Contentious (S)Parks: Reclaiming Public Space in Yerevan and Istanbul

Paper for a course on social movements (Ariel Ahram)

Contentious (S)Parks: Reclaiming Public Space in Yerevan and Istanbul


Neither Armenia nor Turkey have enjoyed reputations of being states with stable democratic regimes. Turkey has had experience as a pluralist republic over the course of many decades, though often punctuated with military coups. Armenia, for its part, has managed to carry out free and fair elections on only a few occasions since independence following the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Both countries have on the whole demonstrated much more undemocratic tendences in the recent past. Armenia and Turkey were consistently categorised as “Partly Free” by Freedom House from 2005 to 2015, with medium-to-low rankings of political rights and civil liberties (Freedom House, n.d.). The two countries have been variously characterised as illiberal republics, outright authoritarian, or unconsolidated or competitive authoritarian states at different points during the past two decades.

At the same time, both Armenia and Turkey have managed to develop substantial civil society sectors, with robust social movements galvanising segments of the population in order to influence decision-making from the streets. Ranging from leftist or feminist claims to ecological or human rights concerns, numerous protest movements have marked shifts in the political winds in Armenia and Turkey since the 1990s and 2000s.

This brief study will first discuss conceptual approaches to understanding social movements drawn from Tilly and Tarrow (2015) and Steinberg (1998). The two cases of the Mashtots Park protests in Armenia in 2012 and the Gezi Park protests in Turkey in 2013 will then be outlined. The discussion section that follows will compare and contrast how contentious politics over public space in those two urban centres played out. Included among the sources for the discussion are two interviews with first-hand observers and participants (see Appendix B). Finally, concluding thoughts on the causes and consequences of Mashtots and Gezi will be fleshed out in detail.

Both movements were significant from a domestic political point of view inasmuch as they each started with a local issue, but ended up raising claims against the regime itself, all the while using many of the same tactics. However, their short- and medium-term impacts differed, both in terms of the future of social movements and in the political life as such of each country. In Armenia, although the movement met with success, the way in which it ended was dissatisfactory. Drawing from the Mashtots Park experience, an increasing number and variety of social movements in the years that followed finally played a major role in the remarkable change of leadership through mass protests that shook the country in 2018. In Turkey, the violent crackdown on the Gezi Park protests that had spread throughout the country was followed by the consolidation of power of the central authorities. The movement had a less clear focus, a broader and therefore less coherent participant base, and did not end up forming an institutional opposition or enduring civic activist network. Although Turkey may yet see challenges to its leadership, the Gezi model has not been sustained and will most likely not be invoked in the near future.

Theoretical Framework

Social movements can be understood as a subset of the broader concept of contentious politics, “in which actors make claims bearing on other actors’ interests, leading to coordinated efforts on behalf of shared interests or programs, in which governments are involved as targets, initiators of claims, or third parties” (Tilly and Tarrow 2015, 7). The three key elements of contentious politics are therefore: the claim to be made, the mechanism of collective action, and the explicit political component.

Tilly and Tarrow focus on public aspects of claims-making, referring to them as “repertoires” – “arrays of performances that are currently known and available within some set of political actors” (14). The repertoires are cultural tropes familiar to both the performers and their audience, invoked in making the claim as a rhetorical device. Tilly and Tarrow discuss rallies, petitions, strikes, sit-ins, etc. as examples of repertoires. A rally across from the White House, for instance, might be an expected method of protesting or supporting some public policy, whereas an evening candle-light vigil would be an appropriate repertoire to mark a national tragedy at the very same location.

Steinberg (1998) also offers a useful theoretical approach to analysing social movements in his discussion of framing. Building on the concept mentioned above, Steinberg refers to “discursive repertoires” that arise from “the genres that collective actors can draw upon to construct … diagnosis, prognosis, and motivation” (856), that is, “an action-specific process of demonstrating the saliency of a discursive repertoire in defining a problem …, suggesting a critique and proposing a solution” (857).

The various social and political activities surrounding the HIV AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and ’90s serve as good examples of the mechanism of framing. HIV AIDS could variously be presented as a public health issue, a moral issue, a legal problem, a religious matter, or framed within the context of human rights and justice. How the discourse was developed and disseminated had an impact both on the manner of claims-making, the mobilisation of collective action (who was involved and why), and the targets of the claims.

Regime types are also relevant when it comes to thinking about social movements. Tilly and Tarrow (2015) present two key factors, namely capacity (whether low or high) and democracy (democratic or undemocratic). Capacity indicates “the extent to which governmental action affects the character and distribution of population, activity, and resources within the government’s territory” and democracy indicates “the extent to which people subject to a given government’s authority have broad, equal political rights, exert significant direct influence … over government personnel and policy” (57) while also maintaining due process and rule of law.

Thus, four ideal regime types emerge: high-capacity democratic, high-capacity undemocratic, low-capacity democratic, low-capacity undemocratic. For the purposes this paper, the regimes in both Armenia and Turkey during the cases being studied could most accurately be described as leaning towards the higher capacity and undemocratic ends of the spectrum.

Yerevan, Armenia, 2012 – Mashtots Park

Mashtots Park is an open space off one of the main thoroughfares of Yerevan, the capital and largest city of Armenia (see Appendix A). In January, 2012, city authorities forced street-side kiosks from other areas of downtown to shut down, instead providing new constructions for them at the park. Skeletal structures were already in place in mid-February when activists carried out daily sit-ins in order to prevent the plan from going through, citing environmental concerns and improper legal proceedings. Yerevan’s mayor refused to give in to their demands. Police were called in after some days to forcibly remove the dozen or so protestors, who blocked construction equipment from moving on to the site (Aslanian 2012a).

A few days later, on February 20, over one hundred activists managed to break through the police barrier. Once again citing concerns over the lack of green spaces in the city, the protestors chanted, “The park is ours!”. Police officials threatened to use force to disperse the crowd once again, but did not do so. The mayor did not personally engage with the activists, although his chief of staff urged them to stop their action (Aslanian 2012b). Opposition politicians and famous public figures were among the protestors (Avagyan 2012).

The construction work continued overnight, after the protestors had returned to their homes, so the activists found themselves once again outside the police cordon the following day. Prominent public figures joined in again. The mayor stated that the kiosks would not cause any harm to the trees in the park, adding, from the legal perspective that, “Important and complex issues related to property ownership cannot be solved on the basis of certain citizens’ subjective understanding of justice. Nevertheless, despite the negative and critical evaluations, I am happy that my fellow city residents are so concerned about the problems and the future of our beloved Yerevan” (Aslanian 2012c).

The following day, on February 22, the construction work temporarily ceased. Activists continued to face off with the police at the site. A police official explained the suspension because time was needed “to do things in a legal manner”, whereas protestors were reportedly unconvinced, claiming instead to pose a threat to the authorities: “[They] realized that it’s wrong to press us or let this movement gain momentum.” (Aslanian 2012d)

The daily sit-ins continued as the mayor’s office likewise continued to defend the legality of the new kiosks, which he repeated would remain in the park for only three years in order to fulfill contractual obligations to the owners of the shops dismantled elsewhere. There would be no damage to the trees, he insisted. Activists called for a general protection of green spaces in the city, many of which had become overrun with shops and cafés (Israelian and Aslanian 2012).

Matters came to a head on March 13, when protestors decided to set up camp at the park. A tent was confiscated by the police the following night, an act condemned by the ombudsman of the country. Protests in front of the prime minister’s office also took place. The mayor continued to defend the constructions on legal grounds – the property rights of the shopkeepers – and also from an ecological point of view (Aslanian 2012e).

Protestors counter-argued by citing the Aarhus Convention, to which Armenia is signatory, which provides “the public rights regarding access to information, public participation and access to justice, in governmental decision-making processes on matters concerning the local, national and trans-boundary environment” (Hetq 2012a). They put on a mock trial of the authorities, finding them guilty of violating the public good (Sargsyan 2012a).

On March 31, the protestors planned on disassembling the constructions themselves. “Of course, this is not only action for dismantling these kiosks. It is clear to everyone that this is just an occasion, a symbolic deed,” one public figure participating in the protests said, while another added, “This is a form of peaceful disobedience, because citizens have the right and obligation not to obey illegal decisions”. The ombudsman of Armenia disagreed on this occasion, citing that indeed private property was at stake. The police threatened to intervene (Chilingarian 2012a). Prominent protestors managed to break through police lines on April 4, but were soon taken into custody (Aslanian 2012f).

Among the more interesting and creative events that took place in the back-and-forth over the weeks that followed was a symbolic “oligarch burial” held on April 23. An effigy was carried in a mock funeral procession through the streets of downtown Yerevan, accompanied by around two hundred activists. The casket was for “Olik Garkhyan” (a play on words using common suffixes in Armenian for surnames and diminutive first names). Protestors said that illegal constructions throughout the city were “all symbols of the oligarchic system dominant in Armenia” (Sargsyan 2012b).

Finally, on May 1, the president of the country, Serge Sargsyan, made an appearance with Mayor Taron Margaryan and ordered that the constructions be removed. “You’ve done everything right. You were right in the sense that you made a temporary decision. … But, my dear Taron, as you can see, this [appearance] is not quite nice,” the president said in front of cameras (Chilingarian 2012b).

Although the goal was met, activists remained disillusioned by how neither legal issues, nor citizens’ demands were given priority over “the aesthetic whims of the president” (Hetq 2012b). Parliamentary elections were scheduled for just a few days later, which may have been a contributing factor to such an intervention by the president (Baghdasaryan 2012). The ruling party, in fact, used footage from Mashtots Park in its campaign videos to show that civil society was developing under their leadership – a tactic of appropriation that caused much outrage among the protestors (Ruzanna Grigoryan, pers. comm.).

Istanbul, Turkey, 2013 – Gezi Park

In late 2012, plans were published for the demolition of Gezi Park, right by Taksim Square, a prominent central location in Istanbul (see Appendix A). In its place, a shopping mall was to be put up alongside re-constructed Ottoman-era military barracks that had been torn down in 1940. What followed was many months of protests that grew into violent clashes (Hürriyet Daily News 2013; Amnesty International 2013; Anadolu Türk Haber 2014; Yaman, n.d.).

Calling themselves Taksim Solidarity, a group of NGOs and civic and political activists formed a platform in order to protest the plans. On May 27, 2013, Taksim Solidarity members blocked bulldozers that had been brought in to tear down trees in Gezi Park. A peaceful sit-in began the following day which the police violently dispersed. The image of a woman dressed in red being pepper-sprayed quickly went viral and served as a symbol of the crackdown. More protestors came in as a result, pitching tents in the area in the days that followed. Prime Minister Erdoğan was dismissive of the protests, publicly assuring that the construction plans would move forward.

On May 30, police raided the encamped protestors, setting fire to some of the tents and using tear gas, water cannons, and pepper spray to break up the crowd. By evening, however, some ten thousand protestors had once again gathered in Gezi Park. The greatest violence yet occurred the following day, when the police once more carried out an early-morning raid and were met with renewed protests during the day. This time, even more force was used to disperse the daytime crowd. Shocking images of injuries and tear gas-covered Gezi Park and Taksim Square brought out protestors in even greater numbers – an estimated one hundred thousand individuals – as new protests started to emerge in other parts of Istanbul and soon in other major cities throughout Turkey.

Gezi Park was re-claimed during this time with renewed encampments and public performances encouraging a festival-like atmosphere. A library and food stalls had also been set up. The night of June 5 being a religiously significant one (Lailat al-Miraj), protestors refrained from drinking alcohol and participated in communal prayers.

The tense situation remained in the following days all over the country, with continued reports of clashes, injuries, arrests, and some casualties. Unions went on strike. Violence between protestors and pro-government groups also took place. Some meetings were held at local administrative levels with protesting groups and individuals, and later at the deputy prime minister and presidential level. Government officials issued statements of regret. Prime Minister Erdoğan was on an official regional visit abroad. A large rally was held upon his return on June 6, during which he declared the protests illegal and unacceptable, while admitting that excessive use of force by the police might have taken place.

Gezi Park had meanwhile turned into a community space over the course of ten days, featuring, among other things, massive gatherings of the fan clubs of the three major rival football clubs of Istanbul, as well as the presence of notable public figures, and music and art performances. Other parts of Turkey likewise saw both peaceful sit-ins and more violent protests, without any clear claims being made, rather as expressions of general anti-government grievances.

On June 9, Prime Minister Erdoğan stated that his patience had limits. Another morning raid took place two days later, first on Taksim Square, where the encampment had spread, and then onto Gezi Park next to it. Clashes took place through the day, with police using plastic bullets along with tear gas and water cannons. Erdoğan met with some representatives of protestors that day and issued an ultimatum. At the same time, however, the government agreed to suspend the demolition plans in accordance with a court order.

On the weekend of June 15-16, Gezi Park turned into a communal gathering space once more which was again broken up with the intervention of the police. Blockades were set up by the police to prevent entry into Taksim Square and the park. Pro-government rallies also took place.

Protests continued elsewhere in Istanbul and in Turkey. A performance artist came up with a form of protest called “the standing man” (duran adam), remaining in one spot for hours on end, staring at a Turkish flag. This activity soon gathered steam. Numerous people imitated the style in the days that followed. Pro-government individuals did the same thing on Taksim Square, but with t-shirts reading “standing against the standing man” as a counter-protest.

Holding carnations as symbols of peace, protestors attempted to march on to Taksim Square once more on the weekend of June 22-23, but were violently rebuffed by the police. The following weekend saw marches in other parts of Istanbul, in particular a larger-than-usual annual gay pride parade.

Protests and clashes continued to take place sporadically in the following weeks. University graduation ceremonies and sporting events included banners or other signs of support for the protestors. Pro-government rallies, at times violent, also continued apace.

On July 8, Gezi Park was re-opened to the public, but only temporarily, as the crowd that gathered was once more dispersed by the police. Members of Taksim Solidarity were detained. They were released a few days later. Various incidents of clashes continued throughout the month and into early August, with the movement dying down by early autumn. All told, eight deaths were reported in Turkey over the course of the Gezi Park protests alongside over 8,000 injured individuals and more than 5,000 arrests.


Both Yerevan and Istanbul witnessed explicit echoes of the Occupy movement in these two parks. The participants keenly borrowed a repertoire from across the Atlantic. As opposed to Occupy, however, the movements in the two capitals began as claims on or the re-claiming of public spaces. Grassroots were mobilised in order to prevent any top-down changes to those spaces. It was only later that the claims broadened and turned into general grievances against corruption or ineptitude in the government, or other legal and political issues. Even with a greater scope, however, neither movement ultimately possessed a specific claims agenda besides the spaces to remain as they were. Perhaps that was one reason that both petered out even after dramatic rises in participation. Yet both can be labelled successes inasmuch as Mashtots Park and Gezi Park remained (and continue to remain) open and green public spaces.

Their repertoires were familiar: energetic gatherings, chants, banners, sit-ins, tents, music. Both movements were infused with the participation of the youth. The newer repertoires that they introduced were likewise reflections of a younger age. Social media and memes constituted part of the toolbox of the two movements, whether as “#OccupyMashtotsPark” (Aghajanian 2012) or “#OccupyGezi” or “#duranadam” (the “#standingman” protests).

In addition, following the public condemnation by Prime Minister Erdoğan of the protestors as looters or pillagers, activists played on the word he used in Turkish – “çapul” – to come up with a viral video inspired by the hit number “Everyday I’m Hustlin’” by rapper Rick Ross. “Everyday I’m Çapuling” became a song, a hashtag, and a slogan for the protests (Sheets 2013). For its part, “Dear Taron, this does not look nice” or such paraphrased words have lasted as memes or as short-hand for disapproval in Armenia long after the Mashtots Park events (A1plus 2017). Such creative repertoires thus managed to capture a wider audience in Armenia and Turkey, taking ownership of official statements and transforming them into empowering and even fun messages.

Who were the protestors? Gezi Park brought in odd collections of otherwise rival groups. “[P]eople showed the leftist ‘V’ salute at the same time as the ‘Grey Wolf sign’ of the right wing Nationalists,” according to one participant, adding, “If asked about the aim of the protest, each group or person would give a different answer but they all agreed on one thing: they wanted their democracy to be functional, they wanted the freedom that had been promised to them” (Castellano 2016). Mashtots Park, on the other hand, consisted of a few civic groups that had formed as a result of environmental movements that had begun elsewhere in Armenia in the preceding months. The groups had had success with the prevention of construction at a waterfall as well as a mining operation in the north of the country. The early participation numbers grew mainly through personal connections before managing to attract a wider base (Ruzanna Grigoryan, pers. comm.).

Violence was another significant factor that made a difference in participation. In Gezi, the stronger the crackdown, the bigger the crowds that followed. This was ultimately not a sustainable set of actions and reactions. By contrast, in Mashtots, where there was some – much less significant – violence, some more numbers came in as a result, but certainly not to the same appreciable degree.

The variety of protestors was particularly telling in Istanbul. Perhaps the violent reaction by the Turkish authorities was informed by the fact that it was not just one specific political party or other grouping leading the Gezi protests. The fact that leftists were encamped alongside individuals observing a religious festival was unprecedented in Turkish political life. In contrast, it is interesting to note that, far from any religious invocations, the crowd in Yerevan did not bring up the annual Armenian Genocide commemoration on April 24 at all – something that might have happened by chance or, more likely, it was a specific choice of inappropriate framing to be avoided.

The framing was particularly notable in Armenia. Mashtots Park was framed as an environmental issue, but it was also a legal matter, questioning whether constructions in the park were in keeping with regulations and asking about who was to gain from the profits of the shops. The mayor started to use legal language himself to justify the construction, bringing up property rights, while also expressing admiration for the diligent nature of the activists who cared for the city. That counter-framing flattery did not make much difference. The protestors continued the legal line by invoking the Aarhus Convention and public participation in decision-making. The mock trials they held also reflected legal perspectives. Thus the authorities tried to capture and control the framing, but the protestors managed to successfully renew their hold on it.

More significant, however, was the framing of the way in which the constructions ended. Simply having the president – the political leader of the entire country, not just the city or provincial level – say a few words and request the constructions to cease a few days before parliamentary elections was not the endgame the protestors had in mind. What about legal repurcusions and guarantees of transparency? The framing of the resolution of the issue was just as important as the framing of the issue itself. What started as a claim over public space and transformed into general anti-government sentiment was apparently shunted aside by the arbitrary desire of the ruler. This was a source of great frustration and even trauma for the protestors who wanted to push for further, legal investigations (Ruzanna Grigoryan, pers. comm.).

The Gezi Park protests, on the other hand, did not have as clear and consistent of a framing. It was a similar claim, to be sure, utilising similar repertoires, and it too invoked legal issues, public participation, and transparency. But it quickly became a very broad anti-government movement without a real agenda or leadership. Because it spread throughout the country and was central to much violence, it is difficult to pin-point framing invocations or transformations.

In addition, according to an observer, the atmosphere in the country was “toxic” in the run-up to Gezi, “built upon the hopelessness of the opposition and fears of the [ruling party’s] powerbase”. Turkey was “a socially polarized and politically divided country mainly due to Erdoğan’s inflammatory rhetoric and [the] opposition’s ineffectiveness”. Once the protests became more violent and anti-regime, ordinary citizens stayed more and more at home, leaving the protesting to the more radicalised. Being “leaderless and without an underlying political motivation and … truly no political agenda,” the Gezi Park movement was easily framed for its part by the Turkish authorities as illegitimate and criminal. Erdoğan was keen not to engage with the protestors – especially the higher-profile individuals among them – in order to avoid having the opposition elites hijack the events for their own purposes (Metin Gürcan, pers. comm.). Thus, the framing was more easily captured by the authorities in Turkey and was not successfully challenged.

In Steinberg’s terms, the diagnosis of the framing in both Mashtots and Gezi was that the actions by the authorities were unjust, opaque, and likely corrupt, enriching a few. The prognosis was less explicit, though cogent: if plans would go ahead for either park, then the precedent would most probably be set for other such spaces. It is no coincidence that both Yerevan and Istanbul had seen, within living memory, many open green spaces being given in to commercial constructions. Finally, the motivation was less clear, because it was in flux, ranging from the need to protecting the park for ecological or legal reasons to expressing broader outrage and anti-government sentiment.


In Turkey, Gezi Park was a highly significant event in the domestic political life and culture of the country. The case was far larger-scale and consequential than Mashtots Park, involving most regions of a much bigger and more populous country, far-reaching violence, issues of freedom of expression and due process, and international press coverage. The Gezi events were a backdrop – and a stimulus – to the shifting political field within Turkey. Prime Minister Erdoğan and the party he led had been enjoying popular rule for over a decade when the protests began. The years after 2013 were marred by corruption scandals, fraudulent elections, a failed attempt at a coup d’état, terrorist attacks, a regional and internal war, and a new constitution to consolidate Erdoğan’s authority in the role of a powerful president.

In the aftermath of Gezi, “The most visible outcome was the reiteration of the state’s prerogative to use force” (Özdemir 2017). Taksim Square, which used to be a major crossing point, was converted into a pedestrian zone. Gatherings or protests of any kind not sanctioned by the authorities have been prohibited at that location. What used to be a major centre in the civic life of Istanbul was instead relegated solely to a tourist and shopping area. Repertoires have had to be changed. Protests have moved further down the pedestrian street leading off the square (Ahval 2019). The Atatürk Cultural Centre facing Taksim – named for the country’s secular, Western-leaning founder – has been torn down, and the monument to the republic prominently featuring Atatürk is at present overshadowed by an immense mosque under construction. After thirteen uninterrupted years and significant activity during the Gezi protests, the gay pride parade has been banned in Istanbul since 2015. Police used rubber bullets and detained activists who tried to march in 2018 (Agence France-Presse 2018).

Evidently, even though the green space of Gezi Park remains, the authorities in Turkey have managed to stake and maintain a greater claim on a larger space. In a physical sense, the Taksim area has been transformed. In a figurative sense, the political space in the country is dominated by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AK Party. Although as of this writing the final word has not been said, the municipal elections in 2019 made a dent by usurping AK Party mayors in Istanbul and Ankara, so the short-term or medium-term may still see some challenges to Erdoğan’s rule. But the repertoires of Gezi are a distant memory. “[T]he reality [is] that the political energy generated by the protests did not translate into a sustainable political opposition movement and could not be institutionalized. This may be asserted as the biggest missed opportunity for … Turkish democracy” (Metin Gürcan, pers. comm.).

In Armenia, Mashtots Park was a watershed moment in civil society. After the brutal crackdown on March 1, 2008, following rigged presidential elections, all forms of collective action were seen in a potentially “politicised” light. Even though claims made across various movements in the years that followed were indeed very often political, to refer to them as such was seen as “civil action targeted toward regime change and revolution” because, “In Armenia, the very notion of civic mindedness presuppose[d] loyalty, respect for state institutions and for the law” (Saroyan 2016). Instead, civic activists framed their protests as “non-partisan”, “social”, or “economic”.

What is more, Mashtots Park – and the environmental movements outside of Yerevan that led up to it – demonstrated that ordinary citizens can congregate and work together at a horizontal, grassroots level. Earlier methods of protests were often led by a political leader in a top-down, hierarchical manner, with stump speeches and public declarations. The people were not considered real political actors, rather just part of the scene of the politician’s speech-making. Then civil disobedience, blocking construction and traffic, and more spontaneous, non-traditional tactics began to be deployed. The repertoires thus grew and encompassed non-hierarchical methods. In the medium-term, those newer approaches were at the heart of a variety of other social movements in the country in the years that followed Mashtots, ranging from protests against higher prices for public transportation to pension reforms to post-election fraud protests. It would be fair to say that the remarkable events that brought about regime change in Armenia in 2018 drew very much from the heritage of Mashtots Park (Ruzanna Grigoryan, pers. comm.).

In fact, many individuals who participated in Mashtots Park and other social movements that followed find themselves at present holding government offices. It is also telling to note that Mashtots Park was never even the official name of that space. It was at one point, in 2014, christened Manouchian Park during a visit by the president of France, in honour of a French-Armenian hero of the Resistance (Hetq 2014) – and perhaps as a way for President Sargsyan, who was still ruling the country, to assert control over the space, even if he ordered its construction plans to be cancelled two years prior. But the area continues to be popularly referred to as Mashtots Park, a reflection of the enduring resonance of the social movement. There is a small plaque marking the events of 2012 within the park.

The aftermaths of Mashtots and Gezi may also be reflected in the regime types in Armenia and Turkey. In keeping with Tilly and Tarrow’s idealisations, both would fall under the high-capacity and undemocratic categories, as mentioned. High-capacity undemocratic regimes tend to have rather narrow bands of tolerance for unsanctioned collective action. Both cases demonstrate how quickly the regimes were willing to consider the actions as being beyond that narrow band and how they were very much capable of using force in order to stifle the claims they were facing in 2012 and in 2013.

