Turkish police use aggressive force against citizens of Istanbul on the anniversary of Occupy Gezi (31Mayıs 2014)
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31 May 2014- the one year anniversary of the occupy Gezi Park movement.
Unlike the scene one year ago in Taksim Square, the government was prepared for demonstrations. The prime minister of Turkey took massive precautions by maximizing his force by flexing his muscles- his police force. Prime Minister Erdoğan announced a public warning on Friday that he gave strict orders to his security forces and anyone not corresponding to his imposed fear by staying home will face the consequences. Erdoğan closed the roads as well as stopped all public transportation on Saturday to block access to Taksim Square. This complete shutdown of transportation (including all ferry services and the Bosphorus bridge) disconnected the city’s two continents and separated the city into two isolated halves.
he Turkish prime minister applied the same tactics on both halves of the city, but focused more attention towards the European side in which contains the infamous Gezi Park. All over Istanbul, P.M. Erdoğan deployed more than 25,000 police officers, 50 TOMA water cannons, as well as stronger tear gas all in an attempt to stop demonstrators from gathering in Turkey’s commercial capitol.
Most of the action took place on the European side, focused on Taksim- the heart of the Gezi movement. Due to the severe precautions taken by Turkish authorities, Taksim Square was not a battlefield mirroring last year’s successful energy but, rather, it was a territory occupied by the government’s armed men which highlighted the unresolved tensions that has continued to build among Turkish citizens’ dissatisfaction with the actions, policies, and attitudes of the government. The objective of the protestors on the anniversary was peaceful- to simply place flowers in Gezi Park to commemorate all the events that have taken place since the initial protests one year ago as well as to pay tribute to those individuals that lost their lives in the battle against the authoritarian ruling paradigm. The acting authorities and police played a strong defensive position to maintain their guard and occupation of the symbolic park. While the protestors all over the city were executing their traditional methods of displaying their dissatisfaction with the AKP government chanting by “her yer Taksim, her yer direniş” (translation: everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance) and banging pots and pans with kitchen utensils, the police responded harshly by firing tear-gas canisters and spraying water cannons to disassemble the demonstration.
While the defensive mode and corresponding tactics of Turkish security forces were uniform in all neighbourhoods in Istanbul, the protest in Kadıköy (the center of the half of the city that resides of the Asian continent) was much different from its sister demonstration in Taksim. Like most of the anti-government protests occurring in Kadıköy, the crowd of protestors was significantly smaller but was much more aggressive. Throughout the afternoon and night, there were highs and lows. Earlier in the evening, police made a preempted strike with tear gas by attacking locals attempting to enjoy their Saturday evening to scare them into going home and clearing the streets. Later, protestors marched down Moda Caddesi and met at the Kadıköy Boğa and continued to initiate attention and hostility from the police by vandalising public property, burning garbage, yelling as well as making fun of Erdoğan and his police muscle, and banging on everything that was metal. As well as their attempts at directly trying to intimidate the police, other demonstrators made attempts to rally more people by open firing live rounds on Sakız Gülü Sokak- one of the main streets in Kadıköy filled with popular cafes, bars, restaurants, and cinemas. Still, with the preparations and strictly implemented government orders as well as the oppositional forces being greatly outnumbered, the one year marker of Gezi was quieter than other anti-government protests.
Despite one year’s worth of anti-government demonstrations, six deaths, countless injuries and endless violence, Turkey continues to be dominated and corrupted by Erdoğan’s authoritarian regime. After one year of demonstrations and violence without even a slight budge from the religious conservative prime minister, one must ask: is there still hope that the many dissatisfied Turkish citizens will see their desired change?
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(Above: Taksim’s famous Istiklal Sokak and its usual weekend nightlife was disrupted as it, once again, became the for protest.)
And it’s back: the tear gas, the TOMA water cannons, and the plastic bullets–
This signifies the revival of outward force of the AKP’s hard power (via riot police) as a reaction to the re-awakened execution of tension by the public in the form of demonstration in Istanbul.
The rising tension correlates significantly with the escalating scandals.
The awakening of the beast began on 17December when a raid was conducted against a highly politically charged scandal involving top officials. Each day since, the initial shock to the system has sent troubling waves across Turkey and has crept closer to the heart of Turkish government which in turn has created a counter hysteria suggesting a potential collapse.
The latest controversy regards the feuds of corruption and “anti-corruption” that involves the sons of high-profile cabinet ministers. The long-running investigation caused for these businessmen along with the head of the state-owned bank were detained by police and forced three majour political figures to resign. Two of the sons are still in custody while twenty-two others are yet to go on trial for accusations of corrupting activity (including bribery, tender rigging, and illicit money transfers to Iran).
This situation has been deemed by many as the greatest challenge of prime minister Erdogan’s eleven year reign for this investigation has targeted key political families and important allies that are closely affiliated with the government and the ruling AKP (the Justice and Developing Party). Erdogan has taken a defiant stance by claiming that the accusations aand investigation of corruption are nothing but a “conspiracy” and a “dirty operation.” Since 25 December, he has been scrambling and scurrying to regain composure and desperately attempting to cling to the remaining legitimacy of his party as he reshuffled his cabinet by refilling the positions of ten ministers who are loyal to the AKP and also believe in the cause as well as the same conservative principles.
This has triggered an apparent rise with the disatisfaction and hostility against the nation’s religiously conservative power source. Tensions between Turkey’s AKP run government and its former pro-secularisation, moderate Islamist allies have called for the synthesis of the “Hizmet movement” which is currently conducted and led by the U.S. based exiled cleric Gülen.
The reality of the disgust with the prime minister and the AKP was presented by the citizens has they took to the streets of Istanbul’s centre on 27 December. Protestors chanted “catch the thief” as they angrily expressed their opinion suggesting the resignation of Erdogan. The prime minister held a counter rally of defiance as he emphasise that he would refuse to leave his position over this “conspiracy.” He repeated his earlier allegations that the inquiry was unjustified by saying that, “those who called this operation a corruption operation are themselves the very ones who are corrupt.”
The situation has sparked many respected conservative officials, ministers, journalists, and commentators to reevaluate their positions and their opinons. This week alone, majour officials (including the former tourism minster Güney) have resigned from the AKP after there was evidence of great interference with the investigation of corruption. Others that were formerly associated AKP, including respected journalists from conservatively back newspapers, found themselves sacked after making critical remarks about the scandal and challenging the stance of the AKP.
Many senior police officers and head judicial figures were removed in the government’s attempt of “anti-corruption.” These actions caused opposition parties and progressional critics to accuse the AKP for attempting to cover up the political scandal.
“I have never come across such blatant government meddling with the judiciary before”, said Sezgin Tanrikulu, deputy head of the main opposition People’s Republican party (CHP), a lawyer and former head of the Diyarbakir Bar Association. “This is highly worrying. The little trust that people had left in the Turkish justice system is now gone.”
With the major media outlets all backed by strong, conservative forces, the news presented to the Turkish public is always biased, framed, and vague. My credibility, as an objective third-party observer, is relative to the reader. I admit to my limitations of understanding for my status of being an expatriate and could have minor biases affecting my view, but I try to be as impartial as to report my observations. In this time, independent sources are much more valuable than a biased, domestic corporation backed news source as well as a limited, seemingly ignorant and basic view of foreign (also biased) media sources. In any context, the “on-the-ground” view is best and that is what I try to achieve in my writing. This is a very interesting time in Turkish history, I hope to be one who reports it as it unfolds.