The hero of the Gezi protestsTurkey's "Standing Man"
Kindling a revolution does not always take a powerful gesture. Sometimes it is enough to stand still at just the right moment – at least this is how it happened for Turkish dancer Erdem Gündüz. Read More
He just stood in Taksim Square – not moving, not talking; enduring an eight-hour face off with police. And that’s how he started a movement: We talked to Erdem Gündüz, the hero of Turkey’s Gezi protests.
It was summer 2013. All Istanbul was in an uproar: What started as a protest against a construction project in Istanbul’s Gezi Park had grown into a countrywide protest movement. Protesters railed against the government’s authoritarian approach under Minister President Tayyip Erdogan and its Islamic-conservative policies.
As security forces had repeatedly brutally driven demonstrators out of occupied Taksim Square, using water cannons and tear gas, the Gezi Park protest became a worldwide symbol of resistance against excessive police violence.
When the repression reached its pinnacle in June, young dancer Erdem Gündüz decided to stand his ground in Taksim Square. Hands in his pockets, his eyes focused on the portrait of the Turkish Republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, he stood quietly in defiance of every threat issued by security forces. Atatürk had paved the way to turn Turkey into a modern and secular nation-state back in the 1920s.
In just a few hours, Erdem became a symbol of protest: His image spread via social media and hundreds rushed to stand with him. A few days later, swarms of people were still coming to stand in silent protest: Erdem had kicked off a new wave of peaceful protest.
The hashtag #duranadam
(“standing man”) went around the world, and from Washington to Berlin people joined in silent, standing protest.
Uykusuz ("sleepless") is a popular satirical weekly on social and political affairs from Turkey. Visit Uykusuz Facebook page.
Taksim Square is centrally located in Istanbul’s nightlife and shopping district. It was at the center of the protests and is always full of people. What gave you the idea to simply stand there doing nothing?
This performance emerged from a feeling of helplessness. A few days earlier, on June 15th, the police had brutally repressed the peaceful protests in Gezi. They just waded in and began beating people. One day later, Erdogan gave a speech claiming that the protests were potentially very violent and could lead to a civil war. That is clearly agitation! Activists were followed by police and arrested in their own homes. It was a truly hopeless situation. I wanted to support the protests in Taksim Square, but it was closed to demonstrators. The police were everywhere. So I smuggled myself in with the tourists. And then there I was, in Taksim Square, and there was really nothing I could do.
there I was, in Taksim Square, and there was really nothing I could do. - See more at: www.tea-after-twelve.com/index.php
So you decided to just stand there?
Yes, I just stood there and looked at Atatürk’s portrait. It wasn’t planned; it was just a spontaneous response. No one noticed me for the first couple of hours. But then news must have spread via social media and after around five hours, lots of people suddenly started showing up. The next thing I knew, there were around 300 people standing behind me!
And nothing happened?
The police continually tried to provoke us, but everyone formed a circle around me to protect me. Isn’t that just incredible? At around 2 pm, the police then attacked the other people standing by my side. So I left – I did not want anyone to get hurt because of something I had done. But for the next two or three days, people from around the city continued to travel to the square to just stand together.
Why didn’t you participate in the days that followed?
To me it was just something I did for eight hours. Then it was over.
Why do you think your protest spread like it did?
I was really surprised. I didn’t plan it at all; and I had no idea a call to arms had been sent out via social media either because I was standing in the square. But I am a dancer; I express myself with my body. Sometimes my body is cleverer than my head. The square was closed off because the government wanted to show that it had the protests under control. The media filmed the half empty square and reported that the clashes were over. But I was there the entire time! - like a symbol for the ongoing resistance.
Had you taken part in the protests beforehand?
I was there on the 3rd and 4th day and had also already planned something: I wanted to do a rain dance when they sprayed tear gas. But the gas burned so much I couldn’t see anything and couldn’t walk; a friend finally dragged me away. It was terrible. People were everywhere, in the square, in the streets – and they just sprayed tear gas into their midst. It was completely unprovoked!
All kinds of accusations went through the media following your protest: that you were a CIA agent, or working with the German consulate. In particular, you were criticized for making fun of women wearing headscarves. How did that happen?
The press suddenly decided to dig up old pictures from a campaign I did in 2012 and published them as if they had just been taken. The campaign was to support education for women – it had nothing to do with wearing headscarves.
How did you respond to these accusations?
In the days right after the protest, I turned off my phone. I really wasn’t interested in giving any soapbox speeches about it. But when the lies started being spread, I had to respond and give interviews.
"Everyone has to find their own way of protesting."
Would you advise others to take similar actions in order to protest peacefully?
Everyone has to find their own way, a way that works for them and fits their particular talent or skill. Not that I am trying to say that I am particularly good at standing! But I am a dancer and my body apparently felt the need to stand. Other people might find other ways better.