|Banner in Gezi Park|
Erdogan sent in the police to demonstrate to his opponents – and his supporters alike – that he was still the master of Istanbul and the Turkish state. However, while he can use bulldozers and tear-gas to clear Gezi Park, he will not be able to sweep the growing hatred of his oppressive regime from the minds of increasing numbers of Turkish workers and youth.
UPDATE: For a printable .pdf of this report, go to: http://local.teachers.org.uk/templates/asset-relay.cfm?frmAssetFileID=11008
My video footage of the festival atmosphere in Gezi Park and the angry response that followed the police attack: http://youtu.be/x2ym6PuNmqE plus a link to the report in Sunday's 'Observer' newspaper: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/15/turkey-police-clear-gezi-park
|Meeting with HDK MPs|
|Steve Hedley (RMT) and Turkish Airlines strikers|
However, it was Erdogan’s decision to move in the police to crush the Gezi Park occupation that made sure that our visit will not be forgotten by any of the delegations. Our hotel, on a side-street just a few yards from Taksim, turned out to be just on the perimeter of a wall of police, tear-gas and water-cannon thrown around the square.
|Gezi Park just hours before the police attack|
The stores of gas-masks, fire-extinguishers and medical supplies gave the only indication that this occupation was facing a significant threat of violent police attack. After all, at least three people had already died in the face of police brutality across Turkey in the previous fortnight.
|3 am in Gezi Park|
She explained how, like many other young women, she saw Erdogan threatening culture, personal freedom and her rights as a woman in particular. Theatres, cinemas and any media outlet critical of the AKP faced harassment and threats of closure. Rights to abortion were being abolished with Erdogan insisting that women should expect to bear at least three children.
|Delegation meets with KESK|
Education was being threatened by having Islamic theology imposed on the curriculum, health services were facing privatisation, trade unions fighting for improved wages and working conditions and for the right to freely organise.
|DISK banner in Gezi Park|
|At the concert on Saturday evening|
Nevertheless, it was clear that, with Erdogan planning to hold a mass rally of his supporters on the outskirts of in Istanbul on Sunday, the stage was set for a possible confrontation. Few in the Park seemed to be aware of the specific threat to the occupiers that had been made by Erdogan at his rally in Ankara that afternoon.
To the later relief of our partners and friends, our delegation decided to take a break from touring around the different trade union and party stalls in the park. Instead, we left to grab a bite to eat in a nearby restaurant so we could discuss further with a DISK organiser about how a strike movement could be extended to workers beyond the two left-wing federations.
|Facing the TOMA water cannon|
As we later found out from other delegations who had remained there, police first fired tear gas bombs into the air right across the park, then attacked to drive people out into the surrounding streets on the opposite side of Taksim from where we had gone. Police reportedly even chased protestors into the Divan Hotel, firing choking water cannon through its doors.
In the restaurant, the colleague from DISK had been explaining how Erdogan had hoped that he had struck a deal with the Taksim Resistance committee that would buy him time to prepare for a promised ‘referendum’ over the future of this remaining piece of greenery in the heart of Istanbul. However, Erdogan had reportedly become enraged when a DISK representative had pointed out that the protests were no longer just about trees but about wider social issues. Nevertheless, in order to gain time to consolidate and build the movement, the Taksim Resistance committee had apparently reached the conclusion that they would make an offer to Erdogan that they would just maintain a token presence in the park while discussions continued. The police attack put an end to any such negotiation.
|Choking fumes on Istiklal|
Seasoned protestors came with gas masks and a hard-hat, others wore swimming goggles or scarves as protection. Youth banged the shutters of the shops lining the streets. Protestors chanted and shouted, rising to a loud cat-call when the noise of the pumps of the TOMA vehicle could be heard, meaning its water-cannon was about to fire down on us.
|Defiance on the edge of Taksim Square|
The RMT flag was unfurled amid the chanting crowds while I managed to grab a chance to give some interviews over the noise in response to some calls that I was receiving from Britain, including ‘The Observer’.
With phone batteries dead, we made our way back to our hotel through the back-streets to pause and get a change of clothes. The protests in our area subsided for a while until a group of working-class youth marched into the neighbourhood chanting and waving football scarves. They set straight to work ripping down some metal sheeting to form a mobile barricade from behind which they could shout at the police above them on the Square.
|Tear gas fired down from Taksim|
By Sunday morning, Taksim was quiet, protected by a line of police that was turning anyone away, even the elderly, who needed to cross the square. With the RMT delegation having returned to London to join a protest rally in Trafalgar Square, I joined the other international delegations in a taxi ride to the studio of the Hayat TV channel, one of the few who had been prepared to broadcast the protest movement. Most of the big channels had tried to pretend it wasn’t happening and had just broadcast shows on cooking, penguins and soap operas! It had just fought-off an attempt to revoke its broadcasting licence, an attack which had been seen as an act of political victimisation by Erdogan’s regime.
|Tear gas on Sunday afternoon|
|Water cannon and police seal off top of Istiklal street|
Early on a Sunday afternoon, with locals and tourists running for cover, the riot police were again firing tear-gas and the TOMA letting out their torrents of chemical spray. Indeed, if the British and American governments are really concerned about the use of chemical weaponry, perhaps they could start by pressurising their ally Erdogan to stop spraying acidic chemicals on its people.
|An Erdogan battle-bus near the AKP rally|
The trade union movement has to organise to undercut Erdogan’s support by explaining that his Government represents the interests of a wealthy few, while it is the trade unions and Left parties, acting to defend ordinary people’s rights and livelihoods, that can help build a movement, and a society, that acts in the interests of the millions, not the millionaires.
INTERNATIONAL PROTESTS ON FRIDAY JUNE 21:
In London: outside the Turkish Embassy, 43 Belgrave Square, London, SW1X 8PA:
The ITF (International Transport Workers' Federation), IUF (International Union of Food workers) and UK unions, the TUC, UNITE, RMT, PCS and NUT amongst others, are joining forces with the Taksim Solidarity Committee to demonstrate outside the Turkish Embassy in London against the ongoing oppression of protestors in Taksim Square and throughout Turkey.
The demo will coincide with other actions going on around the world. Get more info: http://www.itfglobal.org/campaigns/Direngezi.cfm
SEND IN YOUR PROTESTS TODAY:
Email protests to the addresses below, demanding the Turkish authorities stop the repression:
The Turkish Republic, Prime Ministry
Tel: +90 312 422 10 00
Fax: +90 312 422 18 99
Mayor of Istanbul
Tel: +90 212 204555953
Turkish Consulate in London
Tel: 020 7591 6900
Fax 020 7591 6911
SIGN THE 'LABOUR START' PETITION ON:
SIGN THE PETITION BY TAKSIM GEZI EUROPE ON: