Saturday, March 29, 2014

Turkey: Approaching the Breaking Point

Turkey: Approaching the Breaking Point

Turkey: Approaching the Breaking Point

Posted: 29 Mar 2014 06:37 AM PDT

I rushed into the kebab restaurant bathroom unable to breathe as tear gas filled the building. I bent down to the floor and gasped for air, hoping the stinging cloud hadn't yet penetrated the small room. Outside I could hear the police continuing to fire the gas canisters down the street two floors below. I certainly didn't expect anything like this when I first came to Turkey nine months ago, I thought to myself. I had never witnessed a bustling and vibrant commercial hub of a metropolitan city turn so quickly into something that resembled a massive urban warzone. I had been studying at Yeditepe University in Istanbul as part of an international exchange program through my home institution, Western Kentucky University. Coming from the United States, studying broadcasting, documentary film production, and editorial photography in such a culturally rich and altogether different part of the world proved to be not only extremely exhilarating and fresh, but also very beneficial and relevant to my interest in international journalism. Little did I know that photography and video projects throughout the city would lead me to the epicenter of the infamous Gezi Park protests.

As I slowly regained composure in the restaurant bathroom, I walked to the sink and looked in the mirror. I had never seen my eyes so bloodshot. I wiped the tears away, looked down at my camera to make sure I hadn't damaged anything, and went back out to continue what I had started. I knew I couldn't miss covering the chaos that was taking place directly outside. It was June 1, 2013, and small peaceful demonstrations by environmentalists in Gezi Park a few days before had escalated into massive protests involving hundreds of thousands of Turkish citizens. While most Turkish media blatantly avoided the outbreak, broadcasting penguins instead of protests, popular social media sites like Twitter and Facebook helped demonstrators spread the news to all corners of the country in a matter of minutes. Protests in other cities quickly erupted, spawning one of the largest and most widespread political demonstrations in Turkey's eighty-year history.

I stepped out of the restaurant (which had remained open the entire time) onto Istiklal Avenue and watched as police withdrew from Taksim. Minutes later, thousands of protesters marched down the long pedestrian walkway toward the square, shouting and celebrating the apparent victory. Over the next 72 hours, I witnessed Gezi Park become the lively, fun-loving, hippie-like hub of this new nationwide movement. Protesters battled police all the way down to the Bosphorus Strait, building makeshift barricades on nearly every street and alleyway leading to Taksim. Never in my life had I seen a mass of people completely take over an entire district of a city. What followed surprised me more. The police eventually regained control of Taksim, protests died down, Prime Minister Erdoğan remained in power, and essentially, nothing changed. Negative sentiments and screams for a political overhaul were left on the burner, only this time with a tighter lid.
Upon completing the exchange program at Yeditepe and graduating from my home university late last summer, I decided to return to Istanbul in October to live and work as a freelance documentary filmmaker, photographer, and journalist. I realized, after all, that Turkey would be a "hotspot" for social and political activity leading up to municipal elections on March 30, 2014, and then general elections in 2015. As expected, I have witnessed further violent demonstrations involving deeply rooted sentiments on both sides (police and protesters) and drastic changes in government regulations, especially concerning the internet. Just within the past two weeks, Turkish officials have banned Twitter and Youtube nationwide. The Prime Minister has openly blasted social media sites since Gezi Park, and he has helped usher in unprecedented legal control over users' access to thousands of websites.

I personally am very amazed at how recent government scandals, including the reported embezzlement of millions of dollars by the Prime Minister's political party, leaks of incriminating audio tapes, the firing of top ministers, and the ongoing imprisonment and deportation of foreign journalists have not utterly shaken the people of Turkey to take action into their own hands, similar to what happened last summer. Now with the fresh bans on widely used social media sites, and Erdoğan's threats to take down Facebook in the process, I keep wondering if this will be the tipping point. I have found the resilience and patience of Turkish people to be quite astonishing.

