Istanbul Protests Through the Eyes of a Ukrainian Journalist

Global Voices Online
Sunday, June 2, 2013

Turkey has long been a popular vacation and business travel destination for hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, but few of these visitors can boast much knowledge of the Turkish politics. Now, however, as the anti-government protests and police brutality in Turkey are making top headlines globally, many Ukrainians have started to follow the situation there with much interest, expressing support and admiration for the peaceful protesters, noting similarities with the 2004 Orange Revolution as well as with more recent events in Ukraine, and wishing for the political awakening of the Ukrainian people.

Tear gas used by the police against the protesters in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo by George Haddad, copyright © Demotix (01/06/13).
Tear gas used by the police against the protesters in Istanbul, Turkey. Photo by George Haddad, copyright © Demotix (01/06/13).

On Facebook, one of the primary sources of updates, photos and insight from Istanbul has been Osman Pashayev [ru, uk, tr], a Ukrainian journalist of Crimean-Tatar descent, the Istanbul bureau chief of the Crimean Tatar ATR TV channel. As journalist Kristina Berdinskikh wrote [ru],

The best news agency of the past few days is Osman Pashayev.

And Facebook user Iryna Panchenko wrote this [uk]:

It's good that Osman Pashayev is in Istanbul - we have access to relevant information on the events there, without having to wait for international news [outlets to wake up] and for [Ukrainian news outlets] to copy - and, possibly, distort - [the reports of their international colleagues].

Below are some of Pashayev's recent posts [ru, uk, tr].

Friday, May 31, 2013 - 6:50 PM (Istanbul time):

I've seen the crackdown on [left-wing activists] during the 2009 IMF summit in Istanbul, I've seen rallies of the opposition in Tbilisi [the capital of Georgia], a crackdown on the Arab protestors in Jerusalem, an anti-terrorist operation in northern Iraq, but I've never seen such a savage treatment of peaceful protesters before. I cannot get to [Taksim Square] - 100 meters, gas that [irritates] the eyes is everywhere. I bought two lemons and poured [juice] over myself and one Turkish girl. Eyes are itchy from lemon, but at least it makes breathing easier after a couple minutes. Many here are 18-25 years old. The police are waging a war against citizens.

7:24 PM:

Our country - Ukraine - even under [the regime of President Viktor Yanukovych] is almost an exemplary democracy. Today's Turkey resembles Russia a lot more, though not yet Belarus [...].

Saturday, June 1, 2013 - 12:07 AM:

Do not pity Turkey. It is wonderful. And [PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] is like a virus in quantities sufficient for the immune system to finally start working. [...]

2:28 AM:

I'm teaching the Turks some of the rules of the Orange Revolution - to chant "Police are with the people" [one of the popular slogans in Ukraine in 2004]. A few more resignations by police officers and the generals will stop giving antihuman orders.

4:02 AM:

First aid points to the injured on [Istiklal Avenue]. Hotels are letting the protesters inside, shop owners are giving out water for free and administering first aid. Cab drivers are transporting those with serious injuries for free. It resembles the unity in Kyiv [during the 2004 Orange Revolution].

4:52 AM:

A heartrending tweet [Pashayev's quick translation into Russian; the Turkish-language original, by Aykut Gürlemez/@aykutgurlemez, is here]. "Dear Prime Minister, you have no idea how grateful I am to you today. You have no idea what a good deed you've done for the country today. Today, for the first time, I've seen a fan of [Istanbul's Fenerbahçe football club] was helping a [rival Galatasaray] fan to get up from the ground after the police order "to kill" came about. Today, Turks and Kurds were sharing water and bread. Today, women you call prostitutes, walked out of the brothels to wash the wounds of the injured in their cheap hotel rooms in [Tarlabaşı]. Lawyers and medical doctors were distributing their phone numbers, offering help. Today, [stores and coffee houses located on ground floors] turned off their Wifi passwards, and hotel owners were letting the tired and the beaten ones in. Today, our eyes are filled with tears not because of your pepper gas, but because of our pride for our Turkey." [...]

