Wednesday, June 19, 2013

In Istanbul, Protests of Both Stillness and Motion


There have been some remarkable images and stories coming out of Istanbul and other parts of Turkey as people continue to protest the policies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

In describing the situation, Marjorie Cohn notes that:

A broad coalition of groups courageously gathered in [Istanbul's] Taksim Square is protesting neo-liberal governmental policies, including economic, agricultural and environmental policies, human rights abuses, mass detentions, privatization of water resources, attacks on freedom of the press and on freedom of religion, and the treatment of Kurdish citizens of Turkey. The protestors' politics range from moderate to center right to nationalist to left liberal to extreme leftist. "[What] all these people have in common," [Turkish lawyer Kerem] Gulay told me, "is they are critical of government policies."

Recently, what are being called 'Standing People silent vigils' have been taking place across Turkey. Writes Sarah Lazare of

[These] silent vigils give a rush of inspiration to the massive movements pushing the government to crisis. The [original] protests were sparked by a May 31 violent police eviction of protesters occupying Gezi Park in opposition to government plans to redevelop the green space, and have since broadened to include sweeping indictment of a government that many charge is spiraling into authoritarian rule.

Five Turkish trade unions, representing 800,000 workers, kicked off a general strike Monday after revelations of police brutality.

Police violence against the protesters, at the orders of Prime Minister Erdoğan, has garnered global criticism as demonstrators face a barrage of tear gas, pepper spray, and water cannon fire, as well as raids and mass arrests.

The original 'standing man' says the silent performance is a living monument to the repression the government has unleashed on the Turkish people.

So who is the "original 'standing man'" and what inspired him to, well, take his stand? Here's how Reuters describes him and the nation-wide phenomenon he has sparked.

A Turkish man has staged an eight-hour silent vigil in Istanbul's Taksim Square, the scene of violent clashes between police and anti-government protesters in recent weeks, inspiring hundreds of others to follow his lead.

Erdem Gunduz said he wanted to take a stand against police stopping demonstrations near the square, the Dogan news agency reported.

He stood silently, facing the Ataturk Cultural Centre which was draped in Turkish flags and a portrait of Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, from 6pm on Monday.

By 2:00 a.m. on Tuesday, when the police moved in, about 300 people had joined him. Ten people, who refused to be moved on by police, were detained.

Gunduz, swiftly dubbed "standing man" on social media in Turkey, inspired similar protests elsewhere in Istanbul, as well as in the capital, Ankara, and the city of Izmir on the Aegean coast.

The silent protests were in stark contrast to demonstrations at the weekend, which saw some of the fiercest clashes so far when police fired teargas and water cannons to clear thousands from Taksim Square.

What began in May as a protest by environmentalists upset over plans to build on a park adjoining Taksim Square has grown into a movement against the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, presenting the greatest public challenge to his 10-year leadership.

Above: Erdem Gunduz, Turkey's 'standing man.'

Writing for The Guardian newspaper of Britain, Richard Seymour explains how Gunduz's dignified defiance has shaken the Turkish government.

The "standing man" exemplifies some features of the tradition of passive resistance. First, the ability to meet overpowering physical force with a determined, but passive, feat of defiance has sometimes been the death knell of recalcitrant regimes, whether it is the Shah or Marcos – because it points to resources that the protesters have which can overwhelm the state's repressive capacities. Second, passive resistance is not merely symbolic; it confuses and derails the calculations of the rulers. When the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, part of the resistance involved painting over street signs and mysteriously shutting off infrastructure.

Gunduz's protest was both an affront and a question for the authorities: beat him? Why? He's just standing there. Leave him alone? Then he wins, doesn't he?

Meanwhile, a very different expression of protest, one that apparently took place in the early days of the anti-government protests, has caught my attention. It involves the striking image of a whirling dervish in a gas mask.

ZenPundit shares Zeynep Tufekci's tweeted image of the unknown whirling dervish, and points out that the slogan that accompanies this image – Sen de Gel ("Come, come, whoever you are") – is from Jalaluddin Rumi, the great Sufi poet and founder of the Mevlevi order of whirling dervishes.

In writing about the Taksim Square whirling dervish, Ergin Kocyildirim notes that:

According to Rumi, there is no object, no being which does not revolve. Every thing whirls and man, a whirling dervish, carries on his life, his very existence by means of the revolution in the atoms, structural elements in his body, by the circulation of his blood, by his coming from the Earth and return to it, by his revolving with the Earth itself.

It certainly adds a whole new dimension to our understanding of revolution, doesn't it!?

Related Off-site posts:
Turkey's 'Standing Man' Shows How Passive Resistance Can Shake a State – Richard Seymour (The Guardian, June 18, 2013).
Turkey's 'Standing People' Protest Spreads Amid Erdoğan's Crackdown – Ian Traynor and Constanze Letsch (The Guardian, June 18, 2013).
The World Has Exploded in Revolt – Here Are the Three Biggest Protests Happening Today – Zainab Akande (, June 18, 2013).
Watching Man of Steel in Istanbul – Haroon Moghul (Religion Dispatches, June 17, 2013).

Taksim Square Means Another Chance for Pampered Americans to Do "Conflict Tourism" – Rachel Davidson (, June 21, 2013).
In Turkey's Pious Heartland, Protests Seem World Away – Jonathon Burch (Reuters via Yahoo! News, June 21, 2013).
Police Clash Anew with Istanbul ProtestersAFP via Democracy Chronicles (June 22, 2013).
Don't Call It a Turkish Spring – Haroon Moghul (Religion Dispatches, June 23, 2013).
Turkish Police Break Up Protest, PM Lambasts Opponents – Daren Butler and Nick Tattersall (Reuters via Yahoo! News, June 22, 2013).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
John Pilger on Resisting Empire
In a Blow to Democracy, U.S. Supreme Court Affirms Corporate Personhood
Capitalism on Trial
R.I.P. Neoclassical Economics
John le Carré’s Dark Suspicions
At the Minnesota Capitol, a Show of Solidarity for Workers' Rights in Wisconsin and Beyond
Across America "the Giant is Awake"
Buffy Sainte-Marie: Singing It and Praying It; Living It and Saying It

Image 1: Erdem Sahin/EPA.
Image 2: Murad Sezer/Reuters.
Image 3: Photograper unknown.
Image 3: Zeynep Tufekci.
Image 4: Photographer unknown.
Image 5: Kostas Tsironis/AP.

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