ISTANBUL – The protests in Turkey that began over government plans to uproot trees in Istanbul's main square to make way for a shopping mall have entered their seventh day. The protests have grown into something much bigger than simply protecting trees, drawing on a deep undercurrent of discontent against what many feel is the increasing arrogance of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and have spread to cities across the country.
In the frequent, violent clashes that have occurred with police, two people have died, another is on life support, and about 1,000 have been wounded, medical services and rights groups say.
The protests' focus remains Taksim Square and its Gezi Park in central Istanbul, which has been occupied by demonstrators of all walks of life for more than a week. And amid the seriousness of the protests, there is also much humor.
A NEW WORD EMERGES
In the first days of the protests last week, Erdogan dismissed the demonstrators as "capulcu" (pronounced CHA-pul-dju) — a Turkish word which translates as marauder, looter or plunderer. Protesters quickly turned the word to their advantage. They made it their own, Anglicizing it and turning it into a brand new verb, "Capulling" — which means protesting, resisting the tear gas and shouting anti-Erdogan slogans.
The word has taken social networks by storm. Facebook users update their statuses: "I'm capulling today" and ask each other "have you capulled?" Banners, signs, handwritten slogans on T-shirts are making an appearance in the square.
Social media users are exchanging links to a music video entitled "Everyday I'm Capulling" and to one of American left-wing writer and philosopher Noam Chomsky sitting in front of a sign reading: "I am also a capulcu" and saying in Turkish: "Everywhere is Taksim, resistance is everywhere."
In the protests in the Turkish capital, Ankara, a woman was walking around with a sign attached to her back: "Thank God we are capulcus," while people distributed stickers in Ankara and Istanbul: "Beware Capulcu."
Protesters want to make sure the police and their water cannon trucks and tear gas rounds can't reach Taksim Square and its occupied park. What better way to prevent entry than setting up barricades. Lots of barricades.
The barriers range from the elaborate, consisting of battered, smashed up or burned out buses and cars, often now decorated with graffiti, to the simple. Piles upon piles of heavy bricks have been ripped up from sidewalks to form barriers, topped with metal railings, plastic ticket booths, overturned metal dumpsters and pieces of scaffolding taken from building sites.
One street leading from the square down towards the Bosphorus has more than a dozen barriers along its length. Its sidewalks are now just sand paths, as all of their paving stones have been used to construct the barriers. On one recent night, a tourist bus unloaded a group of rather bemused, worried-looking tourists at one of the barricades, as a hotel employee guided them past the side of the barrier to their hotel on Taksim Square.
At night during clashes, protesters stand atop the barriers for a better vantage point, or use them as a rudimentary shield from the flying tear gas canisters shot by riot police. By day, barricades become backdrops for commemorative photos, a good location to pin up artwork, a climbing frame for the more playful, and a location for impromptu soccer games.
Protesters — in their hundreds during the day, burgeoning into thousands or tens of thousands at night — and clashes with police can generate an awful lot of trash. But those occupying the park and square seem determined to keep the place tidy.
In the cool morning air, volunteers wearing surgical gloves and dragging trash bags behind them scour the park and the square, picking up the detritus of the previous night. Discarded surgical masks used to ward off the worst of the gas, empty plastic water bottles, food wrappers, even cigarette butts are all picked up and stuffed into the bags. The trash is then collected together in an ever increasing pile on the edge of the park.
YOGA IN THE PARK
Protesting is hard work, and some protesters are doing yoga to relax and stay in shape. Earlier this week, the morning open-air yoga class in Gezi Park was a small affair — an instructor leading about a dozen people stretching out on colored yoga mats on a grassy patch in the center of the park.
By Thursday, the classes had swelled to about 80 people, and the instructor resorted to a loudspeaker to make herself heard.
The reasons behind Turkey's eight day of protests are serious enough. But demonstrators have also reacted with humor, particularly on social media sites, often lampooning the prime minister and poking fun at his comments.
In response to Erdogan branding those who drink alcohol as "alcoholics," a group of protesters in Ankara on Wednesday night chanted: "The alcoholic movement cannot be stopped."
Turkish users of social media have been sharing and resharing photos of ironic slogans spray-painted onto city walls in Istanbul and Ankara.
"This gas is fantastic my friend!"
"You banned alcohol, the people sobered up!"
"Help, Police! Oh never mind, you must be busy"
"Welcome to the gas festival"
"Tear gas works wonders on your complexion"
Fraser reported from Ankara. Thanassis Stavrakis in Istanbul contributed.