It all started on Tuesday 28 May 2013.Environmentalists in Istanbul started a sit-in at Gezi Park, angry at plans to redevelop that part of Taksim Square. The national government wants to demolish Gezi Park and build a huge shopping centre and a huge Mosque. Gezi Park is one of the last green public spaces in the centre of Istanbul.
On Friday morning ( 31 May 2013) , the police tried to end the sit-in , using tear gas, plastic bullets and water cannon. After the police crackdown , the situation in Istanbul escalated. Tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest against the current government and police brutality .
Gay and lesbian groups ( KAOSGL ) , Alevi's, socialists, union workers and members of the secularist centre left party CHP and the pro-Kurdish party HDP joined the environmentalists in their protest. Friday evening ,there were also demonstrations in Ankara, Izmir, Bodrum, Antalya, Eskişehir, Konya, Edirne, Izmir, Bursa, çanakkale , and so on.
What started as an environmental protest in Istanbul has now turned into nationwide secular protest against the conservative policies of the current Erdoğan government. More and more people are fed up with the conservative policies and authoritarian behaviour of the Erdoğan government.
The demonstrations and clashes with the police in several cities in Turkey lasted until the early morning.
Saturday 1 June 2013 was the second day of ongoing nationwide protests against the conservative policies and authoritarian behaviour of the Erdoğan government.
Saturday morning, more than 40 000 people from the Asian side of Istanbul crossed the Bosphorous bridge to the Beyoğlu district of European Istanbul in order to protest in Taksim Square. Lots of protesters were carrying flags of Atatürk, the founder of the secular republic of Turkey .Arrived at Taksim Square , they started drinking alcohol in public as a way of protest against the alcohol restrictions Erdoğan issued only a week ago.
On Saturday 1 June 2013 , more than 1 ooo ooo people demonstrated across the whole of Turkey, demanding that the Erdoğan government should respect the secular principles of the Turkish state and that they should step down. Among the hundreds of thousands of protesters were gay and lesbian people , Alevi's, women, secular Turks, trade union workers, members of the secularist opposition party CHP and the secular pro-Kurdish party HDP, ecologists, young people , and so on. Like on Friday, the police answered with tear gas, plastic bullets and water cannon.
Officials said more than 90 protests had taken place across Turkey. A total of 939 people had been arrested, the Interior Ministry said, as demonstrations took place in towns and cities including Antalya, Izmir and Konya.
On Saturday afternoon , in a defiant speech, Mr Erdoğan said the plan to rebuild an Ottoman era military barracks and to build a shopping centre and a huge mosque on the Gezi Park site would go ahead as planned.
In a attempt to reduce tension, police and riot vehicles were withdrawn from Taksim Square on Saturday afternoon, and barricades removed, allowing thousands of people to enter the square and demonstrate. Approximately 1 000 000 people turned up in Taksim Square.
On Sunday 02 June 2013 , the protests continued. Sunday afternoon hundreds of people reoccupied Taksim Square in the Beyoğlu district of Istanbul. Sunday evening , hundreds of thousands of Turks return to Istanbul and Ankara streets to protest against the authoritarian behaviour of the Erdoğan government and against what the protesters see as creeping Islamisation of Turkey . A lot of LGBT ( Gay, Lesbian , Bisexual , Transsexual) people participated in the demonstrations in Istanbul an Ankara.
Many of the protesters were calling on the government to resign.
In Ankara, police fired tear gas at the protesters who were attempting to march on the prime minister's office there. There were further reports of tear gas in Izmir and Adana.
Last week the government quickly passed legislation curbing the sale and advertising of alcoholic drinks, which alarmed secularists.
Many Turks ( not only the secular ones) felt insulted when he ( Recep Tayyip Erdoğan )defended the legislation by calling people who drink "alcoholics".
For many Turks, this legislation was one of the last straws that broke the camel’s back.
Monday 03 June 2013.Turkish protesters clashed with police in Istanbul overnight, in some of the worst violence since unrest erupted three days ago.
Protesters say the Turkish government is becoming increasingly authoritarian. They fear Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan 's Justice and Development Party (AKP) is trying to impose conservative Islamic values on the officially secular country and infringe on their personal freedoms.