5:27 AM:

In Turkey, 7.5 million users are watching the #TürkiyemDireniyor hashtag ("my Turkey resists"). Will Erdoğan have the guts to arrest them all? )))

5:51 AM:

[Fans of football clubs Beşiktaş], Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray. In the Ukrainian translation this will be "East and West together" [another popular slogan of the 2004 protests in Ukraine, referring to the political and cultural divide between eastern and western parts of Ukraine].

10:05 AM:

With great pleasure I've blocked everyone on Facebook who are being ironic about the violence taking place in Turkey. [...] A whole bunch of wisecracks who point out that I've just arrived here and don't understand something ))). Maybe I don't understand anything at all, but I do understand that violence against peaceful people is evil. And I've seen it with my own eyes. I've worked [as a TV journalist] in Turkey dozens of times since 2002, and for the first time now I've seen police officers lowering their gaze, ashamed. If cops are feeling ashamed, it means they are indeed doing something that's not very good.

8:20 PM:

The most amusing pictures are of Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray holding hands. Hard for us to understand, but it's almost as if [Oleh Tyahnybok, the leader of the far-right Ukrainian VO Svoboda party] showed up at a gay pride parade wearing [a Jewish kippah cap].

Sunday, June 2, 2013 - 4:21 AM:

No more than 2,000 people remain at Taksim. Everyone is moving to [the Beşiktaş area], where clashes with police continue. The [Turkish] opposition is toothless and not interesting. Young people and non-political groups are much brighter. [photos]

8:30 PM:

If Erdoğan and other officials are being sincere, if they are telling the world that the protesters are part of a junta, the military's fans and other marginal scum, then why are the city's web cameras are turned off only at Taksim, while the rest are working? Let the Turks and the world see for themselves the faces of the protesters, their numbers, and their eyes. The real pictures says much more than a thousand words ))))

Pashayev continues posting his update on Facebook and filing his stories on the protests in Turkey for Ukrainian TV channels. Another Ukrainian journalist, Mustafa Nayyem [ru], has now joined him in Istanbul and is also posting reports, videos and photos (here and here) on his Facebook page.

Roman Shrike, the founder of a popular Ukrainian website, wrote this [ru] on his Ukrainska Pravda blog, linking to one of Pashayev's posts and re-posting some of the photos of the Istanbul protest:

A good revolution always begins suddenly.

In Istanbul, the police violently cracked down on the defenders of a park. No big deal, you'd think... But the last straw usually happens to be nothing but a very tiny straw. [...]

Ukrainian politician and former journalist Volodymyr Ariev re-posted the photo of thousands of Istanbul residents crossing the Bosphorus Bridge early on Saturday on their way to Taksim, and wrote [uk]:

This is how people should defend their rights and freedoms from infringements of transitory authoritarian rulers. Way to go, Turkey!

Ukrainian activist Oleksandr Danylyuk wrote [uk]:

What do the events in Istanbul tell us? That it's enough for the Kyiv residents to drag their behinds off their couches for just a few days, and Yanukovych & Co. will come to them on their knees, bringing a capitulation document signed with their snot. But the majority [of Ukrainians] keep crying as they keep getting stung by this cactus they keep eating.

Ukrainian Journalists Protest Over Attack on Colleagues and Police Inaction

Global Voices Online
Thursday, May 30, 2013

May 18 was a busy day in Ukraine's capital Kyiv. Thousands of people gathered in central Kyiv for the opposition's "Arise, Ukraine!" rally (photos), and for the ruling Party of Regions' march against what they described as "fascism" - though, in fact, theirs was more of an anti-opposition event (photo, video; ru, uk). There were also celebrations of Europe Day; an LGBT rights flashmob (photos - here and here); the 9th annual Freedom March, whose participants demanded drug policy reform (video; uk); the Night of Museums; and the televised Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2013, in which the Ukrainian representative finished third.

None of the highlights of this eventful Saturday was destined to leave any significant trace in public memory, however. Not even the well-rehearsed and much-anticipated speeches by some of Ukraine's top politicians.

Two weeks later, only one incident - an attack on journalists that the police first failed to prevent and then failed to investigate properly - still remains in the spotlight, fueling online discussions and real-life protests.

