Home > Musings > Istanbul’s demonstrators celebrate victory in Istiklal and Taksim Square

Istanbul’s demonstrators celebrate victory in Istiklal and Taksim Square

At dawn of the morning after the night before, a flock of pigeons was picking on the debris from an amazing 48 hours outside my home on Istiklal St, the pedestrian boulevard through the heart of Istanbul. It was littered with trash, broken beer bottles and the odd ornamental tree yesterday’s protestors dragged into the middle of the road to act as a barricade against police forces. A few stragglers were still drifting away from a boisterous all-night celebration in Taksim Square of what they see as their victory over the police and government. Protestors and police apparently have clashed again briefly in at least one place elsewhere in the city, Beşiktaş, but for now things are quiet here, although a tang of tear gas lingers in the air.

By 10am this 2 June, municipality cleaning trucks had got most of the street clean. Vans are coming to restock shops – or perhaps to see if the shops survived. Every few minutes in the blue sky above us, as they did even when clouds of tear gas billowed down the street during the battles yesterday, passenger planes make their final approach to Istanbul airport. But absorbing what happened on 1 June – and getting back to business as usual – is going to take a while longer than that.

What are the long-term implications of having the heart of Turkey’s touristic, commercial and cultural capital captured by young people walking up and down most of the night shouting to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan: “Tayyip, Resign!”? How impressive is it that these demonstrations spread to half of Turkey’s 81 provinces? Is this the beginning of a new democratic era of brave youth confronting an inflexible authority, or should we focus on an early taste of some frightening anarchy and looting? How much real political water is there behind this dam burst of secular sentiment in Istanbul, a flood which swept the flags of innumerable marginal and not-so-marginal left-wing groups to the heart of Taksim Square? How did a polls-obsessed government misjudge the mood so much? Does an ideology that consists in part of turning Turkey into a country in shopping malls linked by dual-carriageway highways not satisfy the people?

I’m not yet sure about all these big questions, except to note once again that the government still won power in 2011 with 50 per cent of the vote, that it did not order its own probably far more numerous supporters out onto the streets of this city of more than 10 million people, that its cementing over of green spaces is nothing new in Turkish urban planning, and that under this administration, the parks and roadside flowers have looked better than anything previously. And for once in the first three days of the demonstrations themselves, the security forces and police, however excessive their use of tear gas and despite more than 100 people injured, miraculously killed nobody.

So while thinking about those big unknowns, I think I’ll just share some pictures from the Istiklal St scene at about 11pm last night.

IMG_7405

The party at the central Taksim monument in Istanbul

Protestors celebrate in front of a Taksim Square flower stall

Protestors celebrate in front of a Taksim Square flower stall

The beer stand

The beer stand

Party time on Istiklal St - many people carried Turkish flags

Party time on Istiklal St – many people carried Turkish flags

The mess

The mess

Amid plenty of superficial damage and cracked display windows, the only shop on Istiklal that was truly pillaged was the pastry shop owned by Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş

Amid plenty of superficial damage and cracked display windows, the only shop on Istiklal I saw that was truly pillaged was the pastry shop owned by Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş

This prortestor wore her riding cap to the demonstration - for all the left-wing party flags, most of the protestors seemed to be middle class folk.

This prortestor wore her horse riding cap to the demonstration – for all the left-wing party flags, most of the protestors seemed to be middle class folk.

Many ATMs close to Taksim were vandalized.

Many ATMs close to Taksim were vandalized.

Protestors seemed particularly focused on attacking and breaking up the worksite for putting Taksim Square traffic into tunnels.

Protestors seemed particularly focused on attacking and breaking up the worksite for putting Taksim Square traffic into tunnels – presumably seeing it as part of the shopping mall complex that the government is still intent on building in some form on the Gezi Park in Taksim.