Turkey labels itself politically as a parliamentary representative democracy. Yet, government actions against fundamental freedoms of expression and speech, as well as the controversial imprisonment of many high-ranking political and military officials who have spoken out against the prime minister and his AK Party, have led a number of Turks to classify their own government as nothing short of a dictatorship. Additionally, increasing internet regulations placed Turkey in the "partly free" category of a Freedom House report on internet censorship published last year, meaning that the country was doing mildly better on the freedom chart than Syria, China, and Iran.

In America, if we were to lose our right to access an unrestricted world wide web, where we can Tweet and post whatever content we desire on Youtube or Facebook, I know the reaction would be immediate and fierce. The fundamental standards of democracy would be shattered. Now that I find myself thousands of miles away from the States, being in a "free" nation where I can't even access my recently completed documentary on the world's most popular video sharing website makes me, yes, a little frustrated, but much more curious. The Prime Minister has gone this far, and somehow he remains in power. Most people continue to accept whatever measures are taken. Yet, what are the limits, and how much is too much before a massive uprising, perhaps even a revolution, breaks out?

Thinking as we might in the States, especially around election time, another important point that must be addressed is the alternative. If Tayyip Erdoğan is removed from power, or if he is successfully and legally replaced by the people's vote next year, then who will replace him? Most military generals and political leaders who potentially could be next in line, so to speak, have either been imprisoned by the Prime Minister or gone into exile. I have heard some of my Turkish friends express that other powerful contenders would be just as corrupt and problematic as Erdoğan, if not worse. I see the ongoing waves of protests and calls for change in the streets of my own neighborhood in Istanbul, and I wonder if these fearless demonstrators even know what the next step should be if victory is achieved. [Then again, what is victory in this case when Gezi Park was just a minor win of a short-term battle?] This may be why many Turkish people either settle for the politics of this country as they stand now instead of popping the cork and acting on tensions that have been building for years, long before last summer's protests.

Now, the day before municipal elections across Turkey, I remain surprised that we have made it this far with relatively little negative response from the population, despite strict government censorship and irrefutable evidence of leadership that is far from being within the confines of a government "of the people, by the people, for the people." This nation ticks on an entirely different clock than what I'm accustomed to back in America; yet, it still ticks away and maintains an amazing resilience to massive fluctuations in the status quo. Whatever happens after Sunday's elections will most likely lead to a long-overdue public response, one that will undoubtedly involve much more than kebab restaurants clouded with tear gas.

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Slap that Boot!

Posted: 29 Mar 2014 05:07 AM PDT

A visit to the Kliptown Youth Program in Kliptown township, Soweto, South Africa brought an amazing introduction to the art of Africa Gumboot dancing. Originally started in the mines as a way of communication, it is now a unique and beautiful art form. This group of young men was preparing to travel to China to present performances throughout the country. The KLP is doing amazing work inspiring education throughout the Kliptown township!

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Realities of "Russian Spring" in Crimea

Posted: 29 Mar 2014 02:16 AM PDT

"Russian Spring" was the name of operation that Putin has implemented in Crimea this month. The operation included "unknown green men", dressed in Russian uniforms and armed with latest Russian guns taking over Ukrainian military bases; appointment under the guns of the new prime minister of Crimea (Aksenov, a man with criminal past); massive informational attack with Russian propaganda pouring from TV screens on citizens of Crimea while all Ukrainian TV stations were shut down, and of course, the referendum that the civilised world didn't recognise as legitimate. The result of that operation was annexation of Crimea, with Russia pronouncing it their territory.


Pro-Russian Crimeans celebrated this great "victory" with fireworks and dancing on the streets. A 75-year-old woman with tears of happiness in her eyes is telling on the camera, "My dream was to die in Russia. Now my dream will come true!" She might not realize the irony of her statement.


So it's been two weeks of "Russian Spring" in Crimea, two weeks of Ukrainian territory under the occupation of Russian troops. There are some obvious indications that "Russian Spring" is turning into a time of broken hopes and illusions.


