Istanbul and the Turkish unrest by Simon Becker
In case you have not been watching the news, there has been a series of protests in Turkey in the last few weeks over the proposed demolition of the Taksim Gezi Park. This has been extensively covered by the western media, but in my opinion it is rarely seen from a personal point of view, and more from a mass media point of view. Images that sell papers and polarize public opinion. I felt that it is important to share these images to really see the impact of what is happening in Istanbul.
A while ago I featured the work of a very talented young photographer by the name of Simon Becker. When Simon came to visit Japan we struck up a friendship and have kept in touch ever since. Earlier this year Simon told me that he would be spending a few months in Istanbul for his photography and that I would be welcome to join him. Unfortunately I was unable to make it due to family commitments (now I really wish I had gone), but we kept in touch regularly and when the protests broke out I was concerned for his safety. Simon knows how to look after himself though and has been documenting the situation as it unfolds from a personal and close up perspective, from a point of view that is more like a local than a visiting cameraman.
This is Simon’s story of the protests in Istanbul.
I have been covering the recent protests in Istanbul, that soon spread out all over Turkey, from the start, more than three weeks ago now. I don’t have the boldness to claim having a deep and comprehensive enough understanding of what is happening here, but I have witnessed, followed and lived more of the events than most people.
I am not Turkish but I have been living here for almost half a year, and the protests and clashes basically took (and still are taking) place right in front of my doorstep; what happens here affects me personally.
From the first night of protests spreading outside of Gezi Park, my main photographic focus were the clashes, the front lines. There certainly are several reasons for this (anger, curiosity, politics, ego, adrenaline? I don’t know). One of them, however, being the fact that in the beginning there was almost no coverage and awareness of what violence and oppression was taking place here, substantially aggravated by ‘official’ lies and media manipulation unbelievably insulting to those who were actually there.
Some days, maybe a week later, the international media finally marched in and suddenly there were photographers and camera teams everywhere, covering quite a few things in detail (fortunately), others not at all or way too late (unfortunately). But at this point, I could not stop, unreasonable as this may be. I felt very uncomfortable sitting in a peaceful park with thousands of people, or at home even, while a couple of hundred meters down the road, there were protesters being shot at with exorbitant amounts of gas, plastic bullets and water cannons as they tried to make sure that others could demonstrate, occupy and make a statement against authoritarian supremacy in peace.
From an observer’s point of view, I was also more interested in the direct confrontation of forces, the reactions, strategies and communication among the people, and how far and which way the police (and/or the people in command) would go to take back Taksim (which they did, eventually, with force), or the park (which they did, eventually, with force), or Istiklal and its side streets all the way down to Tünel (which they did, eventually, with force).
I am obviously siding with the protesters more than I do with Erdoğan and “his” police forces in this, politically and emotionally. But I have also sat with and talked to policemen here more than once, and no one should forget that these people are human as well. Regarding nobody I see or meet on the street as my enemy is important to me, whether they are police, protesters, akp supporters, circus performers or transsexual porn stars.
Nevertheless, some of what I have seen and experienced, especially from the side of the police (aiming their 40mm grenades directly at people, also at short range, shooting massive amounts of plastic bullets, also into peaceful crowds, loading their water cannon trucks, with harmful chemicals and aiming them at whatever stood in their way, gratuitous violence against elderly and handicapped people, doctors, lawyers, journalists, …), was disgraceful. This is not a war zone though and by far not as dangerous, difficult or aggressive, but it looked hauntingly similar to one from time to time.
Istanbul, as opposed to other cities, has been relatively calm for a couple of days now. The protest has decentralised, which is a good thing in my opinion as the government tried to turn the debate back to the park and ‘a few trees’ in order to divert attention from the actual, deeper issues (and lies, and crimes, and…). The “restoration” they started in Gezi Park (more and new trees, lawn, etc.) may be nice for the park itself, but politically it is a farce, or a bad joke, to me. A very transparent and shallow strategy. The protest entered another phase, but this dispute is far from over. Sadly, I don’t have the highest hopes regarding its outcome.
There are many stories and details to be shared beyond the pictures, but I feel this already has become too much of a personal statement and evaluation, and I wish I had just written “oh my god, teargas.”
These images really hit a note with me and I feel that it is important to share them with as many people as possible to really show what is happening in Turkey. The protests are barely covered by the media in Japan, in fact, many younger people I have spoken to have not even heard of what is going on. I am glad that the people of Turkey are prepared to stand for what they believe in and not let apathy take their liberties away from them.
I would like to extend a personal and deep thank you to Simon for sharing these images and words with us. This is a very complex situation, which goes far further than just a protest about a park. It must be a very difficult time, not just in terms of safety, but emotionally too.
If you would like to see more of Simon’s images (and I really recommend that you do) then you can check out his sites:
Please remember that the images are reproduced with the kind permission of Simon Becker and may not be used or reproduced without express permission from the artist.