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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  • 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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    #125 continued.

    "Erdogan's "religious generation" can already be pleased about a well-established infrastructure of faith today. His party, the AKP, has transformed the Presidency of Religious Affairs, the Diyanet, into a massive agency. Its €1.3 billion ($1.6 billion) budget is larger than the combined budgets of Turkey's European Union, foreign, energy and environment ministries combined."

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Brutality & bluster & whistling in the darkness of narrow minds… now beyond even the call of the like-minded in search of an enemy together to hate… the old story is being repeated… of power 'gone to the head', lost from the heart… a time of immense material AND social AND spiritual promise… utterly to be trashed… the lives & lessons of history, even the most recent, to be wasted?

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.


    "At the time, many liberal Turks entered into a pact with Erdogan, because they had a common enemy: the fossilized establishment consisting of the military, the judiciary and the government bureaucracy. In return for their support, Erdogan promised to respect the liberals' lifestyle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    The people are protesting to save something that means a lot to them. The Goverment are not listening "Let them eat cake" is the goverment message. Save the park and give your people the last word. Remember goverment you work for the people..not the reverse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Biz Turkiz @ 114 Ceyda Sungor is a Turkish student, whose photo standing alone in a red dress with a white handbag being sprayed with tear gas from ONLY a few feet away by a police thug went viral ALL over the world. Except in Turkey, of course, where Erdogan only permitted his media stooges to show programs of penguins. Since you are in Turkey, I guess you got the penguins. Too bad!

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    Some 'real hurts' all sides. In 400ch one-sidedness to be expected. See
    'other people' are trying to understand, as human beings. If 'we' cannot relate on that basis, 'something' is wrong that I doubt would please any true prophet, interpreter of God's word or text. A society that does not respect REAL democracy, preferring the rule of fear & greed, NEVER can win self-respect & trust

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Whoever thinks AKP freed this country from IMF loans is mistaken . lets look at the budget deficit, we need 200 billion dollar to pay our debts and we have nothing to sell anymore and we do not produce at all we are breathing because of hot money. whoever is lending money to us when they stop what are you going to do then?. Come to gezi park and listen to the shark then you will realize the lies

  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    akp supporters you must stop supporting erdogan he is wrong in this he is acting like a dictator can't you see? If he is really a normal person he would not act in such big headed way. He negotiated with real terrorists, pkk vandals but can not face his own public, come on. He should be bigger than this. stop acting like a fat child wants all the toys!

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    Excuse !!! We have not got time to let you know the Sh.. stir uparound the world in the blood of few of yours! But do not under estimate Turksas you did in the past and learned lesson. So please ! Mind your own matters and sort yourselves out and educate edl peoples and be honestto yourselves. Ahh another one, some protestors detained are Iranians and Germans, British!!! new pkk game eyhhh! BYE.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    "The Alevis, who constitute over ten percent of Turkey’s 75 million inhabitants, are secular and mostly pro-Kemalist, subscribing to a strict separation of religion and politics. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP),.... still fails to appeal to the Alevis. To put it bluntly, some in the AKP and many Turkish Alevis do not seem to get along."

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    Erdogan has freed Turkey from IMF loans, it has the 5th fastest growing economy in the world, and it has started to develop its own military equipment rather than being dependent. There is fair access to social services and he has given more rights to Kurds than any other Turkish regime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    I kind of agree with turkuz biz at 106. I am totally anti AKP but I think the west is not at all democratic. The plot here by the west is divide and rule as usual. Now the tone of the social engineering is look at those poor middle eastern muslims. They always violent. Dear AKP supporters and the Kemalists please wake up and join against this provocatour western forces.This country belongs to all!

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    And another information, protesters killed a policeman in Adana city
    is this civil protest???? No, these protests are conspiracy of dark lobies*interest, alcohol, smoke*, this is clear
    think deeply if you want understand what is happening

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    You WHO!?? Never heard of Ceyda whatever the name..!!
    But Triple A and modest pm and highly func democracy!? now thats is a JOKE! You must be one of his Eton friends or something!!
    Democracy!! please do not preach others with Democracy we have that fully implemented in Turkey but UK. It was few months ago London riots, now burning Islamic schools...Racism is in the root.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    #108 BizTurkuz

    " Ataturk would be proud of him same as Gallipoli heroes."

    --you forgot the ´Gray Wolf´?

    It has been reported that the AKP social network only serves the needs of Sunni Moslems in Turkey --others are unwelcome (Alevis etc)

    "There is now one mosque for every 350 people in Turkey -- and one hospital for every 60,000." (Source-Spiegel)


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