For the last five days, the small park of Gezi near Taksim square in Istanbul has been occupied by dozens of thousands of people protesting, at first, against the urban project in development for this site that involves a shopping mall. Such a project that transforms a public space into an instrument of capitalism is part of a long series of others that has been changing Istanbul’s urban landscape and politics in the last decade. Very quickly however, the protest generalized itself and reached other cities of Turkey (Ankara, Izmir and more) in an attempt to globally constitute a strong resistance against the conservative and religious Turkish government and its Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The latter used to be Istanbul’s mayor and still has strong interests in its development. The police violently attacked the protesters, injuring severely some of them, but reinforcing the movement’s determination and legitimacy.
It is interesting to observe that such a news has been spread out much rapidly on the international level than on the national one since the Turkish Press – just like the American one, including the New York Times, at the beginning of the Occupy movement – did not communicate about this information in a clear submission to the political status quo. In New York, hundreds of occupiers went back on Zuccotti Park to show their international solidarity with the Turkish movement of the same name.
For the last two years, many “professional politicians” in power learned what it is to be afraid of the multitude. All answered with brutality (from Cairo to Santiago, via Benghazi, Damascus, Athens, Montreal, New York and many more), some stepped down, some kept their status, some others are still ordering massacres against their own people but all of them seems to have feared the power of the crowds, gathered by their common will to resist against totalitarianism and capitalism. Something needs to be understood here: despite all the media attempts to “surf” on these political waves with a common approach of the use of social media as a new form of political act – to a certain extent, it is not completely wrong – the thing that veritably choked the status quo is the gathering of bodies in the public space. Of course, some gathering of bodies are less political than others – sport events related ones for example – and therefore, there needs to be a certain performativity involved in this process; however, there is something inherently political in this act of forming a group of bodies in the public realms. As I have been writing often, especially to exclaim the sense of this notion of occupying, our body can only be at one place at a time and, because of its materiality, no other body can be at the very same place at the same time. This involves a certain necessity as our body is always spatialized but, at the very same time, it also involves the radical choice for this space at the exclusion of every other in the world. At each moment of our life, we have therefore to re-accomplish the necessary yet radical choice of the localization of our body. When thousands of bodies choose to be localized together in the streets or on a square, in such a way that they are not participating to the economy and might even have to confront the physical violent encounter with the various forces of suppression, rather than choosing the comfort of the private realms, a strong political gesture is being created.
It would be too easy to necessarily applaud any political gesture of this kind. The recent numerous demonstrations of catholic extremists and other movement of right wing activists in France against the legislation authorizing gay marriage – now in vigor – prove it well. In this latter case, the bodies that were demonstrating were the bodies representing the norm: white Christians heterosexuals. The latter do not really suffer from the way society is organized as they constitute the bodies that society considers to organize itself. The streets of Istanbul, on the other hand, are filled by people whose bodies are getting more and more constrained by the conservative religious dominant ideology – by dominant, I don’t imply as much a question of majority than one of relationships of power.
As always, architecture is not innocent here. The fact is that these bodies are gathering in the public realms, but more precisely, outside, in the streets, on the squares, in the parks. Architecture through its internality always has a limitation of the amount of bodies it can host (the maximum occupancy as the urban code defines it); the outdoor world does not really. Choosing for our body to be outside is to potentially contribute to a crowd that theoretically won’t be limited in its number by physical borders, hence the fear of politicians to see the movement spreading. Architecture is inherently participating to the striation of space, nevertheless, it can attempt to create a substantial porosity between the space it contains and the public one that surrounds it, in such a way that the political bodies can appropriate it.
For an excellent reflective digest about Occupy Gezi and these last five days in Istanbul, read this article on Jadaliyya.