Officials said more than 1,700 people had been arrested in demonstrations in 67 towns and cities, and released shortly afterwards.
On Tuesday 04 June 2013 and Wednesday 05 June 2013 , the protest continued. One of Turkey's big trade union groups staged a two-day strike to support continuing anti-government protests in a number of cities. Banging drums and carrying banners, trade unionists marched on Istanbul's Taksim Square, which has been the focal point of the unrest.
There was a similar march by workers including doctors, teachers and bank staff in the capital Ankara, where once again police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters.
The deputy prime minister stood in for Mr Erdoğan, who went on an overseas trip. This caused a lot of anger among protesters.
On Wednesday, Mr Bülent Arinç was handed a list of demands by a group calling itself the Taksim Solidarity Platform.
In addition to the dismissal of several police chiefs, the activists said they wanted a ban on the use of tear gas, the release of detained protesters, the sacking of Istanbul's governor, and the scrapping of the plans for the redevelopment of Gezi Park.
The deputy prime minister apologised to demonstrators who had been injured.
He said the original protests had been "just and legitimate" and that the "excessive use of force" by police had been wrong. But he said there was no need to apologise for the policing of the later protests, which he said had been taken over by "terrorist elements".
Thursday 06 June 2013.
Thousands of supporters of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan greeted him at Istanbul airport on his return from a North African tour. Mr Erdoğan addressed the huge crowd after landing. During his speech, Erdoğan called the protesters ‘ looters’ , ‘marginals’ and ‘extremists ‘ . He also said that the protests are undemocratic.
At the same time , tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Taksim Square to continue their protest against the conservative policies and authoritarian behaviour of the Erdoğan government. Among the protesters were a lot of students, secular Turks , LGBT ( Gay , Lesbian, Bisexual, Transsexual) people,Alevi's, women, anti-capitalist muslims, trade union workers, environmentalists, Kurds , and so on, all united against Erdoğan and protesting to protect their personal freedoms.
On Friday 07 June 2013, anti-government protests in Turkey showed no sign of diminishing.
Police in the Turkish capital Ankara used tear gas and water cannon on demonstrators as anti-government protests continue. Protesters and police also clashed in Istanbul.
Earlier, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ruled out early elections.
"You don't decide on early elections because people are marching in the streets," he said.
Local and presidential elections would take place next year as scheduled, said an official from Mr Erdoğan's governing AKP (Justice and Development Party). A general election is due in 2015.
Sunday 09 June 2013.
In Taksim Square, one of the largest demonstrations since this unrest took place. Hundreds of thousands of people came for concerts and speeches, chanting for the prime minister to resign.
The thousands of Gezi park occupants and several organisations ( e.g. the LGBT organisations) put up tents , a library, information stands in Gezi park . They even created a garden with a vegetable patch .
But Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rallied his troops too. He told his supporters in Ankara that his patience was running out, that the protesters were "looters" and "marginal elements", warning them: "You have started this fight against us, you will pay the price very heavily."
“How can you attack my police? There are those who are swearing against the prime minister of this country. We are going to show patience, but patience has a limit as well. Those who hide behind the protestors should first learn what politics is," Erdoğan said.
At another rally, Erdoğan did not back down from his negative portrait of protesters, saying they had entered a mosque with beer bottles in their hands and attacked women wearing headscarves. "They have entered the Dolmabahçe Mosque with beer bottles and their shoes on. They have insulted my headscarf-wearing daughters and sisters.”
A local imam , in collaboration with doctors and nurses , hosted a first aid spot for wounded protesters in the Dolmabahçe Mosque. Indeed , some of the wounded protesters entered the mosque with their shoes on, but the imam didn't make a fuss about this. The imam denies that people entered the Mosque with beer bottles in their hand.
While the prime minister has lost control of the centre of Istanbul, his supporters now plan large rallies in the days to come.
The divisions in Turkey are deepening.
Monday 10 June 2013.
After consulting with the President Abdullah Gül ( AKP) and his government , vice PM Bülent Arinç said that PM Erdoğan is to meet the representatives of the Istanbul protests on Wednesday 13 May.
