Turkey: Fighting for Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Space

Courtesy of Plataforma Urbana

The impending destruction of the last public park in Istanbul was the straw that broke the camel’s back last Tuesday. When a peaceful demonstration to save Taksim Gezi Park was met with violent police retaliation, the situation quickly escalated into a nationwide protest against the increasingly authoritarian Turkish government. At this moment all across the country, thousands are standing up not only for Gezi Park but for the right to shape the place that they call home.

More information on the situation in after the break.  

Courtesy of Plataforma Urbana

Adjacent to one of Istanbul’s most important plazas, Taksim Square, Gezi Park’s significance to the city and to its residents has been compared to that of Central Park’s to New Yorkers and Hyde Park’s to Londoners. For a city with already very little , it’s no wonder that the Turkish government’s plans to convert the park into a shopping mall were met with rage. What started out as a small attempt by activist group Taksim Dayanışması to save the park’s trees erupted into a city-wide and then nation-wide protest after Turkish police used tear gas and a water cannon to deter protesters. Gezi Park and Taksim Square, along with other parts of Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and elsewhere have been transformed into a battleground between citizens and police, with more than 1,700 arrests and hundreds wounded.

Courtesy of Plataforma Urbana

It’s important to note that the transformation of Gezi Park is not the only public project the Turkish government has developed without taking residents’ needs or wants into account. A new bridge across the Bosphorus, gentrification processes that displaced countless Istanbul residents, and the construction of other shopping centers have put the city – and all of Turkey, it seems – on edge.

Thousands of citizens crossing one of the bridges over the Bosphorus on foot as a demonstration.

Residents claim that in addition to the government jeopardizing their right to utilizing and enjoying public space, it is also encroaching on their freedom of expression and the ability to assemble lawfully in any part of the city. In a televised interview which aired Sunday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed those taking part in the protests as “a few looters” and called social media sites such as Twitter “an extreme version of lying,” making it clear to the world that the voices of hundreds of Turkish citizens would continue to be ignored by their government.

Courtesy of Plataforma Urbana

History has shown us that public space is inherently linked to the freedom of expressing oneself, and this is certainly not the first time in recent memory that a nation has used space as a weapon against (and battleground with) authority. It is also a near instinctive reaction: when we as humans really want our opinions to be heard by others, we turn to open, shared spaces such as streets, plazas or parks. When those in power are not interested in what we have to say, public space is no longer a priority to them (as one can see in Gezi Park’s case), and these spaces become a battleground for supporters of the state and those who feel that their rights are being violated.

Occupy Wall Street Movement in Zucotti Park

Zucotti Park in New York, site of the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement, is a great example of a public space that was utilized by citizens to capture the attention of those in power and to express their concerns about America’s future in a passionate way. The occupation of Tahrir Square in the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 was also an incredibly integral part of taking back the country from former president Mubarak and showing the world what a determined group of people could accomplish. Anywhere around the world, public space can begin to embody the beliefs of those who occupy it.

Tahrir Square during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011

As our review of the “Freedom of Assembly: Public Space Today” by AIA Panel in 2012 shows, however, ownership of and treatment of public space can be just as complicated and politically-charged as the messages of those inhabiting them. According to Jane Jacobs, the success of a city is the health of its public spaces, but what defines a healthy public space and who should get to decide the fate of spaces such as Istanbul’s Gezi Park? Does Turkey’s government have the right to execute what it believes to be the best choice for the city’s future, or is it the right of the people to take control of their city and to actively participate in the development of an urban landscape that suits their needs?

What do you think about the character of public space and the role it plays in the protests raging through Turkey?

If you would like to express your support and stand in solidarity with the citizens of Turkey, please sign this petition here and help spread the word.

References: Gawker (1, 2), Archinect, Bianet, ENCABBC, Plataforma Urbana

Cite: Porada, Barbara. "Turkey: Fighting for Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Space" 04 Jun 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 23 Nov 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=382096>
  • antti seppänen

    Is this to earn quickly some money, with greater costs or…?

  • Tripsy

    big government sucks…

  • mo

    Haram.

  • emre

    gezi park is no centralpark, it is an unsafe place and the new project is not totally shopping mall.it would be exhibition halls, museum with some shops and cafes. to build gezi park, totalitarian government of 30s has demolished a historic building to take revenge from ottomans…these so called tree-lover protesters has damaged green areas of city and even unplugged young trees in the events…rising for public space is a big disguise, government drive them crazy because these educated secular white-turks cannot win any elections. (even municipality of beyoglu where gezi park takes place in).they are minority but they want to rule and they cannot…this is what is happening

  • funda

    last picture is not taksim square its probably izmiz. but this does not mean that taksim was not that much crowded. it was much more crowded and still is

