Four Days of Solidarity Reigned in Istanbul’s Gezi Park
Between the brutal police raids that ravaged Istanbul’s Taksim Square and Gezi Park, a four day halt in police force gave rise to a monumental solidarity movement among protesters.Tear gas bombs and water cannon police attacks ceased for four days following Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s announcement on Friday June 7 that no authoritarian intervention would be called on Taksim Square or Gezi Park until Monday June 10. It was the first reprieve from police violence in Istanbul since Turkey’s national unrest erupted in Taksim Square two weeks ago.
Protesters invoked a unified force throughout those four days demanding a right to democracy and freedom of speech. Marches, discussions and chants were organized through a peaceful protest, which was virtually vacant from the media. What occupied broadcast channels instead was Erdogan’s five-part speech from Ankara to a crowd of supporters (who were conscripted via text message by the AKP party to mandatory attendance for which they would be paid 100 TL). Erdogan’s speech included statements alluding to his weakening tolerance calling Gezi Park protesters terrorists and looters. In complete paradox to his statements, as violence and police riots continued to burn the streets of Ankara, Istanbul’s protesters transformed Gezi Park into a commune-like village.
Protesters built a library, food center, wishing post and garden throughout the park using construction remains, which served as outposts for restoring dialogue among the people. Stop with the tear gas, give me a kiss was sprayed above one tent ground. Further support came from both national football leagues who rallied tens of thousands of protesters to march for democracy from Istanbul’s Beşiktaş district to Taksim Square. Protesters fired rockets, fireworks and smoke bombs from the roof of the abandoned Ataturk cultural center, another historic building planned for demolition. Violence and crime rates among protesters throughout the four day police withdrawal dropped to zero.
Gezi Park’s short-lived sovereign zone came to an aggressive end on June 11 as riot police stormed the grounds at dawn clearing protesters with a second incessant round of tear gas and water cannons. Erdogan’s speech in Ankara on June 9 gave no imminent warning of another police raid. This one was reported to have been the most violent attack, adding to the total number of injuries greater than 7,400. Seven people have died in the clashes so far.
Erdogan has announced a referendum to review the future of Gezi Park’s development plans, though many citizens are skeptical as they continue to protest on calling it a futile tactic to reinstate a false sense of trust. This month will also address Turkey’s pending eligibility for EU membership. Severe police violence and governmental neglect throughout the country in recent weeks have been reprimanded by Germany and the U.S., raising further questions whether Turkey’s democratic policies are up to EU standards. Erdogan’s Islamic conservatism in recent years has contradicted any commitment to a secular democracy, further challenging whether developing relations with the EU still lies within Turkey’s interests.