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Tuesday, 18 June 2013 09:00

A week of clearing up Taksim

Written by Julia Schulte

What started as a protest against the tearing down of a park and quickly became a nationwide uprising of Turkish youth is now brutally being cleared by the police.

After a weekend with a festival atmosphere at Taksim Square, the big hangover comes on a Tuesday. Clearing Gezi is a three step operation: very early in the morning on the 11th of June, the police start removing the barricades the protesters have built line by line in every street leading to the square. Soon Taksim is crowded again. I am told not to leave the house in Cihangir all day in order to stay safe. In the early evening I go out to get some food – and instead get my first load of teargas even though I'm one kilometre away from the main square. All night there are little explosions in the streets. Those who don't join the protests shut the windows to protect themselves from the gas and keep the curtains closed to avoid police spies. Anxiously, people follow Twitter posts, Facebook, and live cams of Taksim. At 1.30 am the noise grows louder: people flee down side streets, wait, rearrange their masks and goggles and run back. Until early morning you can anticipate the noise of the police attacks. After this night I flee to the suburbs.

When you go to Istanbul, people tell you about how you wake up with the Muezzins' chants. They don't tell you that you go to sleep with the sound of explosions and pot protest. Pot protest is an anonymous thing: in the city centre as well as in the suburbs people bang a spoon on a pot behind their windows. Expressing your opinion out in the open is increasingly risky: "My cousin has been kept by the police for three days now," Mehmet*, a Turkish student, told me on day 13 of the protests. "We don't know when he will be released. We fear he might be tortured." Torture? In a Turkish prison? "Oh, if it was a prison!" he laughs sadly. "It is police detention; that is different." And these days anyone can get arrested: lawyers, doctors, Erasmus students.

Erdogan does not only win back Taksim with this second operation. He also spreads fear and insecurity. The government's moves have become completely unpredictable: he says he wants to talk – next thing you know, gas bombs are being thrown again. He gives his ultimate warning and asks parents to take their children off the street – and it stays quiet for another three days. He announces that the park has to be cleared by Sunday – and the police acts for the third time on Saturday night when a lot of families and children are at Gezi. There are videos and pictures (now not only on the internet but finally at least some also on Turkish television) of police not only chasing people down the streets, but also entering the hotels and hospitals which offer people refuge. There is gas and water everywhere, children who have lost their parents, many being trapped in shops and restaurants for hours.

People are reporting that this time there was another substance in the water that caused a skin reaction. Istanbul's governor Mutlu denies this the next day on national television. But this is not the first time people report the use of stronger substances. Bahar, a 27-year-old woman, was helping out at Bahcesehir University the entrance hall of which had been transformed into a provisional hospital on the second day of the protests when a gas attack took place. "My nose started to bleed after a while and my stomach swelled a lot. I was nauseous for 24 hours and had to stay in bed the whole of the next day." Others share this experience. Immediately rumours pop up on Facebook as to what this new thing could be and how it can be treated. However, what exactly the police threw cannot be figured out.

Whilst Governor Mutlu claims that there were no chemicals in the water the police used, the Turkish EU minister talks about terrorists when referring to the people still trying to get back to the park. Meanwhile a big pro-AKP demonstration takes place in another quarter of Istanbul. People are cheering and waving flags in the sun  – no wonder they are happy, not being threatened by any counter action. This is not only prevented by the massive police presence at Taksim. Bridges are closed and ferry service is interrupted during the day in order to prevent people from the Asian side from joining the protests.

Still, during the night many people try to access Taksim. In Besiktas the police stop them. "It was raining gas bombs,"  a girl says. Afterwards she had difficulties getting home, with the police waiting in the surrounding streets to arrest people. The media doesn't have access to these areas anymore.

On Monday a big strike takes place – and the activists think of new ways to express their opinion. "Instead of walking we just stand like sculptures at Taksim square" says Bahar, who, despite her experiences, is determined to keep protesting. "Because we just stand, we don't talk, we don't move - it is totally legal!", she adds with a smile. Anyway, arrests are reported.

But violence has always created more violence, fighting always more fighting. The protesters are more determined than ever to continue. They don't want to put up with the continuous Human Rights violations any longer; they want to stand up for their freedom. Or, to put it in the words of a young woman: "If this is going to be a civil war, then so be it!"

Last modified on Saturday, 22 June 2013 19:52

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