On May 28, 2013, a few hundred demonstrators in Istanbul gathered to protest a government decision to allow Gezi Park, one of the city’s few remaining green spaces, to be demolished to make way for a shopping center.
Turkish police reacted aggressively to the demonstrations, attacking protesters on May 30-31 with water cannons and tear gas. Since then, the protests have grown in size and spread to other parts of the country, including Ankara, Izmir, and Bursa.
Amnesty International released a statement on May 30th condemning the government’s response to the protests:
More than a hundred protesters are reported to have been injured during police interventions. Some suffered head injuries and at least two people had to receive emergency surgery.
Amnesty International activists who were observing the protest were also hit with truncheons and tear gassed.
“The use of violence by police on this scale appears designed to deny the right to peaceful protest altogether and to discourage others from taking part” said John Dalhuisen, Director of Europe and Central Asia Programme at Amnesty International.
“The use of tear gas against peaceful protestors and in confined spaces where it may constitute a serious danger to health is unacceptable, breaches international human rights standards and must be stopped immediately.”
“The Turkish authorities must order police to halt any excessive use of force and urgently investigate all reports of abuse. They have a duty to ensure that people can exercise their right to free expression and assembly.”
On Friday afternoon, riot police were preventing access to Gezi Park but an estimated 4,000 people were continuing their protest in the area. Police reportedly continued their use of water cannon to repress the protest. A further protest has been called for 7pm local time on Friday evening.
“Any decision to forcefully disperse a peaceful protest should be taken only as a last resort, and police intervention should always be measured,” said John Dalhuisen.
As one Turkish blogger pointed out, #OccupyGezi is about more than the protection of the park, and is one of an increasing number of similar popular protests in the country:
As the daily Radikal’s Elif Ince insightfully reports from the park, #OccupyGezi is an urban uprising against the Turkey’s conservative political elite and their neoliberal policies. One of the protesters explain to Ince that the shut down of Inci Pastanesi was not about profiterole, the protests against closing down of Emek Theater were not solely to preserve historic buildings, and solidarity at Gezi Parki is not just for and about trees, “Protestors are camping at the park because the city belongs to, and should be governed by, its people, not the capricious decisions of one political leader and his disciples in the government.”
I assume many people might not expect the occupation at Gezi Parki to last long or become important, but the public anger ignited by the police’s dawn raid must, and does, draw the attention of the press across the world. Since Turks cannot rely on their own mainstream media any more to get key and objective political news, the international journalists should keep their eyes fixed on Taksim Gezi Parki. Whatever happens next, Occupy Gezi is sending a message to the Turkish public and the rest of the world: the “people” are still here, in the shadow of the gigantic construction projects of shopping malls and bridges, and they are beginning to dream wildly.
Protesters on the streets of Istanbul echoed many of these sentiments, describing the demonstrations as “representing everything” and calling for “dignity.”
The following statement is one of thirteen translations of a call to action to support Turkey’s demonstrators.
Attention! Turkish democracy needs you!
After a series of peaceful demonstrations for preserving a recreational area in Istanbul city center which is planned to demolished for the construction of a shopping mall, Turkish police attacked the protesters violently with tear gas and water cannon, directly targeting their faces and bodies. Dozens of protesters are hospitalized and access to the park is blocked without any legal basis. Turkish media, directly controlled by the government or have business and political ties with it, refuse to cover the incidents. Press agencies also blocked the information flow.
Please share this message for the world to become aware of the police state created by AKP of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which is often considered to be a model for other Middle Eastern countries. Turkish democracy expects your help. Thank you!
For other translations of this statement, please visit fakfukfon.