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TAKSIM EYEWITNESS: “This is Turkey taking its secular democracy back”

Cansu Colakoglu is one of many who have taken to streets of Turkey to protest against the AKP regime. This is her eyewitness account of events on May 31.

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Turkey is a secular republic founded in 1923. Since 1946 we have had a multi-party democracy. AKP (aka Justice and Development Party) is an Islamist party, which was elected in 2002 for the first time after the economic crisis in 2001. They have been elected three consecutive times so far. At first, their choices against human rights and freedom of speech were subtle. Right now, nothing seems to scare the government

Thankfully, Turkey has awoken from its sleep during the AKP’s fascist regime.

On May 28, a group of protesters started a demonstration in Gezi Park, in the middle of Istanbul’s European center, Taksim, because  the AKP plans to destroy the park and build a shopping mall. Two days later, the police attacked  protesters who were trying to save the trees in the park. The violence did not end there and Istanbul started to gather in Taksim. On the afternoon of May 31 the police occupied all of the streets that end at Taksim. My Dad, a friend of mine and I somehow made it to Taksim and started waiting for the larger group that was in Istiklal Avenue to enter the square. The group in Istiklal consisted of tens of thousands of people, and they managed to push the police back towards the square. The police attacked the protesters with tear gas and water cannons. At this point in time I knew that one man had been murdered by a water cannon with four others dead due to tear gas and panzers.

In the square, while we were waiting in a restaurant that had opened its doors to protesters (since that was pretty much the only space we could breath in) the police suddenly approached and threw tear gas bombs into the restaurant and chased the crowd in front of the restaurant into the building with batons. This is not a story I heard and am telling secondhand; this is what happened to me on Friday, May 31.

The battle in Taksim on Friday lasted until 3 p.m. At 3:30 p.m. the government announced that the police had been ordered to step back. They did not actually step back but the tear gas fire ceased for a while. Around 4 p.m., millions gathered in Gezi Park. Taksim was filled with people. There were no policemen, but we suffered from tear gas bombs which were occasionally thrown from a helicopter.

Around 8 p.m. things got ugly again. Since the police had left Taksim, they moved to Besiktas, which is one of the European centers on Turkey’s Bosphorus shore. An actual battle started in Besiktas. Police threw tear gas bombs in Bahcesehir University and Mimar Sinan University and State Conservatory. The security guard of Mimar Sinan, who I know personally, had been hospitalized; his face was destroyed by a bullet. The question is whether it was a plastic or an actual bullet. The answer is what we fear.

There is one video taken in the capital city Ankara that shows one policeman in between several protesters. He fears the protesters and wants to go back to his fellow policemen. He is obviously not comfortable being the minority so close to the protesters. To split the crowd and run, he fires his gun three times. The shots are not entirely into the air but a bit higher than a standard height person. One protester falls to the ground with the gunfire. Were those three real bullets? Or the actual question is: are plastic bullets any different than real bullets from almost no distance?

Around 10 p.m., I heard that one of my high school friends was detained. He arrived home safely after spending around 14 hours in custody. At the time of writing (June 1) we know that there are 939 people still under custody. Their crime is having protested. Protest is our constitutional right, found in Article 34 of Turkey’s constitution.

At the time of writing, thousands are on their way to Besiktas. The same is happening in Ankara, Izmir, Antalya, Edirne, Mersin, Eskisehir, Adana, Kayseri, Konya and in many more cities. If you know a bit about Turkey, you will realize that this list not just of relatively liberal cities, but also very conservative ones like Konya and Kayseri. Furthermore, demonstrations have happened throughout today in San Francisco, Boston, New York City, Chicago, Paris, Munich, Oxford, and Madrid, among other locations.

As of now (June 1), 53 people are officially injured, but looking at how many were and are out there, that number is ridiculously low. Additionally, the police continue to use tear gas in places that hold many injured people, endangering their lives, such as the universities in Besiktas that are listed above.

Pharmacies were giving out gas masks and medicine for free whilst lawyers and doctors offered their services for free as well.

This is not happening because trees were being destroyed. This is because we have been stripped of the right to talk, to protest. This is because our journalists are in jail. This is because the Prime Minister still says his government does not care what we do and they will continue with the Gezi Project. This is because people are in custody because they used their right to protest. This is because the government made the police attack the Gezi protesters.

The government is not serving its people, it’s killing them.

This is what’s happening in Turkey. I would not call it Turkish Spring: we don’t need revolution. This is Turkey, taking its secular democracy back. No more corruption, no more radical Islamism, no more FASCISM!


 

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