Istanbul protests:“Ordinary people, marching everywhere”
I start my Saturday morning on Skype with friends and colleagues in Istanbul, trying to find out more about what’s happening there. Early Friday morning, police moved in to break up a peaceful protest in Gezi Park, which the government plans to destroy in order to build a shopping mall.
So what’s the big deal? Happens all the time, right?
Not with tear gas. Not setting fire to the tents of the demonstrators.
There are other factors at work here. This is one of the last green public spaces in central Istanbul. And there’s an appeal that has not yet been adjudicated in the court system. And it comes a week after sudden and repressive new alcohol laws take effect, on the heels of more and more legislation that affects people’s private lives, whether or not they are practicing Muslims.
“This is not about a park,” claims one Facebook meme that has been shared 26,642 times, when last I looked. “It’s about not being heard … about the abuse of state power ... media being censored… minorities not being protected.”
“We are making history.”
Saturday morning finds me on Skype with cross-cultural trainer and business consultant Souzan Bachir, who lives in a district just outside central Istanbul. Because the streets are so crowded, she says it is nearly impossible to get downtown.
She has joined the people demonstrating in her district and has trouble making herself heard over the chanting and the car and truck horns blasting their support.
“We are marching in my district to support the protestors in Taksim Square, against the violence of the police,” she shouts into her phone.
“It is so beautiful. I’ve never seen this area so alive. Everybody is in the street—youth, women, businessmen, housewives, students—sports club fans, leftists, rightists, a friend who has never been in a demonstration before. We are walking just to keep unity and solidarity and to stop the bullying. Some are holding the Turkish flag. Some are shouting for the Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] to resign."
She said the "public is fed up" with the way he's been imposing on people.
“In the last few years, he started to interfere in our personal lives—how many children we can have, abortion, employment of women. A month ago, they closed the theatres and concert halls. Today he even said ‘those marginalist Tweeters are fascists.’"
“We are hoping that this is going to lead to something, that we’re organizing for the future. Otherwise, it will be a one shot deal, and things will be forgotten, and we don’t want this to happen. No matter what our ideology, it’s the first time since long ago we’ve had this unity. We are making history.”
When I check in with Bachir near midnight her time, she tells me that the situation has gotten worse.
“Civil police—they don’t wear uniforms—are provoking protesters,” she says.
“Since this morning, the government has been slowing down the Internet. We were not able to post things. We lost access to Twitter for half an hour, so we created a way to get phone numbers to friends abroad.
“Halk TV [one of only two independent media sources in Turkey] is broadcasting non stop.