Violence Against Police Was Staged, Says Turkish Protesters

detained lawyers occupy gezi

While protesters do not know the exact identities of the four men who threw Molotov cocktails at police in Taksim Square today, they are insisting that they were police themselves.

One source I am close to likened it to a theater play due to the large (and convenient) presence of the Turkish media, who largely ignored the protests during the first week (we are now at least 12 days into this uprising) and aired cooking shows and other minutiae instead. She also pointed out that there was no violent response from police immediately following the attack. Another source mentioned a photo circulating revealing that one of the attackers was carrying a firearm.

This is far from conclusive evidence, but it is nonetheless true that the government of Istanbul and its police forces are using the Molotov cocktail attack as a pretext for not only entering Gezi Park and engaging protesters after previously stating they would not do so, but also for dividing the movement between those who are legitimate (nonviolent) and those who are “marginal” and use such tactics as hurling dangerous objects at police. Even if such a distinction were real in the present context, which is unlikely given reports of the presence of agents provocateurs and disparate views on violence and legitimate resistance (which is only obvious given the divergence in both the power and the interests of the government via-a-vis the protesters), the police have made no such distinction over the last two weeks by attacking all protesters in Istanbul and throughout the country with teargas, rubber bullets, and other weapons that don’t discriminate.

This sowing of division comes just as Erdogan has agreed to meet with leaders of the protests tomorrow. What could have been a welcome-yet-overdue gesture is likely to end up as an additional weapon in the government’s arsenal. Reports from protesters on the ground suggest that Erdogan and his advisers are choosing whom they want to represent the movement in the coming talks rather than those the movement would prefer to put forward and that the people selected by Erdogan include few youths and women despite the largely youthful and female character of the movement (one of my sources on the ground claims that as many as 60 percent of the protesters are women). It is apparent that after more than 12 days of mass uprising, Erdogan has not changed his paternalistic attitude toward his subjects.

Yet, we are seeing some changes in the Turkish English-language press, with critical reports of a young woman being threatened with rape by police and young men being beaten bloody, lawyers in Istanbul being brutalized and detained by police (with strong condemnation from the bar association), and some much-needed explanation of the infamous alcohol restrictions, largely seen as part of larger pattern of the government’s intrusion into matters of civil liberty, that were just approved by the president of Turkey. The cynical view of this, of course, is that there is no longer any way to avoid the chaos in Turkey and that as much as Erdogan has condemned social media for its major role in informing the world of his crimes as well as the resolve of the protesters, it has forced his own domestic media to take notice — and they have indeed with no going back now. They can no longer claim that this is a minor event that will fizzle as soon as the Twitter spotlight fades into cyberspace, because, as my source on the ground, whose identity I will protect for now, puts it: “The Turkish people are refusing the tradeoff between economic development and freedom.”

UPDATE I:

My sources’ suspicions that the individuals who attacked police yesterday were agents provocateurs was confirmed by The Guardian.

UPDATE2:

Now the governor of Istanbul is saying they have identified the Molotov-cocktail thrower with the gun on his side who protesters have been claiming was a police officer as a member of one of the opposition parties in Turkey.

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