MTV's 'Rebel Music' Returns With Fiery 'Turkey - Flowers Of Gezi Park'

'No matter how hard they try to divide us, when we come together, we are like five fingers,' says rapper VZ.

There was a time before the Internet when governments could crack down on dissent without the rest of the world finding out. But thanks to smartphones, Twitter and the power of hip-hop it's almost impossible to secretly keep a population down behind closed doors.

That's the lesson in the first episode from season 2 of MTV's acclaimed documentary series "Rebel Music." In "Turkey - Flowers of Gezi Park," you'll meet a group of young journalists, filmmakers and rappers who refused to stand down when their country's government trampled on their freedoms.

Positioned at the gateway between Europe and the Middle East, Turkey is a country in transition. After a chaotic series of coups and military rule over much of the 1970s and 80s, the nation appeared to be transitioning to a more stable democracy under former Prime Minister and current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

But anger over Erdogan's tactics -- which some critics have labeled authoritarian -- boiled over in 2013, inspired, in part, by plans to bulldoze Istanbul's popular Gezi Park and turn it into a shopping mall. "The Gezi protests started as a struggle to protect the park we are in," said journalist Gökhan Biçici of the street actions that drew hundreds, then thousands. "It turned into the biggest public revolt in Turkish history."

That protest was inflamed by the overwhelming police response, which included tear gas and setting activist's tents on fire.


Soon, hundreds of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Turkish cities, with the park turning into a symbol of the people's refusal to let Erdogan's AKP party continue to operate with impunity. Among the issues they marched for (or against): freedom of expression, government authoritarianism, land expropriation and women's rights.

Asil Slang, a member of the multi-ethnic hip-hop group Tahribad-ı İsyan, said the Gezi protests were an opportunity to do something Turks could not in 2008, when the government demolished the historic Sulukule district in Istanbul's Old City: "Protest against what we think is not fair." The MC, whose lighting fast flow is one of the group's signatures, said he never questioned why he joined the Gezi protest. "Gezi was like a civil war. It was like the heart fighting the brain in my opinion," said fellow group member VZ.


Not all young people saw Gezi as a positive expression of democratic protest, though. "Even though Muslims are the majority in this country, we have been suppressed for years. I feel one of us is representing us now," said international relations student Elif Sahin about Erdogan, adding that in her eyes Gezi was an attempt at a coup by young people who were used as "pawns" to divide the nation.

College student and activist Juliana Gözen has been chronicling the way women's rights have been impacted during Erdogan's rule while trying to help build a resistance movement at universities. "There has been a big leap forward in the fight," she said of the post-Gezi atmosphere. "[Our frustration] added up and we said, 'Enough!'"


That frustration extends to the government's forced take-over of neighborhoods and a farming village, where thousands of olive trees were cut down to make way for private businesses and local farmers who protested were beaten by the company's security officers for speaking out.

Filmmaker/activist Kazim Kizil stood with the protesters and the farmers, using his photos and video as a tool to tell their stories. "To stand side by side, in solidarity, to resist together. This was the spirit of Gezi for me," he said.

And, as with so many uprisings in the region over the past few years, social media played a huge part in getting the story outside of Turkey's borders. "Gezi was a milestone in the ways I use Twitter and the Internet," said social media personality Fahreddin Özlen, who has sometimes edited together comedic clips to tell the world what is going on in his country.


Re-live all their stories as part of the launch of season two of "Rebel Music," which will also explore the lives of musicians in Iran, Myanmar, Venezuela, Senegal and the Native American communities of North America.

Make sure you tune in for today's season two premiere, when "Music" takes you on a journey to Turkey for another untold tale of fearless young artists rising up against social and political barriers to forge a better future.

"No matter how hard they try to divide us, when we come together, we are like five fingers. Each finger is different but when they are together they can serve the same function," said Slang member VZ.