Aslihan Agaoglu
Last updated: 1 June, 2013

Istanbul’s Tahrir or an emerging social movement?

Your Middle East's Aslihan Agaoglu comments on the dramatic scenes currently unfolding across the Turkish capital.

Protests have been growing rapidly since yesterday morning. Many cities have joined Istanbul and the protests are ongoing in Ankara, Izmir, Eskisehir, Bursa and other cities across the country. Police is brutally using excessive force, using tear gas bombs wherever they see fit, for example at the Taksim subway station. There are reports that they have begun to use rubber bullets as well. They are not backing down but neither does the public, no one slept in Istanbul last night. People were on the streets, and those who couldn’t go outside joined the protests by going to the windows and banging to pots and turning the lights on and off. 

Many schools and universities opened their doors to the civilians for them to hide during attacks and provide them with water and lemon, which helps the eyes after gas bombings. 

We are still getting very little coverage on Turkish media

What was most striking, perhaps, was the walk over the bridge. Last night, a large group of people gathered at the Asian side of the city crossed the bridge, as the sun was rising, on foot to be able to reach Taksim, located in the European side of the city. They were stopped by the police in Besiktas before they could. There are many seriously injured and frustration seems to grow. 

We are still getting very little coverage on Turkish media and those who do cover it show a little part of what is actually going on. While I am writing this, the police is throwing gas bombs to Taksim Istiklal streets and nothing is being done to stop it. Foreign media is reporting the events as breaking news, yet there is next to nothing on Turkish media. This is also fuelling the frustration towards the government. 

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Foreign media is comparing Taksim square to Tahrir, however, I do not think it is an accurate comparison. We have to understand one thing, this is not a political protest, this is a social movement. We have to remember how this all began: people from various political ideologies, religious beliefs, class and background came together in a peaceful protest to prevent the demolition of one of the symbols of this city, Gezi Park. They wanted to protect the environment. But the excessive and brutal force of the police, the “my way or the high way” attitude of the government caused a snowball effect. As the Guardian reported, “What started at the beginning of the week as an environmental protest aimed at saving an Istanbul city centre park from shopping centre developers backed by the government appeared to be snowballing into a national display of anger at the perceived high-handedness of the Erdogan government.”

The protests are expected to grow and I believe people will not rest until they are listened to. A friend of mine, who joined the protests from the Asian part of the city, called me last night and said that she has never seen anything like this before.

“The energy is unbelievable. People are not afraid of the police, they march forward, arm in arm. They are chanting, singing, older ladies in their sixties are coming out to the streets banging to their cooking pots to support us. This will change things. It has to.”

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