Resisting repression in Turkey

Protests are continuing across Turkey in the wake of a government assault on demonstrators occupying Gezi Park in central Istanbul on Saturday, June 15. Riot police used water cannons and an arsenal of tear gas to clear the park in central Istanbul, whose planned demolition to clear the way for a shopping mall served as the spark for a rebellion that has broadened since the final days of May into a challenge to the Turkish government.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have continued their reign of repression since the weekend. Police have continued to attack demonstrations; security forces arrested dozens of people associated with the protests on charges of terrorism; and non-uniformed thugs, working in collaboration with police, are reportedly carrying out violent assaults in major cities.

Two union federations--the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey (DISK), representing workers in private industry, and the Confederation of Public Workers Unions (KESK), representing public-sector workers--and several individual unions responded to the violence with a call for a strike and marches in major cities the following Monday, June 17. Press reports said thousands honored the strike call.

Before the strike, Kivanç Eliaçik, director of the International Relations Department for DISK, made this call for international solidarity with the democracy demonstrations and the general strike by Turkish workers.

Thousands of protesters respond to police efforts to evict the Gezi Park encampment (Gregg Carlstrom)Thousands of protesters respond to police efforts to evict the Gezi Park encampment (Gregg Carlstrom)

THE PEOPLE'S resistance and mobilization is in its 20th day. Since 8 p.m. last night (June 15), in Taksim Square and many districts, there have been non-stop clashes with police. Police attacked peaceful protestors with excessive violence, with plastic bullets, pepper spray and tear gas, water cannons and water with liquid pepper gas.

Early on Friday morning, Prime Minister Erdogan was forced to meet with Taksim Solidarity representatives, including DISK General Secretary Arzu Çerkezolu, the Turkish Doctors Association, the Turkish Architecture Association and other mass organizations to find a solution. But the prime minister was very angry and aggressive, and after the meeting, he targeted Arzu--the first woman general secretary of DISK--claiming that she was "an ultra unionist."

After the meeting, the government's spokesperson stated that they would respect the court's decision that stopped the construction of the shopping mall in Gezi Park, the only public green space in central Istanbul.

However, this is no longer enough. If the government had stated this 20 days ago, that might have been a solution. But in those 20 days, five people died, almost 7,000 people have been injured. Fifteen people lost their eyes. There are 50 severely injured people. Thousands of people were taken into custody. Across Turkey's cities, millions poured into the streets, demanding the resignation of the government. The government is now trying to limit all mobilizations over the Gezi Park issue and to make propaganda to separate "innocent-pacifist environmentalists" from the "marginal, illegal groups." People oppose and object to this characterization.

On Saturday, Taksim Solidarity decided to normalize the area. It cleaned some barricades and decided to establish one symbolic tent, removing hundreds of others. The platform decided to continue the mobilization with peaceful mass demonstrations. However, despite this, at 8 p.m., police attacked Gezi Park with tear gas, injured hundreds of people and destroyed all tents.

Since then, spontaneously, hundreds of thousands poured onto the streets in all parts of Istanbul, closing traffic on the main international motorway and marching to Taksim Square. Tens of thousands marched into the Asian side over the Bosphorus Bridge. They clashed with police and passed all the police barricades.

Police forces normally have numbers on their helmets, but over the past two days, the helmet numbers have been missing, allowing the police to do whatever they liked. They even followed protesters trying to hide in shopping malls and five-star hotels. They fired pepper gas into hotels, cafes and houses. There was no limit to the police violence.

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CLASHES STILL continue in many districts, and people insist on pouring into the streets and marching over the police by using ferries, buses, cars and on foot. People are only using peaceful means, protesting against the police, blowing car horns and throwing the pepper gas canisters back at the police. Last night, one 55-year-old lady died in Istanbul from a heart attack after the police attacked with pepper gas. Today, there are many badly injured people, and there may be more dead.

Clashes have spread to Ankara and Adana. In Ankara, since last night, clashes have been continuing. Today, there was a funeral of a young man, Ethem Sarisülük, who was killed last week by a police bullet--it was recorded by TV cameras. Police even attacked the funeral with water cannons. There are mass demonstrations in Izmir, Eskiehir, Bursa, Trabzon and even strongholds of the Government such as Kayseri, Konya.

DISK and KESK have now declared a strike and called their members to join demonstrations to protest against the government.

Prime Minister Erdogan's reaction has been to polarize people and suppress the mobilization with violence. He has also mobilized his own supporters. Yesterday, he had a mass meeting in Ankara, and he declared that he would clean Taksim Square. Just two hours later, police started intervention. His government uses public sources to mobilize their supporters with free transportation and free meals.

Erdogan has targeted CNN, BBC and other international media channels with fabricated news, blaming foreign and domestic groups determined to stop the rise of the Turkish state as a global power. He is threatening protesters and making propaganda with fabricated lies, claiming people are looters, anti-religion and anti-nationalist.

Erdogan's aim is to consolidate his support. He had almost 50 percent of the vote in the last election. But his AKP-led government is a coalition of different groups. It is estimated that political Islamists have almost 10 percent of the vote. People who vote for center-right secular parties voted for him for economic stability. He knows that he may lose this support as a result of this mobilization and his authoritarian rule, as well as the stagnation of the economy over the past year. Also his adventurous Syrian policy has conflicted with U.S. policy, threatening the loss of U.S. support, too.

Hundreds of thousands of people are resisting excessive police violence in Istanbul and in almost all cities. This is the final phase of Prime Minister Erdogan. We call for international support for the cause of the people.