Madness in Taksim: how the people brought flowers and the police answered with water cannon

Gezi park and Taksim Sqaure

Gezi park and Taksim Sqaure (Photo credit: resim77)

They came in peace, bearing flowers for the dead. And the police answered them with water cannon and clubs, tear gas and rubber bullets.

What new madness was this? In Taksim Square today Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s police turned a peaceful, non-violent protest into a night of mayhem. As I write, police are chasing protestors through the back streets of Beyoglu, usually one of busiest night life areas of the city, tear gassing bars and restaurants, and terrorising people in their homes.

Huge clouds of tear gas drift across the city. They even tear gassed the famous fish restaurants of Nevizade, next to the old Fish Market. So presumably the few tourists Turkey has left got to choke over their calamari.

About an hour ago some one burst into the reception area of the hotel where I’m staying, shouting in a rage about police. I made sure the door was locked and kept quiet. On a night like this you never know what might happen. He seems to have gone for now.

But none of this needed happen. Once again, Erdogan has succeeded in making a  crisis out of a peaceful protest.

The protestors decided to come back to Taksim Sqaure today, after keeping away for a few days. They returned to commemorate those who have died in the protests so far, and they brought red carnations with them in their memory. But as the square rapidly filled up, the crowd spilling onto the roadways and blocking the traffic, it became a day of joy too.

They were back in Taksim Sqaure, they had reclaimed it, and after two minutes’ silence for the dead they threw their carnations in the air in a great riot of red, the flowers dancing in the sun, and began chanting “Everywhere is resistance, everywhere is Taksim”.

There were Brazilian flags flying too, flashes of green amid the red of the Turkish, in tribute to the protests there.

It was all peaceful and non-violent. I didn’t see a single gas mask, and only one man I saw was wearing a hard hat, one of the bright yellow Bob the Builder numbers people have taken to wearing to avoid being killed by one of the tear gas canisters the police freely fire into the crowd.

But Erdogan, we know, cannot handle criticism. He has a problem with peaceful protest. So the police were sent in, utterly needlessly, against protestors who were doing nothing more than standing around and chanting slogans.

Even then, the protestors seemed determined to remain non-violent. Some tried to stop a water cannon truck that was spraying the crowd indisrciminately, by standing in its path. When that didn’t work they took hold of the front as if they could somehow push it back. Another protestor waved a handful of the red carnations in the driver’s face, as if in rebuke.

Riot police advanced in a line behind their shields. A woman tearfully asked them why they were doing it, and they pushed her violently out of the way. A man tried to stand still and they knocked him to the ground, then beat him when he tried to get back up.

The police seem to have wised up to the cameras on Taksim Sqaure, so they held back the tear gas which has been giving poor old Erdogan such a bad name. They saved it for once they had the protestors off Taksim and in the back streets around Istiklal Caddesi, then they gave them a lungful.

This is completely insane. Tonight, Istanbul is a battleground once again, while Erdogam is off on a tour of Anatolian cities, addressing rallies of his adoring supporters, as if he wants to cow the protestors into submission.

He doesn’t seem interested in calming the situation. Instead, he seems to keep pouring fuel on the fire, greeting peaceful protests with violence, and whipping his supporters into self-righteous religious anger against the protestors, with his slanderous accusations that they have defiled mosques and attacked headscarved women — there is no evidence they’ve done anything of the sort.

So far, the vast majority of the protestors  have been exemplary in their refusal to be drawn into violence. They are still marching peacefully for a better future for their country.




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