But Mr Arinc also sounded a warning. "Illegal demonstrations will not be allowed anymore in Turkey," Arinç said.
Later that day, President Abdullah Gül ( AKP) has approved the controversial bill restricting the sale and advertising of alcohol.
On May 24, parliament’s General Assembly adopted the alcohol bill proposed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), tightening restrictions on the sale and advertising of alcoholic beverages.
All sorts of advertising campaigns will be completely banned, such as promotions, sponsored activities, festivals and free giveaways. The only exception will be the international fairs aimed at international marketing of the alcoholic beverages.
In TV series, films and music videos, images that glorify the consumption of alcohol will be prohibited. Images of alcohol would be blurred, the same way as cigarettes are being blurred at the moment.
Alcoholic beverages will not be allowed to be purchased from vending machines. Beverages couldn’t be sold from see-through shop windows and cannot be sold to be consumed outside the facility.
Student dormitories, health institutions, sports clubs, all sorts of education institutions and gas stations will be banned from selling alcohol.
Bars, discotheques , restaurants and shops with already acquired licenses to sell alcohol will remain intact, yet to get new ones, facilities are required to be located outside the perimeter of 100 metres of educational and religious centres.
The controversial alcohol bill is seen as one of the reasons protesters have taken to the streets as part of the Taksim Gezi Park protests, voicing demands that include respect for their lifestyles.
Religious Turks also participated in the ongoing protests against the Erdoğan government, arguing that wether people drink alcohol or not is something between the person himself/herself and God. The state musn't intervene in such matters.
On Tuesday ( 11 June 2013 ) morning , Turkish riot police moved into Taksim Square in Istanbul to clear a protest camp which had been occupied for almost two weeks. Some activists hurled fireworks, fire bombs and stones at police. Police used water cannon and fired tear gas and rubber bullets, causing many protesters to flee the square into adjoining Gezi Park.
According to news agency Reuters several dozen riot policemen briefly entered the park but withdrew back into Taksim Square when they were confronted by a crowd of several thousands of protesters.
A number of protesters were injured in the operation.
PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded harshly , saying that “the protest movement was an international conspiracy against Turkey to destabilise its economy.”
At the evening, however, demonstrators streamed back into the square, the police once more moved against them with tear gas and water cannon. More clashes followed.
Thursday 13 June 2013.
Today , thousands of lawyers protested in Istanbul , Ankara and Izmir following the short detention of 75 lawyers. They were briefly held in Istanbul on Tuesday as they voiced their opposition to police action to clear Taksim Square.
Late in the afternoon, Mr Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met a group of 11 people - including artists, architects and a social media specialist - to discuss the situation in Gezi Park.
Those in the park and Taksim Solidarity, an umbrella group seen as most representative of the protesters, said the group that had met Mr Erdogan did not speak for them.
The deputy chairman of Turkey's ruling AK party says the government may organize a referendum on controversial plans to redevelop Istanbul's Gezi Park. There were mixed reactions among protesters about this proposal . They decided to continue their protest.
Saturday 15 June 2013.
Turkey's government agreed to suspend redevelopment plans for Gezi park in Istanbul until a court rules on the issue. After late-night talks with protesters, a government spokesman said there would be no attempt to start the project till a court decided on its legality.
"We will continue our resistance in the face of any injustice and unfairness taking place in our country," the Taksim Solidarity group, seen as most representative of the protesters, said in response.
In the late afternoon, a mass party political rally was held in Ankara by Erdoğan’s AK party. Tens of thousands of supporters turned up.
Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan warned protesters occupying Istanbul's Gezi Park to evacuate it before a rally of his ruling AK party in Istanbul on Sunday.
"If Taksim Square is not evacuated, this country's security forces will know how to evacuate it," Erdoğan said.
And they did. With more tear gas and water cannon than ever before.
The entire day, Taksim Square and Gezi park was filled with thousands of people .Among them were students, secular Turks , LGBT ( gay , lesbian, bisexual , transsexual) people, anti- capitalist muslims, families with their kids , and so on.
In the early evening , riot police cleared Taksim Square and Gezi park in a very brutal fashion.
