It is just over one year since the wide-scale civil unrest in Turkey prompted by the state-endorsed project to redevelop Gezi Park – events that were broadcast around the world, led to several fatalities and changed international perceptions of contemporary Turkish civil politics. In this public international workshop I co-presented one of four papers reflecting on the protests in relation to discussions of politics, democracy and protest in Turkey. My paper focused on the role of history both in the redevelopment plans for Gezi and in the subsequent contest between protestors and the state. Other papers analysed the protests from political science perspectives, looking at electoral issues, the state’s continuing regulation of Gezi as a site of protest and media freedom, for example in relation to digital activist broadcasts. After the short papers there was a long and highly-charged discussion between speakers and the audience, ranging from competing ideas about democracy to speculation about the short-term future with the Presidential election on the horizon.
My paper explored the Gezi protests in relation to a number of bodies of theory, most notably those concerned with place, place history and place identity, but also about protest, civil disobedience and complexity. In part this is to examine the competition for history that has taken place in Gezi and to some degree in Taksim more generally. From a nostalgic perspective the current administration’s redevelopment plan can be seen as an attempt to ‘bring back’ a lost history of place – an Ottoman history erased from the place through 20th-century commemorations of Atatürk, İnönü and the Republic, modernist building (the Atatürk Cultural Centre) and town planning. I also examined the role of the symbols of the competing histories in the protests and in the state response to them, to understand the complex roles of place history within events.