The Battle for Taksim Square

Taksim Square, the symbolic heart of Istanbul, was engulfed in black fumes and white clouds Tuesday as riot police firing tear gas and water cannons moved in to regain control over an area that has been occupied by antigovernment protesters for the past two weeks

  • Share
  • Read Later

Taksim Square, the symbolic heart of Istanbul, was engulfed in black fumes and white clouds Tuesday as riot police firing tear gas and water cannons moved in to regain control over an area that has been occupied by antigovernment protesters for the past two weeks. In Ankara, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the demonstrations, which began over an environmentalist sit-in to protest plans to demolish a center city park, were part of a “comprehensive attack” designed to harm the country. Erdogan insisted that he would move ahead with plans to redevelop the park, an issue that has become a symbol for what protesters say is his arrogant leadership.

The standoff is the worst turmoil Turkey has seen in a decade of Erdogan’s rule, and the protests show no sign of abating. “There is a big game that is being played on Turkey in the guise of Taksim Gezi Park,” Erdogan said on Tuesday to a gathering of members of parliament from his party, the AKP. “They package it in trees and environmental sensitivity, but really there are those who want to slow a growing, strong Turkey.” Though he styled himself as a champion of democracy during the Arab Spring protests in Egypt and Tunisia, this is the first time Erdogan has faced mass protests at home.

(MORE: Erdo-gone? After Taksim, Turkish Leader’s Political Future May Hang in the Balance)

The unrest began over a peaceful sit-in demonstration on May 28 against the government’s plans to raze Gezi Park, just off Taksim Square, and replace it with a faux-Ottoman-style commercial development and barracks. Police attacked the activists, burning their tents and tear-gassing them, while bulldozers began uprooting trees. As images of the violence went viral, frustration with the government’s increasingly heavy-handed politics hit a boiling point and tens of thousands of people took to the streets on May 31 to protest. Police responded with more tear gas. Hours later, defiant demonstrators seized Gezi Park and the square surrounding it. Protests then spread to dozens of other cities.

Erdogan, who was elected for a third time as Prime Minister in 2011, has variously blamed the unrest on vandals, terrorist groups and international interest-rate speculators seeking to undermine the Turkish economy. He has not been willing to acknowledge that the roots of this discontent, in fact, run deep within Turkish society. The new movement forged in Gezi Park has transcended old fault lines. Thousands of supporters of Turkey’s three top soccer teams united for the first time in recent memory to support Occupy Gezi. The area has become a truly public space, a free zone where dissidents of every stripe — nationalists, leftists, environmentalists, Kurds, conservative Muslims — have found a home. Several thousand people are camped out there, and their ranks swell to the hundreds of thousands in the evenings when people get off work.

(MORE: As Turkey’s Protests Continue, Attention Falls on Failures of Turkish Media)

The core group of Gezi Park occupiers are young people, mostly under the age of 25 and most with no prior political affiliation, according to an Istanbul Bilgi University study. The Turkish media have called this movement a Generation Y revolution. Their grievances include the government’s Islamist-influenced attempts to curb women’s reproductive rights and the sale of alcohol, its poor environmental track record and Erdogan’s paternalistic manner. Though the movement has no official leader, a loose coalition called the Taksim Solidarity Platform has emerged. Its demands include the cancellation of Gezi Park’s proposed redevelopment, resignation of officials responsible for the police violence, a ban on the use of tear-gas bombs against the protesters and the release of protesters who have been detainees. The government has shown no sign of addressing any of their demands. Three people have died and some 5,000 have been wounded since the unrest began, according to Turkey’s Medical Association.

The mood inside the park on Tuesday was more somber than it has been in recent days as people donned gas masks and goggles. Clouds of tear gas drifted inward while Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu told protesters that police would not enter the park. “The protests in Taksim Square and Gezi Park have been entirely peaceful and have a right to continue,” said Amnesty International’s Turkey researcher Andrew Gardner. But Mutlu later on Tuesday night called on youths to leave the park. “Our state power will be directed at marginal groups. People should not go to Taksim until security has been established,” he said.

Separately, some 72 lawyers were arrested Tuesday noon as they gathered to make a statement about the situation in Gezi Park at Istanbul’s main Caglayan Courthouse. They were subsequently taken into custody.

The unrest continued into the night. The tens of thousands of protesters who returned to Taksim Square in the evening were met with more rounds of tear gas, which was also fired into the park. Students clutching surgical masks, women in summer dresses and sandals and boys selling gas masks ran through the trees for cover from the plumes of acrid chemicals that spewed out of canisters fired by riot police. Barcin Yinanc, a columnist for the Istanbul-based Hurriyet Daily News, told the Associated Press that Erdogan’s speech indicated he wouldn’t allow the occupation of Gezi Park for much longer. “If there is a very serious clampdown, then I think that the protesters will continue to react against the government,” she said.

However, she estimated they were unlikely to continue as they had. “Many believe that the message to the government was given sufficiently loud enough and that the opposition to the government should now move off the streets and be channeled through other ways.”

