imprisonments are also why there still has not been a
response to the current situation from the Turkish military, traditionally
a major player in Turkish politics. The proliferation of the Turkish
nationalist sentiment in the current uprising is a direct consequence of
the past years’ so-called “flag-demos” or “Rallies for the Republic” that
the nationalist center-left parties have been staging against the current
AKP government. At this current moment of the rebellion we are witnessing
the opportunism of these oppositional forces as they try to exert
influence over what has so far been a true people’s uprising.

Any analysis of current Turkish uprising must consider the relationship
with the Kurdish movement for liberation. The center-point of Turkish
politics for the past two decades has undoubtedly been the Kurdish
guerrilla warfare for autonomy launched by the PKK in 1978. Over the past
months, Erdogan has effectively brokered a peace deal with the leader of
the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, who has been in a Turkish island-prison since
1999. Erdogan is attempting to position himself as the leader who solved
the most pressing issue in the country. This has not only led him to
assume a carte-blanche in Turkish politics (his regime has brutally
oppressed and imprisoned various leftists and other opposition figures in
recent years) but also to portray himself as a peacemaker between two
ethnicities. The recently re-energized convergence of a large segment of
the Turkish Left with the Kurdish movement has become more fragile due to
the deal-making conducted by Erdogan as people are suspicious of how the
peace process plays into his neo-ottoman ideas.

This is perhaps one of the biggest questions of the moment: how will the
movement in the streets congeal and what kind of relationship will it have
with the Kurdish struggle? The great majority of those who initiated the
occupation of Gezi Park and who have been fighting Erdogan ‘s vision of
developing Istanbul are in full solidarity with the Kurdish people. But
the masses that have flooded the streets with the Turkish flags are a
different story. At best, they are critical of Erdogan using the Kurdish
peace process to strengthen his hold on power and at worst, they are
blatant racists who see Kurds as terrorists. Despite this danger, recent
developments in the street are promising. People are reporting witnessing
both Turkish flags and flags with Öcalan’s portrait being displayed
together or the intertwining of chants that both emphasize the fraternity
between different ethnicities and ones celebrating the national identity
of Turkey.

Creeping Social Conservatism

The uprising against Erdogan is fueled by a creeping Islamic conservatism
pushed by the AKP in order to cultivate its base. These conservative
policies have manifested in various realms such as cutting access to
abortions and birth control, tighter control of the internet and
communication, restrictions and taxes on alcohol consumption and the
state-sponsored amplification of Islamic holidays. These policies have
been met with demonstrations of thousands in the same streets where the
current rebellion is centered and have been the predecessors for the
current malcontent.

Erdogan ‘s personal style as prime minister is a major factor influencing
the visceral anger witnessed in the streets. In almost every public
speech, whether it be at a political rally or a TV interview, Erdogan
attacks, threatens and is condescending towards every social-political
segment except his own. This ranges from blatant insults to dismissals
with the rabid tones of a mad-dog politician. His latest statements during
the uprising were exemplary and only add fuel to the fire for those in the
streets who he arrogantly characterized as “a handful of marauders and

The crucial link between the conservative cultural policy of AKP and its
economic neoliberal policy must be revealed so that the Kemalist middle
class which is heavily participating in the uprising realize that they
cannot push back cultural conservatism without challenging the economic
policies. If successful, this would win over the poorer classes currently
more inclined to support the AKP on a cultural basis.

The first days of this people’s uprising have been totally spontaneous and
outside the control of any political parties. All of the contradictions,
for example between radical leftists and Turkish nationalists, were
momentarily put aside to fight the police and build barricades to hold the
squares and boulevards of Istanbul. What remains to be seen is whether or
not large-scale public spaces such as Gezi Park and Taksim Square will
provide the venue for these contradictions to come into revolutionary
dialogue and construct an unstoppable movement in Turkey.

3. Text shared via Nettime

Turkey, 11.06.2013…. largest uprising ever in Turkish (including
Ottoman) history,

Erdogan Government, Erdogan himself, all his puppet ministers, governors,
heads of security, the entire state trow lies at public, wide open,
publicly… Entire media produce manipulation and lies… They have built
an ambush to millions of people, most of them out on the streets this
evening, tonight fighting back, furious about what
was happening….Numbers are growing.. yesterday there were more than a
million people inTaksim Sqaure. Now more figthin back on the streets in
almost all the cities. Mainstream media is busy with manuplating and
speculating only about Taksim and Gezi Park..

[Taksim Solidarity press release about today:

The state and mainstream media telling lies is probably the case all the
time but it was never so naked visible to at least to the eyes of the half
of society, 20 million adult…After today, it can not go back to normal,
it can never be the same, business as usual…

[a note from activists on the ground shared on facebook:

Dear friends all over the world, Please share! The government in
collaboration with
the police and the media staged a theatre play (with terrible actors) at
Taksim square early this morning. After announcing that there will be no
attacks on the people at Gezi park and Taksim, hundreds of policemen came
to collect the banners, at the same time choking people with tear gas. The
media, who has ignored the protests so far was there from the beginning
broadcasting (from extremely good shooting points) a play between hundreds
of cops and about 30 protesters (still a mystery who they were) who were
throwing Molotov cocktails to the police at the square. This act went on
for more than an hour. The police, who is capable of breaking up thousand
of people (without provocation )within minutes with tear gas and water
cannons, only circled around them, gently spraying a little water. In the
mean time, on the back streets and around Gezi park, where the media was
not broadcasting, the attacks were as usual brutal. The protests until
this morning have been peaceful and it is not clear whether these people
were extremists from some political groups or some others(??). What is
clear is that they do not reflect the spirit of this uprising. Couple of
hours ago, police attacked the biggest court house in Istanbul and
arrested around 70 lawyers, who were only protesting against the morning
attacks, probably as a response to their help with protecting the rights
of the people arrested and injured during last weeks protests. In response
to today’s events, people of Istanbul are going back to Taksim square this
evening at 19:00 possibly with larger numbers than the protests on May 31.
Please share this information.

The Turkish media has failed miserably and it is very important that the
world knows what is really going on in Turkey.

If today turns into a civil war, all the liars; the media, the state and
the capital and their international counterparts that backs the liars will
be counted as the responsible…

(a good list of some live streamers: http://www.bestanuce1.com/tv/?kanal=tv4)

Please spread the word, show your solidarity, join in the streets,
squares, assemblies in your country, use online channels, twitter,
facebook, what ever… contribute in anyway you can to build and links our
revolt globally.it might be the turning point to start an offensive to
build the new worlds we have been dreaming about…

This might be be a turning point not only for Turkey, but also for Europe,
for US, for Asia, for Syria, the Middle East, the greater
Middle East, (even for Antarctica)..

Everywhere is Gezi, everywhere is resistance!

4. Short note on Friday Night

This conversation should also be a nice link to our meeting with Oscar
Olivera this coming Friday, who will be speaking about his experiences in
Bolivia. We will be sending an email tomorrow, but for more info, you can


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