ISTANBUL, Turkey—As the dust settles, change fills the air in Istanbul. On 28 May 2013, close to 100 people occupied Gezi Park in Taksim Square to protest its government-ordered demolition. When police stormed the park with tear gas and water cannons, the peaceful occupy movement turned into mass demonstrations lasting about two weeks all over Turkey.
This seemed to be the last straw for Turkish citizens tired of the administration of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Because of Erdogan’s control over the media in Turkey, it would take Reddit, Facebook and Twitter for the rest of the world to hear about the weeks of fighting and political unrest.
Ceren Kaysadi, an international studies major at Macalester College, stayed up all night translating the only Turkish coverage of the demonstrations, Halk TV (The People’s TV), into English until she could join the demonstrations herself. “Every other channel kept showing random documentaries, talks about beauty secrets . . . I realized my best contribution would be this way, by exploiting social media and poking the international community,” Kaysadi said.
Kaysadi saw immediate results when many of her international friends began sharing her social media status updates. On her return to Turkey, she then began covering the deomstrations from the ground in Gezi Park.
The conditions proved dangerous, but the 22 year old found the camaraderie intoxicating. Though she couldn’t attend the demonstrations on her first night back in Turkey for fear the tear gas would melt her contacts into her eyes—which, Kaysadi says, happened to about right people—she says the demonstrations were the most exhilarating moments of her life.
Emerson College student Zeynep Abes was also angered by the lack of media coverage and decided to use photography to make an impact. “There was no coverage the first couple of days,” Abes said, “one channel was showing a documentary on penguins.” She decided to take her camera into the park and share what was happening in her home country with her friends in America.
“I took an old memory card with me in case the police would try and stop me, so I could give them the useless card and keep the real images,” Abes said.
According to Abes, the government was censuring the media in order to keep up their reputation. She feels one of the other reasons for this was to keep Erdoğan supporters, who make up about 50 percent of the country, from coming out into the streets to fight the protestors.
For Abes, social media was the only resource the citizens had. “It was very obvious that the government was censuring our news sources. Social media came into play, since it has no boundaries and no rules,” she said.
This gave the protesters a way to voice their opinions and another way to rebel against Erdoğan. “Erdogan described Twitter as a ‘pest.’ The reason why he hates Twitter is because he cannot intimidate Twitter to shut up. He is powerless against social media,” Abes explained.
Now that almost two months have passed, both Abes and Kaysadi have witnessed a massive change in the morale of the country. “Before, the mentality was, ‘What can I do really, besides voting and hoping for my party to take good action?’ Now the mentality is, ‘When do we start,'” Kaysadi said.
Though she feels the change is not as apparent for the government, they do now carry the knowledge that the people are watching them and will not be ignored. Gezi Park is already open to public again, more renovated and beautiful than before.
“This is our success,” said Kaysadi, “but as one of our slogans goes: ‘This is just the beginning.’