But as night fell to the echoes of exploding tear-gas canisters in Taksim, few protesters appeared willing to leave.

____

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

MORE: Protests in Turkey: Will Taksim Become Erdogan’s Tahrir Square?

PHOTOS: Police Crack Down on Activists in Istanbul

27 comments
Edcapulcu
Edcapulcu

He made himself and his cronies multi millionaires. Lets see when he will be prosecuted for the monies he stole from Turkish people. Hopefully, the world will see him prosecuted. 

Edcapulcu
Edcapulcu

This writer got is so right. Mr. Erdogan is nothing more than an opportunist and a dictator. Not much different than Saddam Hussein or Ghaddafi. He is a disgrace for Turkey and Turkish history. He should resign as soon as possible..

mohammadkhan93
mohammadkhan93

@TIME @TIMEWorld turkey main khilafat ki jan aagyi,lekin ye khilafat nabi ki nahi khuda ki hogi,viceroy of god,as adam was,islam is an ism?

ConnorS
ConnorS

Indeed, everything Erdogan did, he did it because it suited his purposes, not because he was some visionary leader with positive aspirations for his country. Every "democratic" advancement he oversaw, he approved because it freed the way for him to expand his power and influence over Turkish politics, with which he could then proceed to pursue his oppressive vision, while filling up his (and his supporters') pockets in the process.

He most certainly did not create an economic miracle, his immediate predecessors did, right before the election that saw Erdogan's admission into power. Erdogan was just lucky to be in the big boy seat in time to reap the fruits of those reforms. He supplemented this by doing what he does best: selling off every vital industry and public good to whichever political ally or nephew thereof supported him best, while cozying up to mid-east dictators and wealthy sheikhs with even worse human rights records to prop up his failed policies. Anyone who studies the current economy of Turkey honestly, and without rose-tinted glasses can tell you that it is all is one big illusion, a mere facade and a bubble waiting to burst, as soon as foreign investments dry up and there are no more national interests left to sell. Unemployment, income inequality are all rampant, and inflation is made to falsely appear low through accounting tricks.

He enjoys sweeping and unprecedented direct decision-making capabilities on all local and national development, large or small. He is the one who decides where Istanbul's massively controversial third bridge will be (so that he and his supporters can buy up the surrounding land), he decides where the widely unpopular nuclear plants will be built and by whom. He picks economic development zones for each city. He decides bidding and contracts on urban regeneration projects. He, and he alone. With all of these, he is the one who reaps the benefits, with zero accountability or democratic process that is answerable to the populace or their interests. Can you imagine the outrage if a US President even though of, let alone attempted, a mere tenth of this?

Nor did Erdogan solve the Kurdish problem - he exacerbated it. He did not end the ethnic conflict- he restarted it after years of ceasefire and had to concede in every which way to get back to the same point where the country was before he took the reins, except under worse conditions.

He jailed students, academics, opponents left and right, while holding them indefinitely without a proper trial or due process. When he could not come up with an excuse to carry out such actions, he made up "reasons" and tried to play the victim card, telling anyone gullible enough to believe him that there were shadowy forces afoot. On the rare chance that his victims survived prison torture and severe inmate neglect and actually saw trials, it was pure puppet theater meant to shock and intimidate.

Every major media outlet was either punished (through arrests, vindictive tax bills and audits, etc); intimidated into self-censorship; or was straight up bought out by his family or cronies. The most famous of these family businesses, owned by his son-in-law, immediately laid off any reporters who were in any way critical of the PM, and proceeded to either run only positive stories or no stories at all. The infamous penguin broadcast of last week is a prime example.

People he would not intimidate, he simply bribed or bought, whether through lucrative contracts, secretly funneled funds, or through favorable appointments.

He politicized every aspect of the country, self-appointed every key position which would make sure any checks and balances and sense of accountability were eliminated, while openly disparaging large segments of the population - often stooping to nauseating levels of crassness.

He disparaged education and academia, labeling anyone that disagreed with his divisive and crass attitude as elitist, and wearing his ignorance as a badge of honor.

He either setup, or collaborated with exiting faux NGOs whose sole purpose is to ensure the continuation of his power, the most infamous of which is the Deniz Feneri foundation.

He tried to dictate what women could do with their bodies. He told them how many children they should have and what role they should have in society. He attempted to chip away at basic rights and told the people it was only for their best interest. That he tried to criminalize adultery a few years ago should tell you everything you need to know about his democratic leader qualities.

Or that he is fond of war criminal Omar al-Bashir and friendly with militant Islamists across the Middle East is perhaps a better indicator of his autocratic credentials?

Worst of all, he did everything on this list and more while filling his pockets with the People's money, and had the audacity to flaunt it (e.g. his "little ship") while grinning defiantly - which is perhaps his worst trait. The hubris. The shamelessness. The uncaring attitude. All the repulsive qualities that earned him the disparaging nickname "the sultan".

