The Work of a Few Trees: Gezi, Politics and Space


In June 2013, Istanbul and many cities across Turkey became stages of massive demonstrations and occupations, which were sparked by a conflict over Gezi Park in central Istanbul. For many, the ‘park issue’ was simply the last straw, and it led to unprecedented revolt, reflecting a huge number of grievances against the government for some, while for others it emphasized the impoverishing consequences of the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP’s) urban policies. Instead of disentangling causes and effects, we think that a productive way of approaching the oppositional surge that erupted in Gezi Park is through the political work that space does in the context of the increasing prominence of speculation-driven and authoritarian interventions in urban spaces. Gezi, as an event, not only disrupted the routinized scripts of an increasingly autocratic government and defied the presumed consensus over real-estate and infrastructure-led economic growth policies, but also helped to articulate a series of political agendas across the urban–rural continuum that came before it. Even after the occupation, the Gezi spirit continued to politicize space through various de-localizations. By elaborating on a particular phrase popularized during Gezi, namely yaşam alanı (life space), the article discusses how the riot’s political impact deepened and expanded not only through defending a space but also by creating new ones, both materially and conceptually.