Hundreds of riot police officers moved into Taksim Square and Gezi Park, firing water cannon, a lot of tear gas and rubber bullets. The protesters quickly fled the park, running for their safety.
Hundreds of riot police officers searched Gezi park, destroying tents , information stands, posters and kids’ drawings.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Istanbul to protest following this violent police crackdown on the Gezi park protesters. They try to walk to Taksim Square in the neighbourhood of Beyoğlu. Riot police , however, blocked the roads and answered with a lot of tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon. The streets of the neighbourhoods of Beyoğlu, Nisantasi, Besiktas, Kadiköy and Osmanbey were filled with tear gas.
Some of the tanks of the water cannons were not filled with water alone, but also with liquid pepper spray, making the skin and body parts of the protesters sore and painful.
Police chased protesters to hotels where they had taken refuge. One of these hotels was the luxurious Divan Hotel near Taksim Square. GP’s and nurses were giving first aid to wounded protesters when it was targeted with tear gas by the police . Riot police even targeted a hospital in Beyoğlu.
Thousands of protesters who tried to cross the Bosphorous Bridge from the Asian part of Istanbul to reach Taksim Square overnight were held back by police. They occupied the bridge instead .
In Ankara, thousands of people took to streets in support with the protesters in Istanbul. A lot of protesters were waving flags with Kemal Atatürk . The police answered with water cannon and tear gas.
Clashes between thousands of protesters in both Istanbul and Ankara went on till the crack of down. Hundreds of people got arrested.
Footage of the police crackdown:
Sunday 16 June 2013.
On Sunday 16 June 2013, Istanbul looked like a divided city more than ever. In Kazlicesme, PM Erdoğan addressed tens of thousands of AKP supporters under the banner "Let's ruin this big plot"; while on the roads leading to Taksim Square, thousands are marching and protesting against the Erdoğan government .
The rally in support of Mr Erdoğan and his Islamist-rooted ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), was held in the Kazlicesme district, about 10km (6 miles) from central Istanbul.
Mr Erdogan defended Saturday's police action to clear Istanbul's Taksim Square and Gezi Park, saying: "I said we were at an end. That it was unbearable. Yesterday the operation was carried out and it was cleaned up. It was my duty as prime minister."
He also criticised the international press and social media for the coverage of the unrest.
At the same time in central Istanbul, tens of thousands of anti-government protesters were demonstrating against Erdoğan. The riot police responded with water cannon and tear gas. One 20-year-old woman in Ankara was critically hurt on Sunday by a tear gas canister that struck her on the head, the city's medical association said.
On Monday 17 June 2013 several trade unions in Turkey organised a strike and demonstration.
Thousands of members of the Confederation of Public Workers' Unions (KESK) and Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DISK), along with three professional organisations took to the streets to protest against the violent police crackdown on Saturday 15 June.
Tuesday 18, Wednesday 19 , Thursday 20, Friday 21 June 2013. Other forms of protesting have popped up following the violent riot police crackdown on the anti-government protesters last weekend; standing still in group on a square or street without making a move or noise.
It all began with performance artist Erdem Gündüz. He stood silently for eight hours, facing a portrait of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern, secular Turkey. Hundreds of others joined him in the square, which was reopened on Monday.
Small occupations of parks in Istanbul and Ankara took place and are still taking place up till now. Each night a different park. During this occupations forums are being held to discuss current topics.
Saturday 22 June 2013: Approximately 20 000 people gathered to commemorate four protesters and a policeman who got killed in earlier protests. The thousands of protesters threw red carnations towards police lines. Riot police answered with water cannon and tear gas. This caused clashes between riot police and thousands of protesters .
On Sunday 23 June 2013 , thousands of transsexuals and gay rights activists marched down Istiklal Caddesi in Istanbul's district of Beyoglu, , demanding equal rights for transsexuals. The Transgender Pride March is part of the 21st LGBT Pride Week in Turkey. Thousands of Gezi park protesters joined the transgender people and gay rights activists.
