Turkey’s Standing Men (and Women)

By Robert Mann

ISTANBUL — It’s my first full day in Turkey and, while waiting for my students to arrive, I dashed over to Taksim Square, the site of the recent, violent protests that have attracted the world’s attention.

Standing Man

Standing Man (Photo by Robert Mann)

I arrived around 10:45 a.m. to a mostly empty space. It looked much the same as it did the other times I’ve visited.

Except for one thing.

Now that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has cracked down — rather brutally — on the protesters who filled the square and who also occupied nearby Gezi Park, the protests have moved into a new phase.

Borrowing a page from Thoreau, Gandhi and King, a few protestors are engaging in some creative, non-violent resistance.

They are standing. Simply standing.

They say nothing. They hold no signs. They wave no placards. They chant no slogans.

They just stand there, audaciously facing a large banner bearing the imposing portrait of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Standing Women

Standing Women (Photo by Robert Mann)

As far as I know, it’s not illegal to stand there, gazing worshipfully at Ataturk’s visage.

But this silent protest isn’t about Ataturk, the most revered figure in the nation’s history. It’s about passive resistance.

And it’s spreading across the country.

At first, earlier this week, hundreds joined the silent protest in Taksim. At first, police didn’t know what to make of it and arrested the first standing man, Erdem Gunduz, and about 20 of his silent compatriots.

Since then, the silent protests have continued.

Today, there were just a few people standing, and the police across the street in Gezi Park seemed content to leave them alone or ignore them. Turkey’s deputy prime minister today said the government had no problem with the silent protests.

Let’s see if the the government takes the same approach when and if the square fills with thousands of silent standing men and women.

In the end — just as in India and the American South — this is the just the creative style of protest that could prove most vexing to Erdogan’s government and the most productive to his political opponents.

Taksim Square

Taksim Square (Photo by Robert Mann)

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