Turkey’s ‘Standing Man’ spurs new form of protest

AFP-JIJI

A man stood still in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. Silent, staring straight ahead, he had not moved for hours. His peaceful action, on the square that police cleared of protesters Saturday and where the Turkish authorities have banned gatherings, was a new form of protest.

The protester arrived Monday evening as night was falling and took up position in the middle of the square, just a stone’s throw from Gezi Park. Five hours on, he was still there, hands in his pockets, a bag and some bottles of water at his feet.

He was staring at a portrait of the revered founder of modern secular Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, that hangs from the top of the old cultural center.

Word spread quickly online. On Twitter, the hashtags #Duranadam and #standingman ran a steady stream of comments, together with some photos of the event. Hundreds of people approached the square to see for themselves.

The man behind this “happening” was choreographer Erdem Gunduz, and his one-man protest was designed to get around the ban on gatherings in the square.

It was a May 31 police crackdown on a peaceful protest against plans to redevelop the square that spiraled into nationwide demonstrations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government. Now police officers surround the square, preventing any further gatherings.

For this new protest to work, Gunduz’s friends positioned themselves outside the square in a bid to prevent well-wishers trying to approach him.

Gradually, a human chain formed an immense circle around Gunduz. Some of the youths began arguing over whether to join him or stay well clear, as Gunduz’s friends wanted.

The choreographer’s plan was to stay standing still there for a month, breaking every 24 hours for three hours’ rest, while a friend took his place. It was not long, however, before others joined in.

A group of youths took up position beside him, following his gaze toward Ataturk — at which point the police moved in.

The “Standing Man” had time to leave, surrounded by a group of friends. Others were not so lucky. Officers detained around 10 youths in a police bus, as photographers recorded the event.

After they were driven from the square and the park on Saturday, members of the protest movement talked about the need to find new ways of getting their message across. Erdem Gunduz appears to have done just that.