Turkey’s anti-government protesters have their own symbolic hero, Erdem Gunduz, also known as the ‘Standing Man’.
Gunduz set out to stage a solo protest in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, the birthplace of a nationwide movement opposing what activists see as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian, pro-Islamist rule. Gunduz’s plan was to simply stand silently, facing a giant portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey’s secular democracy.
The gesture went viral on Twitter. Hundreds of copycat protesters joined Gunduz on the square on Tuesday before being dispersed by police.
Gunduz told BBC News. “This is really silent resistance. I hope people stop and think ‘what happened there?’”
Gunduz has unleashed what Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily newspaper has called a new kind of protest — one that seeks nothing more than the right to stage a protest. Similar protests, inspired by Gunduz, are popping up across Turkey.
Gunduz was briefly detained in the police sweep of Taksim Square, but others are continuing to filter into the square to follow his example when they can. And Gunduz has been replaced by a mannequin on Taksim Square, a shameful reminder that the government won’t even let him stand silently and stare at the image of Turkey’s founding father.
Thanks to social media, Gunduz — a performance artist — has instantly become a national hero. As Richard Seymour puts it at The Guardian, “Gunduz is a legend.” And, Seymour adds, his “moving, motionless protest, is a symbol of great peril for the Turkish regime.”