[Marxism] Police Attack Protesters in Istanbul’s Taksim Square

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri May 31 11:17:51 MDT 2013

NY Times May 31, 2013
Police Attack Protesters in Istanbul’s Taksim Square

ISTANBUL — Police officers attacked a group of peaceful demonstrators on 
Friday in Istanbul’s Taksim Square with water cannons and tear gas, 
sending scores of people, protesters and tourists alike, scurrying into 
shops and luxury hotels and turning the center of this city into a 
battle zone at the height of tourist season.

The police action was the latest violent crackdown by the government 
against a growing protest movement challenging plans to replace a park 
in Taksim Square, Istanbul’s equivalent of Cairo’s Tahrir Square, with a 
replica Ottoman-era army barracks that would house a shopping mall.

But while the removal of the park, which is filled with sycamore trees 
and is the last significant green space in the center of Istanbul, set 
off the protests at the beginning of the week, the gatherings have 
broadened into a wider expression of anger against the heavy-handed 
tactics and urban development plans of the government and its leader, 
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. His party, now in power a decade, 
is increasingly viewed by many Turks as becoming authoritarian.

Mr. Erdogan still has great support among Turkey’s religious masses, but 
secular critics cite his government’s sweeping prosecution and 
intimidation of journalists as evidence of its intolerance of dissent.

Much of the anger also centers on the struggle over Istanbul’s public 
spaces. Mr. Erdogan’s government has preceded with disputed urban 
development plans with little public input, while his police forces have 
increasingly used tear gas against peaceful protesters, resulting in 
scores of injuries, including the hospitalization on Friday of a Kurdish 
lawmaker, who had become a vocal participant in the protests, after he 
was hit by a tear gas canister.

The protest movement comes amid continued public anger at Turkey’s 
policy of supporting the rebels in Syria, which many Turks feel has led 
to a violent spillover inside Turkey, including recent car bombings in 
the southern city of Reyhanli, which killed dozens of people. The rising 
public disenchantment represents a significant political challenge to 
Mr. Erdogan, who is planning to run for the presidency next year and has 
been trying to alter the Constitution to create a more powerful 
presidential system.

In the early afternoon Friday, as protesters gathered and began shouting 
antigovernment chants, police officers in riot gear began surrounding 
the group, positioning vehicles that resembled tanks at the edge of the 
square around the protesters, who were mostly sitting.

“Taksim is ours, we are not giving it to the A.K.P.!” they chanted, 
referring to Mr. Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development 
Party, known as A.K.P.

As they chanted, police officers casually put on their gas masks and the 
operators of the tanklike vehicles aimed their big guns, which fire a 
mixture of water and tear gas, at the group. Then chaos erupted. 
Protesters and onlookers, some of them tourists, ran down side streets 
where shopkeepers offered sliced lemons to soothe the burning sensation 
of the gas, and pharmacists doled out ointments for skin burns.

“The pigs, the pigs,” said Esra Yurtnac, who was crying as she sought 
refuge in a bakery after being gassed. “All they know is how to use gas.”

She added, “They think they can silence us with force, but they won’t.”

Hours after the clashes with protesters, an Istanbul court on Friday 
ruled in favor of a petition by a local advocacy group and halted the 
project until parties submitted their legal arguments to court, the 
semiofficial Anatolian News Agency reported. The interior minister also 
pledged on Friday that claims of excessive force would be investigated.

The chaos followed a dawn raid on an Occupy Wall Street-style encampment 
in Gezi Park, near Taksim, in which the police also used tear gas to 
drive away protesters and later barricaded the park. In an earlier raid 
on the camp, on Thursday, the police set fire to some tents. The brief 
occupation of the park, which began after bulldozers had started to take 
down trees, had taken on a festival-like atmosphere, with yoga, 
barbecues and musical performances, while the gathered changed, “Taksim 
is ours! Istanbul is ours!”

The people adorned the camp with banners expressing the rising anger at 
the reshaping of Istanbul’s urban spaces by the government. One read, 
“Don’t touch our neighborhood, our squares, our trees, our water, our 
soil, our homes, our villages, our cities and our parks.”

Another referred to Mr. Erdogan and the growing number of shopping malls 
being built around the city. “Let all shopping malls crumble and let 
Tayyip get crushed by their rubble,” the banner read.

In building new mosques and emphasizing Turkey’s Islamic past over its 
Byzantine and Roman legacies, Mr. Erdogan has been referred to as a 
latter-day Ottoman sultan, with little regard for seeking public input 
on the projects. On Wednesday, the government held a groundbreaking 
ceremony for a third bridge over the Bosporus that is being named for an 
Ottoman sultan.

“It’s all about superiority, and ruling over the people like sultans,” 
said one of the protesters, Seckin Barbaros, 26, a former journalist who 
is now unemployed. “When were we asked what we wanted? We have three 
times the amount of mosques as we do schools. Yet they are building new 
mosques. There are eight shopping malls in the vicinity of Taksim, yet 
they want to build another.”

In a speech earlier in the week, Mr. Erdogan dismissed the protesters 
and said the destruction of park would go ahead, “no matter what they do.”

The anger in the streets is also a rebuke to the economic policies of 
the government, which have relied heavily on construction and new 
housing in Istanbul to power economic growth. Turkey has had a resilient 
economy that emerged relatively unscathed from the global financial 
crisis, eclipsing the performance of Europe and many other nations. But 
some analysts worry the government’s focus on construction projects 
could lead to a bubble much like the one in the United States that led 
to the economic collapse of 2008.

Ms. Barbaros said, “What about the day when all these shopping malls 
will be empty like in Greece and then they will wish they never 
constructed them.”

She added: “Where are the opera houses? The theaters? The culture and 
youth centers? What about those? They only choose what will bring them 
the most profit without considering what we need.”

Another demonstrator, Seyfettin Sabaz, who is training to be a dentist, 
said: “Many of the Turkish public think that we are here as 
environmentalists to save our sycamore trees. But that’s not it. We are 
here to stand up against those that are trying to make a profit from our 

Around Taksim Square, the site of several other tear gas attacks on 
protesters this year, including one on May Day demonstrators, the chaos 
is taking on a sense of the familiar to shopkeepers who are becoming 
accustomed to offering shelter and aid to tear gas victims.

“I own a decorations shop, but for the past year it has felt like I run 
a shelter for gas raid victims,” said Ali Yildrim, who has lived in 
Istanbul for 35 years. “Soon I’ll be keeping lemons and medicine behind 
my counter.”

Sebnem Arsu contributed reporting from Antakya, Turkey

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