For the past four days a group of young demonstrators have been occupying Gezi Park on Istanbul's Taksim Square in an effort to halt the demolition of a public space to make room for a shopping mall favored by the country's elite. For more than 70 years, Taksim Gezi Park has offered shade in Turkey's most renown public square. Plans to demolish the park walls proceeded Monday night - but shortly thereafter, a group of demonstrators began camping out in the park. So far, their occupation has succeeded in thwarting efforts to cut down Gezi's trees.
However, the police repression has been very serious. In an effort all too familiar to peaceful activists everywhere, a predawn raid to break up the camp on Thursday resulted in tear gas and at least one hospitalization. Today the police cracked down especially violently, blocking the exit of the park and subjecting trapped demonstrators to tear gas/pepper bomb crossfire. The only way out of the gas cloud, demonstrators say, "was by breaking the walls and many were wounded during this escape...At the moment, some are in Divan Hotel at Elmadag, having taken refuge there from the effect of the gas attacks."
But the use of force left the occupiers undeterred, and the occupation has grown as a result of the raid, with bigger crowds and larger direct actions in the works. And in New York City, local Turkish activists have now called for a convergence at Liberty Square, in solidarity with those "determined to continue our struggle against a government determined to crush each and every opposition, a government that cannot tolerate even a peaceful opposition for saving trees...."
The Hurriyet Daily News reports, "Without being intimidated, activists continued their demonstration and organized workshops and other activities. Some read books sitting next to the police guarding the park, others prepared colorful banners while some protestors sang and danced together."
The protestors have also taken to making their own homemade gas masks, with handy illustrated Turkish instructions here.
Although halting the demolition was the stated goal of this action, recent authoritarian moves by Prime Minister Erdoğan's conservative government have troubled many of the demonstrators. The situation in Istanbul is quite volatile. But Turkish activists have taken to social media with a vengeance, exposing State violence on the international stage.
According to participant Asli Aydin:
"To all my non Turkish friends and Turkish friends living abroad: PM Tayyip Erdogan's police attacked today at 5am the protesters defending a park in the center of Istanbul and woke them in their tents with pepper spray and burnt down their tents. The attack is disproportional and unjust.
The protest itself is against the destruction of Gezi Parki, the only green left in the center of Istanbul and construction of a shopping mall instead (by people who are in close relations with Tayyip Erdogan and the government).
It was never only about the park. The park became a symbol for everything that the government is tearing down, the trees they cut down, the history they destroyed, the rivers they polluted, the seas they filled with cement, all in the name of economical growth, and of course the laws they have enacted to attack our private lives.
The protest at the park is a protest against their corrupt government. So please spread the word by using social media; facebook, twitter, friendfeed etc...we are using the following hashtags: #occupytaksim #ayagakalk #geziparki #occupygezi
Today a war long due has begun. It's a day of unity. I hope your hearts are beating with ours. Let our love and determination defeat their ambition for money."