The journalists - TV reporter Olha Snitsarchuk [uk] and her husband, photographer Vlad Sodel [uk] - were attacked after both political rallies had come to an end, as they were filming a fight that broke out between supporters of the ultra-right opposition party VO Svoboda and a group of young men in tracksuits. Another journalist, Odessa-based Valeriya Ivashkina [ru], was filming and was attacked, too; below is one of the videos she made, which shows the beginning of the skirmish:

The Committee to Protect Journalists gave this quick account [en] of what happened, in a statement issued on May 20:

Several assailants beat two reporters covering an opposition protest outside Ukrainian Interior Ministry headquarters in Kiev on Saturday in view of police officers who failed to intervene, according to local [ru] and international [en] press reports. [...]


Assailants punched and kicked Vladislav Sodel, a photographer with the Moscow-based daily Kommersant, and his wife, Olga Snitsarchuk, a reporter with Kiev's Channel Five television. Sodel said they repeatedly called out for help from nearby police but their pleas were ignored, Ukrainska Pravda reported [ru]. [...]

The assailants had clashed with opposition protesters before attacking Snitsarchuk and Sodel, the independent news website Ukrainska Pravda reported [ru]. Images and video taken at the scene show more than a half dozen police officers were nearby. [...]

Sodel managed to take some photos while being attacked:

A screenshot of Vlad Sodel's Facebook photo report on the attack.
A screenshot of Vlad Sodel's Facebook photo report on the attack.

Within hours of the incident, Ukrainian netizens unearthed the VKontakte page photos of the most conspicuous of the assailants - the young man in a black Adidas tracksuit, who featured prominently not just in Sodel's photos, but in this video by Ivashkina as well:

Netizens soon identified the man as Vadym Titushko, nicknamed 'Rumyn' ("a Romanian"), a 20-year-old resident of Bila Tserkva, a town near Kyiv. Once a promising junior athlete specializing in various martial arts, Titushko was now using his fighting skills to earn some cash as a security guard at political rallies. As Tetyana Danylenko wrote [uk] on Facebook, such moonlighting appears to be a common practice among young athletic people in Ukraine's small towns:

At Bila Tserkva's fight clubs, what people like [Titushko] do is regarded simply as business. For children who train there, this "business" isn't just inevitable future, but, to some extent, even a dream. [...]

In a video statement [ru] that he posted on YouTube on May 20, two days after gaining his dubious fame, he claimed that he and his friends had been hired to protect the opposition rally on May 18:

Iurii Panin and other journalists, however, compiled and presented photo and video evidence that suggested that Titushko and his friends had been working at the Party of Regions' event that day:

The police initially refused to search for Titushko, and so on May 20, dozens of journalists (as well as some politicians) protested police inaction in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Kyiv (photos).

Titushko was detained and charged with hooliganism on May 21, but was then released on $2,800 bail [22,940 hryvnias; uk] on May 22 (photos). In his court testimony, he said [ru] that he and his friends had not attacked anyone but acted in self-defense, and that the journalists provoked them with their "incorrect words."

Ukrainian journalists protest in front of the Cabinet of Ministers in Kyiv. Photo by ukrafoto ukrainian news, copyright © Demotix (23/05/13).
Ukrainian journalists protest in front of the Cabinet of Ministers in Kyiv. Photo by ukrafoto ukrainian news, copyright © Demotix (23/05/13).

Even though the police investigation finally appeared to be underway, journalists continued to protest.

On May 22, at a government session at the Cabinet of Ministers, a group of journalists turned their backs on PM Mykola Azarov, to let him and others see the posters attached to their shirts: "Today the [female] journalist. Tomorrow your wife, sister, daughter. Act!" Azarov reacted by ordering their accreditations to be revoked. On May 23, however, another group of journalists staged a protest outside the Cabinet of Ministers to support their colleagues - which must have prompted Azarov to change his mind about the order he had given.

