Amid violent clashes between rioters and the police, solidarity rallies are being staged all across Turkey. The protests are increasingly targeted directly at Prime Minister Erdogan’s government.
A peaceful protest camp in "Gezi Park" in the center of Istanbul marked the beginning of this week's demonstrations. On Thursday night (30.05.2013), Turkish police units started attacking the camping protesters. Since then, the demonstrations have turned into nation-wide rallies against the policies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been in office for ten years. More and more protesters' slogans are directly calling for the government's resignation.
Preliminary injunction against construction
The protest was initially targeted at the Turkish government's plans to redesign "Gezi Park". A replica 18th century-era barracks building in Ottoman style is to be constructed there. Hundreds of trees in the park have to be cut down. There are plans for the barracks building to house a shopping mall. That was the last straw for many protesters, who said Istanbul with its 15 million inhabitants was increasingly plastered with concrete.
Despite the protest, Prime Minister Erdogan said the planned construction was a done deal. "You can do whatever you want. We've made our decision and we'll stick by it," Turkish newspaper 'Bugün' quoted him as saying. But an administrative court in Istanbul issued an interim injunction against the planned project, which is valid until the culture and tourism ministry issues a statement on the topic. "The few remaining green areas in Istanbul's district of Beyoglu shouldn't be turned into a shopping mall just so that somebody can make a profit from it," said Ertugrul Günay, a former culture and tourism minister under Erdogan.
"Turkey doesn't need new shopping malls"
"Big cities like Istanbul suffer from too many shopping malls", Murat Izci criticized in the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet. Izci is the founder of KDM Consulting and said that back in the year 2000, there were merely 46 shopping malls in Turkey – compared to 299 today.
"Gezi Park", which is at the heart of the latest demonstrations, is one of the city's smallest parks. But for many of Istanbul's inhabitants, it's the last remaining patch of green in the city center. "I can't bear to watch how the historic trees in the park are being cut down. Construction in the city is flooding us like a tsunami. And there's no end in sight," a Turkish architecture student who took part in the demonstrations told Deutsche Welle.
Pressure from social media
To a large extent, the rallies against the logging of the historic trees in "Gezi Park" were organized on Facebook and Twitter. Since Friday morning, photos and videos have been uploaded with the hashtag #geziparki. According to the Washington Post, nearly half of all original posts on Twitter had some connection with the protests in Istanbul. The posts show the brutality with which police units have tried to break up the protests, and they show touching scenes, with people – among them children – finding it difficult to breathe because they are being chased into subway shafts by police using tear gas.
The protesters in Turkey are receiving support in other countries, such as Germany and England, with Facebook posts reading "Occupy Gezi Parki, you're not alone! The people in Oxford believe in your right to protest." Those posts, their publishers hope, will motivate the Turkish protesters to fight for their rights. In many German cities demonstrations were planned for the weekend.
Only a few Turkish television channels, like Halk-TV (People's TV), have live coverage of the events. That's why social media have become the most important way of sharing news about the protest. The nationwide rallies on the streets and the worldwide support they're getting on social networks are putting Prime Minister Erdogan increasingly under pressure.
Solidarity from all over the country
The army hospital in Istanbul's Gümüssuyu district treats people who have sustained injuries from tear gas and water canon attacks. Some people even distributed oxygen masks in broad daylight and before the eyes of the police. "I'm fighting for Atatürk, for my ancestors and for my grandchildren. I want them to grow up in a European Turkey where human rights are valued," a 64-year-old army veteran told DW during a demonstration.
People in many Turkish cities have started to show solidarity with the protesters in Istanbul, particularly in the capital Ankara, where a large group got together in Kugulu Park in the city center. Another group of some 2,000 people gathered in Abdi Pekci Park, but police stopped them with tear gas when they started marching toward the Prime Minister's office building.
In Izmir, more than 10,000 people took to the streets with banners that read "Taksim is everywhere, resistance is everywhere", and "Izmir is with you". The protesters in Izmir were also stopped by police who fired tear gas and water canons. There were further rallies of solidarity in Bursa, Eskisehir, Adana, Izmit, Konya, Samsun, Mersin and other Turkish cities. The opposition CHP party organized a large demonstration in Istanbul's Kadiköy district on the Asian side of the city. Thousands crossed the Bosphorus to join the protesters on Taksim square.