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Focus on Istanbul

After a week of bloody protests in Turkey, Albany supporters gather in solidarity

by Erin Pihlaja on June 5, 2013


Supporters of the protest in Turkey gather in Albany's Academy Park. Photo by Erin Pihlaja.

“It’s not about just trees anymore,” said Hadiye Raymond. She identified herself as a Muslim woman, originally from Turkey, who now lives in the United States with her American-born husband and their children. She stood in Albany’s Academy Park on Tuesday (June 4) with a group of men, women and children, just as the sun began its descent toward the capital’s skyline. They stood in the shade of the park’s many leaf-filled trees, but this wasn’t the timber she referred to.

Those gathered had organized to show support for protestors in Turkey and their weeklong battle that had started as a peaceful sit-in to stop the razing of Gezi Park—one of central Istanbul’s last remaining public green spaces.

Raymond mentioned New York City’s Central Park. “Can you imagine if the government says, ‘We don’t want it, we want a mall,’” she asked, “and your citizens say, ‘No we don’t want that,’ and instead of your government trying to find a middle place with you, they start attacking you and hurting you?”

The past week has been a bloody one for those involved in the protest. Turkish police raided the park encampment in what has been reported as a “brutal attack.” Pictures have circulated on social media sites that show police firing tear gas canisters directly at people’s heads, and bloodied bodies motionless on the street. Taksim Square, once a bustling commercial hub, looks like a war zone. What started as a few dozen protestors has turned into what many believe is hundreds of thousands—if not a million—people.

Many agree with Raymond—this isn’t just about trees anymore. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has, in recent years, passed laws restricting alcohol consumption, birth control, and even kissing in public—namely in the subway system. His government, reported The New York Times, “has become a leading jailer of journalists and opposition writers.”

“We’re here today to show support with Occupy Gezi and the Turkish protestors in Turkey,” said Stephen Pampinella, who joined the Academy Park event on Tuesday. “People around the world are seeing it’s time to stand up and demand real democracy and demand that ordinary people shouldn’t be repressed and should be treated as human beings with human rights.”

“One of my friends was hospitalized by police attacks. She was one of the first injured activists,” said Onur Bilginer, who also participated in the Albany show of support. “It was a tear gas canister that hit her head, and she was in coma. They are trying to wake her up and see the results.”

Bilginer, an adjunct professor of political science in the Capital Region, originally hails from Turkey. The uprising did not seem to surprise him, but he was angry at the lack of media attention that the event received. He said he kept up to date by following social media sites. He blamed Erdogan.

“He is misrepresenting the group, he is calling them extremists, drunk-heads, hot-headed people, marginal groups and so forth,” Bilginer said. “It is quite different from this, they are the people. They come from different social, political, and economic backgrounds. They are demanding their basic rights and liberties.”

Erdogan has called social media a “menace” and has claimed to be holding back his supporters from also taking to the streets. Bilginer didn’t buy it.

“He is deliberately misrepresenting this group and their political causes, and trying to provoke them,” he said.

Standing in Academy Park, Raymond looked at her children. “I deeply feel so sorry for people who died and got injured. My family is there, I tried to call my family and I couldn’t reach them. [The government] cut the cell phones, the Facebook, Twitter—that is frightening,” she said.

She looked up from the kids running in circles, waving their pro-Turkey signs. “I feel so sad for this. I didn’t want it to be like this, but sometimes you have to suffer to find the light.”
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