Nonviolent Protest, Istanbul Stylee

This is the third in a series of posts this week about the non-violent protests in Turkey, most of which will focus on Istanbul.  If you learn something here, please feel free to share (i.e., reblog, tweet, post to FB, etc.).   I will also be happy to repost a translation into your language.  If you are willing to provide one, please send it to me (info at the bottom of the post).  The first two posts are: An Hour on Istiklal Ave, Istanbul and Policing Protest, Istanbul Stylee.

(That’s why we gonna be)
Burnin’ and a-lootin’ tonight;
(Say we gonna burn and loot)
Burnin’ and a-lootin’ tonight;
(One more thing)
Burnin’ all pollution tonight;
(Oh, yeah, yeah)
Burnin’ all illusion tonight.
Bob Marley, “Burnin’ and Lootin'”

April 26th, 1992,
there was a riot on the streets,
tell me where were you?
You were sittin’ home watchin’ your TV,
while I was paticipatin’ in some anarchy.
When we returned to the pad to unload everything,
It dawned on me that I need new home furnishings.
So once again we filled the van until it was full,
since that day my livin’ room’s been more comfortable.
But if you look at the streets it wasn’t about Rodney King,
It’s bout this fucked up situation and these fucked up police.
It’s about coming up and staying on top
and screamin’ 187 on a mother fuckin’ cop.
Sublime, “April 29, 1992 (Miami)”

Burning, not looting, in Istanbul

Burning, not looting, in Istanbul (Credit:,

A Brief Typology of Riots

There are basically two types of riots, and the state’s ability (or willingness) to enforce its claim to a monopoly on the legitimate use of coercion largely determines what type one might see in a given country.  The first type involves the maiming and murder of human beings, generally across sectarian (ethnic, linguistic, racial) lines that are reinforced by class differences.  During the first half of the 20th century in the US, before police and courts had stamped out “lynch law,” the prototypical riot was spurred by an alleged rape of a white woman by an African American or a Catholic immigrant laborer.  The second type involves property damage, generally against stores, and is generally started when police publicly maim or kill (e.g., the 2005 Paris suburbs riots, London 2011, or Stockholm this past spring).  Marley and Sublime are  referencing the second type, where protest against the state (and specifically, the police) generates a free-for-all in which pecuniary behavior runs rampant as the prospects to getting caught for stealing fall close to zero for any given individual.

Istiklal Ave is Uspcale Shopping

If you want to save money in Istanbul, you don’t shop on Istiklal.  So I was pretty damn surprised upon my first walk to Taksim Square (where Gezi Park, the locus of the past several weeks of protest in Istanbul, is located) to walk past blocks and blocks of shops, cafes and restaurants, none of which showed any signs of damage.  This video is composed of shots of the running battles up and down Istiklal (you can also read my post about an hour I spent on Istiklal).  Given what I had read in the news, and some clips I had seen, I would not have believed that there were shops rife for looting nearby.  Yet here they were.  And I learned something about these protesters.

But What about all the Damage?

Yesterday Freelance AKDemocrat tweeted an objection to my labeling the protesters nonviolent.

BidiboomWhen I asked her for sources she said she had seen it on TV.  But I was able to find Istanbul Mayor Topbas’ claim that over 100 million Turkish Lira (~US$ 50 million) of damage has been done by the protesters, and that the local merchants are worried about their businesses due to economic losses.  And these photos are easily found using google images:

(Credit: Royalty Free Photos,

(Credit: Royalty Free Photos,

(Credit: Wikimedia,

(Credit: Wikimedia,

(Credit: Jodi Hilton,

(Credit: Jodi Hilton,

(Credit: Fulya Atalay,

(Credit: Fulya Atalay,

(Credit: Fulya Atalay,

(Credit: Fulya Atalay,

So Freelance AKDemocrat has a point, right?  Don’t be silly.  First, note that the damage is to vehicles, and second vehicles used either by the police (riot cops are moved about, and even sleep, in buses), or by a TV station that initally refused (and now again ignores) the protests.

What of Mayor Topbas and the concerned merchants?  A friend and I spoke with Gazi Karabulut, the owner of Cingi Cafe on Mis, the third side street down Istiklal Ave from Taksim Square.  He told us that the shops and restaurants along Istiklal supported the protesters, and that the protesters protected the shops.  As an example he told us about a sporting goods store on Istaklal that had its window knocked down, he claimed, by a plain clothes cop.  Not only did no protesters enter the shop and steal anything, but a thirteen and sixteen year old boy stood out front all evening, and greeted the shop owner when he arrived in the morning.  They explained that they had stood sentinel, that nothing had been stolen, and then left.