The world continues to not recognise Crimea as Russian territory. On March 27th the General Assembly of United Nations discussed the situation in Ukraine. 100 countries voted for territorial integrity of Ukraine, only 10 countries supported Russian annexation of Crimea. The list of these 10 countries screams of Russia's growing isolation from civilised world! The company Russia finds itself in – North Korea, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Belarus, Armenia and Syria. As a good Russian proverb goes, "tell me who your friend is and I will tell you who are you!"


The world's opinion about Russia's hooligan actions in Crimea affects not only the reputation and economy of that country. It's having direct impact on Crimea as well. Can anybody imagine foreign investments going into development of Crimea? How safe would a foreign business feel in this area with a status that is in violation of international law? European Embassies already announced that they would not give visas to Russian citizens with Crimean registration.


This past week people in Crimea had a chance to experience the reality of Crimea's dependence on Ukraine for electricity. A few days in a row some regions of Crimea had electrical blackouts. In my friends' home there was no electricity for four hours at a time. If Ukraine chooses to shut down supply of electricity peninsula will be a very dark place, for 80% of energy comes from Ukraine. Let's not forget the supply of fresh water that also comes for the most part from Ukraine. It will take Russian about 2 years to build the infrastructure for Crimea to break their dependence on Ukraine.


Among the most enthusiastic supporters of Crimea becoming Russian were retired people who had bought into a lie they heard from Russian TV channels and from the lips of Russian Parliament members – the lie that their retirements will be doubled or tripled when Crimea joins Russia. Well, they got their retirements last week and they were exactly the same amount that they always got, only in rubbles! How disappointing – to sell out your own country for an increase in income that actually never going to happen!


These past two weeks have been sobering for many people as the whole system of jurisprudence have collapsed. People in Crimea all over sudden found themselves free of their possessions. Whatever documents they have to prove their ownership of houses or businesses are void now – they mean nothing in Russia! Current Crimean government "encourages" people to get Russian citizenship and then they could restore their ownership. Meanwhile "Russian Spring" turns into the biggest case of robbery!


Who benefits the most from the current situation in Crimea are criminals of sorts, especially prime minister Aksenov and the head of Crimean parliament Konstantinov who personally owe millions to Ukrainian banks and now consider themselves free of those debts.


Times of crisis often bring the worst and the best in people. Here is another interesting fact of today's reality in Crimea. After Russian troops occupied peninsula some priests of Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate rushed to confiscate the buildings and property of Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kiev Patriarchate, very much like ordinary looters, I would say! But get this! Crimean tatars who are Muslim have offered their mosques for Christians to use for their worship services if they lost their church building to Moscow Patriarchate! Muslims are reaching out to help, while Christian "brothers" take advantage of political situation to steal your property!


It's been interesting to observe how many people "rushed" to get Russian citizenship during these past two weeks. According to results of referendum 82% participated and 97% voted for Crimea to become Russia. So about 1.8 million people who should be eager to obtain Russian passports, right? Why is it then only 20,000 applied for Russian citizenship? Russian propaganda hurries to justify those low numbers with long lines of eager people. But there are 27 regions within Crimea, with 60+ cities and villages in each region. If we keep doing the math we will see that only 12 people on average in each village or city have applied. Maybe this is a better indication of how many people really voted in referendum?


Crimea is a region that survives on a tourism. It's already clear that "Russian Spring" is going to bring a dead tourist season. How lucky for Sochi, Crimea's biggest competitor for tourists! In the end of "Russian Summer" in Crimea when the revenues for season are calculated people will completely wake up.


Of course, our hope is that Crimea will not stay under Russian occupation that long! After all majority of people in Crimea didn't really vote for this insanity and don't want Crimea to be Russian.

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Earthquake Video

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 11:59 PM PDT

Farrell's Ice Cream Parlour is located in Brea, Ca near the epicenter of the earthquake tonight. Here is surveillance camera video from one of 4 cameras. We suffered minor damage. I would be happy to discuss this via Skype 714)3815652

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La Habra Earthquake Even Elvis Is All Shook Up

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 11:26 PM PDT

Video of La Habra earthquake. Strongest I've felt all my life but that's because of how close the epicenter was to me here in Fullerton, only 3 miles away. We have broken water mains spewing water out. My chimney has a large crack in it. Elvis candy tin and Elvis head from a decanter both were all shook up. (trying to put a little humor in here). I'm all shook up too!

