Archives About Staff BagNews is dedicated to visual politics, media literacy and the analysis of news images.
June 2, 2013

Uprising Pictures from Turkey: Going All In with the Gas

Taksim protests 2 Sezer

Certainly one thing a state doesn’t want to do — if it’s trending totalitarian and suddenly incites a mass public pushback — is to be distinguished by the world for some riot tactic that is so visibly distinctive (and sadistic) that it’s suddenly (and perhaps even perpetually) identified with it.

From the Cairo uprising to the spraying at U.C. Davis (and in city parks across the U.S. cities where Occupy encampments were forcibly broken up), tear gas has become an increasingly visible staple of domestic control. Here though, the physical and spatial quality of these Turkish gassings seem to rise to a new level — at least, for widely-distributed public protest images.

Turkish uprising tear gas Unattributed

Widely published on social nets, I couldn’t trace it’s source but this photo might have surfaced via turkulivestream. It’s a remarkable contrast in power, gender and the canister as equivalent to whatever is in the holster. Though lacking the impact or significance of picture at the bottom of the post, this also has a powerful documentary quality of state forces “standing behind” their work.

Visibility and invisibility has catalyzed this violence and now prominently defines it. Ignited over the removal of a few trees, this act not only crystallized the government’s intention to appropriate Instanbul’s famous public square for commercial use, but made visible, on the surface, the heavy hand. How understandable then that the pictures so testify to the violent and painful incapacitating of the citizen’s ability to see.

Osai Taksim protests 1

What the images also convey is the use of so much gas that these familiar streets and landmarks actually do disappear as if under a blanket, or dare I say, behind a curtain, where the government aspires to enforce its will. And the second quality — which could almost be seen as a psychological effect when the camera comes into play — is the sense that the landscape, which so intimately binds and expresses the identity of a people, can seem so ephemeral as to almost disappear.

Chemical Tayyip

And, a few words about the widely distributed image above. Besides capturing how the police have graduated from spray cans, and the fact that the Turkish riot cops would be that brazen about gassing that this looks like a media demonstration, the sign/sound bite — as was the staple of the Occupy movement — is simple brilliant. In pronouncing the Prime Minister “Chemical Tayyip” (echoing the moniker given to Iraq’s “Chemical Ali”), the nature and significance of the photo, simply, shifts from information to evidence.

(photo 1 & 4: Murad Sezer/Reuters caption 1: A demonstrator throws back a tear gas canister to riot police during an anti-government protest in central Istanbul May 31, 2: Osman Orsal/Reuters caption: Riot police use tear gas to disperse the crowd during an anti-government protest at Taksim Square in central Istanbul May 31, 2013. photo 3: unattributed. caption 4: A Turkish riot policeman uses tear gas as a demonstrator holds a banner which reads, “Chemical Tayyip”, referring to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, during a protest against the destruction of trees in a park brought about by a pedestrian project, in Taksim Square in central Istanbul May 31, 2013.)

  • Jon Simons

    The cloulds of tear gas do indeed emphasise the state’s power to render streets ad people invisible, dovetailing with the Turkish media’s deliberate downplaying of the demonstrations. But no picture can capture the physical discomfort of tear gas – the stinging eyes, the burning lungs. I like this photo below as it shows how the tear gas impacts effrots to tell the story of the tear gas.

    • Michael Shaw


  • black_dog_barking

    The first image takes me back: has it been almost two years?

  • Scarabus

    That top image made me think immediately about Wilfred Owen’s Dulce et decorum est:

    Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
    Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
    Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
    And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
    Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
    But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
    Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
    Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

    Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling
    Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
    But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
    And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
    Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
    As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
    In all my dreams before my helpless sight
    He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

    My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
    Pro patria mori.

  • meltemarikan

    The people on the streets in Turkey are not even consist of the 3% of the population in Turkey. As I and the majority in Turkey defend love, peace, brotherhood, democracy, defend democratic solutions, such as elections!!, “not vandalist, not anarchist, not communist solutions, tactics”, calmly, maturely kind of watch the events. (by the way I am not talking about sincere environmentalists, they were really peaceful and nice)

    We the majority of Turkish nation who defend peace, love, brotherhood and democracy won’t be on the streets. These people who are on the streets, as the example shows, they are not defending democratic solutions such as elections but they defend inhuman, barbarous methods of expressing theirselves.

    The majority of Turkey and I myself, defend love, peace, democracy, understanding among people, regardless their faith, race, ethnicity or opinions. So the majority of Turkish nation won’t be a part of this foolishness, won’t be a part of this game, of this corruption. May Love, Peace, Brotherhood prevail.

    • turkoglu

      What did you take to get so high? This is the Turkish nation at its best defending its fundamental rights, liberty, justice, freedoms of press and expression. Refusing to bow in the face of islamofascist oppression and tyranny, it is engaging in legitimate self defense, just as any other nation under attack would do. This time, the attackers are the domestic enemies, i.e. AKP government with its all-mighty leader Erdogan and his cronies.

      I am not going to bother responding to the other non-sense that you posted below.

    • tinwoman

      If you’re being truthful, then these guys are on your side.

  • meltemarikan

    This cannot be called a peaceful prodemocracy protest, this is vandalism

    • jonst

      Isn’t it wonderful to see the universality of familiar villains? “We the majority” indeed.

    • Douglas Adams

      There is vandalism, yes, but there is also reconstruction. Look at the whole reportage, not just the part that reinforces your prejudices.

    • Arda

      you are not the voice of the Turkish people you are just a sell out media that work for the rejime that messing up our lives and destroying our Democracy and the foundations of our Father Mustafa Kemal ATAÜRK ! So dont be making stupid and false comments about our Anti Goverment protest .This is not about a few trees and you know that too ! Kendine gel kardeşim sen ne anlatıyorsun dünyaya vicdanın sızlamıyor mu ???

    • tinwoman

      They (the protestors) also returned to the park and picked up their own garbage.

      I think you’re not being honest about something, Melte.

  • preschools and nurseries Jobs.

    wow this is crazy

    nursery manager jobs

  • bks3bks
  • meltemarikan

    nop, it’ll be wonderful when people who really look for love and peace become majority :) )

  • meltemarikan

    construction of what? and what about the rights of the other 74 million at their houses waiting and watching calmly

  • Arda

    en azından yalan söyleme sen nerede oturyorsun kardeşim pencerenden bi dışarı baksana bu Vatanın halkı eziyet içinde sen kimin kulusun bu dunyada gerçekleri soylesene …

  • tinwoman

    If you value your democracy, maybe you should get out of your house and join the protestors. Erdogan is morphing into an Islamic Putin before everyone’s eyes.

Refresh Archives

Random Notes