This past week marked the anniversary of the start of the Gezi Park protests, with an official call issued by Taksim Dayanışma (Taksim Solidarity) to commemorate the events with an assembly in Taksim square on the 31st. The assembly was, in keeping with the promises of Prime Minister Erdoğan and Istanbul Governor Multlu, stiffled by means of 25,000 police officers and 50 TOMAs (water canon vehicles). A friend and I went out to see what was happening and shot the video below from a number of locations.
The images I’ve captured here are far less dramatic than others from the day. IMC TV has compiled a set worth viewing (below), and Hürriyet Daily News has a short article on that matter that is worth a look.
Over the past year, the use of tear gas and water canons has become so routine in Istanbul and other cities across Turkey that it is almost banal. While these tactics are certainly dangerous and often lead to dire consequences, when you encounter them so frequently you nonetheless acquire a certain everyday attitude towards them. I don’t know if this has anything to do with why police started using live ammunition when struggling against protestors last month, but I suspect it does have something to do with the new strategy they employed for the Gezi anniversary.
As I walked back from the market on Saturday morning, I was diverted from my normal road through Taksim by police. Trying to get back home I encountered block after block at which between five and 30 police were congregated on the corners. Around Taksim proper these were the çevik kuvvetleri (riot police) that those who live near Taksim have become so used to seeing in the past year. But on the streets just a few blocks away from the center the situation was different: there were men with black bags, each of which had a large baton protruding from it.
As we would later learn, the bags contained at least three other items: a gas mask, a reflective vest, and a blue baseball cap. These are the uniforms and tools of the latest addition to Istanbul’s police force. Thousands upon thousands of them. The baton is their primary tool and they did not hesitate to use it on the 31st. The video below provides a brief example of what many experienced on that day.
There are two striking (pardon the pun) facets to this new order. First, is the return to the brute and direct one-on-one physicality. In an age of ever-growing technology for policing dissent, making the baton the weapon of first resort is an interesting choice, as the mentality of violence would seem to be different in one-on-one (or seven-on-one) encounters. There is no possibility for the person wielding the baton to deny the direct physical harm he or she is causing.
Second, and of extreme practical importance, is the anonymity of these forces. They bear no visible badge, and, unlike the riot police, no number on their helmet by which to be identified. Given that their task appears to be one of direct intimidation by brute force, the matter of identity and, thus, accountability, would seem to be of the utmost importance. Its absence is an ominous sign for the times to come.