On May 27, a group of journalists, together with activists of the Stop Censorship! Movement [uk], put more pressure on the authorities, by setting up a tent in front of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, despite some resistance [uk] from the police. They called the tent a "temporary information center" and spent three days and two nights taking turns to guard it. On May 29, they summed up the results [uk] of the ongoing investigation into the beating of Snitsarchuk and Sodel ten days earlier, and dismantled the tent voluntarily.

On May 30, a representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs announced [uk] that disciplinary action was taken against 15 police officers who had "failed to act decisively" during the May 18 confrontation.

The issue of the safety of journalists has always been relevant in Ukraine. On Facebook, Kostiantyn Stogniy mentioned [ru] that even though it's been over six months since the attack on TV journalist Anna Petrenko in early September 2012, the perpetrator has not been brought to justice yet. And on May 25, at the height of the public outrage over the May 18 attack, two more journalists were beaten: one, Andriy Kachor, in the town of Brovary [uk] near Kyiv, and the other one, Vyacheslav Konovalov, in Kyiv [ru]. These cases, however, have not received as much attention as the attack on Snitsarchuk and Sodel.

Blogger LEvko of Foreign Notes translated Ukrainian journalist Mustafa Nayyem's explanation [ru] of what the attacks against journalists and the journalists' fight against violence mean in a broader context:

[...] The feeling of powerlessness and humiliation experienced by my [journalist] colleagues, is, every day and every minute, also experienced by millions of other Ukrainians. Not because they are being hit and sworn at. But because, with the advent of the current authorities, malevolence, rudeness and animal instincts are increasingly winning [the day]. All this is occurring not just openly, but demonstratively and is accompanied with a silent grin by a party which is cultivating total permissiveness based on the rights of greater force.

If it is not stopped, there will be war. But not over slogans, not over parties and not over languages. But over [the right for] basic human dignity. [...]

69th Anniversary of Crimean Tatar Deportations: Memory and Politics in Crimea

Global Voices Online
Tuesday, May 21, 2013

On May 18, some 30,000 people gathered at a rally in Crimea's capital Simferopol to honor the memory of the victims of the 1944 Crimean Tatar deportations and to demand the immediate resignation of Anatoly Mogilev, the former Ukrainian Interior Minister who is now the chairman of Crimea's Council of Ministers.

J. Otto Pohl wrote briefly [en] about the deportation that took place 69 years ago:

This Saturday is the 69th anniversary of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars from their peninsular homeland on the Black Sea to the deserts of Uzbekistan and the wet forests of the Urals. The NKVD rounded up almost the entire population and took them to rail stations where they were stuffed like cattle into box cars. In three days over 180,000 people had been expelled from their homes and sent on a long and arduous journey eastward. The official reason for the deportation was the false charges of treason brought against the whole population by the Stalin regime. However, the number of Crimean Tatars that fought with the Germans, about 10,000, was quite small compared to a number of other nationalities that were not subject to wholesale deportation. Upon arriving in Uzbekistan and the Urals the Crimean Tatars were placed under special settlement restrictions. On 26 November 1948, the Soviet government decreed the deportations and special settlement restrictions to be forever. The death of Stalin on 5 March 1953 brought about an eventual end of the special settlement regime and on 28 April 1956 the Soviet government freed the Crimean Tatars from these restrictions. They, however, were not allowed to return to Crimea in any significant numbers until 1987 near the very end of the Soviet regime. Even today they still face obstacles to resettling in their homeland and nearly 100,000 still remain in Uzbekistan.

A Crimean Tatar woman at the May 18 commemoration of the 1944 Crimean Tatar deportations. Photo by Andy Ignatov (used with permission).
A Crimean Tatar woman at the May 18 commemoration of the 1944 Crimean Tatar deportations. Photo by Andy Ignatov (used with permission).

On Facebook, Oleksandr Starish also wrote [ru] about the tragic events of 1944:

[...] Despite the fact that the Crimean Tatars were fighting in the ranks of the Red Army and participated in the guerilla movement, the basis for their deportations was an accusation of collaboration with the Third Reich.

Deportations began early in the morning of May 18 and ended on May 20, 1944. Over 32,000 NKVD troops were employed in the operation. [...]

Those Crimean Tatars who were fighting in the Red Army units, were also deported upon demobilization: in 1945-46, 8,995 Crimean Tatar war veterans were exiled [...].


