Thursday, June 12, 2014

Turkey: History of Gezi resistance that was almost not to be is now available online


11 June 2014
Norwegian PEN 

Did you know that the first person to protest against the destruction of Gezi Park was not among last year's demonstrators but a man who stood up against construction on the park six decades ago? In 1952, city planner Aron Angel, who had been involved in the original park design, resigned from his position as chief city planner in protest at the building of the Hilton Hotel on the park, the first encroachment on what was then a much larger space than it is today. "I am ashamed," he wrote in his resignation letter "to work for an organisation where personal interests seem to be the order of the day." Those same personal interests lay at the roots of the protests 61 years later.

Did you know that the protest that erupted in Taksim is part of a long history of people's uprisings in the square and in the city? In the 400 years of Ottoman Rule, over 100 demonstrations were staged across the city, often leading to hundreds killed and the dethronement of Sultans. Post Ottomans, Taksim Square became a centre for demonstrations from the 1900s to today.

Did you know that the first ever international football tournament to be played in Turkey was in 1923 held on a pitch inside a military barracks on Taksim Square? (It was between Turkey and Romania. It ended with a two-all draw.) The barracks were demolished in 1940, a building that the authorities proposed to reconstruct on the remaining green space, sparking the 2013 unrest.

These, and many other fascinating facts about popular protests in Istanbul in history to Gezi Park in 2013, were to appear in a Gezi resistance issue of NTV Tarih (History) magazine, planned for publication in the days after the events.

Yet the publication was almost not to be. The magazine's owners, the Doğuş Media Group that also owns the mainstream broadcasters, NTV, stopped the Gezi issue going to print - it would have been the 54th edition of the magazine - and then ordered that the entire magazine be shut down, despite its popularity and a monthly circulation of 35,000. Doğuş is among a number of media conglomerates reliant on its good relations with the government and which had been widely criticised for bending to political pressure not to cover the protests.

NTV Tarih's editor Gürsel Göncü and his team resigned in protest, and posted the magazine online in defiance. Soon after the Istanbul publishing house, Metis, intervened and published the book in print. The book proved popular, running into three editions in a matter of weeks. The proceeds of the sales were donated to the families of seven people who were killed during the protests.

A year later, Metis has made an English edition of Tarih available, giving an opportunity for readers outside Turkey to reach this document of both the Gezi Resistance and the relationship between the government and the media in Turkey through historical records, contemporary photographs and illustrations. As well as the fascinating historical accounts, you can revisit events of the momentous two weeks in June 2013, through the magazine's daily photo diary, learn of social media's influence and compare with other related resistance movements in Spain, London, New York and Brazil.

This edition is supported by the Norwegian Non-Fiction Writers Association, PEN Norway and the Fritt Ord Foundation in celebration of the tenacity and refusal of the writers, editors and publishers in Turkey to succumb to the pressures of an attempt at effective censorship. Read the English edition on this link: