This weekend, the ongoing street battle between the people of Istanbul, Turkey and their shockingly violent police force flared up again. Once more, tear gas, water canons, batons, and rubber bullets were used to injure peaceful protesters as a new wave of dissent has gripped the city.
It’s been over a month since the debut article of Rebel Metropolis. In that piece, I covered a bit of the emerging Right to the City movement, with an specific focus on the turmoil in Istanbul that sprung from a fight to save the last public green space in the heart of the city. Since then, a mass revolt has spread across Turkey. Thousands of citizens have been beaten by police, five were killed, and dozens of journalists have been arrested or fired for coverage empathetic with the people in the streets.
There has been some good news. Under mass pressure, judges have seemingly blocked the destruction of Gezi Park from a plan to replace the common space with yet another auto-centric shopping mall. It is unknown how long this judicial decision will hold, as the the president’s ruling AK party is already looking for ways to override the court order.
Resisters hurl flowers prior to forced eviction, June 22, 2012 – Source: Occupy Gezi Pics
Despite saving the park for the time being, much mistrust and anger exists between the people of Istanbul and president Erdogan. The president is happy to take over a city when he so chooses, yet will wash his hands of any responsibility when people are killed in the process. Erdogan has maintained that the source of the unrest is not from within Turkey at all. He even went so far as to imply there were Jewish interests at work in a comment that caused a fairly embarrassing backlash from U.S. lawmakers.
Continued demonstrations have made Taksim Square and Gezi park a focal point. Protests of a corrupted government, a complicit press, and police brutality that has took the lives of half dozen men have seen common citizens repeatedly take to the streets and the park. Predictably, the police return to exert the will of the government, aggressively dispersing any gathering for fear of losing yet more control. Throughout all this, the people of Istanbul remain defiant.
They still didn’t get it. When you attack us we’re staying in the streets. When you don’t we go to our park. pic.twitter.com/i0AH1qEada
— Ali Can S. (@Unidadpopular_a) August 3, 2013
Likely, it is this very attitude of resistance that has compelled police to become even more violent. There have been reports of police raiding shops near the square to find protesters who may have taken refuge. Attacking anyone and everyone may scare away tourists, but it can lead to bystanders blaming the protesters instead of the police.
At least for one individual, this was not the case. From an unidentified bystander via Facebook: “I was on my way home from Asmali [when I] took a plastic bullet to the leg. Obviously, I went up to the police and asked why bullets were being fired on a main street where there was nothing happening. I got detained by plain clothes [police] who would not show IDs and the riot police with them kicked the shit out of my shins. My right leg is still stinging like fuck. I got released when I told them (and I’m not proud of this) that I was a British citizen.”
In two videos circulated widely this weekend, a grim scene takes place below in a well-trafficked alleyway. Watch as the police, some in plain clothes, chase and indiscriminately beat to the ground anyone they can get their hands on.
Then, just moments later in the same alleyway, police begin beating bystanders in the middle of their meal.
Also of great concern over the weekend was the disappearance of noted Turkish LGBT rights activist and fashion designer Barbaros Sansal, an outspoken supporter of the protests. Police claim he was not arrested. Though with so many high profile arrests having recently taken place, there is significant doubt as to the accuracy of this claim. Additional reports of his housekeeper having gone missing have also been circulated.
With the Turkish government cracking down on the press, with the press cracking down on reporters, with the police cracking down on absolutely everybody – and possibly disappearing people – the situation in Istanbul seems to be getting a hell of a lot worse. Gezi Park and Taksim Square may be spared for now, but around them rises a malevolent police state.