Furious Turks Are Back on the Protest Warpath
Demonstrations representing a variety of causes continue to flare up in Istanbul and throughout the country, and troublingly, the police and Tayyip Erdoğan's government have responded to all of them with violence.
After the dramatic antiregime protests that took place earlier this year, it seems the Turkish public have acquired a taste for resistance. This isn't something the country's police seem keen to encourage, and they're in the habit of violently cracking down on the first signs of civil unrest in Istanbul and Antakya.
Monday evening saw the latest flare-up, when 22-year-old demonstrator Ahmet Atakan died—allegedly at the hands of the police—at a protest against military intervention in Syria. It's the latest incident to reignite the spirit of rebellion the world first saw in the battle for Gezi Park.
Clashes took place throughout Tuesday night, after thousands gathered in Istanbul to oppose the police brutality that has left nine dead and thousands injured since June. Protesters planned to calmly march on Taksim Square, the center of the uprising in June, but the police had other ideas, blocking off all entrances to the square before opening fire on the peaceful crowd with tear gas and rubber bullets.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan's government, afraid of losing its grip on the country's economy and population, is trying to regain authority over its citizens by systematically attacking them in public. Every demonstration this summer has been met with the same response by the Turkish police: tear gas and violence.
Protesters manning the barricades Tuesday night in Istanbul. Photo by Osman Nuri Iyem
As unrest spreads throughout Turkey, it's becoming clear that what started as a protest against the closing of a park has now turned into an extended public condemnation of Erdoğan's government. Another demonstration descended into violence last week was at Ankara's Middle East Technical University, where students gathered to march against plans to build a new road that would pass through the campus, destroying a nearby forest in the process. (Like Gezi Park, the campus's forest is regarded as one of the last green spaces in a city in the throes of a recent construction boom.) Hundreds of protesters amassed at the planned building site on September 6 and were met with almost immediate police violence as the cops attacked with water cannons and tear-gas grenades.
Protesters in Tuzluçayır. Photo by Olcay Kabaktepe
On September 8, police in Ankara went on the offensive yet again, this time clamping down on Shias protesting against a joint Sunni-Shia mosque in the neighbourhood of Tuzluçayır. The demonstrators, enraged by what they saw as an assimilation of Shia religious traditions, appeared at the groundbreaking ceremony marking the beginning of construction of the mosque before police tried to clear the area, sparking running battles that ran into the night, with barricades being set up in the roads by the protesters in an effort to halt the police water cannons.
A protester blocks a police water cannon in Ankara. Photo by Olcay Kabaktepe
My contact in Istanbul, who wished to remain anonymous, told me, “I think the government is very afraid, and that’s why they are putting so much pressure on the people. A couple of weeks ago, we were in Taksim, and suddenly fans of Kasımpaşa [a soccer team] poured in. They were protesting against Beşiktaş fans; there was a possibility Beşiktaş would play in Kasımpaşa’s stadium this season.
"Of course, the riot police confronted them and told them they couldn't protest. The leader of the fans shouted, 'Our stadium is called Recep Tayyip Erdoğan! [Kasımpaşa is Tayyip Erdoğan’s neighbourhood and the stadium was built in his name.] We are here to protest against the alcoholic Beşiktaş fans—we do not want them in our neighborhood!'
"The police donned their masks and readied themselves to fire tear gas at the Kasımpaşa fans, before turning on their heels and fleeing Taksim. This really shows the attitude of the government... They are scared. Whether you are a fan of Kasımpaşa who goes to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Stadium, or whether you're an Alawite, it doesn't matter—you have no right to mass protest."
Not surprisingly, the atmosphere in Turkey is tense. No matter how hard Erdoğan’s government tries to spin the unrest as the work of foreign agents, an anti-Muslim "deep state" or terrorists, the police violence is clearly the fault of the government. Unfortunately for the embattled prime minister, he doesn't seem to realize that it's not just unrest over greenery, mosques, and soccer stadiums that's prompting the protests in Turkey, but the aggressive police action he has endorsed and encouraged.
Follow Yiannis on Twitter: @YiannisBab
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