Occupy Gezi Park
Guest writer Sean BW Parker
Inimitable writer/pontificator/English teacher and despondent balladeer of mature artisan rock music, Sean BW Parker reports on the shocking developments, unfolding, in Istanbul.
Home to Parker these last ten or so years, Istanbul, and now various cities in Turkey, have been rocked to their core by the escalating demonstrations, which began – only a week ago – as a peaceful protest against a bulldozed through planning application to turn one of the capital’s last remaining green spaces into an opulent, Ottoman mock, shopping mall and thoroughfare.
What has rightly shocked the protestors and much of the world is the heavy handed treatment meted out by the increasingly violent authorities, and the hostile – almost Orwellian – language used to frame and accuse the crowds of thuggery, destruction and usurpation by the country’s ruling AKP . The AKP’s leader Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan has become more and more irrational, and what began as a sit-in to force the abandonment of a project to erase an historic oasis of the city, has now turned into a full scale denunciation of a government that seems committed to edging away from the secular, and mostly liberal form of Islamic rule that dominated the Turkish government since the founding reformer Ataturk first implemented constitutional changes in the 1920s – the interregnum between the declining Ottoman Empire and modernism.
Witnessing at the events firsthand, Parker sets out a brief but informative outline.
In the final week of May 2013, the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) in Turkey, led by Recep Tayyıp Erdoğan, announced their intention to cut down the trees in the century old Gezi Park – the last green, free-access area in the city – just off Istanbul’s central Taksim Square, in order to make way for a neo-Ottoman-style shopping centre and barracks.
As the bulldozers were about to move in, crowds of peaceful demonstrators started to gather at the park, camping out, giving speeches, and blocking the machines. As the crowds got bigger, the police moved in on the camping protesters, firing tear gas canisters and using pepper spray. During the day, the demonstrators would move into Taksim Square and the main Beyoğlu thoroughfare Istiklal Caddesi, ever-growing in numbers, until police in riot gear and armoured vehicles (TOMAs) started using water-cannon exceesively in an attempt to disperse the still peaceful crowd.
By the weekend of the 1st of June, hundreds of thousands of Turkish citizens from all walks of life were descending on Taksim to show their support, or protesting in their neighbourhoods in the ‘Casserole’ style (the repeated banging of pots and pans, to spread the cause).
The protests against Erdoğan stem from a rash of laws passed by the AKP infringing civil liberties (alchohol bans, restrictions on public displays of affection) and selling historical sites for the profit of the regime’s friends (a famous Beyoğlu theatre, a ferry port, Ataturk Culture Centre, Gezi Park itself) through an emphasis on harsh capitalist policies. The exasperation comes from the fact that while Erdoğan holds a majority mandate, these laws are passed with cavalier concern of the will of the people, with an arrogance and authoritarian didacticism which the Turkish people are acutely sensitive to.
As I write now, helicopters are circling, crowds are constantly chanting, taxi horns are blaring, and there is a genuine feeling of ‘the tipping point’ – the Turkish people are speaking after a lot of patience – and it’s time for the AKP to listen.
Sean Bw Parker