New publication by CMES guest researcher Ömer Turan
Taksim Square’s historical background
The chapter is comprised of three sections. It starts with Taksim Square’s historical background. This section includes a brief overview of the Prost Plan of 1939 and the significance of Taksim and Gezi Park in regard to implementing a new type of urbanism in Istanbul. Moreover, this section deals with potential explanations for the prime-minister Erdoğan’s personal insistence on erecting a shopping mall in the park, replicating a demolished artillery barrack. It is argued that the shift from the Taksim mosque project of the mid-1990s to a barrack replica functioning as a mall is a good instance to showcase the transformation of Islamist politics in Turkey, and their cooptation by the neoliberal order.
Gezi as a protest movement
The second section emphasizes that Gezi was a protest movement, including many amateurs of politics, who were for the first time on the streets for demonstrations. In this sense, a good sum of Gezi protesters was not anti-capitalist, as such. Here, it is argued that the world of gift-giving is helpful to understand and conceptualize the alternative, established at Gezi for two weeks, by the supports of these recently politicized protesters. Following an overview of Mauss’s “Essai sur le don” and Godbout’s L’esprit du don, two points are emphasized as the main contributions of gift-giving literature: first, gifts are important ties in modern society, and utilitarian approaches fail to understand the modern society in its complexity. Second, in the modern world, gift-giving is an important tool for people to both construct and manifest their identities.
In-depth interviews conducted in the aftermath
The third section is the longest one and is based on participatory observation at Gezi Park and in-depth interviews conducted in the aftermath. This section describes various instances of gift-giving at Gezi. It starts by making a distinction between gift-giving and solidarity, which is based on immediate need and simultaneous usage. In this framework, the act of distributing medication to ease the effect of tear-gas, when the distributing activist is also in the position of being affected, corresponds to solidarity. When ten boxes of the same medication are donated to an informal infirmary, this is considered a gift, as there is no necessity of simultaneous usage. This section narrates how some activists could exist at Gezi for days without spending any money. The gifts of food and kitchen items are a primary focus of the section. Then, different informal units established at Gezi, namely the library, infirmary, and fire brigade are taken as collectivities established through gift-giving relations. This section also discusses the spirit, the hau, accompanying these gift ties. It states the extraordinary condition, caused by brutal police violence, and the spirit of resistance to both police violence and the government’s plan to demolish the park, as the main components of this spirit. All in all, this chapter adds gift-giving to the repertoire of contention, analyzed by the social movements literature.
Ömer Turan is an Associate Professor at Istanbul Bilgi University, Department of International Relations. For the academic year 2019-2020, he is a Swedish Institute Senior Fellow at Lund University, Center for Middle Eastern Studies.