  • ipek

    there are some people insist on not to understand the real situation and we keep trying real hard to tell them the truth. the protestors are not damaging the city, rather they protest by reading book, singing, dancing and even painting and they clean all those public spaces in the mornings. in order not to misinform, here is the truth:

    years of an increasingly authoritarian government with an ineffective opposition
    - a PM who is arrogant, pig-headed and despises anyone except conservative Muslims (roughly half the country which is partly why he wins elections), and who simply does not listen to people who think differently from him
    - a corrupt and nepotistic system where all the main checks and balances of a democracy are brought / bought under government patronage / influence / control
    - as a result there is a great deal of frustration and loathing of the government, of the PM especially

    then

    - Istanbul has the lowest % of parks of any city in Europe
    - the only central park is a pitifully small park called Gezi Park near where we live
    - the PM decided himself to rebuild an Ottoman building which once stood in the park and which had been pulled down by Atatürk; the building has symbolic value for the PM; it’s an order from the PM to the mayor of Istanbul who is a lickspittle member of the ruling party; there’s been no public enquiry or consultation about this plan, or any other redevelopment plan for Istanbul for that matter (and there have been many awful ones and there are many more in the pipeline)
    - last week work started to cut down trees on one side of the park, preparing the ground for the new-old building (the government’s story is a bit different about the reason but no-one believes them)
    - a group of about 300 mostly women green activists occupied the park last week under the name of ‘Occupy’; they are totally committed to peaceful protest (I know one of the organisers and she is very determined about this)
    - on Thursday morning the police raided the camp at 5am without any warning using teargas and burned the tents and sealed off the whole park behind barricades
    - on Friday morning the police attacked unprovoked a small group (a few hundred if that) protesters near the park with teargas, I was there, subsequently a friend of ours (Lobna Allamii) was struck in the head by a teargas canister and is still in a coma, other people have been also badly injured (see these pictures for example http://occupygezipics.tumblr.com/)
    - by Friday afternoon thousands of people had arrived from all over Istanbul and the battles began
    - by yesterday they had gotten very ugly, and literally hundreds of thousands of protesters were now converging on Taksim and some other areas, by now including a proportion of people ready to use violence, though always a minority
    - the President gave the order for the police to withdraw (smart move, it was obvious that things were about to escalate and heaven knows where things would have ended up)
    - some of the demonstrators trashed some vehicles in and around the squares, and built barricades (still up) using anything they could get their hands on all roads leading to Taksim and Gezi Park (they’re next to each other); mostly the barricades were made from police barricades taken from the Park, along with some wrecked public buses which had been used to bring the police to Taksim
    - today was a big party in the Park and Taksim with many thousands of people celebrating their victory over the State
    - in the meantime the PM has said I am not dropping the project and the State will retaliate, also in the meantime the courts have ordered a stop to the building project in the Park saying that it’s illegal, the PM says that the courts are interfering…

    this is a summary

    there’s been a lot of conflict in other cities too; I’ve seen some videos and police behaviour has been generally vicious and shameful

    what happened in the Park was the trigger, the Park itself is symbolic, or rather it has become symbolic, a red line which now cannot be crossed

    what happens next, no-one knows, the greens will continue their occupation of the Park until the building project is officially cancelled, but who knows if cancellation will happen, the PM has a great deal of power and is a very stubborn man who calls all (sic) the protesters ‘extremists’

    Also here is the link for the photo of the public and free library built by the protestors in the park: https://fbcdn-sphotos-b-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/983614_616413358370160_562969448_n.jpg

  • corto

    It is not only about a single park… It is about the government oppressing the public spaces, architectural vocabulary and (as a result) contemporary texture of the modern Turkey. The reaction is not against a singular event but a series of ongoing interventions to the modern everyday life.

  • Nadim

    the same naive non-analysis of a crisis, just to fit the ever-so-cinematic look at uprising

    a simple Google search will give a history of bloody history of the turkish government oppression against the turkish people, the latest of which was the bloody crack down on the labour day protests,

    please, for the sake of anything holy, get rid of the romanticised outlook on such events, the Egyptian revolution was not the cool party at Tahrir square, and the turkish uprise is definitely not about a just a park! dig deeper damn it! Islamic party 10 year rule, squashing of all express liberties, criminal government actions, Kurdi oppression, Turkish-Syrian conflict, Iran influence, US middling, pick some, or one, but don’t say Park again

    Jeez!

    • blah

      This article is not about the park at all. It is about how public space can be viewed almost as a metaphor for democracy. The reigns over public space are held by the government in Turkey, and not by the people, and this is the biggest proof that democracy is not being allowed here in the true sense of the word.
      This is a blog where everything that is happening in the world will be seen through an architectural lens, and Gezi park is just an example of that.

  • Nikola

    Turkey has the only rising economy in the european continent. European countries (especially Germany) doesn’t like that. So this is a good reason to make a crisis in Turkey, or a civil war. The Taksim park story is just a stupid excuse. Istanbul has survived a more horrible urban interventions without any political crisis.

  • Aylin Değirmen

    This video is prepared by students and alumni of Mimar Sinan Fine Art University i think it explains a lot of things about this subject http://vimeo.com/69379484#at=0

  • http://ryuugakusei.info/userinfo.php?uid=60443 jack

    I think so. I think your write-up will give those people a good showing. And they will communicate thanks to an individual later