Revolution in Istanbul: Joy and Pain in Taksim Square

During day two of what started as a peaceful protest interrupted by police brutality, thousands of Turks are standing up to a police squad that “doesn’t think, they just do,” in a country where Prime Minister Erdogun’s authoritarian rule is pushing people to their limit.  According to the word on the street from young Turks, this is the first time ever that “atheists, communists, and extremists” have come together with no regard for personal background, as shared proudly by a young man standing outside the Anarchist Hostel in Çukurcuma.  Turks are rejecting a plan to uproot some of the last remaining green space in Gezi Park in order to build a shopping mall that will link Taksim Square, a center point of the city, to social life along the adjoining pedestrian street Istiklal Cadessi, in downtown Istanbul.

Tear gas bombs were still being thrown by the police into mid-afternoon, moving from Taksim Square into the upscale expat neighborhood of Cihangir.  Almost everyone on the street was either masked or wearing goggles to protect themselves from the gas, while chanting  “unite against fascism” and “government resign” (according to other news sources).

Goggles, maks, and helmets being sold at a neighborhood supply store

Retreating in the face of tear gas in Cihangir on June 1st

Local radio journalist Ozdal Akdeniz of Açik Radyo,  explained to me over lunch today at a café in the calm neighborhood of Galata, that tension had been mounting since a governmental demolition three months ago of  a historic theatre -Emek Sinemasi. “Erdogun is acting like he’s king,” said the twenty-five year old student.   Erdogun’s Islamic AKP party government is also pushing forward a prohibition on buying alcohol past 10pm-a radical change for this relatively liberal country- while embarking on massive urban projects that will dramatically alter the landscape of the city: a third airport for Istanbul, another bridge to link its European side to the Asian side, and purportedly the biggest mosque outside of Mecca.  All of these projects have been moving forward with complete disregard for public opinion. Friday’s construction date for uprooting Gezi Park was the final push that burst the escalating  social and economic tension.

Later in the day while sitting along the river front near Kabatas, a spirited group of high schoolers plopped down their bags right next to mine and an innocent-looking young girl initiated conversation: “Are you here for the meeting?”  What she was asking was if we were “sitting” as part of the resistance.  Despite answering no, I actually felt that we were.  We’d walked half of the city all day long, partly to find quiet spots to sit in calm cafés and partly to keep abreast of the word on the street and get updates on the status of the movement.

“We reject Erdogun.  The media is blocked.  They don’t tell you anything.  The cops are killing.  It’s so hard, we are so sad, but we win.”  She urged us to “go to the media, please; just the internet is talking about this, but the media is not. People are dying.”  In her broken English, I understood that she was trying to state that this was a revolution.  It has yet to really prove what it is, but in the meantime, with streets full of Turks of all ages, what can be said is that it is inspiring.  Despite the brutality, the sentiment is hopeful and people are united.  Together with Turkey, I stand.

This morning’s bridge crossing. Senem and her friends Baris, Ogun, and Okan walked from the Asian side of Istanbul over to the European side to join the other protestors gathering in the Beyoglu district.

Painting the city red: Turks unite

SenemSenem and Ogun who will be sleeping in solidarity in the park tonight.
“Today we are poor,” he said, in response to my raised brows when I learned they were sleeping outside.  And yet the life in his eyes was plentiful enough to light  their march through the midnight hours and beyond.

More on the lead-up to the anti-government protests

-Posted by Maureen Moore, an accidental reporter, reporting from Istanbul

Photos thanks to Hannah Sokol and Viktoria Saxby (except for Bosphorus Bridge photo, thanks to somewhere on the internet)

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~ by maureenmoore on June 1, 2013.

3 Responses to “Revolution in Istanbul: Joy and Pain in Taksim Square”

  1. gracias por la crónica, compañera y testigo de hechos históricos. el espíritu magonista vive, ideales que trascienden toda frontera. please stay safe even as you soak it all in!

  2. Thx for the ‘live’ reporting; let your safety come before your curiosity!

  3. Only you would be accidentally (not!) found in this charged environment trying to make and report sense to those of us on the outside, and being successful at it–stay safe

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