Sunday, June 02, 2013

Protests In Istanbul: "Those Who Present Themselves As Conservatives Only Care About Profit Maximization"


Once a week I like to hike up to the top of the biggest peak in Griffith Park. It takes 2 hours but when you arrive, you have a 360 degree vista of Los Angeles. Griffith Park is one of the biggest urban parks in America-- 4,310 acres. I sometimes ask Roland if he thinks Angelenos will fight when the big developers finally get politicians corrupt enough to start allowing commercial development in the park. He thinks I'm crazy and that (commercial development) that would never happen.

My first trip to Istanbul was early in 1969. It was a major resting spot on the Hippie Trail to India. Conventional hippie wisdom warned that the Turks are a bunch of a-holes and to get out of Istanbul as fast as possible and just drive through Iran towards Afghanistan as quickly as you can. The hippies all gathered in the Sultan Ahmet district-- and so did the people who wanted to prey on them, the dregs of Turkish society including the police. I was actually in the Pudding Shop when the events that soon turned into Oliver Stone's movie, Midnight Express, happened. The whole Sultan Ahmet area was a den of inequity back then-- crawling with hippies coming and going and with people selling them drugs and people ripping them off and police busting them... I couldn't wait to get away.

So I left the Hippie Trail terminus and drove across town to Taksim Square, the heart of modern Istanbul. I found Gezi Park immediately, a refuge of peace and quiet in the middle of the bustling city. My escape from Sultan Ahmet helped me understand the nature and worthlessness of conventional wisdom. Sure, the lowlife Turks the hippies were encountering were a-holes. But that's like judging all Americans by hanging out in Times Square (or the old Times Square before they made it into Disney Land). In Gezi Park I met normal Turks and had a completely different experience than the Hippie Trail experience of Istanbul was.

Since then, I've been back to Istanbul over a dozen times. Ironically, Sultant Ahmet-- which does have the best tourist attractions-- has been cleaned up and is now home to the best hotel in the country, the 4 Seasons and lots of other high end places to stay. Lately I've gravitated back to that part of town. But for decades I always tried staying close to Taksim and Gezi Park.

You probably heard by now that the government has used excessive police violence-- even tossing tea gas canisters out of helicopters-- against demonstrators in Gezi Park who oppose tearing it down to make room for a shopping mall.
Ayaspasa Environmental and Urban Beautification Association board member Cem Tüzün told reporters that the construction work is illegal. “We have submitted a petition to the Regional Board of Protection of Cultural and Natural Assets. We told them that the construction work currently being conducted is out of line with the construction plans prepared at the beginning and with an ongoing highway project,” he said. He added that they hope the construction work stops at once and that the trees that have been uprooted are replanted.

A senior Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) official stood in front of a bulldozer after bypassing a police barrier and forced the machine to stop, in protest of the demolition of Taksim Gezi Park.

Arriving at the scene of demolition along with other protesters in the afternoon, BDP deputy Sırrı Süreyya Önder told reporters that the project does not reflect the environmentalist spirit of Mehmed the Conqueror, believed to have said he would give orders to kill those who uproot trees, in open criticism of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.

“Those who present themselves as conservatives only care about profit maximization through such projects regardless of concerns over the environment,” Önder said.

The BDP deputy then asked the officials in charge of the demolition of the park to show the legal document permitting the work at the site and stood in front of the construction machine.

The officials halted the demolition as they did not have in their possession any document giving them the go-ahead for the work at Gezi Park.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be a "friend" of President Obama's but his conservative, socially backward political party is corrupt and authoritarian at its core. With tens of thousands of protesters demanding his government resign and chanting "united against fascism," brutal police-- mostly from the Anatolian provinces-- brutalized demonstrators. Over 1,000 people were injured on Friday alone. Erdogan, who I'm guessing is making a fortune from the crooks who want to develop Gezi was arrogant about the protesters who want to protect it from the bulldozers. “Every four years we hold elections and this nation makes its choice. Those who have a problem with government’s policies can express their opinions within the framework of law and democracy." He demanded they stop protesting. Instead, protests spread across the whole country.

Yesterday police were using tear gas against protesters in Istanbul and Ankara. Anger against Erdogan's corrupt government has no supplanted the original environmental objectives of the demonstrations.
One Istanbul resident, who gave her name as Lily, told the BBC's World Service: "There are 40,000 people crossing the bridge between Asia and Europe today. All the public transport is on lockdown."

She said that police had dropped tear-gas canisters from helicopters overnight.

