The Longest Day

Dear people,

On the eve of the attack I was sitting in the International Corner, talking to Turkish comrades about the next phase of democratic escalation. At nine in the morning, every neighbourhood of Gezi Park would have organized an assembly. Until now the protest has been coordinated by the people who started it. They were the ones who issued the five demands. But they don’t represent everyone. And so the creation of an assembly in every part of Gezi would be a way to involve all the occupiers in the daily politics of the park.    130611 Longest Day 02

Around four I walk down to see the sun rise over the barricades. There are two main roads leading down. One with fourteen lines of defense, and one with eight. Each of them is defended by different people from different backgrounds. There is a road of political barricades – the big one – with the communists in the first line, and the nationalists in the second, and there is a road of football barricades, with the Besiktas fans in the first line, and the Fenerbahce fans further up. I make a chat with the defenders of each line. They are among the friendliest and most generous people I met. They thank me for supporting them, they never fail to offer food, water, chocolate, whatever they have. At the moment, they are at ease. Nobody seriously expects an attack before Thursday, because there is bound to be a meeting with government officials the day before.

Still, around six, the camp is rocked by general alarm. People rush to the medical stand, where mouth caps and goggles are handed out against the tear gas. The defenders rush to the platform facing the square. Everything is quiet. The alarm was false.

At seven thirty it was for real. All the layers of barricades were useless. Police had come in through the back door. They are already in the square, on the West side and on the East side. You have to know that Gezi park is like a fortress, or an akropolis, to which you accede through stairs. It’s hard to attack if the defenders are determined to defend it. It doesn’t seem police are trying to make a frontal assault. Their primary objective is the Atatürk cultural center. They want to take down the banners with revolutionary slogans. Our elite troops – mostly football fans, anarchists and Kurds – pour into the square to engage them. But a great part of us is opposed to violence. They sit down in front of the panzers, they lock arms in front of police to prevent our people from attacking with stones. They succeed. A clash is avoided, but police do take the building. They throw down all the banners except for two. The Turkish flag and the image of Atatürk.
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But on the West side, in the construction yard, they clash. Me and Jack are live, streaming from the front line. Police attack with water cannons, tear gas and flash bang grenades. Our boys respond with rocks, sling shots and fireworks, forcing police to adopt the defensive position of a Greek phalanx. The tear gas succeeds in making people scatter, but once the cloud rises, everyone reassembles. Barricades are built with amazing speed. The troops gather behind, banging their clubs on the metal to intimidate the enemy.

Police attack again. We keep defending. Molotovs are used. Pieces of cloth are ripped to shreds and used to throw stones. Another round of tear gas is fired. Actually, police use two different types of gas. The normal CS gas is a bit like the dense fumes of fireworks on new year’s eve, only much much stronger. The orange gas is nastier. It sticks to the skin, and starts to irritate in combination with water or sweat. Goggles and mouth caps provide some protection, enough for a temporary retreat. The only problem is that you can hardly see a thing with goggles.

The battle would go on all day and night, with pauses only for lunch and tea. As a tactical media team we would be rushing into the first or second lines to broadcast live, then return to the Audiovisual tent to recharge batteries as another team would take our place. Mixing is done in Izmir for the Turkish channel and in Portland for the Global channel.

During the second wave of attack, around nine thirty, one of the water cannons caught fire. Police had to use another water cannon to put it out. On the walls of our fortress overlooking the square people were clapping and cheering.

130611 Longest Day 07Police never managed to make a significant advance on the West side. After the third wave of attack, around eleven o’ clock, they were forced back when a crowd of people started to gather around them. So they attacked again. People scattered, and reunited in no-time.

In the camp there was constant traffic of stretchers going out and wounded going in. To facilitate their quick movement, people formed a line to open up the main road leading to the infirmary. All day long, ambulances kept coming and going.

At noon, we secured the West Side, and the greater part of the square. Hundreds of people locked arms to hold it as police retreated to the East side. It was amazing, the way they marched back in between two lines of people chanting that we all stand shoulder to shoulder against fascism, and that Taksim is ours, Istanbul is ours. It was a parade of shame, it made me think of captured barbarian soldiers being forced to march through the streets of Rome.
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For a moment, it looked as if it would end there. Police held a corner of the square. They removed the barricades, we were waiting for their final retreat.

