Istanbul’s central area of Taksim is currently the scene of a fledging ‘occupy movement’ as people react to this morning’s 5am teargassing of protestors opposed to unchecked gentrification in the historic city.
These are some cursory notes on whats been unfolding in Istanbul’s central square Taksim and the small green area within in – Gezi Park, as of Friday 31 May there is still little English language coverage, the best place to look is #occupygezi or in Turkish #direngeziparkı which is trending worldwide.
Along with a lot of information in Turkish there are quite a few Tweets pointing at the environmental nature of the protest with tree-saving and maintaining green space in an over urbanised city as the key issues. This is only the tip of the iceberg.
The recent wave of violence released by Turkish police under the rule of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan‘s AKP (Justice and Development Party]) government including this morning’s tear gassing of protestors is in fact a growing trend which many are worried as seeing Turkey slipping further and further into authoritarian rule. Since the annual May 1st demonstrations violence used against protestors has intensified in Istanbul as people have taken to the streets to decry the worrying trends they see developing in their country. This is reflected around the country with attacks on university students in Ankara coupled with a rapidly destabilising situation in the South East as the Turkish border areas are dragged into the Syrian conflict.
Back in Istanbul years of rapid neo-liberal gentrification under the guise of urban improvement has seen swathes of the city transformed. Most recently the go ahead was given for the third Istanbul bridge which is due to see the city transform into an enormous monster spreading up towards the black sea. Many commentators see this as the death knell for Istanbul. In the city centre the central working class neighbourhood of Tarlabasi is currently being decimated while projects such as Galataport and the redevelopment of the Kadikoy train station see historical parts of the city flattened and redevelopment as global investment opporutinites leading to soaring prices and the replacing of large parts of the city with shopping malls and luxury apartments.
In Taksim square, Gezi park (hardly a park by European standards but more a huge traffic island made of of concrete with several hundred trees sitting in its midst) sees itself as the latest victim of a government which deploys heritage as an argument for redevelopment as it drags from the dust the idea of an Ottoman Army Barracks which suddenly must be developed as a shopping mall, replacing one of the last remaining open spaces a city which is already struggling to breathe from congestion, traffic and over development. Scene of protests for the last few days this morning saw police attempt to clear protestors with swathes of tear gas, hospitalising some with an attack which started at 5am while many were sleeping in a makeshift camp. Protestors belongings and tents were burned and newly planted trees uprooted. At 8am this seemed to cease as opposition politicians seeking to make political capital declared opposition to the ongoing destruction and arrived among the bulldozers.