Assessments of the numbers of those who died in this period vary: according to the Soviet official data, 15-25 percent died, and according to the activists of the Crimean Tatar movement, who were gathering the information about the victims in the 1960s, the figure is up to 46 percent... [...]

Starish ended his post with these words in three languages - Russian, Turkish (which is related to Crimean Tatar) and Ukrainian:

[...] I don't know if one can repent someone else's sins... But every person must bow to the memory of the innocents who were murdered... Regardless of one's ethnicity or religion... [...]

Idil P. Izmirli explained the political component of the May 18 rally in this Jamestown Foundation article [en]:

[...] Crimea differs from the rest of Ukraine because it is the only autonomous republic with its own unicameral parliament (with 100 members) and Council of Ministers, thus having a similar institutional structure to that of the Ukrainian state. Under all previous presidents of Ukraine, the planning of this May 18 Crimean Tatar Remembrance Day of Victims of the Deportation event had received considerable support from both the Crimean and the Ukrainian authorities. In fact, during these commemorative gatherings, alongside the Mejlis officials and the mufti (religious authority) of Crimea, a representative of the Ukrainian president, the head of the Crimean parliament, and the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP) participated in the ceremonies. In 2013, however, under Anatoli Mogilev, the chairman of the Council of Ministers in Crimea, the governmental attitude to the Day of Remembrance has changed drastically. Mogilev was appointed by President Viktor Yanukovych in November, 2011. Insisting that he was ill, he opted out of the May 18 gatherings in 2012, marking the first time a Crimean leader did not participate in this event. Even before his appointment, Mogilev was well-known in Crimea for his anti-Tatar sentiments, his brutal order of police units (BERKUT) to attack peacefully protesting Crimean Tatar business owners in the Ai Petri hills in 2007 while he was a police chief, and his subsequent Krymskaya Pravda article (2008) in which he praised the Joseph Stalin–era deportation of the Crimean Tatars (

On February 25, 2013, under Mogilev’s leadership, the Crimean authorities announced that the May 18 event needed to be approved by the Crimean Council of Ministers. Consequently, the Simferopol City Council declared that they were going to ban the annual May 18 gathering that has been organized by the Crimean Tatar Mejlis since the early 1990s. This decision of the Crimean authorities was not received well by [Mustafa Cemilev], the head of the Mejlis, who stated that Crimean Tatars will come to the Central Square in Simferopol as a large collective regardless of the ban, and if they are not allowed to hold their remembrance day, then they will block the roads, paralyze traffic, and take their protests to other regions of Crimea [...]. [...]

Crimean Tatar men carry their national flag at the May 18 commemoration of the 1944 Crimean Tatar deportations. Photo by Andy Ignatov (used with permission).
The May 18 commemoration of the 1944 Crimean Tatar deportations. Photo by Andy Ignatov (used with permission).

Simferopol-based journalist Zair Akadyrov wrote [ru]:

Today at the rally in Simferopol, every 100th Crimea resident has pointed Mogilev to the exit. And now imagine if every 100th Ukrainian did the same at Maidan [Independence Square] in [Ukraine's capital] Kyiv, no less... [...]

Kyiv was having its own political rallies on May 18, and even though the turnout at the opposition's event was rather high, it could still hardly match the Crimean Tatar one in genuineness and determination. Kyiv-based journalist Victor Tregubov shared a photo of the Simferopol crowd and wrote this [ru]

[...] They say, there were 35-40 thousand people, and, looking at this photo, I tend to believe this. According to various assessments, there are 270 to 340 thousand Crimean Tatars living in Crimea. It means that every 8th [Crimean Tatar] is present at this rally.

When I saw this photo, I stopped worrying about the [Crimean Tatars'] future. What can some gang [the regime] do to a nation whose every 8th representative voluntarily attends a rally devoted to national solidarity and national revival? A nation like this will overcome any kind of trouble.

As for the Ukrainians' future, I still worry about it.


More photos of the Crimean Tatar May 18 rally - by Andy Ignatov, Volodymyr Prytula, and Smail Tantana.