Everyday urban sociology
(c) Jan Rath, 2015 — Colorful stairs in Karaköy, Istanbul
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Chapulling in Istanbul
The colorful stairs of Istanbul’s central Karaköy neighborhood stands as lively remnants of the anti-government Gezi Park protests. In 2013, Istanbullular publicly contested the re-development plans for Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park, located in the Beyoğlu municipality at the European side of the city. What started as a small-scale, local protest quickly spread over the entire country. Eventually, approximately 5,000 demonstrations took place, involving over 2,5 million civilians across Turkey. The police responded with brutal force: more than 8,000 were injured, many seriously, and 22 were killed. After a number of weeks, the excessively violent clashes died down, leaving the protesters devastated as they realized they lost the battle. Tayyip Erdoğan and his AKP party claimed victory, but the local, national and international damage was considerable.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) had governed since 2002. Under its rule, the economy had been deregulated and a period of unprecedented economic growth took off, growth that to a large extent had been driven by publicly-funded construction projects. But increasingly, the AKP has ignored basic principles of accountability and violated internationally accepted democratic procedures. It has, moreover, displayed high levels of corruption and incompetency, violated human rights, curbed the media and academic research, fanned conflicts with Kurdish minorities, promoted an Islamist agenda, to name just a few concerns. The smoldering discontent against all these concerns, which had been growing for several years, burst into flames.
But how to express discontent in an environment that is undemocratic, brutal and extremely oppressive? After the Gezi park clashes, quite a few chose an exit strategy and left the city or even the country. But others stayed and chose a more peaceful form of articulating their resistance: chapulling. It started as a response to one of Erdoğan’s out-of-bounds comments, namely that the protesters were just looters or marauders, or – in Turkish – çapulcular. Interestingly enough, this label has brought together people who in humorous but serious ways continued to fight for their democratic rights, for instance by spraying graffiti or by painting stairs in rainbow colors. In some cases, the authorities or individuals on behalf of the authorities re-painted those stairs grey… to no avail. The next day, they were painted in rainbow colors again.
12 October 2020
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