Monday, 3 June 2013
GEZI PARK TO NATION-WIDE PROTESTS
Over the past few days we have witnessed mass demonstrations occurring, however, not just within the nation of Turkey but also on a global scale including countries such as Belgium, Austria, USA and the United Kingdom. In Turkey, such events were sparked earlier last week where a handful of peaceful protestors were occupying the green area in the vicinity of Taksim square, Istanbul also known as ‘Gezi Park’. Their motivation was to prevent plans to destroy the natural area to start construction work on a new shopping-centre. The park itself dates back to 1936 designed by Henri Prost, a French architect commissioned by then head of state Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
On the 31st May, the police retaliated forcefully against the peaceful protestors. Many people had been camping on the parks grounds for numerous days with their tents and camping equipment. However, the police swiftly attacked protestors spraying tear gas along with setting their tents on fire. Is this acceptable we ask? Is it just, for a group of peaceful protestors to be assaulted in such a way? Thus, as a consequence, many ordinary citizens throughout the city of Istanbul began protesting against the actions taken by the police but also of the cutting down of the first tree within Gezi Park. As the day progressed more and more people took to the streets of Istanbul in anger and rage. However, the protests were not purely down to a retaliation of the events that occurred earlier in the day, it was a culmination of the governments past policies which include the newly announced plans for alcohol bans, the three child policy, the imprisonment of any individual who speaks against the government. Therefore, Gezi Park stood as a symbol for many for change and showed to many of the people the final straw for which the government would find difficult to defend. The protests became more and more dynamic as the days developed along with the police reactions also increasing. Not only were the police using tear-gas but also beginning to shoot at unarmed people with plastic bullets. As a result, many were injured and were taken to makeshift hospitals immediately. Despite the cost, the citizens of Istanbul continued to protest in the early hours of Saturday morning and as stated by many, Istanbul ‘did not sleep that evening’.
The following day, nevertheless, saw the whole nation rise up in solidarity. Protests took place in all major cities including the capital Ankara, Izmir, Eskisehir, Aydin and many others. Throughout the night, however, the police force was preparing for the day ahead by dropping tear-gas and ensuring measure were in place which would prevent further demonstrations occurring. Among the measures taken was also the lock down of all public transport systems in an attempt to prevent people from crossing over from the Asian to European side. Fortunately, the people spirit was so powerful that it did not avert them from pursuing their aim. Thousands of people walked across the Bosporus bridge towards Europe, arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder, as one united mass. Due to the mass demonstrations, the police were having to be deployed from many other cities along with the many resignations over the night. Yet, the reactionary attitude from the police did not shift on Saturday. If anything it got worse. Many more people were being injured, and the police being merciless water cannoning and gassing anyone in their way. Their actions were so cruel that they even threw gas canisters into one of the hospitals where very vulnerable people were being treated along with tourists resulting in many missing their flights home. However, another major issue was the fact that no Turkish media was reporting any of the incidents due to them all being controlled by the government. Is that what a modern democracy should be like? Instead, TV channels such as CNN Turk and NTV showed documentaries of penguins and other animals while the events were headlining in all of the international media. There was however only two exceptions, ULUSAL and Halk TV, which were the only channels broadcasting the events live throughout the whole day with commentary showing they were not under the influence of the government. The Saturday protests also saw the support of famous actors and socialites which included Halic Ergenc and TV host Beyaz emphasising that people from all over were all fighting for the same cause. Interestingly, the previous evening Beyaz postponed his regular Friday evening show to raise support for the demonstrations and a day later received news that his show had been permanently cancelled once again highlighting that any individual that publicly proclaims opposition towards the government is silenced – democracy I hear you say?
PM Erdogan only gave two public statements throughout the day; one saying that ‘all demonstrations should stop immediately as all plans for the shopping centre will go ahead no matter what’ and that ‘if the protestors think that they are strong and powerful, then he can bring double the number of his party people onto the streets.’ Is the Prime Minister not to there to represent all the people’s opinion, interests and needs? Is he/she not supposed to acknowledge the concerns of the populas? But instead Prime Minister provokes and patronises all those who legitimately protest. The vulgar and illegal actions taken by the police force resulted in over 1,700 people being arrested and hundreds with serious injuries and some yet unconfirmed deaths.
The third days of protests saw many more protest around the country specifically in cities such as Izmir and Ankara. For the first time in many years the Turkish people were solely committed to one cause which saw the demonstrations carry on till the evening. The same tactics were being employed by the police with evidence showing that toxic gasses were now being used which were in fact expired with dates such as old as ‘2011’ printed on the cans. Hours later, the government began infiltrating twitter and Facebook accounts in an attempt to prevent further support being created and cutting communications with those in need. People began citing that electricity was being cut and that the police were tracking those who they believed to be inciting ‘terrorist activities’ which saw tear gas being sprayed into people’s homes. In addition, an announcement was made by the Prime Minister himself stating that he would be travelling to North Africa the following morning and returning on Thursday. This only emphasised to the people that their leader was even more out of touch and saw it as an excuse to flee from the events which were occurring in Turkey.
Despite Gezi Park being one of the smallest parks of Istanbul, it stood as a symbol of freedom and courage and became a symbol for the people to unite. How long must the people fight in order for their voices to be heard and their rights to be re-established?