On Tuesday 25 and Wednesday 26 June 2013, thousands of people protested in Istanbul and Ankara following the release of a riot police officer in Ankara yesterday. During the protests in Ankara over the last 4 weeks, one of the protesters , Ethem Sarısülük , got shot in the head by a riot police officer carrying a gun. Ethem died a fortnight later in hospital. Although footage clearly shows that Ethem was unarmed and protesting peacefully, the riot police officer was released from custody by a court in Ankara, with the prosecutor in charge of the investigation ruling that the shooting was “within the limits of self-defence.”
On Sunday 30 June 2013 , the 11th LGBT Pride Parade took place in Istanbul, which was part of the 21st LGBT ( Lesbian , Gay , Bisexual, Transgender) Pride Week in Turkey. Approximately 100 000 LGBT people and Gezi park activists gathered in Taksim Square and marched down Istiklal Caddesi to Tünel Square at Istanbul's district of Beyoğlu. The tens of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender activists were joined by an equal number of Gezi Park protestors in an unprecedented show of unity and solidarity at Istanbul’s Gay Pride Parade 2013 . It was the biggest LGBT Pride Parade ever in Turkey. 100 000 LGBT people and Gezi Park protesters demanded equal rights for LGBT people and respect for individual freedoms. The police was present , but did not intervene.
There were also smaller LGBT Pride Parades in Izmir and Antalya.
With this massive LGBT Pride Parade , the 21st LGBT Pride Week in Turkey came to a close. Between 23 June and 30 June a lot of cultural activities , seminars , a gay film festival and two demonstrations took place.
Some fab footage of the LGBT Pride Parade 2013 in Istanbul : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hc4FrEQcBE&feature=share
Turkish Doctors Union press statement .
Turkish Doctors Union (TTB) released a statement, saying that at least 7,822 people were injured with 59 in serious condition. 4 protestors lost their lives and 11 lost eyesight, TTB said.
“The majority of injuries were due to pepper gas-related burnt and respiratory complications; injuries related to canister hits, plastic bullets and muscle-skeleton system traumas (soft tissues injuries, cuts, burns, broken bones); head traumas; eyesight problems extending to vision loses due to use of plastic bullets; and internal organ injuries.” , a TTB spokesman said.
According to the statement 4 people lost their lives: Mehmet Ayvalıtaş (Istanbul), Abdullah Cömert (Antakya), Mustafa Sarı (police officer, Adana), Ethem Sarısülük (Ankara).
LGBT people and the Gezi Park demonstrations .
Lesbian, gay , bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) groups have been very active during the protests against the demolition of Istanbul's Gezi Park , the riot police crackdown on protesters and the conservative and increasingly authoritarian policies of the Erdoğan government . They’ve joined the protests from day one.
Why have so many LGBT people joined the ongoing protests against the Erdoğan government?
Unlike in most countries with a Muslim majority, homosexuality is not illegal in Turkey. In Turkey, homosexuality was legalised in 1858. There are an increasing number of gay rights organisations throughout the whole of Turkey. The two most active of them are LambdaIstanbul in Istanbul and the Ankara based KaosGL. There are also an increasing number of gay bars and gay discotheques in cities like Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and Bodrum. There's also an annual Gay Pride Week in Istanbul with an LGBT Film Festival , a Transgender Pride Parade and an LGBT Pride Parade. Last year (2012) around 30 000 LGBT people marched down Istiklal Caddesi at Istanbul’s district of Beyoğlu , demanding equal rights for LGBT people.
This ongoing struggle for equal rights was one of the reasons LGBT people are participating in the nationwide protests against the conservative and authoritarian policies of the Erdoğan government.
But there was also a second reason. The Gezi Park is of particular interest for the LGBT community in Istanbul. In daytime, the park attracts all sorts of people. In the evening and night, however, it is a meeting place for homosexual men who meet each other there and have the odd spot of naughtiness in the open air.
During the occupation of Gezi Park and the mass demonstrations across the whole of Turkey , LGBT organisations established some new alliances with different organisations in order to create better understanding of homosexuality . This paid off.
In June 2013 , the 21st LGBT Pride Week in Turkey took place. Between 23 June and 30 June, a lot of cultural activities , seminars , an LGBT film festival and two demonstrations took place. On 30 June , around 100 000 LGBT activists and Gezi Park activists participated in the biggest LGBT Pride Parade ever in Turkey, demanding equal rights for LGBT people and respect for people’s individual lifestyles. This year, there were also smaller LGBT Pride Parades in Izmir and Antalya.
