A wave of great demonstrations in Turkey started in Istanbul now that sudden economic development is rapidly threatening with demolitions and modernizations it's unique historic beauty.
Three stupid ideas aggravated the citizens last week. One ―the silliest― was the proposal of creating more regulations for alcohol consumption in a country where despite the Kemalist secularism that saved it from Islamist fundamentalism, it is still impossible (illegal) to order a drink 200 meters from a mosque. And there is a least one mosque in any corner at the historical city centre so all week the running joke was about a great Thank You from my country, Greece the neighboring impoverished Eurozone member which cannot compete with the Turkish Lira.
Second came the celebratory ribbon cutting of the controversial new Bosphorus Bridge with a cost of $3 billion and many trees. 1.3-kilometer in length and 59-meter-wide will be the widest bridge in the world with a railroad on it and, as the Turkish Transport Minister said proudly, 'its 322-meter-high lateral towers will be the highest in the world' as well. But there is a lot of concern that the construction of the third bridge will lead to the destruction of Istanbul’s remaining green areas near the Black Sea coast while creating more traffic problems to the city. "Many ‘crazy’ projects under way" dared to write the Turkish paper Hurriyet describing the ceremony that "ended with collective prayers both to commemorate martyrs and to celebrate the 560th anniversary of the conquest of Istanbul". Those "collective prayers" are typical of the road Ertogan has taken and difficult to ignore in a secular state with a long muslim past and neighbors. Combined with his indifference for any enviromental issues, they caused alarm.
And third, more tree felling at the Gezi Park in the centre of the European side of this amazing city, Taksim square where city planners decided to create an immense cement parking lot with a shopping Mall that is not really needed or wanted.
This parking lot with a Mall was a self destructing idea for the Ertogan government. It is in Taksim square, the Beyoglu, Pera aria where westerners used to live since before the conquest. There most Embassies and the foreign prestigious schools are located which, along with the numerous hotels, clubs and sightseeing passers-by, have made it the ideal spot for demonstrations in a country that police brutality is the norm and there is no news coverage of any resentment or anti-government ideas.
So it was as usual on Friday but what started as a peaceful sitting protest in Gezi park in Istanbul's Taksim, escalated when the police used tear gas (from photos of the metal containers it appears to be a dangerous kind forbidden in the EU) and a water cannon on thousands of protesters who were marching from the east to the west side of the city over the Bosphorus river bridge to join the demonstrations.
As the police dropped tear-gas canisters from helicopters overnight "about half past one the entire city started to reverberate. People were banging on pots, pans, blowing whistles" we heard from the BBC World Service. 40.000 people crossed the bridge between Asia and Europe yesterday and the BBC correspondent Louise Greenwood in Istanbul said "police from as far afield as Antalya are being drafted in to help quell the violence". Taksim and bridges remain closed to traffic but in Ankara hundreds gathered at a park defiantly drinking alcohol in public as a protest to the recent government restrictions. Amnesty International has already condemned the "police's tactics".
But while police forces are being drafted and protesters gathering Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted in a speech that the park project would go ahead. He also said that police would remain in Taksim Square to preserve order.
His arrogance is not surprising but, as it is unususal to find a serious author or journalist (of any persuation) who hasn't been arrested at least once, maybe he should take these massive protests more seriously.
As I write (Sunday 2.00 p.m.) in Turkey there has been no news coverage about the unrest. I 've just talked with a Turkish friend who implored me to write that the demonstrations have spread to Ankara, Smyrna, Manisa, and other areas. It is not about a small park anymore but it is an eruption of the rage the people have been suppressing over the authoritarian policies, the religious interventions and the political repression to which they have been subjected for too long along with the suspicions (and long experience) of corruption.
While I wrote this a Turkish friend posted this in his Facebook Page:
PLEASE SHARE IT IF U LOVE TURKEY, IF U LOVE ISTANBUL...... EVEN IF U DON'T LIKE ME ...Extreme police violence is everywhere in Turkey right now. Especially in Istanbul. The government is waging a chemical war on people. Thousands of civilians are heavily injured. People are on the streets everywhere, but it's not enough. Please spread this message and raise awareness about the police brutality in Turkey. The government must step back immediately. —
*From Amnesty International:
More than a hundred protesters are reported to have been injured during police interventions. Some suffered head injuries and at least two people had to receive emergency surgery.
Amnesty International activists who were observing the protest were also hit with truncheons and tear gassed.
“The use of violence by police on this scale appears designed to deny the right to peaceful protest altogether and to discourage others from taking part” said John Dalhuisen, Director of Europe and Central Asia Program at Amnesty International.
“The use of tear gas against peaceful protestors and in confined spaces where it may constitute a serious danger to health is unacceptable, breaches international human rights standards and must be stopped immediately.”
Τhis article was written for my blog at Open Salon: MmeKastell's Blog. If you like it please share this or the original so that it will travel and more people will learn what's happening.