The world’s eyes are currently on Istanbul. As protests spread throughout Turkey, media outlets are scrambling to convey some type of picture of what is taking place to an eager audience that often lacks the proper context and background knowledge to make sense of the events. Meanwhile, commentators continue to offer explanations of the protests that conform to sweeping narratives that may but probably will not be proven true by the course of events, leading to an overall depiction of the movement that is abstract and rather unclear.
Ottoman History Podcast episode number one hundred ten “Occupy Gezi: History, Politics, Practice” is a two-part roundtable discussion about the protest movement that has developed in Turkey over the past two weeks in response to the recent policies of the ruling Justice and Develoment Party (AKP) that seeks to add much needed detail to this fuzzy image. This six-person panel of academic researchers living in Turkey takes a closer look at the nature of these protests, which began as an occupation of a park (called Gezi Park) slated for destruction and are now something much more, considering the historical and political contexts as well as providing a first-hand description of what protests both in and outside of Istanbul have looked like thus far.
Part one of this round table focuses on the historical and political backdrop of the events taking place, beginning with a discussion of the ways in which the Taksim Square region of Istanbul has long been a contested space and a stage for the politics of urban transformation. Nilay Özlü explains the history of this area as cemeteries gave way to barracks, hotels, and finally Gezi Park, and explains the current attempt to transform the area into a commercial space. This leads into a conversation led by Stefan Martens of the larger political context within which widespread discontent with recent measures taken by the current administration in Turkey has drawn protesters from wide segments of society to the side of the occupy movement. These factors are numerous and include economic and political measures as well as recent attempts to legislate morality on issues ranging from birth control to alcohol consumption.
Part two of this round table moves to an analysis of how the Occupy Gezi movement has grown and spread to other cities of Turkey through an exploration of the numerous parties and groups that have come together, pointing out that it is not affiliated with a single opposition party, such as the Republican People`s Party (CHP), and that a large swatch of the participants in the protests have no party affiliation and little previous political experience. Nir Shafir explains how movements such as Occupy Gezi, whether on Wall Street or in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, represent a new form of political engagement and organization fostered by more individualistic sensibilities and facilitated by social media. Further discussion of the organization of the occupied park considers the ways in which the movement has created new inclusive space for personal expression and the creative output. Elçin Arabacı considers what this means for the state of civil society and politics in Turkey, and following a conversation about the different manifestations of the protest movement in Turkey’s other cities from Ankara to Antakya, the panel considers the larger implications of Occupy Gezi. In addition to this two-part discussion, numerous links and images are provided for listeners seeking further information about the topic on Ottoman History Podcast’s website.
Ottoman History Podcast is a weekly internet radio program recording in English and Turkish that features academic discussion of emerging topics in the study of the Ottoman Empire and the modern Middle East. Guests include scholars and researchers from a number of disciplines who discuss particular topics in a conversational interview format. Ottoman History Podcast can be followed through its blog as well as an active Facebook group that also posts pictures and links of interest for students of history and casual audiences alike.
Chris Gratien is the editor and co-host of Ottoman History Podcast and a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at Georgetown University researching the social environmental history of Ottoman Anatolia and Syria.
Emrah Safa Gürkan is co-host and Turkish section editor of Ottoman History Podcast and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at 29 Mayıs University in Istanbul. He holds a doctorate in history from Georgetown University and his research focuses on the early modern Mediterranean.
Nilay Özlü is a doctoral candidate at Boğaziçi University in the Department of History whose research focuses on late Ottoman architectural movements and the urban transformation of Istanbul from the nineteenth century onwards.
Stefan Martens is a contributor at Hurriyet Daily News and holds an MA in history from Simon Fraser University. His main topics of interest include political movements and minorities in Turkey.
Nir Shafir is a doctoral candidate at UCLA working on the intellectual history and history of science of the early modern Ottoman Empire. His research explores the impact of travel on Ottoman intellectual culture in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Elçin Arabacı is a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at Georgetown University researching the transformation of civil society in the Ottoman and Muslim world and the history of Ottoman urban spaces during the nineteenth century.