9:43 p.m.: Gezi Park, June 14, 2013.
A little park in the heart of Istanbul, Turkey, sparked a nation-wide protest movement.
Around dawn on Friday, May 31, 2013, Turkish police raided a small sit-in at Gezi Park in Istanbul's Taksim Square, using tear gas and pepper spray to disperse demonstrators camped there. A group of activists had been occupying the park to protest plans to raze it and build an Ottoman-era military barracks and shopping mall in its place. The crackdown by police continued throughout the day.
In response to police violence, thousands of people marched from all over Istanbul toward Taksim Square and Gezi Park on Saturday, June 1st. Police attempted to disperse demonstrators again, but there were too many. Sometime in the middle of the afternoon (at least, that was the time of day it happened in my neighborhood), the police stood down and allowed the people to march peacefully to Taksim.
For the next two weeks, thousands of people met in Gezi Park and in Taksim to protest, and hundreds slept in the park at night, in a sit-in modeled after the Occupy Wall Street movement. Demonstrations also spread to Turkey's other cities--Ankara, Izmir, Antakya. The demonstrations brought feminists, environmentalists, socialists, anarchists, intellectuals, football fans, anti-capitalist Muslims, secularists, Kurds and other ethnic minorities, nationalists, and labor unions together--people whom Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan publicly called "looters". The sit-in ended when police raided the park and emptied it on the evening of June 15. The park's fate remains unclear.
The controversy over the park is one in a wide range of grievances in what some Turks see as an increasingly authoritarian government. People demonstrated not only against the destruction of neighborhoods and green spaces in the name of "urban development," but also against government corruption, a heavily censored and suppressed mainstream media, and increasing "Islamization" of the legal code (restrictions on alcohol sales and a ban on kissing in public, for example).
I spent quite a bit of time in Gezi Park during the sit-in, even spending the night there on several occasions. Gezi Park was the heart and larger symbol of a movement for change--the physical place where people gravitated and stayed to make their voices heard in a tradition of non-violent resistance. Despite clashes with police that happened in other areas of Istanbul (at least 5 people were killed and thousands injured, nation-wide), the park was the starting point and the anchor, and it remained peaceful.
The sit-in no longer exists, so it's not there for people to see and investigate for themselves. The pictures are a chance to see a unique moment in Istanbul's history, and also a reminder that the people whom Erdogan labeled as "looters" and "bums" were in fact probably not criminals, but regular people with valid concerns about the conduct of their government.
These photographs were all taken at night or in the very early morning, when people of all ages and backgrounds conversed, sang, played music, ate and drank, danced, relaxed, partied, chanted, slept, laughed, marched, and co-existed.