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Via Instagram, Insight Into Turkey's Protests

Instagrammer @serkanbac posted this photo in Izmir, Turkey, on May 30.
Serkan Bac
Instagrammer @serkanbac posted this photo in Izmir, Turkey, on May 30.

Serkan Bac is not a professional photographer, but he enjoys posting photos to Instagram, many showing places he's visited in his hometown of Istanbul and throughout Turkey.

Two weeks ago, for example, during a work trip to Izmir, Bac posted a photo of people watching the sunset.

"A lover couple, friends sitting by the sea and sundown, enjoying their lives," he says in an email interview with NPR, "just like a happy ending of a Hollywood movie."

In that photo, Bac used the hashtags #beautiful and #lovers to describe the scene.

Bac posted this photo to Instagram on June 4. Bac says he took the photo two days earlier in Izmir, Turkey.
/ Serkan Bac
Serkan Bac
Bac posted this photo to Instagram on June 4. Bac says he took the photo two days earlier in Izmir, Turkey.

Then just a few days later, his photos took on new hashtags: #resistanbul and #occupygezi.

Bac describes the changes in scenery — from sunsets to protests — as "something unimaginable — like UFOs came," he says, "and [my] whole life is changed."

His recent Instagram images are similar to the feeds of many in Turkey.

In recent weeks, more than 200,000 photos have been tagged with #occupygezi on Instagram.

The protests, which started as an effort to save Istanbul's Gezi Park from redevelopment, have grown into an ongoing anti-government demonstration directed at Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's leadership. They quickly spread to other cities as well, like Izmir and Ankara, Turkey's capital.

For the past two weeks, social photography has shown how popular tourist spots in Istanbul, like Istiklal Street and Taksim Square, have been transformed into urban battlegrounds.

Earlier this month, Erdogan criticized the role social media played in publicizing the protests, calling social media the "worst menace to society." Erdogan blamed Twitter for distorting the events taking place around Taksim Square, where violent clashes between police and protesters erupted.

This week, police again used tear gas against demonstrators, attempting to disperse them. And on Wednesday, Erdogan gave demonstrators a 24-hour warning, telling them to end protests. (Our colleagues over at The Two-Way blog are monitoring the latest events.)

It's hard to gauge from the outside what might be distorted on Instagram. But it offers a new perspective on the protests — and the lives of the photographers.

Take, for example, freelance photographer Engin Iriz's Instagram feed.

A photo Iriz posted on June 2.
/ Engin Iriz
Engin Iriz
A photo Iriz posted on June 2.

A few days before he started taking photos of the Gezi Park demonstrations, his photos were perfectly quotidian: A dog, a selfie in a mirror and a sunrise.

Then on May 31, he posted from Gezi Park. Since then, Iriz says he's been out shooting about six hours every day, focusing on the demonstrations around Taksim Square. He tells NPR that none of his photos of the protests have been manipulated.

Iriz describes his experience over the past two weeks via email:

"The police intervention on the first day was very, very violent. I went directly in the heart of the intervention without any protection and started to take pictures with my iPhone and Fuji x100 camera. I saw firsthand how the police used disproportionate force and tear gas on the protesters. They directly aimed the capsules on the people. And as the police used force, the people grew stronger like [the] 'Hulk.' But they finally understood that the use of force was in vain."

Iriz calls these past two weeks "the most important social event" he's ever seen.

For those of us not in Taksim, Instagram may make us feel a little closer to what's happening there — what it might look like if we were walking outside or watching from our own windows.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Padmananda Rama