Will gas canisters or yoga prevail in Turkish spring?


Footage shot in Taksim Square on Sunday evening

Anti-government protesters are continuing to demonstrate in Istanbul's Taksim Square and elsewhere, despite Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's demand for the protests to end.

When I was a kid, footballs were made of leather and when they got wet, and when you headed one, you came away with a stunned, slightly spacey feeling.

That is what it is like when you get hit on the head with a CS gas canister. If you are wearing a helmet.

If you are not wearing a helmet it can take your eye out, or leave a dent in your scalp, so you have to wear a white hairnet and a big padded bandage.

That is what the doctor was wearing when I interviewed him at the Taksim Emergency Hospital: a white doctor's coat and a white bandage on his head.

He had been hit on the head while treating somebody who had been hit on the head with a CS canister.

I had been hit on the head while filming somebody getting hit with one. But I was wearing a helmet.

"They are targeting people," he said. "They are supposed to be fired at a long distance but they fire them close up, straight at you."

He showed me one of the empty canisters - there were a lot of the walking wounded carrying them around like souvenirs.

I slotted the end of it into the semi-circular hole in my helmet. It fitted perfectly.

From Our Own Correspondent

Protesters in Taksim Square
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So far, during the street fighting in Istanbul and other big Turkish cities, more than 4,000 people have been injured, and at least four killed.

Some people have lost an eye, some have received severe head injuries.

By day, when there is no gas, Taksim Square is of festival of fresh faced, youthful modernity.

Every metre of grass is covered by people: sitting, squatting, smoking, cuddling, looking at their photos from last night's riot, showing each other bruises.

People march up to you demanding you take a free biscuit or bottle of water.

Over here, 100 women in leotards are taking part in a free, mass yoga session, over there are women in veils beneath a banner reading "anti-capitalist muslims".

I have seen all this before - in Syntagma Square in Greece, among the Spanish indignados, on the roundabout in Tahrir Square.

Start Quote

Turkish society is split about 50-50 between supporters of religious conservatism and the rest”

End Quote

But there is a difference, which accounts for the pall of sadness that hangs here between the plane trees.

The secular, urban, educated, young are a political minority in Turkey.

In Alifuatpasa, a small town which is a three-hour drive away from Istanbul, the Turkish spring will not be happening.

There is the bread shop, the mosque, the tea shop where the old boys in their knitted woollen hats sit and talk about the past.

In Alifuatpasa, the women do not wear skimpy tops, or yoga pants, but in fact the veil and clothes that cover them head to toe.

Here, my Turkish fixer has to get the local pharmacist to approach them to ask if they will speak to me - because I am not allowed to. The answer is no.

There is mild outrage here over what has gone on in Taksim.

"We never used violence in the fight against the ban on wearing the veil," says one man. "They are drunks", says another.

Alifuatpasa is one of those towns in Turkey that ensure prime minister Erdogan can win any election he cares to fight.

Protests have escalated into several days of unrest in Istanbul

It is from towns like this that the moderate religious conservatism of the AK Party took hold, and it is to towns like this that Mr Erdogan has delivered.

"I am 72 years old," says one man, "and my life has never been better. What are they fighting about?"

The short answer is: Turkish society is split about 50-50 between supporters of religious conservatism and the rest.

The rest includes secularists, religious and ethnic minorities, the left, liberals, and those nostalgic for military rule.

It includes the football fans dancing arm-in-arm in their rival shirts, staring at each other in disbelief that they suddenly do not hate each other.

Mr Erdogan's strength lay in the fact that this secular part of society clung to old political projects and was divided.

What has brought them all together is not the park - that is just a symbol.

It is a feeling - as one Turkish writer put it - that there is, within society, "a growing unspoken air of animosity toward the modern", and that Mr Erdogan is playing to it.

So the forces of political Islam are strong.

But so is the force of Facebook, yoga and the barricades.

In the end it will come down to how much tear gas one side can dish out, and how much the other can take.

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Paul Mason Article written by Paul Mason Paul Mason Former economics editor, Newsnight

End of an era

After 12 years on Newsnight, Economics editor Paul Mason has moved on to pastures new and this blog is now closed.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    quietoaktree @130
    "a dictator in the making"?
    Let us hope not
    And pray not

    Time for contrition all-round, an opening of hearts and minds

    "Those who praise God and yet betray his Children,
    By their own children, their best, must be deserted"


    Will we never learn?

    Again so close

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Having tamed the military and the opposition Erdogan feels invincible. Like Putin, Erdogan has been in power way too long, with no end in sight.

    Erdogan's Islamic righteous indignation against Israel, and Armenia has been exposed as a sham. So much for the "no problems with neighbors" policy.

    Somewhere in Damascus Bashar must be smiling.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    State organized protestors are the most dangerous of all.

    They know the police and State justice will ignore their actions.

    -- Erdogan is a dictator in waiting !

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    All of sense know 'alcohol can be a problem', immediate & long-run, life-terminating & life-shortening, BUT the magnitude of such problems has more to do within 'commercial culture', not drug-dependency but worse, income-dependency - family dependence - on the making of livings in manufacture, sale, taxation, false-profit from excessive promotion. The evil is Mammon, chosen above Man & God

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    The Secular voters are accusing Erdogan of treachery --

    "The prime minister also told supporters to prepare for pro-government rallies in Istanbul and Ankara next weekend, Reuters news agency reports."

    -- He is giving the impression of ┬┤Tyranny of the majority┬┤--with God on his side.

    -- more dangerous than wise.


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