"It started out about a park, but now it's about everything," someone tweeted in the middle of the night as protesters fought police in Istanbul's Taksim Square.
The events began on Monday morning 28 May, when some 50 protesters stood in front of the bulldozers about to attack the trees in Gezi Park, adjacent to Taksim Square. In the following days, the park was occupied around the clock by youth in affinity with the global Occupy movement and others determined to save one of the city's last green spaces. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had announced that the Ottoman military barracks that once stood on this site would be reconstructed to house a shopping centre and condominiums, alongside a new mosque. The symbolic and provocative nature of his announcement became even more apparent when it came out that he had decided to rip up the trees now and bring in the architects later.
This project represented the intersection of Islamism and the most speculative and monopolistic aspects of Turkish capitalism under Erdogan. The purpose was to demolish a square centred on a monument to Mustafa Kamel Ataturk, who transformed Turkey's shattered Ottoman Empire by founding a secular republic after World War I, and make developers and financiers linked to the prime minister's inner circle even more filthy rich.
At 5 am on Friday 31 May, police attacked. They fired rounds of tear gas into tents with people sleeping in them, including children, sent in bulldozers to roll over everything and set fire to the encampment. Hundreds of protesters, journalists and passers-by were injured. An attempted sit-in was dispersed. Instead of putting an end to the protests, this assault made many thousands of people from all walks of life feel that they had to come to the rescue. Some people chanted, "Thanks, Tayyip, for the wake-up call."
Youth throwing stones and other objects fought back against police in pitched battles that lasted all day and all night. The next day, the police withdrew from the square and protesters closed off the entrances with high barricades built of cobblestones and appropriated police crowd control barriers, street signs and other items. Supporters left their cars and buses to block police access. Nearby apartment dwellers offered their facilities for protesters. The square was turned into a place for political debate, concerts and dancing, a lunch area for curious and supportive office workers, and home away from home for people who came for their first-ever political protest and never left. It acquired a first aid station and a library.
Many people didn't come with the intention of fighting but under attack did so anyway. There were jokes on the theme of "Gezi gazzi" – I couldn't help it, I was gassed (drunk), or I was tired but I got gassed up at Gezi.
They were high school and university students and teachers (the universities suspended final exams); artists, architects, city planners and other intellectuals (some of the very first demonstrators); doctors and lawyers (their associations defended the protesters, and many came to help them); slum youth and their parents, many of Kurdish origin; white collar workers and businesspeople; shopkeepers (often handing out lemons and milk to sooth eyes burned by tear gas and pepper gas); pushcart peddlers; and housewives of all backgrounds, including traditional peasant families, some covered, most not. A few days later the two public service union confederations called a two-day strike and their members joined the youth.
Heedless of the protest, the prime minister held the scheduled ceremony inaugurating the construction of a third bridge across the Bosphorus, a project designed to delight real estate and financial speculators and bring the final expulsion of the lower classes and nature itself from that part of the city. Speaking of the Gezi demonstrators, he said, "It doesn't matter what you do. We made a decision and we will follow through with that decision." The bridge, he announced, would be named Yavez (the Great) Sultan Selim, after the sixteenth-century hereditary ruler who made the Ottoman Empire a caliphate (Islamic state), also infamous for the slaughter of members of the Alevi religious minority.
While the main TV channels were broadcasting beauty pageants and cooking shows and ignoring the news, the Twitter hashtag #Direngeziparki became the world's most popular, with 25 million people following it. Erdogan was to label Twitter and other social media "the worst menace to society."
Led by a commandeered construction vehicle originally brought in to demolish the park, youth attacked the Prime Minister's Istanbul offices. Tens of thousands of people from the part of the city on the other side of the Bosphorus confronted police and marched across a bridge normally closed to pedestrians to join the protests.
A late-night aerial video of the city shows lights blinking on and off in solidarity, in apartment buildings stretching far across the city, and everywhere there is the din of people beating pots and pans or banging spoons against street lamps, even in Bulgurlu, considered a stronghold of Erdogan's AKP governing party.
To be continued...
Pix from rawstory.com