Protests will flare again, says Turkey’s ‘Standing Man’

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Protests in Turkey may have died down but they are by no means over, predicts the country’s “Standing Man”, who pioneered a novel form of resistance to Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamic-rooted government.

Erdem Gunduz caught the country’s attention by standing silently and alone in Istanbul’s iconic Taksim Square -- just days after police had cleared it of protesters -- staring at a poster of Turkey’s revered founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

In an interview with AFP, Gunduz predicted that protests would resume come September, well before next year’s presidential and municipal elections.

The reason for the renewed uprising, Gunduz said, would be Erdogan himself.

“Every time Erdogan speaks, the mobilization resumes,” the 34-year-old choreographer told AFP.

On May 31, Turkish riot police fired tear gas to clear demonstrators staging a peaceful protest against plans to redevelop Gezi Park, near Taksim Square in Istanbul.

Their heavy-handed response set off a wave of protests against Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) that quickly spread across the country.

The unrest left five dead, injured more than 8,000 and led to hundreds of arrests before finally easing nearly three weeks later.

Erdogan was unrepentant, dismissing the protesters as “vandals” and “troublemakers”.

For Gunduz, the prime minister’s response signals that “a point of no-return has been crossed.”

Three of Erodgan’s actions in particular pushed Gunduz to stage his June 17 protest, he explained.

These were “encouraging Turkish women to have three children to improve the country’s birth rate; his proposal to limit access to the morning-after pill and restrictions voted through on the sale of alcohol.”

“The policies attack individual liberties... no leader has the power to meddle in what I consider to be the private life of citizens,” he added.

Gunduz said he was also protesting the blackout on coverage of the protests on Turkish television stations.

His decision to stare at the portrait of Ataturk, the founder of the modern, secular Turkey Erdogan’s critics feel is under threat, was of course highly symbolic.

But there was also a practical reason for choosing to stage his protest in Taksim Square, he said.

“I knew that a Turkish news agency had its premises on the square, so I thought that my action would prevent journalists from saying ‘There’s nothing happening in Taksim’.

“The presence of a man standing for several hours wasn’t ‘nothing’,” he said.

Dwindling numbers at recent street demonstrations were only due to the summer holidays and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, he said, warning that tension was still simmering.

“For the moment, everything seems calm, but it only seems that way.

“Everywhere, right across Turkey, on the social networks, everyone is still talking about the movement.”

Since his protest, Gunduz has attracted 30,000 people who follow him online and send messages of support, he said.

But Gunduz will not be on the streets again himself.

Since bursting into the spotlight, he has become the target of a variety of nasty rumours.

“They’ve had me down as a CIA agent, they’ve said that I’m against the veil, that I live with a man, that I had been taken in at the German consulate,” he said.

But he is hopeful that the Turkish people will bring about change.

Come September, “one way or another, the mobilization will resume”, said Gunduz.

“It’s like a game of chess,” he said.

“They may win one game, but then we win the second, move the best pawns and in the end it could be us that topple the king and shout ‘Checkmate’!”

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