What started as a peaceful sit in protest has become the biggest protest movement against the Turkish Prime Minister since his election over ten years ago. Here is what happened, and is happening in Turkey.
The protests began when Istanbul’s Gezi park, the last green space in the city center was scheduled to be demolished. A replica of 19th century Ottoman barracks containing a shopping mall were to be built in it’s place when residents began to protest the demolition.
The demonstrations turned violent when the handful of angry citizens sitting in the park protest grew in number. Riot police moved in, throwing cans of tear gas and pepper spray.
Protesters responded by hurling bottles, blocking bulldozers and setting up barricades. Outraged by police behavior, groups began attacking law enforcement.
Greenpeace and Amnesty International have denounced what they described as the “excessive use of force by police against peaceful protesters”. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan conceded that Turkish security forces had used tear gas excessively against the demonstrators.
“There have been errors in the actions of the security forces, especially with regard to use of pepper gas. Right now that is being investigated, researched. There is an error there, sure. When it is used excessively we are against it as well. And in fact there was such excess.”
The protests have spread across 67 of Turkey’s 81 provinces. Reports have been made about confrontations in the country’s capital Ankara, as well as the port cities of Izmir and Adana.
The police’s excessive use of force on the park demonstrators set off the wider unrest. At this point the protests are not longer about the park, much bigger issues, such as freedom of speech.
Erdogan is one of the most powerful and popular politicians Turkey has seen in generations. He has dismissed protesters a just ‘a few looters’ and has no intention to give in to protesters demands for his resignation. He has denied that Turkey could be on the verge of it’s own “Arab Spring”.
“Those in Turkey who speak of the Turkish Spring are right; the season is, in fact, spring, but there are those trying to turn it into a winter.”
According to Erdogan, his opponents who had failed to defeat his party in the elections were trying to beat it by another means. He also claimed that twitter and social networks like it were the new menace to society since it is through them that “lies” are spread.
Turkish media has blocked out any information regarding the protests, and as a result Turks have been closing their bank accounts; Many of the banks are owned by the same men who own the media outlets in the country.
Protesters are trying to raise funds to take out a full page ad in the New York Times and The Washington Post to publish a sort of manifesto on the protests and what they signify. They’re utilizing Indiegogo and as of the writing of this article have raised enough funds for the New York Times ad.
The first official death as a result of the protests was recorded just this morning. 20 year old Mehmet Ayvalıtaş, passed away after a car drove into the crowd.
Over 1,480 people have so far been wounded in Istanbul, with five people in intensive care and two more in critical condition. 414 injuries have been recorded by Ankara’s Doctors’ Union, with an additional 420 more in İzmir.
We will keep you updated as events unfold.