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Earthquake Shakes Up Southern California

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 09:55 PM PDT

Well that 5.3 shook up the whole sleepy town of Yorba Linda. Our local grocery store, Stater Brothers, took the biggest brunt of it all.

We were just coming out of Sushi Yoshi's in Yorba Linda when this happened. We heard glass breaking and a few people were running out of the buildings.

The epicenter was in La Habra, CA according to local media outlets.

It is a great reminder for all of us to be earthquake prepared. After a little shake we had a couple of weeks ago, I had my husband refill our emergency 5 gallon water bottles.


Twitter: @HitsandMisses

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Earth quake damage! In fullerton

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 09:29 PM PDT

My home bar

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#28M Enfrentamientos en #Merida entre Resistencia y Oficialismo

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 03:20 PM PDT

Ayer 27 de Marzo, se realizo una convocatoria para el día de hoy 28 de Marzo, en la Plaza de Las Heroínas de Mérida, se realizaría una concentración en horas de la tarde en apoyo en apoyo a la Diputada María Corina Machado. Convocatoria que tuvo una pronta respuesta por parte de algunos simpatizantes del gobierno que alegaban "La Plaza de Las Heroinas es de los REVOLUCIONARIOS no de los FASCISTAS" argumentaban que defenderían la plaza de supuestas intenciones violentas por parte de la oposición.

El día de hoy 28 de marzo en horas de la tarde, ambos grupos se congregaron en la plaza. Los opositores ondeaban la bandera nacional, mientras los oficialistas gritaban consignas en contra de los manifestantes. La policía del estado se encontraba en el lugar.

Oficialistas gritaban "defendiendo la paz" pero comenzaron a ponerse violentos, mientras los opositores respondieron con un megafono donde la dirigente de Vente Marta Hernandez se dirigia a los presentes. Megafono que fue cedido tambien a miembros oficialistas para que los opositores en el lugar pudieran escuchar su punto de vista.

Ambos defendian su punto de vista, mientras los oficialistas se ponian cada vez mas violentos. Luego de que la prensa entrevistara ambos sectores, los opositores decidieron terminar la jornada cantando el himno nacional, el cual fue respondido por el grupo oficialista con la consigna "¿Por que cantar el himno si no quieren la patria?".

Cuando los manifestantes de la resistencia se retiraban, fueron perseguidos por los oficialistas y algunos incluso fueron golpeados.

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Tachira San Cristobal 28 de Marzo AM

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 02:45 PM PDT

Así amaneció la Avenida Principal de Pueblo Nuevo

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Av. Principal Pueblo Nuevo

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 02:25 PM PDT

San Cristobal

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Tachira: San Cristobal 28M 3

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 02:23 PM PDT

Tachira: San Cristobal 28M

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Tachira: San Cristobal 28M 2

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 02:22 PM PDT

Tachira: San Cristobal 28M

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Tachira: San Cristobal 28M

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 02:21 PM PDT

Vecinos amanecieron con los Guardias Nacionales lanzando gas lacrimógeno

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MH370 Protest in London

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 10:52 AM PDT

Apology and Correction:

0'29-0'42 the name of the interviewee is Sheng Shan, a famous overseas Chinese leader in UK. The name and the title in the video belongs to his wife.



March 27th, 2014
Leaded by the Chinese Weekly, more than 200 Chinese people came from whole parts of UK stood in front of the Embassy of Malaysia in UK, protesting against the government of Malaysia and asking them to publish the truth of missing MH370.


The translation will be provided later.

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Hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia

Posted: 26 Mar 2014 08:01 AM PDT

Stunning view of Cappadocia's valleys from a hot air baloon.

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