Anti-government demonstrations in Turkey continue

Tens of thousands of demonstrators on June 9 returned to Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey in defiance of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had called for an end to the two weeks of demonstrations against his authoritarian style of rule, his reactionary social policies, and his neoliberal economic program.

The demonstrations began on May 26 when a small group of protestors set up camp in Gezi Park to protest the park’s impending destruction and replacement by a high-end shopping mall and a museum dedicated to the defunct Ottoman Empire.

Gezi Park is part of Taksim Square, a large swath of public space in the heart of Istanbul where Turks from all walks of life gather to eat, drink, shop, conduct business, work, play, and enjoy camaraderie on common ground.

The destruction of Gezi Park and the eventual conversion of Taksim Square into an upscale retail and residential district has been an ongoing project conceived and championed by Erdogan. It fits in nicely with his wider economic plan of privatizing public spaces and resources and allowing capital a free rein.

Police attacked the Gezi Park squatters and hoped that their show of excessive force would end the protest. Instead, the protests have grown, spread, and galvanized Turks unhappy with Erdogan’s attempts to impose fundamentalist Islamic social policies on a modern society and his economic policies that have created new wealth for a select few but left many struggling to survive.

So far, three demonstrators have died in clashes with police, who have used water cannons, tear gas, flash grenades, and other modern crowd control weapons against peaceful demonstrators. Hundreds have been arrested and thousands have been injured, but the demonstrations persist and are winning the support of many Turks who had previously been thought of as apolitical.

Among those who have joined the demonstrators are the so-called ultras, soccer fans who belong to clubs that support Turkey’s various professional soccer teams. The ultras, who have been compared to Europe’s soccer hooligans, are avid–some might say fanatical–in their support for their particular teams. The intense rivalry between ultra clubs matches the rivalry on the pitch between the teams they support.

Writing in Al Monitor, Fehim Tastekin reports that to the surprise of many, ultras from rival clubs marched arm-in-arm in support of the Gezi Park encampment.

The ultra’s excessive enthusiasm has led to confrontations with police and has given them some experience in dealing with police crowd control weapons such as pepper spray and the crowd control vehicles known as TOMAs. This experience, according to Tastekin, played a crucial role in “shielding inexperienced protestors” from police violence during the demonstrations.

The protests have also been supported by more traditional opponents of Erdogan such as the trade unions. DISK, the largest confederation of private sector workers, belongs to the Taskim Solidarity Platform, the coalition that has led the fight to save Gezi Park and other public space from privatization.

TaksimSolidarity recently issued a list of demands that included an end to the redevelopment of Gezi Park and Taksim Square, the prosecution of those responsible for the deaths and injuries to demonstrators, the release of imprisoned demonstrators, an end to all bans on demonstrations in public areas, and an end to development projects that threaten the environment and public space.

In a statement about their demands, Taksim Solidarity said that it opposes Erdogan’s war policies, demands regional peace, and urges respect for “our Alawite citizens,” supports the rightful demands of the victims of urban transformation, opposes oppression in the universities and courts, and of artists, supports the demand for workers rights, especially those of the striking workers at Turkish Airlines, opposes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, supports the removal of all barriers between citizens and their right to education and health service, and opposes the rising voice of conservative male politics establishing control over women’s bodies.

In addition to DISK, KESK, the largest confederation of public workers, has come out in support of the demonstrations. KESK called a two-day general strike on June 5 and 6 in support of the demonstrations and to protest government plans to impose further restrictions on their right to bargain collectively.

The two labor confederation on June 6 held a joint rally and march to support the demonstrators.

The trade union opposition to Erdogan’s policies reflects a growing discontent with his economic policies, which have led to impressive economic growth, but at the same time have left much of the population behind. Despite an economy that has tripled in size over the last decade, 40 percent of Turkey’s population lives at or below the official poverty line. At the same time, 63 percent of the country’s bank deposits belong to one-half of one percent of all account holders.

Economic growth has led to a spike in prices, but wages have been kept in check by anti-labor government policies.

While economic factors have led trade union members and others to support the demonstrators, discontent with Erdogan goes well beyond economic issues.

Demonstrators, most of whom are young people, come from a cross section of Turkey’s urban population, who want to protect the freedoms of a secular society. “They are united in defense of their park, their right to assemble, and their opposition to the state’s authoritarianism,” reports rabble.

Demonstrations have extended well beyond Taksim Square and Istanbul. On Sunday June 3, there were more than 200 demonstrations in 67 Turkish cities in support of the Taksim Square protests.

“We have the momentum, with people like me going to work every day and coming back to attend the protests,” said Cetin a 29-year-old civil engineer who declined to give is surname to The Guardian. “We should keep coming here to protest until we really feel we’ve achieved something.”

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3 thoughts on “Anti-government demonstrations in Turkey continue

  1. Welcome back–with a different & more colorful appearance of Left Labor Reporter.
    Thanks for writing about the Turkey situation. There have been 2 rallies in Austin–I went to the one Saturday afternoon at 11th & Congress.
    Corrections–I think you mean June 9 in the first sentence?
    Throughout–I believe it is Taksim Square (not Taskim).

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