Iron-fistedness? Check. Centralization of power? Check. Mouthpiece media? Check. A pathetic cadre of yes-men? Check. Megalomania? Check. Paranoia? Check. Penchant for divisiveness? Check. Nepotism? Theft? Police state tactics? Check, check, and check. These are not the marks of a great leader. These are marks of a thug and a coward, who would rather hide behind intimidation and talk, than to face the will of his constituents. He deserves all the scorn he has amassed and more.

ececan
ececan

Good news is things are hopefully getting better. Sincere demonstrators and terrorist among them started to fall apart. Any body who wants Turkey to grow stronger started to see the real picture now.

Erdogan knew how to stand up against this dark game and Turkey will be stronger after this. I am supporting the free Turkey. 

I repeat, I condemn the TIME's one sided news for ignoring view of millions of Turkish people who are on the side of piece. And they are waiting with patience at their home for this hateful, anti democratic, anarchy!

I also wonder, why the bad ones are the lousy ones? Any ideas?


Turk14530529
Turk14530529

@TIME these are no longer protests by citizens but only by illegal groups damaging the environment with their violent acts.

Thabileng
Thabileng

@TIME @TIMEWorld when is the youth of Sub-Saharan Africa going 2 stand up & fight for their rights & democracy? I envy middle eastern youth.

RamonRoman
RamonRoman

Mr Mac Cain, the traveler Senator, What are you waiting to grab a jet in the middle of the night and join the protesters?

ececan
ececan

@ConnorS Stop your lies. These became old story already. Last 2 weeks, you have done enough damage to Turkey with these one sided and lie news. You won't succeed for more damage.

Turkey will continue to grow! Even you don't want it.

twocents
twocents

@ececan funny kid; stronger, it will not be. interpret "it" to be either "turkey" or "erdogan". this is a slipper slope and you are going down fast. 

sickening as always; have to give you that, at least there is consistency in what is spewed.

OnderKaradeniz
OnderKaradeniz

Here he starts his speach with saying "onlara göre" and repeats it 3 more times it means "according to them". Then he quotes some words, then he adds this: "hep böyle baktılar",  it means "they always looked that way".

As this is a very limityed part of his speeach, yes, sure, still it does not sound OK. But this does make him racist, it just could be called a week expression. Because there is no any issue about black-white people in Turkey but among Turkish-Kurdish people and  for a long time he has been triying to solve racist problems in Turkey including Turkish-Kurdish issues. 

Recently he has been protested by his opponent because he condemed racist and religious nationalism. He had said: "We crushed all kind of nationalism beneath under our feet.

OnderKaradeniz
OnderKaradeniz

@LeoIheme

 @LeoIheme 

Here he tries to express some of protestors mindset. Some of the protestors are called white-Turks because they still think in a similar wayy to white-racist-people of old times US. As  it is known that Erdogan is not a racist but most racist people are against Erdogan.

I critise him in same ways but he is the one compete with racists in my country. You can reach his politics and his other speaches as well via internet.

ececan
ececan

@nuri251270 @TIME @meworld Erdogan is the one who brought real freedom to Turkey. If there was no freedom, you wouldn't be able to access this site, Facebook, or Twitter. You would be scratching the walls in the joint!

twocents
twocents

@Turk14530529 @TIME your criticism of the state and the police force is duly noted, since anyone with impartial assessment skills can see for themselves that legality and violence belong to the police force and by proxy to the state.

ConnorS
ConnorS

@ececan Not one single item on my comment is false. Even if you don't want it.

ececan
ececan

@twocents @ececan Your wishes won't come trough dude!

By the way: Turkey and Erdogan both need to be started with capital letter. We all (you too!) need to learn to respect others and their views.

twocents
twocents

@OnderKaradeniz @LeoIheme would you care to explain who these "most racist people" are?

did those people say "you know, he is alevi" during the election campaign? i know someone who did.

did those people say "i was treated as alevi, as jew, even as a greek? i know someone who did.

one wonders what racism means in the eye of a bigot.

twocents
twocents

@ececan @TIME @meworld define freedom, ye man of wrong terms! 

tell us how many journalists are in prison, ye man of demagogy? oh wait, they are not journalists, but terrorists, right? just because they dare to go after truth.

tell us how many web sites are not accessible from turkey, ye man of censure? oh wait, they are immoral, right? just because they dare to talk about evolution and atheism.

tell us how many attorneys/lawyers were attacked only yesterday, ye man of hypocrisy? oh wait, they are traitors, right? just because they dare to defend those in the protests and decide to silently protest what is transpiring. 

as usual, sickening!

Aspiringazoz
Aspiringazoz

Accessing to the this site,twitter and facebook is just indicator of freedom? Or devotion your head to a man instead of believing humanity or contemporary democracy? Shame on you! I do realy wonder what has prompted you to devote yourself to a dictator as god!

twocents
twocents

@ececan @twocents typical hypocrisy! it is not by decree that people start respecting others, but by deeds. when will this lot ever learn the thing called communication and its somewhat of an extension, democracy?