I can confirm that the overwhelming majority (80% or more) of the merchants along Istiklal and its many side streets not only remain open while the protesters and police play cat and mouse up and down Istiklal, but further that they actively provide shelter behind their security doors, which they lower when police fire tear gas canisters or plastic bullets.  How do I know?  You can read my post about it here.

Further, there are lots and lots of accounts of protesters taking actions to limit damage (much like the two teenage boys Karabulut spoke of.  For example, check out this video of protesters putting out a fire on Cumhuriyet Ave that was apparently created by an errant tear gas canister.

That Shite’s Nonviolent, Bro

So, what tactics are the protesters using?  I have not explored that question sufficiently to give you a proper catalog.  But I can offer an account of at least some of what they have been up to.  The first is to occupy public space, a common tactic that was made globally popular by the Occupy movement, and is echoed here with the hashtag #OccupyGezi.  This has played nicely as the government decided to remove the protesters, thus giving them the upper hand in the battle that occurs in democracies where both protesters and cops seek to goad the other into a disproportionate use of force (I briefly discuss that here).  That the protesters have damaged vehicles (most famously, apparently “liberating” a front end loader and using it to disrupt a water canon vehicle) is fodder for the government to stake the high ground, and Freelance AKDemocrat is presumably someone who favors the government.  Using the hashtag #SenOde (roughly “You pay for it”), pro government folks have been distributing images like this one.

(Credit: @photo3545)

(Credit: @photo3545)

The government briefly opened, then quickly closed, Gezi Park on Monday, and I am not sure what the status is at the moment.  With it closed the protesters have a goal: take back the park, even if only able to “occupy” it for a few moments.  This is, in effect, a high stakes game of capture the flag, but only the protesters can win, for there is no “flag” for the police to capture.  If you have played the game, you know that it scales nicely (you can readily add people to your team), and that the more people you have, the less important it becomes to centrally coordinate.  Individuals and small groups of “mice” scuttle about, taunting the “cat,” secure in the knowledge that they can zip to safety when the “cat” comes their way, only to return when it shifts its attention to other “mice.”  Yes, the cost for being swiped by the “cat’s paw” is non-trivial, and it is even worse to be caught in the feline’s clutches, but what, exactly, are you doing with your summer evenings (esp those on the weekend)?

Two of the minor TV stations (Halk and Ulusal) cover these “cat and mouse” games live, and it has given them an audience far greater than they had before.  CNN International Turk,  one of the major networks here, has become the object of nation wide scorn for showing a documentary on penguins rather than cover the protests.  Halk and Ulusal have happily stepped into the void, and their broadcasts, along with social media, provide information about whether there is a game tha evening, and its quality, letting folks at home know Tomorrow I will post a bit about who are the protesters.

In yesterday’s post about the protest policing of Istanbul’s cops I argued that the tactics they are using cannot serve a strategy of defusing the protests.  That does not mean I expect the protests to continue indefinitely.  Mobilization is exceedingly difficult, which is why the type of protests across Turkey, and in Istanbul particularly, are so unusual.  Sustained protest is even more difficult.  When I came here I was very dubious about my friend’s expectation that the protests would continue throughout the summer.  He kept telling me that the government has been incredibly dunder-headed.  He is right.  And I can readily imagine that there will be cat-and-mouse, though not burnin’ and lootin’, along Istiklal Ave long into the summer.


Please send me your translation of this post at: will [dot] moore [at] buffaloes [dot] com, and be sure to tell me what language it is.  😉

About Will H. Moore

I am a political science professor who also contributes to Political Violence @ a Glance and sometimes to Mobilizing Ideas . Twitter: @WilHMoo
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3 Responses to Nonviolent Protest, Istanbul Stylee

  1. Zeynep Somer-Topcu says:

    Will, I appreciate your posts on Turkish protests (as I am a Turkish citizen and have been closely following what is going on in Turkey). Two quick comments: the park has been open to public but the government indicated that they would only allow strolling and briefly visiting the park, and would not allow tents or long stays (#occupygezi). Second, a correction: it was not CNN International, which did not show the protests, it was CNN Turk, the Turkish version of CNN. CNN International was not aware of the scale of the protests at first but had an extensive coverage afterwards.

  2. Pingback: What’s up with Looting? | Will Opines

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