In the five days since police left Istanbul’s Taksim Square, tens of thousands of protestors have poured into the area in ever more dense and diverse throngs, many of them engaging in protest for the first time. Bringing family, friends, cleaning supplies, and the occasional gas mask, they say they are gathering to demand a more participatory democracy, defend their rights, and protect the last park in Taksim, the city’s transport, protest, and tourism hub.
Demonstrators prepare to remain for as long as it takes Erdogan to concede the park to the public.
Now called the Gezi Park Resistance Movement, or Diren Gezi in Turkish, the past week’s uprising began as a series of small peaceful protests carried out over months, after the Turkish government announced it would raze the nine-acre park to build a new shopping mall. But a surprisingly brutal eviction of the park by riot police changed the dynamic last Friday. Strong winds carried stinging tear gas through nearby neighborhoods, and social media brought reports to other cities, triggering a snowball effect that has rolled swiftly across Turkey.
With solidarity movements and police clashes rumbling across the country, thousands are now sleeping in Gezi Park to defend the space and protest a spate of unilateral government development projects, social policy changes, and crackdowns on political demonstrations. In the last month alone, government directives have banned demonstrations on Taksim Square (citing an ongoing construction project as a safety hazard), threatened the availability of over-the-counter contraceptive pills, and banned retail alcohol sales after 10pm. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan presented these latter two moves as public health measures, but they were widely interpreted as pushing an Islamist political agenda. When I arrived in Istanbul in late March of this year, daily protests were challenging a scheme to tear down a historic movie theater in Taksim, to make way for yet another mall. Unlike Diren Gezi, those protests received little media exposure, and the theater is now being gutted.
Occupying the park in shifts, after work, or round the clock, demonstrators prepare to remain for as long as it takes Erdogan to concede the park to the public. Using abandoned police barricades and salvaged building materials, they have constructed a library, a veterinary clinic, numerous infirmaries, and a kitchen, all of which are stocked by donations and operate at no cost. On Wednesday a vegetable garden appeared, planted with tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers. Some of the young boys who peddle goods to pedestrians near Taksim quickly adapted to the park’s gift economy, weaving among protestors to hawk “free water! No payment!” and accept donations if they are offered.
All photos by Fabien Tepper.
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Fabien Tepper is a freelance animal policy journalist, translator, painter, pedicab driver, and dog walker based in Boston.