To a degree being a policeman (there are few policewomen in Turkey and I didn’t see any involved in the demonstrations) encourages the sadist in our darker recesses, there’s pleasure in power, and pleasure in having a license to behave violently, and it’s exciting (similarly for the violent minority of the protesters too), it’s manly (macho-manly); and from an autocratic prime-minister (now nicknamed ‘Gasman’) a kind of arbitrary power descends down to the lowest official of the state – the cop on the street – who feels they have a mandate to impose their own notion of order (a very out-of-order order), just as the PM feels that he has a mandate to do what he wants because half the electorate voted for him; Erdoǧan’s names (so far) for the protesters are street-trash / marauder (‘çapulcu’ – now an ironic name of honour for the protesters), marginals, looters (there’s been no looting at all as far as I know so this is absurd), members of illegal organisations (absurd), vandals, anarchists, extremists & terrorists (which is beyond absurd), which all sum up his view of the people against him, and that infects the police, or I think rather it’s a way of saying to the police, these people can be treated as roughly as you like, because they’re worthless (part of a long tradition of analogous slandering in other authoritarian states).
Photograph: Burcu Doğu
There’s a tradition of state violence in Turkey which means the threshold of what’s acceptable and what’s not is higher than in the UK say.
The AKP (the Justice and Development Party, the party founded by Erdoǧan the PM, Gül the president and Arınç the Deputy PM) has, since winning power in 2002, gradually taken over the State via many struggles with previously secularist State institutions; and this includes the police, though my guess is that the police would behave similarly whoever was in power; it’s the Turkish tradition, though the police are less violent than they were under martial law (they’re not using guns against the demonstrators, people are not being tortured in police cells, and aren’t disappearing in the middle of the night); I don’t have the impression that the police are particularly pro-conservative, rather they’re simply statist, they’re pro state power.
The State doesn’t trouble itself too much on whether a State action is lawful or unlawful, it troubles itself when people (media, politicians – national and international, etc) react, but that’s after the fact; most of the time the State assumes that people will not complain too much and that most complaints will fade away, which means a culture of decide / act / worry about the reactions if and when they come; mostly, to ignore any reactions as much as possible – like water off a duck’s back…
Erdoǧan has a strong sense of destiny and conviction combined with being the most powerful person in the country, and being very popular among his constituency (around half the country), and he’s more interested in getting his way than respecting legal process and anything more than lipservice to democracy (I won the election, what more do you want? I need no further mandate).
In the case of Gezi Park, there’s a symbolic value for both the protesters against the destruction of part of the park (a purely environmental protest at first which then became a symbol for popular discontent with an authoritarian and proto-Islamist government), and for Erdoǧan as part of his crusade to roll back Kemalism and replace it with Ottoman values and nostalgia; the double symbolism makes it very hard for either side to back down (not that I think the Occupiers should, though I wonder whether the protest movement could successfully eschew violence – a subject I’d like to grapple with another time), the result of which is violence with the potential for greater violence to come; the Ottoman Barracks which Erdoǧan wishes to rebuild have no importance at all in the wider picture of the cultural struggle going on in Turkey (crudely, between Kemalism and secularism versus neo-Ottomanism and Muslim piety) so any normal politician would just back off from the Barracks project and carry on with the much bigger, much more destructive (of both the environment and the old – Kemalist – order) project whose manifestations include the destruction of historic neighbourhoods in Istanbul, the 3rd bridge, the 3rd airport, the Bosphorous Canal, the massive mosque on the hill above Asian Istanbul, the Taksim mosque, the damning of every possible valley in Turkey to produce electricity to fuel Turkey’s economic growth, the destruction of the coastline in the name of tourism, the exhortations for couples to have 3 children, the restrictions on alcohol, a nuclear reactor in an earthquake zone, zillions of shopping centres, and so on.
I don’t think any kind of racism is a factor in these riots – it would be if they were Kurdish riots but they’re not.
For sure, some individual policemen go over the top and have to be restrained (or not) by their colleagues but my impression is that generally the police are under the control of their commanders and following their orders, they are not out of control, they are not settling personal scores; I am not aware that policemen feel in much fear of being punished later, for example they are mostly acting in the presence of a great many photographers and film-makers; I took quite a lot of photos of police and only once was I told to stop aggressively, and one other time I was told to stop politely; the main sanctions the State uses against the media are at the highest level, because the big media companies are mostly owned by the same holding-companies which control much of the Turkish economy and therefore depend on State patronage for the furtherance of their businesses; and also the State prosecutes journalists freely if they write anything which could be construed as pro-PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party) for example, or if the journalist is connected to any supposed plots against the government; as far as I know photographers and documentary film-makers are little affected by this, though getting documentaries financed and shown is another story; anyone with an internet connection can be extremely well-informed about what’s going on in the country, and some of the press is uninhibited in its condemnations of the government, but if you just watched the main TV channels and read the conservative newspapers you’d get a very filtered view of events.
some of the music of the protests:
Kardeş Türküler’s ‘Pots & Pans’
An anonymous song “Chapulin’ Blues’
And an anonymous track ‘Everyday I’m chapuling’
The Guardian online has used various of my photos and comments (mostly in the Guardian Witness section); two of my photos are being used on this online gallery (the first and third ones)