In the past, all the women who participated in the LGBT Pride Parade in Istanbul were women who doesn't were the headscarf. This year, for the first time, also women wearing the Islamic headscarf ( called Türban in Turkish) participated in the LGBT Pride Parade , walking down Istiklal Caddesi in favour of LGBT rights.
Some fab footage of the LGBT Pride Parade 2013 in Istanbul : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hc4FrEQcBE&feature=share
AKP and Secular Turkey and what the future brings.
The secular republic of Turkey was founded in 1923 by Kemal Atatürk . Since then , Turkey has got very strict secular principles. Turkish secularism does not only include a separation of state and religion, but also the removal of religion from all aspects of public life. This resulted in a ban on headscarves in the parliament, town and city halls , primary and secondary schools. Besides that, Atatürk abolished the caliphate and issued a decree closing down all Sufi orders. Between 1926 and 1928 , Atatürk removed all religious influences on the laws in Turkey by implementing civil law.
On 5 December 1934, Turkey gave women full political rights. The equal rights of women in marriage had already been established in the earlier Turkish civil code.
Later ( during the ’80 and ’90) a more strict ban on headscarves was implemented. From then on , no headscarves were allowed in all public buildings: parliament, town and city halls, primary and secondary schools, universities, hospitals , court houses, and so on. In the nineties , things came to such a head that female students who refused to remove their headscarf while entering a university were simply barred from classes. A certain part of the secular establishment looked down on religious people.
This caused growing frustration among religious Turks and some progressive Turks , resulting in the election of Islamic parties. In the past , when these Islamic parties were able to come into power , they were forced to step down by the powerful secular establishment.
In 2002 , however, the Islamic AK party of Abdullah Gül and PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan got elected , came into power and wasn’t forced to step down. The party promised to stick to the secular principles of the constitution. Deputy leader Abdullah Gül was appointed as premier. Constitutional changes in December 2002 allowed the chair of ruling AK party , Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, to run for parliament, and so to become prime minister. He had been barred from public office because of previous criminal conviction. In march 2003, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became PM.
During the first 5 years in power, Erdoğan implemented reforms that strengthened Turkish democracy. During the last 5 years ,however, the Erdoğan government took and tried to take more and more measures that caused anger among the secular Turks, e.g. promoting Islam classes in state schools, infringing on abortion rights , implementing alcohol restrictions , loosen the headscarf ban , refusing to implement equal rights for LGBT people, and so on. In addition to that , the government has become increasingly authoritarian over the last 5 years. These measures caused growing concerns among secular Turks, causing these nationwide demonstrations.
According to a recent study , around 90 % of the population in Turkey are in favour of a secular state and this state should be in line with Atatürk’s principles.
Approximately 50.6 percent said the definition of secularism should be kept as it is, and 40.7 percent said secularism should be “redefined to keep an equal distance from all religions.”, the survey says.
“The participants also said the Religious Affairs Directorate should remain as a constitutional institution to regulate religion, however, 84.1 percent believe that the directorate, which has been under constant criticism for catering to the needs of Sunni Muslims, should be of service to all religions and sects.” , the survey says.
And when it comes to Islam classes in schools, Turkish people are almost equally divided on the issue of compulsory religious lessons in schools. Half of the participants said the classes should be mandatory, while 46.3 percent said they should be elective and 3.6 percent said religion classes should be abolished completely .
It is clear that the majority of the Turks wants a secular Turkey , more individual freedoms and respect for their individual lifestyles.
But not only that. According to the same survey, the majority of the Turks also want a greener Turkey with respect for the environment and a better urban planning.
Next year , municipal and presidential elections are due to take place . In 2015 elections for the parliament are to take place.
Whatever the outcome , the solutions to these tensions need a more unbiased, broad-minded approach . Only then more balanced policies can be implemented in order to respect people’s individual lifestyles, LGBT people, Kurds, Secular people, religious people, Alevi Muslims, the environment, and so on.
Sources and interesting links.