It was lunch time by then, and everything seemed suddenly peaceful and quiet. Within the camp, most people continued their business as usual. Police had taken off their helmets, they were sitting in the shadow, chatting, eating, smoking. Some of them were sleeping on their shields, others playing cards. Seeing them like that was weird. The bastards almost looked like human beings.

But around two o’clock, just as the wailing voice coming from the mosque invited people to prayer, police attacked again. They fired tear gas directly into the camp. Our defenders put on their helmets and stormed into the square to meet them. Water cannons moved in. The battle on the West side started all over again. A tear gas cannister bounced of the pavement right between my feet while I was running for cover. We had to abandon Taksim and come back through another entrance. When I made it to the park, the atmosphere was becoming depressed. People started doubting if we would be able to hold the park.

One of my Turkish comrades turned to me. “Please, leave the park. I want you to be safe. This is not your revolution.”

130611 Longest Day 08I almost got angry. “Of course it is. We are one humanity. Every revolution is my revolution.” What he probably didn’t realize is that resistance of Turkish citizens in Gezi Park is a major source of inspiration for people around the world. For me it’s not only a pleasure to be here, it’s an honour.

Around four, I take a break. I manage to sleep a few precious minutes as the police start bombing the park with tear gas again. The fumes wake me up. I pick up my mouth cap, my goggles, my camera, and I rush to the West Side, where the troops continue to clash. They hold their ground. A barricade is set one fire. A van is burning. And what’s more, the wind has changed in our favour. Tear gas and smoke now blows right back to the police lines. As the hours drag on, we beat them back into one of the side streets. A barricade is built and torched, to avoid them from returning. I take a tour around and see how police is getting some rest inside one of the bars, drinking coffee.

130611 Longest Day 17The afternoon ends, straight from work people converge on Taksim, to defend the park. Around seven o’ clock, the square is full. We are well over fifty thousand people, singing, chanting and celebrating. Police are in a corner. They have six water cannons ready. It’s the highlight of the day. Everyone is united, left to right, against Tayyip Erdogan. Around eight, the Internet signal get jammed, and thirty seconds later police start throwing tear gas into the dense crowd. It was an unprovoked criminal act that caused a stampede and might as well have caused a massacre. It was the only time during the day that I feared for my life, as the crowd was pushing its way up the stairs and into the park. Adding to the chaos was the fact that many people including me were not expecting a gas attack, and hadn’t taken any precautions against it. Blinded, choking, crying, coughing, spitting and vomiting we made our way back to the relative safety of the park. Fortunately, there are always people ready to spray your eyes with a milky substance against the worst effects of the gas.

130611 Longest Day 16The ferocious gas attack on the 50k crowd made people completely furious. As darkness fell they started burning whatever they could burn. And because the street lights were turned off, the only thing you could see was the apocalyptic view of bonfires and the silhouettes of demons dancing around them. The air filled with smoke. The drum band played their music to lift up our spirits. And yet again, Internet was jammed and police attacked the square with gas.

We left to look for Internet connection. On our way out we were met by thousands of people moving in to reinforce the square, fully prepared with helmets and gas masks.

The clashes went on at the West side throughout the night. Around midnight, people started evacuating part of their stuff in case the park would fall. Ambulances were pulling up one after another to take the wounded from the infirmary to the hospital. Next to it, the Commons was serving tea.

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As Audiovisuals we also decided to evacuate our gear at half past midnight and make a strategic retreat to the Politechnical University to set up a new Media Centre. It was just in time. At one in the morning, police began attacking the East side with water cannons. The defenders who rushed down here to meet them ravaged almost the entire neighbourhood to put up a barricade. Police intentionally gas bombed the infirmary three times as they tried to make way on the East side. It’s by far not their only crime of the day. Earlier on, authorities have made massive arrests of human rights lawyers.

We left the park shortly after 1 AM. We barely avoided arrest by pretending we were tourists, and we made it to safety.

Over a thousand people were injured in yesterday’s clashes, At least sixteen with broken skulls. This morning, when we returned to the park, the fumes of battle had lifted. The rains had come to wash away the traces. The barricades were gone, we lost the square, but we hold the park.

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Photo via @DavidVitali

Photo via @DavidVitali

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My brother in arms

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