One cannot doubt the sincerity of those who gathered in Taksim square to try and stop the destruction of Gezi Park. One can also not doubt that the following protests which has now spread to 67 Turkish cities resulting in injuries to hundreds of people and sadly to the deaths of two, is not just about trees.
For many Turkish trade unionists Taksim square is an iconic location in Istanbul. There in 1977 during a celebration of May Day, shots were fired into a peaceful crowd resulting in 42 people losing their lives. On May Day this year, as most years, those trade unionists who wished to remember the fallen of 1977 by celebrating in Taksim square, were treated to a brutal onslaught by the police. Roll on little more than a month; Turks have been once again assaulted by the oppressive forces of the state.
Unusually however on these occasion Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc has acknowledged that the police have used excessive force and has reputedly apologised to those who have been injured.
Whilst protestors are not confined to trade unionists it is hardly surprising that many trade unionists are actively involved. Like other dissenting voices in Turkey, trade unionists have been the victim of Turkey’s notorious anti—terror laws. In February 2013 alone 167 arrest warrants were issued for members of the public sector trade union confederation KESK on various charges related to the anti-terror laws. Laws under which one is deemed to be a member of a terrorist organisation if you share some of the objectives of a prescribed organisation. In the case of KESK they champion the rights of Turkey’s Kurds whilst denouncing violence. KESK’s peaceful message of equality under the law has been sufficient to put many of them behind bars. It is therefore hardly surprising that KESK has called a two day strike to protest against the violence inflicted on the demonstrators.
Gezi Park has undoubtedly been the trigger for, rather than, the cause of the current unrest in Turkey. We are largely witnessing the expression of the frustration of roughly half of Turks who do not support the Prime Minister’s AKP party, who feel marginalised and do not like the direction in which Turkey is heading. Turkey’s future is for the Turkish people to decide. I would however unashamedly hope that it includes the development of a more inclusive democracy in which trade unionists are not assaulted or imprisoned for peaceful expressions of dissent!