"About half past one the entire city started to reverberate. People were banging on pots, pans, blowing whistles," she said.

The BBC's Louise Greenwood in Istanbul says police from as far afield as Antalya are being drafted in to help quell the violence.

She says the central Taksim district and surrounding areas remain cordoned off and bridges are closed to traffic.
"Quell the violence?" Good old BBC. The police are the violence-- especially the ones from the distant (backward) provinces. Turkish spring? The Guardian's reports are far less skewered towards society's perpetually paranoid property owners than the wankers and hacks at the BBC. Rather than talking about flying in unformed thugs to "quell" the violence, the Guardian began a report by explaining how "Turkish police surrounded protesters in Taksim Gezi park, the central square in Istanbul, blocked all exits and attacked them with chemical sprays and teargas." The Guardian also made an attempt to put the situation in context.
The AKP [Erdogan's Justice and Development party] represents a peculiar type of conservative populism. Its bedrock, enriched immensely in the last decade, is the conservative Muslim bourgeoisie that first emerged as a result of Turgut Özal's economic policies in the 1980s. But, while denying it is a religious party, it has used the politics of piety to gain a popular base and to strengthen the urban rightwing.

It has spent more than a decade in government building up its authority. The privatisation process has led to accelerated inequality, accompanied by repression. But it has also attracted floods of international investment, leading to growth rates of close to 5% a year. This has enabled the regime to pay off the last of its IMF loans, so that it was even in a position to offer the IMF $5bn to help with the Eurozone crisis in 2012.

In the meantime, the AKP has gradually consolidated its support within the state apparatus and media, and no longer needs its liberal backers... [S]trengthened, the government is on the offensive. It has never needed the left or the labour movement, which it has repressed. It no longer needs the liberals, as its attacks on women's reproductive rights, and its imposition of alcohol-free zones, show.

The President of Turkey, Abdullah Gul, is worried that the situation is spiralling out of control. There have been rumors that the military could move in if the police violence doesn't stop. And yesterday, Erdogan was pressured into withdrawing the police from Taksim Square and allowing the demonstrations to continue unmolested... for now-- and while his government works on shutting down Twitter and Facebook. Demonstrations have continued in Bursa, Izmir, Ankara, Eskişehir, Muğla, Konya, Yalova, Antalya, Bolu and dozens of other cities. Sunday morning found protesters still occupying Gezi Park and the police back in their barracks. At least 2 people were dead and demonstrations spread to 48 cities across Turkey-- as well as to Boston, London, Barcelona and Amsterdam. Today, fighting seems fiercest in Ankara, with the police gassing demonstrators.

Police eventually withdrew from the city's central Taksim Square early on Saturday evening, bringing an end to the clashes. By late night thousands of people were celebrating there. "This is it, we won, Gezi Park is ours again," said Burcu Kurhan, 33, one protester who joined the crowds in the inner-city park where peaceful protests started on Monday. "But we hope that Tayyip will have to go!"

...Inside the park, the atmosphere resembled that of a summer music festival, with people scattered on the grass, singing, chatting and enjoying a beer. Celebrations united many factions of Turkish society-- leftist groups, unions, nationalists, Kemalists and members of the gay and transgender communities waving rainbow flags.

"This is just the beginning, our struggle will continue!" chanted a euphoric crowd. The original protest was aimed at saving a city centre park in Istanbul from shopping centre developers who had been backed by the government. But it rapidly snowballed into a national display of anger at the perceived arrogance of the country's rulers.

While the ferocity of Friday's police crackdown attracted worldwide headlines, the mass protests against the government went largely unreported on the main Turkish TV channels and government-supporting newspapers. Erdogan, usually quick to respond to major events, also remained silent until Saturday, when he delivered a lengthy address on television. Calling for an immediate end to the protests, he pledged that the government would press ahead with the construction of the controversial shopping centre.

"Police were there yesterday, they'll be on duty today and also tomorrow because Taksim Square cannot be an area where extremists are running wild," Erdogan said. "If this is about staging a protest, about a social movement, I would … gather 200,000 where they gather 20, and where they gather 100,000, I would gather 1 million party supporters. Let's not go down that road."

This evening, Haaretz seemed to take some perverse pleasure in reporting that "Syrian authorities, battling a rebel uprising in which 80,000 people have been killed, issued a travel warning advising its citizens against traveling to neighboring Turkey for safety reasons. 'The demands of the Turkish people don't deserve all this violence,' Information Minister Omran Zoabi says. 'If Erdogan is unable to pursue non-violent means, he should resign.'"

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