The Gezi Park protests signify one of the most significant moments in contemporary Turkish history and politics. Using the repertoire of sit-ins and the appropriation of public space promoted by the global Occupy movement, the indignados in Spain, and during the Arab Spring, Turkish citizens sought to challenge the government’s redevelopment plans of the Gezi Park at Taksim Square in central Istanbul. In May-June 2013, “This is just the beginning, the struggle continues” became a popular slogan that was chanted at Gezi Park reacting to government policies infringing upon the civil liberties of various gender, ethnic, religious groups, regardless of their social class differences. The protests started on May 27, 2013 as a sit-in when bulldozers started to cut down trees in İstanbul’s Gezi Park to build a shopping mall and restore a long-forgotten building without obtaining the necessary planning permissions. On May 28, 2013, BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) Deputy Sırrı Süreyya Önder stood in front of the bulldozers. On May 29, the riot police violently dispersed the protestors inside the park using water cannons and tear gas.
As the images encapsulating the excessive use of police force against peaceful protesters filled social media, the protests gradually turned into nationwide anti-government demonstration against the authoritarian leadership, patriarchal rule, and neo-liberal urban policies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the then Prime Minister Erdoğan. The protestors raised questions of freedom of association, assembly and the press. Environmentalists, LGBTI, Kurdish, feminist, socialist and anti-capitalist Muslim groups joined forces and resisted together inside and outside the park. During the protests the riot police did not show tolerance to any form of resistance, even to passive protestors like the Standing Man, a performance artist who merely protested by standing motionless for hours and hours.
The most popular slogans focused on resistance: “Diren Gezi!” (Resist Gezi!), “Her yer Taksim, her yer direnis!” (Everywhere Taksim, everywhere resistance!) and “Everyday I’m chapuling” – a derivative of “Çapulcu” or “looter” in Turkish – as a reaction to how Erdoğan qualified the protestors. The protestors endorsed the term and the verb chapulling was coined out of it. Gezi Park, became Capulcuistan (the land of the Çapulcu). The live-stream online channel founded by the protestors, in reaction to mainstream media, inside the park came to be called Chapul TV.
But who were these Çapulcu/Chapullers? According to a study on Gezi protests, the protestors in the park were mostly middle-class, well-educated young men and women. The average age was 28, and 58% of the protestors were university graduates while 37 percent were students with neither prior experience in protest nor party affiliation. The Gezi protestors came from a plethora of political orientations and motivations – including a “reaction to the authoritarian state embodied in police violence, to resentment with urban policies and environmental degradation…coercive state apparatuses” (Atak 2013: 14). Yet, as an expression of their collaboration, they all resisted, played music, and cleaned the park together. Throughout the protests this crowd retained its sense of humor and creativity; and repeated in the most imaginative ways that they wanted to live in a more egalitarian society. Their legacy remains and Gezi Park resistance has become the most crucial expression of resistance to neo-liberal and neo-authoritarian politics in Turkish society, a society which otherwise has been apathetic and apolitical since the 1980s.
During the events, there were 7,428 injuries and 11 casualties: namely, Mehmet Ayvalıtaş (20), Abdullah Cömert (22), Ethem Sarısülük (26), İrfan Tuna (47), Mustafa Sarı (27), Selim Önder (88), Ali İsmail Korkmaz (19), Berkin Elvan (14), Serdar Kadakal (35), Ahmet Atakan (22), Zeynep Eryaşar (55) according to Turkish Medical Association reports.