Political Lecture

GO BACK
IN SOLIDARITY WITH THE DEMAND FOR FREEDOM
OF SPEACH AND HUMAN RIGHTS

The City and The World Lecture before The Chamber of Chamber
of Architects of Turkey Istanbul, September 2014
 


Under the banner of this exhibition, "The City and the World," we are reminded that as a profession, we architects should continue our life-long pursuits of an architecture and a city that is a more humane endeavor and that our professional responsibility is to find the best and most rational solutions to make our human environments more beautiful, more sustainable, and more civilized for the true needs of the humanity that we serve.
 
Under the same banner, "The City and the World," The Chicago Athenaeum and The European Centre for Architecture Art Design and Urban Studies stand in solidarity with the Chamber of Turkish Architects to advance a greater Democracy and greater Freedom of Speech for the people of Turkey--some of the most kind and generous people in the world.  
 
Turkey today has become the beacon of our global wide aspirations for the protection of basic human rights and for greater political and social justice on our planet.
 
As architects, let us dedicate our professional goals to bring our world to a place of peace where individual freedoms flourish, as we designers find solutions for basic shelter, better education, universal religious freedom, universal healthcare, civil rights, and civic pride for culture and the arts.  
 
We support Turkey's stand and applaud the courage and dedication of the young architecture students who initiated the Taksim Square demonstrations last May.
 
The Gezi Park protests began as part of a longstanding campaign against the destruction of the park, one of the last green spaces in central Istanbul, as part of the redevelopment of the Taksim area, but metamophosized into a national protest against the continued human rights violations in Turkey against freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of assembly and the brutality of the police to put down those protests.  
 
The public anger was caused not just by the destruction of the park, but by the opaque way in which the decision for the redevelopment project was taken, which many describe as characteristic, not just of urban regeneration projects, but more generally, of a government unwilling to respect or listen to opposing opinion or to adhere to universal human rights and democratic pursuits.
 
The nationwide protests were fanned by the authorities' aggressive dismissal of the integrity of those originally protesting in Gezi Park and the crude attempts to deny them the right to peaceful protest altogether. The widespread police use of tear gas, water cannons, plastic bullets, and the beatings of protestors during what were overwhelmingly peaceful protests added to the anger and the international scorn and outrage.
 
At the height of the Gezi Park protests, the authorities repeatedly showed total intolerance for any form of protest, however passive. Even solitary figures, standing alone and silent in Taksim Square or nearby streets were detained for participating in what became known as the "standing man" protests. In July, the Prime Minister suggested that the nationwide banging pots and pans in solidarity with the demonstrators, would also be considered a crime.
 
While violence continued against peaceful protestors, journalists reporting from the protests, doctors treating the injured and lawyers defending their rights were also arrested and subjected to arbitrary and abusive use of force. Rather than address the ongoing abusive use of police force against demonstrators, the authorities rallied against business owners who opened their doors to protestors fleeing police violence, vowing that there would be consequences for them, and condemned social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook that were being used to convey messages by protestors and their supporters 
 
The mainstream national media, by contrast, conveyed little of the protest, frequently failing to cover them at all, or when doing so, to represent the views of the protestors in their reports. 
 
CNN Türk's shameful decision to air a pre-scheduled two-hour documentary on penguins during the first weekend of mass protest across Turkey became a symbol in the eyes of many protestors and the wider public and the world at large as a form of self-censorship in the national media and the general lack of nerve of just reporting the truth.
 
On July 15, 2014, the Turkish Medical Association reported that by July 10 there had been more than 8,000 injuries at the scene of demonstrations at Gezi Park and Taksim Square. As of the end of August, five people had needlessly died during the course of the protest.
 
Today, Thousands of intellectuals fill Turkey's prisons and most of them shamefully have not even been charged with any official crime.  The 108 defendants who have been in custody for up to three-and-a half-years include Human Rights Association Diyarbakir branch head Muharrem Erbey, six serving local BDP mayors, several local BDP council members, and five elected BDP parliamentarians. 
 
Prosecutors frequently prosecute individuals for non-violent speech and writing, and politicians sue their critics for criminal defamation. 
 
Courts convict with insufficient consideration for the obligation to protect freedom of expression. 
 
Thousands charged with alleged terrorism offenses remained in prison throughout their trials, although some well-known figures like academic Büşra Ersanlı, publisher Ragip Zarakolu, and journalists Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener were released, though still face terrorism charges for activities amounting to exercising their rights to non-violent expression and association.  
 
We ask that the Turkish government to dismiss the outlandish and disgraceful criminal charges placed against the young architecture students who spearheaded the first protests against the destruction of Gezi Park, which then erupted into a much larger, nationwide protest against the abuses of basic human rights in Turkey in general.  
 
The shameful criminalization of these young Turkish architecture students should be condemned, not only by our institutions, but by all architecture professionals and architecture organizations worldwide.
 
Let the destruction of Gezi Park continue to stand as a symbolic gesture to galvanize the Turkish public against the abuses of basic human rights in Turkey, the deficiencies in the justice system, free speech, and inadequate protection of women and children, and a protest against the vagueness of the definition of terrorism in law and prolonged pretrial detention.  
 
Our basic Democratic rights must be defended and protected if, in fact, we are to be called a "civilization."
 
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