Monday, June 3, 2013

The photo that encapsulates Turkey’s protests and the severe police crackdown

The photo that encapsulates Turkey’s protests and the severe police crackdown


(REUTERS/Osman Orsal)
Protesters and police in Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park last week. (REUTERS/Osman Orsal)
Turkey’s protest movement has ebbed and flowed dramatically over the past week, as has the government’s sometimes heavy-handed response, but this photo from last Tuesday, the second day of large-scale demonstration, remains an iconic and affecting symbol of the ongoing movement.
The photo was snapped by Reuters photographer Osman Orsal in Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park, where the movement began with a peaceful sit-in protesting the government’s plan to turn the green space into a shopping mall. Police moved in to clear the square, deploying barricades, tear gas and pepper spray. These photos show the crackdown in action, with the young urbanite Turks who had gathered at the square – the sorts of people who would hold a sit-in to protect city green space – clearly surprised by the police’s severity.
But the protesters held their ground and have dug in over the last week, staying in the square despite an escalating police effort to dislodge them.
Orsal’s photo captures so much of the Taksim Gezi movement. The two young women in the frame are unveiled, like most Turkish women, and, like many young residents of cosmopolitan Istanbul, they present as more European than Middle Eastern. The woman in red, the focal point of the photo, looks like she just stepped out of her office.

Looking at this photo raises the immediate question: does it really take all of these heavily armored policemen just to pepper spray a young woman in a park? That, of course, is a smaller version of a question that last week’s protests raised for many Turks: why is the government responding to these protests with such overwhelming force? Or, even bigger than that, is the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which was democratically elected, becoming a bit too authoritarian?
That last question, after all, is driving much of the movement’s underlying energy and the apparently fervent distrust of Erdogan and his government. This photo, then, isn’t just a portrayal of what’s happening in Turkey, but as a visible and viral demonstration of those dynamics it is part of the story itself.

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