The door of the French Consulate-General near Taksim. Here a slogan in French declares "Poetry in the Street - 1 June 2013"

The door of the French Consulate-General near Taksim. Here a slogan in French declares “Poetry in the Street – 1 June 2013”

Smiley vandalism

Smiley vandalism

Group claps as an old man draws a picture on the wall of the Paşabahçe glassware shop of republican founder

A group of protestors clap as an old man draws a picture on the wall of the Paşabahçe glassware shop of republican founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

Many left-wing slogans have appeared on the Istiklal St. shops - here 'Death to Fascism, the only way is Revolution. (Signed:) The Bolshevik Party"

Many left-wing slogans appeared on the Istiklal St. shops’ blinds – here ‘Death to Fascism, the only way is Revolution. (Signed:) The Bolshevik Party”

Zara hosts graffiti of a slogan with "Istanbul, Byzantium, Constantinople: Istanbul is Ours!"

Zara hosts graffiti: “Istanbul, Byzantium, Constantinople: Istanbul is Ours!”

About a dozen shops had their fronts or display windows broken; remarkably few - I only saw one - had been seriously looted (the one belonging to the mayor of Istanbul)

About a dozen shops had their fronts or display windows broken; remarkably few had been seriously looted (I only noticed one, which belongs to the mayor of Istanbul)

And to end with - the statue of Ataturk on Taksim square, holding a lemon to help him deal with the tear gas

And to end with – the statue of Ataturk on Taksim square, holding a lemon to help him deal with the tear gas

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  1. June 2, 2013 at 8:44 am

    super

  2. June 2, 2013 at 9:31 am

    These events, the civil disobedience and solidarity between different groups has filled me with hope!

  3. June 2, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Keep writing, Hugh. If we can’t have you in the WSJ, at least we get your reporting this way.

  4. June 2, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    Reblogged this on karin narita and commented:
    and an update.

  5. SicSemperTyrannis
    June 3, 2013 at 10:42 am

    The fact that RTE pushed so hard to rebuild a replica of the Artillery Barracks in Gezi park has nothing to do with his love of preserving history. The barracks have been torn down by former Istanbul Mayor Lutfu Kirdar in 1940 and rebuilt as an urban park based on some serious urban planning and support by German architects. The barracks represented the ancien regime of the Ottaman Sultan’s power, was dillipitated and ugly, it did not belong in the middle of the largest public space in Istanbul. The new park was a symbol of Kemalists and a modern secular Turkey. Kirdar was a modernist and a nationalist and from CHP, Republican People’s Party. By restoring a part of Ottoman martial glory, and turning it also into a cash-cow for his cronies, RTE thought of a great win win for himself. But the jig is up, this is the last of many of his efforts to rewrite modern Turkish history, roll back Ataturk’s achievements and lull the people into sleep with his great talent for oration. His real reason for insisting on this pet project is purely ideological cloaked in a smoke screen(irony mine) as a commercially viable infrastructure project.

    • equanimus
      June 6, 2013 at 4:40 pm

      Thanks for this insight. I hope Turkey can avoid wider chaos.

  6. claude
    June 3, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    Very good Hugh. Ca me rapel ’68 a Paris… “Que va tu faire dans la rue fiston?”
    “je vais aller faire la revolution. LA REVOLUTION!

  7. June 6, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    Thanks for this insight. I hope Turkey can avoid chaos.

  8. Mike Lenihan
    June 8, 2013 at 2:05 am

    Hugh – I’ve enjoyed your on-the-ground views and updates. One thought about the issue of implications: Perhaps it is exactly the fact that this is a democratically elected government that has pushed democratic reforms, that has empowered these protestors. At its most basic, a democratic government protects the rights of its minorities.

    The AKParty has made impressive strides for Turkey, but as the demonstrators may see it, does the end justify the means? Is the 9 percent growth worth the forced evictions?

    The US’s #Occupy Wall St movement stalled because it lacked a coherent political message. That might be the ultimate case with Gezi, too. However, the sheer fact that protests are happening may be message enough.

  9. May 4, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    Great article.

  1. June 2, 2013 at 8:39 am
  2. June 2, 2013 at 6:38 pm

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