Police confronted protesters in Istanbul’s Taksim Square on Tuesday in an escalation of a conflict that has unsettled Turkey for days:
It was the latest sign that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government may have run out of patience after 12 days of unrest in Turkey’s largest city and beyond. Earlier in the day, he accused the protesters of sullying Turkey’s image, raising the possibility that he had ordered police to show no restraint in clearing Taksim Square . . . As a phalanx of helmeted officers moved forward, water cannons doused a man in a wheelchair carrying a Turkish flag. Plainclothes officers in gas masks yanked down banners. ¶ For the police, the marching orders appeared to be: fire tear gas, advance, spray water cannons and peel back. Then, after the tear gas dissipated in the wind, the protesters again stepped into the void — clanging fences, shooting fireworks, and erecting makeshift barricades. ¶ At one point, they set alight a huge bonfire in the middle of the square. ¶ Several people were being placed into ambulances during the clashes, which have trained an international spotlight on Turkey’s democracy.
Resolving the conflict is difficult because protesters are frustrated with Erdogan’s government for a variety of reasons:
Unrest started after a peaceful environmentally focused protest in Istanbul was met May 31 with water cannons and tear gas. Simmering anger over other issues quickly boiled over nationwide. With frustrations varying from region to region, a fast resolution may not be within reach, protesters in this Westernized coastal city say. And with supporters of Istanbul’s raucous soccer clubs joining protesters at the landmark Taksim Square this weekend for the first time and Erdogan on Sunday exhorting his own supporters, fears are growing that a direct confrontation is imminent. ¶ Protesters. . . in Izmir say they have turned out because they have long felt marginalized by a prime minister who they think has more sympathy for the Middle East than for Europe. Along the border with Syria, protesters object to Erdogan’s support for rebels seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In areas plagued by violence from a Kurdish militant group, residents dislike Erdogan’s efforts to broker peace. The one issue that unites protesters across Turkey — especially the young, college-educated residents who dominate the turnout — is a fear that dearly held personal liberties are slipping in favor of religious conservatism.
Alyson Neel, who lived in Istanbul until recently, writes about watching the protests develop from far away:
Scanning through photos, I pick out the Republic Monument in the middle of the square, my old bus stop on Tarlabasi Street, and the lights above Istiklal Street that always reminded me of Christmas. But people donning water-bottles-turned-gas masks and building community libraries out of destroyed buses and selling Guy Fawkes masks like they’re simit (Turkish-style bagels) – I’ve never seen anything of the sort in Turkey before . . . As unrest in Turkey enters its second week, neither the demonstrators nor the government appear to be backing down. And with the protesters demanding the withdrawal of the Gezi Park development plans, and Erdogan defiantly standing by them, what happens next in this truly historic moment in Turkey is anyone’s guess. ¶ I was skeptical when demonstrators first called on Istanbulus to take off work and join them in Gezi Park. Tens of thousands responded. But important questions remain: The spirit of Occupy Gezi is beautiful, but how much longer can it last? Can meaningful change come from it?
Read last week’s coverage of the protests here.