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The Standing man

Taking a stand


The Standing Man of Taksim Square, silent and unmoving, helped revive the spirit of protests in Turkey.

Three weeks ago in Istanbul, a group of protesters stood silently in Taksim Square, the beating heart of this city, not speaking, staring straight ahead. They were following the example of the original 'Standing Man. ' He was a performance artist, Erdem Gunduz, who became the face of the largest anti-government protests in Turkish history with his eight-hour solo silent standing vigil in the square.

"This was more powerful than Occupy Gezi, " says Lara, a protester and artist refering to the protest to save historic Gezi park frombeing demolished. "Silence says more. We were evacuated from the park, they just pushed us out, they sprayed us out. And for a person to just start this is just immense. "

"There are many, many young people on the streets, " Gunduz told the BBC at the time. "I'm nothing. . . The idea is important: why people resist the government. The government doesn't want to understand, didn't try to understand why people are on the streets. This is really silent resistance. I hope people stop and think 'what happened there?'"

Gunduz's protest spread quickly. What began on a Monday night had, by the next morning, inspired its own top trending Twitter hashtag, "#duranadam" (the Turkish for "standing man" ).

"Turkey today is divided into factions, those that have benefitted from Prime Minister Erdogan's policies and those who have been alienated by them, " says Barak Barfi, a fellow at the New America Foundation specialising in the Middle East. "The second group went into the streets to protest the frustrations that have built over a decade as Erdogan usurped power. The 'Standing Man' symbolised Turkey's commitment to democratic rule and protests as opposed to the violence and crackdowns that we've seen in Syria. "

The protests were never about overthrowing Erdogan. Given his strong social base and voting bloc, all protesters could hope was that an outpouring into the streets could push him to the negotiating table, where he would concede some of the prerogatives he had built over his decade in power.

Repressive police action had left protesters angry and depressed but the Standing Man helped restore their faith. Gunduz's motives - whether he 'stood' for politics, art, or a combination of both - have been debated. He's a scraggy-haired dancer from the Turkish coastal city of Izmir, a man who friends say has never been deeply politically active. His original plan was to stand for the entire month, with three-hour breaks every 24 hours. But friends and fellow activists stepped in, shortening his stay.

"People have responded so well - they went there and started standing as well, " Lara says. "It reached more people (than Occupy Gezi) because the park might have been a little intimidating at some point. But this is a different community, where everyone can come in and stand for a few minutes and then just peacefully leave. I've always said that the park needed to be silent for hours or days to make this extremely effective. "

Lara was deeply moved the first time she saw Gunduz. "Every morning I walked through Harbiye (an area bordering Taksim) to scout what was happening and every time I got to Taksim and saw people standing, I was crying. It was so powerful. "

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