As the protest sparked by the government’s plan to destroy Gezi Park in Istanbul to replace with yet another shopping mall (and a barracks) enters its 8th day, we spoke with journalist and film director Metin Yeğin who has been at the demonstrations in Istanbul.
We asked him first of all to give us a background to the protest, the context in which this huge revolt was born.
“The struggle against urban transformation has been going on for many years in Turkey”, he said.
“This struggle, – he added – which we also always supported and organized, grew with the inclusion of those objecting to the demolition of shanty houses (gecekondu) and the neoliberal transformation of cities. And the struggle has recently been maximized with the growing of reactions against projects such as the third bridge and New Istanbul. This period has also witnessed the creation of remarkable public opinion against HES (hydroelectric power plant) and nuclear power plants constructions. And this reaction has reached this point after the steps taken for the demolition of GeziPark and construction of a shopping mall instead”.
Yeğin underlined that “There is point that is missed when looked from the outside, which is the fact that Taksim Square is a historical area of great importance to the left. It is forbidden to enter the square on May Day since the 1997 May 1 massacre. Since then the left has been fighting to reclaim its right to demonstrate in Taksim. The square witnessed severe clashes on each May Day until two years ago. Since then people are allowed to enter the area and no clashes break out between people and security forces. This year, the square has once again been closed for May Day events on the grounds of construction works going on in the area. Clashes took place again on the May Day in Taksim Square which has now become a place of resistance against the government”.
Then the AKP government announced the intention to demolish the park and build another shopping mall. A no-place instead of a common area.
“When things reached this point, protestors have recently started GeziPark act to prevent the demolition of one of the very rare green areas in Istanbul. As a matter of fact, people had already known about the demolition project since it was announced two years ago, but it was when scoops were driven to uproot trees that people defended the trees, mainly left-wing and environmental circles but in very deed the intellectual and sensitive middle-class circles. The widespread social impact created a justification for the reaction of people who wanted to say ‘enough’ to the uprooting of trees, including a wide circle of bourgeois artists who commented the demolition as a shame”.
On the first day of the protest, Independent socialist deputy Sırrı Süreyya Önder came to the park and prevented the demolition by standing in front of construction vehicles.
“It was not something usual in this country to see a member of the parliament being able to prevent any anything because of the fact that a member of the parliament is not someone of big importance in our country. However, Sırrı was at the same a constituent of the peace process. Police first didn’t attack him because of the peace process he was in way representing”.
One day later, demonstrators were once again in the park area.
“By this stage there were only sensitive intellectuals and countless twitter messages in the area. The occupation of the park began after that, led by intellectuals, young people, representatives of chambers of architects and engineers. These chambers always support this kind of protests in the country, like doctors and lawyers as well, so it was not an extraordinary scene at the beginning. Then people brought their tents and started to stay there. Those staying in the area weren’t more than a hundred. Police raided the tents at 5 in the morning and threw tear gas inside them. They went on to burn the tents down, which led to a great reaction. Sırrı came and the demolition was prevented once again. The climate in the area started to change as people were coming to the GeziPark in masses. Those from the left-wing were anyway ready to fight for Taksim”.
The composition of the protest is quite interesting.
“Differently from usual, artists, authors and popular people from the bourgeois class have also started to support the resistance on twitter and even to come to the area. Forums were taking place in the area in the meanwhile. People were singing and dancing in the park where a mass festivity took place in the evening, joined by everyone. I found it strange then, but not now after so many things”.
In the meantime, Çarşı, a large left-wing group of Beşiktaş, one of the most loved soccer teams in Turkey, was also there that night, lending colour to the night with the cheerful and humorous slogans they chanted. One of the songs they composed and sang there was,
“Go on further with the tear gas
leave your helmet and stick
and see who the real man is”.
One of the other most chanted slogan, which grew out of this resistance, is “This is just a beginning, more struggle to grow”.
To be honest, the protest still didn’t seem to be an extraordinary one, despite the fact that at least ten thousand people were there and more and more people stayed in the park that night. One day later, police once again attacked people with tear gas at 5 in the morning and occupied the park. Even me myself wasn’t expecting to see that many people there after that. All the people who were there that morning were trying to close the roads.
After a press statement near the park, which was the beginning of a mass meeting, the people there were joined by more and more people, including not only those from left-wing and middle-class but also those from sensitive bourgeoisie and many other circles. Police attacked the mass with intense tear gas but the people passing from the road nearby were also displaying support and more people started to gather in that area. In the afternoon, police once again attacked the people to prevent one other press release to take place in the afternoon. Police hit everyone with the tear gas, including Sırrı, directly targeting people on their head and bodies with tear gas canisters and injuring many people. In the meantime, supporters of three other major soccer teams, Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray and Trabzonspor, also came to the area, saying they will be supporting the GeziPark.
