Gezi Park Protests and Politics of Representation

Curator's Note

In early June 2013, massive protests swept Turkey, signaling a momentous episode in the political culture of the country. The protests, which initially aimed to prevent the demolition of the Gezi Park in central Istanbul, quickly turned into an anti-government movement criticizing the ruling AKP’s (Justice and Development Party) neo-liberal, Islamist and authoritarian policies. For approximately two weeks, the Gezi Park was occupied by local residents, artists, students, intellectuals and activist groups of various socio-political inclinations. Less than 300 yards away, the iconic AKM (Ataturk Cultural Center) in the Taksim Square had also been appropriated by protestors who draped the façade of the building with posters and banners and turned it into a “pinboard” of sorts. The first image shows the façade of the building covered with banners that read “Do not surrender” “Justice or apocalypse,” “Universities up in arms, Tayyip must resign,” “Calling unions to duty: general strike,” “Long live the revolution,” as well as a few Turkish flags and a portrait of Ataturk. The second image is from June 11 and shows the police moving in to disperse the protestors from the Taksim Square. That day the governor of Istanbul had announced that the aim of the “police operation” was simply to clear the AKM’s façade, and that no other operation was planned for the Gezi Park encampment. The third image, taken the day after the violent police intervention shows how all the banners and posters had been replaced by a neatly-arranged collage of two huge flags and a portrait of Ataturk. The sanitization of the AKM’s façade and the replacement of the multi-vocal pinboard with nationalist, statist imagery suggest more than a simple police operation. The AKM, which served as a key cultural center and the only opera house in Istanbul for over forty years, was closed in 2008 citing renovation plans. Yet among some artistic and intellectual circles, renovation was simply an excuse used by the AKP to sabotage artistic expression that fell outside its religious-conservative ideology. Therefore the so-called police operation on June 11 was emblematic of the AKP’s cultural policies and censorial practices that have confined the boundaries of the public sphere and communicative space in Turkey over the past decade.


Hi Beste, I see the practical reasons for hanging the banners on the façade of this particular building, that it was vacated, closed down, etc. So it was readily available to the protestors. However, you allude to the political, cultural significance of this building for the anti-government camp. Can you elaborate on this?

Hi Beste, AKM has indeed been an object of intense scrutiny, particularly by the PM over last summer, who talked about demolishing it at first, and then about building a "baroque opera" in its place. I'm looking forward to reading a little more about your comments on the cultural significance of the place. I'd also like to add a little note on the banners hung on the building during the protests. On of the earliest and largest, visible to the lower right, reads "Kes Sesini Tayyip," (Shut up Tayyip). I always felt that this particular banner was one of the things that infuriated the PM about Gezi, the fact that he was addressed directly, bluntly, and quite disrespectfully. Could you comment on that as well?

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