A record number of protesters gathered in Istanbul’s Taksim Square over the weekend, suggesting that anti-government demonstrators have no intention of backing down despite increasingly intolerant rhetoric from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Will Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan have the patience to wait for the anti-government uprising that has swept Istanbul’s Taksim Square to run out of steam?
That question is hot on the lips of several participants in the mass protests that saw record numbers of Turks swarming the emblematic gathering place at the centre of the country’s largest city over the weekend.
Turkey’s Islamic-rooted, conservative government responded on Sunday by calling on supporters to attend two demonstrations, in the capital city of Ankara on June 15 and in Istanbul on June 16.
But Erdogan’s warnings about the “limits” of the government’s patience went largely unheeded by the tens of thousands who showed up this past weekend to voice their anger at the government.
And, according to them, Erdogan’s statement only makes a peaceful resolution to the stand-off increasingly unlikely.
“The protesters here know that they’re a minority in Turkish society, and I’m scared that Erdogan’s supporters will come here and attack those camped out in Gezi Park [an area inside Taksim Square, the demolition of which was one of the initial motivations behind the protests],” said Melike, a 23-year-old nurse who has been helping treat those injured in clashes with police.
Despite that fear, Melike strolled down Avenue Istiqlal, a pedestrian street leading to a Taksim Square, beer in hand. Though she views Erdogan as an impetuous and unpredictable leader, she also says that police raids would be dangerous for the government’s image.
Protests protected by barricades
Taksim Square is surrounded by makeshift barricades meant to slow police raids and allow protesters to gather in force on the front lines.
“We can bring 250 people to the front very quickly,” explained Serif, a member of a small group of activists wearing helmets and gas masks.
With a red hood offsetting his steel-blue eyes, Serif calls himself a “patriot” and says he is ready to fight to the finish to prevent what he sees as rampant Islamisation of his country.
Still, he has no illusions.
“By taking us by surprise and throwing tear gas grenades from helicopters, the police could without a doubt gain the upper hand,” he said. “I’m sure that 80% of the people occupying Gezi Park would take off as soon as they started getting hit by tear gas.”
But a police raid would not be easy. Riot police stationed near Erdogan’s office, along the Bosphorus River, would have to get through 13 successive barricades arranged over a half-kilometre on an uphill slope.
A De Gaulle or a Putin?
These barricades, reinforced day after day, have become a crucial visual symbol in the publicity and media stand-off between the protesters and the Turkish government, according to Esat Sabay, a thirty-year-old businessman who describes himself as a “concerned citizen”.
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Sabay says he has come to see with his own eyes the demonstrations that have been able to proceed within an area blocked off from all police presence – a first in several centuries of Turkish and Ottoman history.
“The outcome of this movement does not just depend on holding on to Taksim,” Sabay told FRANCE 24. “The protesters also need to project a positive image of what they’re doing. It’s a bit like in the film ‘Gladiator’; ‘Win the people, and you’ll win your freedom’.”
Following a group of young protesters wearing Anonymous masks, Sabay scrambled over a barricade. “If the protesters hang on, it will be up to Erdogan to decide if he wants to go down in history as a De Gaulle or a Putin,” he concluded.
Behind the barricades in Taksim Square
A view of Gezi Park, a planned renovation of which initially sparked the protests. Hundreds of Turkish protesters have been occupying the park since the adjacent Taksim Square has become the hub of the anti-government movement.
Despite difficult living conditions, protesters have shown no signs of fatigue. Numerous Istanbul residents made their way to the square over the weekend to take a look at the heart of the movement.
This movement has been more efficient and organised than previous ones, as evidenced by the distribution of free meals to protesters.
Free of any police presence for the past week, Taksim Square has been host to protests by various groups from radical secularists to anti-capitalist Muslims, leftist organisations and Kurdish separatist groups.
A view of Taksim Square on Saturday night, after the arrival of thousands of football fans who came to join an anti-government demonstration. The face of the movement changes along with the different groups who swarm the square.
Supporters of the Besiktas football club team protest loudly on the roof of a bus that has been turned into a barricade. Fans of Istanbul’s rival football clubs have joined forces in the anti-Erdogan demonstrations.
A football fan prepares to light a flare on the roof of the Ataturk Cultural Centre, named after the revered founding father of Turkey who has come to embody the secular principles protesters say Erdogan is seeking to undermine.
On Sunday morning, roughly sixty professional organisations – including groups of construction workers, pictured here – took to Taksim Square for a more traditional march.
The absence of clashes with police over the weekend has motivated a younger generation of protesters, such as 18-year-old high-schooler Gizem, to come participate in their first anti-Erdogan protest.
A salesman wearing an Anonymous mask sells paint bombs (only five Turkish lira, or 2.50 euros per paint bomb) for graffiti taggers.
Anti-government protesters dissuade a group of fellow demonstrators from blocking one of Istanbul’s main roads. The movement’s main goal is to continue occupying the hill on which Taksim Square is situated.
With the police gone, protesters take the time to reinforce a number of barricades surrounding Taksim Square before posing triumphantly atop of a pile of bricks.
Date created : 2013-06-10