We were on Istiklal Street and at the scene were leftist young people with clashing experience, standing on the front. They were being joined by supporter groups of the soccer teams chanting creative slogans, and some time later by some leftist groups. Barricades were laid first in Tarlabaşı and then on İstiklal Avenue after the police attacks coming one after another. Police couldn’t enter İstiklal, failing to break the barricade of revolutionaries, supporter groups who were quite good at clashing with police. Behind the barricade was a huge crowd of people supporting the young people on the front.
As of that afternoon, I thought the scene looked very much like that in Argentine because everybody was there and chanting the slogan “Shoulder to shoulder against fascism”. Slogans later changed into calls for Erdoğan’s and government’s resignation. It was a true public rebellion. Following the clashes, the protest was joined by nationalist circles, even fascists and MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) supporters. Some did even get involved in clashes with police. One among them was saying that he never thought he would actually clash with police standing side by side with what he called “terrorists”. Kurds were there and so were nationalists but the interesting point is that it was the first time they did not fight each other over separatism. Then the mass was joined by a large group carrying Turkish flags. People were trying to enter Taksim. They couldn’t do it in the first phase but nor could the police enter İstiklal till late hours at night.
The prohibitions Erdoğan’s government has recently imposed under the name of arrangement of alcohol use have also left a remarkable impression on the protests. The area turned to a great festival area with many people drinking alcohol and singing songs in mass on side streets.
“Cheers Tayyip” was one of the most chanted slogan in the area.
Clashes ceased to some extend at midnight but revolutionaries didn’t leave their barricades on streets which later witnessed severe clashes that lasted till the morning.
In the meantime, people in other cities also started to take to the streets, solidarity demos took place in 67 provinces, joined by tens of thousands. The protest grew larger as the pro-state, or intimidated, media acted as if nothing was happening and Erdoğan didn’t change his arrogant attitude.
A protestor said me that he was ‘tired of getting a scolding from TV every day’. The middle class in particular was fed up with the arrogant and reproving manner of Erdoğan. The protest reached a great level with the inclusion of the poor and leftists.
Slogans were unbelievably creative, despite later turning to a strong language but still saying ‘shoulder to shoulder against fascism’.
Police forces, already striving hard to stay in Taksim, pulled back from the square after CHP (Republican People’s Party) announced that it would join the resistance at the square. People therewith entered Taksim so fast that two riot control vehicles could hardly leave the area, taking major blows. The police cars which couldn’t leave the area were overturned and burnt down. There were some private cars in the area. Protestors first didn’t touch them but later burnt them down too, considering those cars to be belonging to police because the area was being used by police forces and no civilian car would be allowed into this area. ‘No park’ they wrote on a car they turned upside down. Some people were on the other hand trying to prevent these people as there was a danger of fire in the park area. Great fires were extinguished by revolutionaries and environmentalists.
In the meantime, the committee inside the park was growing larger with the involvement of lawyers, architects, doctors, engineers, leftist movements, music groups and anarchist groups. Everybody united in the resistance. There was no police but millions of people in Taksim Square now. Everyone was chanting slogans ‘Cheers, Tayyip’.
Revolutionary and anti-capitalist muslim groups who were also taking part in the resistance since the very beginning. The inclusion of these groups is a greatly important development which has been achieved only in the recent times. A young women protestor was carrying a banner which read ‘Tayyip, you become unbearable while wide-awake’. The scene was not any different from the one in Argentine.
In the meantime, there was no police in Taksim but clashes spread to Beşiktaş where police attacked some groups assaulting the PM’s office in Dolmabahçe. Clashes spread again towards Taksim.
There was something interesting I witnessed there, thousands of people were unbelievably clashing with police behind the barricades they built in Beşiktaş. I don’t know where all these people came from. Among them were revolutionaries and those from Çarşı group but this was something much different.
Just while clashes ease down after some time, people in Ankara start a persistent march to the parliament. So, the rebellion goes on.
On Sunday evening, protestors made barricades with the bricks carried over a one-kilometer long line of people from hand to hand. A group sized a scoop and chased riot control vehicles. The environment is dominated by a rebellion’s creativeness that I am also failing to follow.
Kurds have also announced their non-hesitated support for the resistance. As I said before, no nationalist chanted any slogan against Öcalan.
People in houses are also supporting the resistance by hitting pans all together on balconies and opening their houses to protestors, mainly those injured, during clashes.
Yesterday, medical students turned a mosque to a medical room. This may seem unimportant to those who do not know about Turkey but is a very important thing in terms of the use of a mosque in such a rebellion.
Before starting his travel to Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria this morning, the Prime Minister has once again spoke arrogantly, saying that they are trying hard to prevent the other 50 percent of the country, those voting for him, from taking to the streets. In my opinion, these statements will make people take to the streets all together this evening as well.