Following Gezi, the Turkish state has shifted towards an even lower level in the undemocratic category while maintaining its high capacity. Armenia, on the other hand, while it too kept its relatively high capacity for some years, saw a slow erosion which led to a change in leadership in 2018. That event arguably places the country at a higher level of democracy – although that level needs to be tested. Likewise with capacity, it is too soon to assess whether the new leadership is as organised or effective as the old guard. Contentious politics in Armenia in the coming months and years will demonstrate whether or not there has been a meaningful regime change in Tilly and Tarrow’s terms, while contentious politics in Turkey may feature significant events yet especially in Istanbul and other major urban centres now being ruled by opposition parties. Whether or not new social movements as such develop in Armenia or Turkey with renewed repertoires or fresh framings remains to be seen.


Appendix A: Maps of Yerevan and Istanbul

Mashtots Park is an open space off a main central thoroughfare in Yerevan.

It is marked “Missak Manouchian Park” on Google Maps.

Collage LTDհայաստան-արցախ-ուղեցույց.

Google Maps,+Armenia/@40.1804166,44.5120717,15z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x406aa2dab8fc8b5b:0x3d1479ae87da526a!8m2!3d40.1791857!4d44.4991029.

Gezi Park is next to Taksim Square, a prominent central area in Istanbul.

beautiful Istanbul.

Google Maps,28.990987,14z


Appendix B: Interviews


Ruzanna Grigoryan is currently a researcher at the Johannisyan Institute in the Humanities in Yerevan, Armenia. Her academic background includes work in public health at the American University of Armenia as well as philosophy and public policy at the London School of Economics. Grigoryan has long been an active organisor and participant of social movements in Armenia.

Interviewed via Skype on April 29, 2019


Metin Gürcan served in the Turkish military in Central Asia before joining the private sector as a security analyst and consultant in Istanbul. He has undertaken graduate work and research at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey and at Oxford, with a doctorate from Bilkent University in Ankara. Gürcan is a regular columnist for the online publication Al-Monitor.

Interviewed via e-mail on April 30, 2019



– Would you consider yourself a participant in the protests or a first-hand observer, or both, or something else?

– How would you characterise the social and political atmosphere in the country in the months and years prior to the events?

– What would you say motivated the people participating in the protests? Why were they there?

– Do you think there were relevant compelling reasons for people not to participate?

– Were protestors part of a larger, more formal social movement or organisation? Did one or more develop as a result of these protests?

– Why do you think the protests ended the way they did? Was any other outcome conceivable?

– What would you say were the short- and medium-term impacts of the protests and their consequences on politics and society in the country? Are there any meaningful speculations to be made about the long term?




A1plus. 2017. “Dear Taron, it is not nice – Nikol Pashinyan to Taron Margaryan.” April 18, 2017.


Agence France-Presse. 2018. “Istanbul gay pride march hit with tear gas as Turkish police try to enforce ban.” The Telegraph, July 2, 2018.


Aghajanian, Liana. 2012. “Armenia: Activists #Occupy Yerevan Park.” Global Voices, February 22, 2012.


Ahval. 2019. “Turkish women protesters defiant in face of police intervention.” March 8, 2019


Amnesty International. 2013. “Gezi Park Protests: Brutal Denial of the Right to Peaceful Assembly in Turkey.” October, 2013.


Anadolu Türk Haber. 2014. “Gezi Anniversary: Gezi Park Protests Timeline.” May 28, 2014.


Aslanian, Karlen. 2012a. “Shop Construction In Yerevan Park Sparks Protests.” Azatutyun Radiokayan (RFE/RL Armenia), February 17, 2012.


———. 2012b. “Protesters Reoccupy Yerevan Park.” Azatutyun Radiokayan (RFE/RL Armenia), February 20, 2012.


———. 2012c. “Police Ensure Renewed Shop Construction In Yerevan Park.” Azatutyun Radiokayan (RFE/RL Armenia), February 21, 2012.


———. 2012d. “Kiosk Construction Again Suspended Amid Protests.” Azatutyun Radiokayan (RFE/RL Armenia), February 22, 2012.


———. 2012e. “Environmental Activists In Fresh Standoff With Yerevan Police.” Azatutyun Radiokayan (RFE/RL Armenia), March 15, 2012.


———. 2012f. “Police Clash With Yerevan Park Protesters.” Azatutyun Radiokayan (RFE/RL Armenia), April 4, 2012.


Avagyan, Sona. 2012. “Mashtots Park Construction Site Standoff Continues Between Cops and Protestors.” Hetq, February 20, 2012.


Baghdasaryan, Edik. 2012. “Mashtots Park: Circumventing the Law for a Presidential Photo-Op.” Hetq, May 2, 2012.


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