Gezi Park, one year on

Note: I’m not a political writer. This is simply an overview of events which have happened in the year after the Gezi Park protests of last June.

Istanbul is tense as the one year anniversary of the Gezi Park protests draws closer. On May 27th, the Taksim Solidarity Platform, which was founded during the protests last year, called for a gathering in Taksim for May 31st, the day when mass protests spread from just Gezi Park to all over Istanbul and Turkey one year ago.

I’m interested to see what will happen. I predict that the police will intervene harshly, as they do whenever any gathering is announced. But I also doubt that the police intervention will spark any mass uprising like last year saw.

Since the Gezi protests died down, there have been numerous events which have kept the sense of outrage simmering. Some of the biggest headlines since last September:

The cutting down of the forest on Ankara’s ODTU campus to build a highway through it (the municipality entered the campus secretly at midnight of the last day of Bayram to remove 3,000 trees from the campus – the equivalent of staging such a raid on Christmas day, when no students would be present to protest).

The December 17 graft probe which revealed mass corruption and bribery between government officials, ministers and family members, construction tycoons and an Iranian businessman. This corruption scandal led to months of leaked telephone conversations implicating the prime minister and his son in various scandals and cover ups.

Berkin Elvan, the 14 year old boy who was hit in the head by a tear gas canister in the Gezi protests when he was out buying bread, who spent 269 days in a coma, died in March. The prime minister showed no remorse, calling him a terrorist and calling his mother a liar, for saying that he was out buying bread.

Widespread stories of fraud in the AKP’s winning of the March 31st local elections. My favourite one was when the Ankara minister of energy blamed the widespread power cuts during the counting of votes (in districts which typically support the opposition) on cats that had chewed through wires in transformers. This led to twitter fury exposing pictures of the “cat lobby.”

May 1st, international worker’s day, again saw a harsh police reaction to small gatherings of protestors attempting to march to Taksim square.

The May 13th Soma mine disaster, when 301 (+) miners died in an explosion in a mine. The mine had passed numerous inspections with flying colors. It has been shown that the inspector who investigated the mine in March was a family member of the mine’s owner. Yet there were other reports dating from 4 years ago stating that the mine was a ticking time bomb. Just two weeks prior, the opposition party in parliament had called for an investigation into the Soma mine, but the AKP shut the motion down. Mines in Turkey have largely been privatized, which has led to more mine accidents. The Soma mine’s owner is a member of the AKP’s local municipality in the area. Since privatization, the company relied less on union labour and instead used underpaid, unskilled subcontracted workers.

Apart from the mine disaster itself, the government’s response to the disaster was equally damning. Erdogan’s adviser was photographed kicking a mourner (also a miner) at Soma. Erdogan, when his car arrived in Soma and was surrounded by people booing him, responded angrily: telling one person that they deserved to be slapped, charging at another man who taunted him, and eventually hiding in a grocery store – all of which are documented on video. In Erdogan’s speech he said that accidents are typical in mining, citing examples from 19th century Britain.

Last week, two Alevis were murdered in Okmeydani, near Taksim (where Berkin Elvan was killed – Okmeydani is a largely Alevi area). Protestors had been fighting the police and the police had responded with live ammunition. A man who was attending a funeral nearby was hit by a stray bullet and killed. During the protests which followed, another Alevi man was killed.

This is just a quick overview of some of the biggest events in the past year (all of which sparked protests which also led to more police violence). There have been many more. As the anniversary of the Gezi Park protest is on the horizon, these are the events on everyone’s minds. We’ll see what Saturday holds in store for Turkey.

Post May 31 notes:

I’ve been out in protests following most of the events I detailed above, and the police response is usually the same. The Gezi Park protests a year ago had been spontaneous and the police were unprepared and overwhelmed. Since then, however, the police presence around the city is constant and whenever they anticipate protests, they bring in thousands more. For the 1st of May protests, they brought in 50,000 police and 50 TOMAs (water cannons). So what happens is that whenever people gather and shout some slogans, the police immediately respond with gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and detaining anyone suspicious.

On May 31st (yesterday) the police responded with force. PM Erdogan gave strict orders to not allow demonstrators in Taksim or in Gezi Park, saying that he would not allow the people to go where they did last summer. The great irony is that the police ban entry to Gezi park because it is a park for the people. So the people aren’t allowed to use it.

The Taksim Solidarity Platform called for protesters to march in Taksim at 7:00 yesterday. At 3:00, police began to close Taksim, clearing everyone from the square (and even detaining a CNN journalist and film crew when they were on air). From 3:00 onwards, they slowly began to clear everyone out of Taksim by closing the side streets that lead onto Istiklal Caddesi, the main pedestrian shopping street. A friend and I spent hours walking from Cihangir to Tunel, trying simply to get from one side of Istiklal to the other, as we were trying to make our way to Osmanbey. Each time we were met with the same response, that it was banned. Pointing out that there were still tourists walking down the street resulted in police shoving us away from Istiklal with their billy clubs, telling us to lower our voices and calm down.

In the police’s attempts to empty Taksim, many people were injured again. Watching them respond to groups of demonstrators is like watching overexcited schoolchildren at recess after they’ve had too much sugar for lunch. They rush about chaotically up and down sidestreets, shooting rubber bullets at people who are running away (if you’re running away you’re a provocateur) or cowering in doorways, hitting people who resist them with their billy clubs.

It’s hard to capture any sort of feeling of it all. Of the people I know, the mass feeling is simultaneously that – surely the government won’t be able to stand (whatever the latest scandal is), followed by being baffled by the ineptitude of the response. Following the AKPs winning of the local elections in March, the overall sense that I get is of defeat and despair. Thieves and murderers running the country and whenever anyone who raises a voice in opposition is quickly battered and silenced.