MU faculty member Monika Fischer watches protests in Turkey first-hand

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 | 7:27 p.m. CDT; updated 9:53 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, June 4, 2013

COLUMBIA — Protests in Turkey have persisted since Friday, with thousands rallying against plans to build a shopping center in a popular green space.

The protests in central Taksim Square, a major square in Istanbul, have been met with severe police intervention, including tear gas and water cannons. What was once a small sit-in has escalated into a widespread anti-government demonstration. Protests have also sprung up in other Turkish cities, including the capital Ankara.

Monika Fischer, the associate director of the MU Honors College and an associate teaching professor of German, is in Turkey this week for a trip abroad with other faculty. She was in Taksim Square, observing the unrest firsthand. Fischer answered questions by email Tuesday afternoon, about 9 p.m. in Turkey.

Q. Do you or the other faculty feel like you are in danger?

A. No, not I nor anyone I met. The danger comes from police attacking at night. I leave when it gets dark and keep mostly to the side in case there is trouble. There are thousands of people fairly close together, and if anything would happen it would be difficult for first aid to arrive. Last night I saw five emergency vehicles parked around Taksim.

Q. What other kinds of things have you been seeing?

A. Lots and lots of people gather in the evening hours (thousands I’d say) and chant and sing or, as they do right now, clap hands and bang their silverware on glasses or bang pots. That’s people sitting in restaurants or just walking along. Istiklal is a famous shopping street and always crowded, but now one sees lots of people with gas masks and flags and street vendors selling water, gas masks and whistles.

Q. Have the demonstrators been peaceful?

A. Altogether my impression has been it is a peaceful crowd, much like the Occupy movement. People dance and sing in the streets. It has been getting ugly when police move in and use excessive force.

Q. Who are these protesters?

A. I heard on Al Jazeera today a commentary that addresses that no one specific is in charge — kinda like Occupy. Lots of groups and individuals, mostly urban youth, are complaining about the increasing Islamization politics of the A.K.P. (the party in charge since 2001).

It all started with bulldozers moving in six months ago, and no one knew what was happening. The government did not ask the people or inform them that they planned to build a shopping mall where a fairly small park — Gezi Park — is located.

So it started with the park, but a lot of frustration about the government is coming up, about freedom of speech (Turkey has the highest number of journalists in prison) and also environmental concerns about a new bridge over the Bosphorus.

Q. What is the general tone in the city?

A. Everyone helps everyone; that spirit is in the air. It’s like a big party (sort of) but also tension in the air. People are walking along Istiklal and side streets, and of course Taksim, and chanting anti-government slogans everyone seems to know and chime in or clap hands when they pass to show their support.

Q. Turkish news outlets weren’t covering this initially. How did that change?

A. Turkish media was not allowed to cover the demos the first few days. A friend of mine has a Turkish journalist friend who works for Bloomberg Turkey and has not been allowed to cover the demos.

Bloomberg threatened to pull out of Turkey, I heard, and now TVs and newspapers are writing about the event. I was at the Kadir Has University and Lerna Yarnik, a professor of political science, told me she got her news from a Norwegian channel. Social media stepped in, and that’s how many people found out and gathered.

Q. What kinds of things are you hearing?

A. This chant I hear over and over: Sık bakalım sık bakalım. Biber gazı sık bakalım. Kaskını çıkar, copunu bırak. Delikanlı kim bakalım.

(Translation) Go on, spray, go on, spray. Go on, spray tear gas. Take off your helmet. Drop your baton.

Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.

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