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A time for peace?

Senada Sokollu, Istanbul / sstJuly 10, 2013

At the beginning of the Muslim month of Ramadan, the Turkish government has offered free food at dusk when fasters are allowed to eat. Demonstrators, however, have decided to bring their own food as a means of protest.

Turkish protestors are breaking their fast in front at the first day of Ramadan at Istiklal Street during a anti government protest (photo: EPA/TOLGA BOZOGLU +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Traditionally, the fasting month of Ramadan is a time of reflection and peace. In Turkey's Taksim Square, where people have been demonstrating against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP party for some six weeks, food awaits fast-breakers on white-pink tablecloths. The Beyoglu community in Istanbul's city center has organized some 1,500 spots for people to participate in the evening meal, Iftar, when Muslims are allowed to eat.

Families with children as well as Syrian refugees have come here as well as many Turkish TV reporters eager to report live from Taksim Square. Mayor Ahmet Misbah Demircan, a member of Erdogan's ruling party, has joined the fast-breakers. But he refuses to speak to international media, and turns to Turkish journalists instead.

According to Turkish newspaper Radical, the government had planned to set up an Iftar tent in Gezi Park as it had done in the past. But rumors spread that food was only to be distributed to people who were given a food voucher from the ruling AKP party.

"Such a thing had never been planned. Everyone is allowed to participate. That's gossip. People can write whatever they want on Twitter these days," Demircan's spokesperson, Ali Yigit, told DW in response to the rumors.

Ihsan Eliacik (photo: DW/Senada Sokollu)
People flocked to Taksim Square on their own and brought foodImage: DW/S. Sokollu

"Our brotherhood and unity will become even stronger during Ramadan," he said. "We know that the people, who have been demonstrating for weeks, respect Ramadan as much as we do. We will all sit at this table, together, as brothers. We don't expect something negative to happen."

'We want equality, solidarity and revolution'

As people take a seat here at the tables on Taksim Square, demonstrators continue to yell their chants on the opposing staircase to Gezi Park. "That's just the beginning. The fight will continue," and "Government, you all should step back," they shout as the guests sit down.

The governor of Istanbul has said that people weren't allowed to gather in groups on Taksim Square, a demonstrator said. "But groups are allowed to have Iftar together. I think that's wrong, because we have been here for 40 days and whenever we've come together, even if it was in small groups, they have been intervening with water cannons," she said.

Another demonstrator said that the tables wouldn't fit all Muslim people."Why don't they put up more tables? That's unfair," another protester said.

As a sign of protest against the government, "anti-capitalist Muslims" have organized their own Iftar table. Tablecloths and newspapers make up a table that covers about half a kilometer leading up to Taksim Square. Everyone brings along something to eat. While they are sitting cross-legged, they continue to shout their slogans against Erdogan and his AKP party.

Turkish protestors are breaking their fast in front at the first day of Ramadan at Istiklal Street during a anti government protest near Taksim Square in Istanbul, (photo: EPA/TOLGA BOZOGLU +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)
Demonstrators break their day's fasting together in an anti-government protestImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"We have only summoned everyone, nothing more. People came here on their own, and they brought all the food. The community's table offered three kinds of food. Everyone sits at a table, they have their sponsors and their flag. Here, we have about 40 different kinds of food, 10 different kinds of drinks, no flag and no sponsor. It's simply the people," publicist Ihsan Eliacik, one of the initiators, told DW. They are Muslims that oppose capitalism, but would be in favor of equality, solidarity and revolution, Eliacik said. Shortly after he starts Iftar with a prayer.

At the same time, several water cannons and numerous police forces are ready to intervene, targeting the demonstrators' Iftar table. There are repeated verbal disputes between the two groups.

"How dare you threaten us with your water cannon during our Iftar?" demonstrators yell. Police back down in the end. After they have eaten, the protesters march over to Gezi Park, where they demonstrate and party until late at night.

Arrests after Gezi Park reopens

On Monday afternoon (08.07.2013) the replanted park was officially reopened by Istanbul's governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu. He had threatened police would intervene if demonstrations were to continue. The Taksim Solidarity organization, which had been one of the main protest initiators from the start, still decided to put out a call on Twitter and Facebook to demonstrate in Gezi Park.

According to Turkish newspaper Hurriyet, they were basing their right to demonstrate on article 34 of the Turkish constitution that guarantees everyone the right to demonstrate unarmed and peacefully without having to ask for permission.

Gezi Park was closed off again just three hours after it had been reopened because of the announced demonstrations. Shortly before people were able to gather, the entire square as well as Gezi Park was closed off by police. Several people were arrested. CNN Turk reported that 50 members of Taksim Solidarity were arrested as well. Some apartments were searched later on. The park then reopened again on Monday night.

Demonstrations set to continue despite Ramadan

Demonstrations are supposed to continue without bloodshed, a Muslim park visitor with a headscarf told DW.

Turkish protestors celebrate at the enter of Gezi Park at the first day of Ramadan during a anti government protest (photo: EPA/GEORGI LICOVSKI +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)
People say they will continue to protestImage: picture-alliance/dpa

"We will continue until our friends will be released. If the month of Ramadan is a quiet month, they [the police] should release our friends that were arrested. We will then be able to have a peaceful Iftar together," a demonstrator said.

Compared to many other Arab states, there's a less strict, a more open tradition of Islam in Turkey, atheist Ozlem Gungor said in an interview with DW.

"People know that Islam is mostly used by the government."

There won't be a break when it comes to demonstrations, she added. People's minds would not participate in the fasting.