First Person Account of Turkish Protests in Istanbul (Update)

Jun 12, 2013

Editor’s note: Reshma Kirpalani is a multimedia journalist who worked as a KUT News intern for several months, including the period of the Central Texas wildfires. She is currently in the Turkish city of Istanbul. Kirpalani visited Taksim Square earlier today – the center of widespread protest against the Turkish government – and filed this report. This post has since been updated.

Istanbul awoke to somber, gray skies on Wednesday morning after a night of increasing violence in Taksim Square. Deep into Tuesday night, protesters renewed their efforts against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Edroğan's regime, one many have come to view as increasingly authoritarian over the past decade. 

Fires broke out in Taksim Square, with local reports of a burning van and a few fireworks being thrown at police officers. Dozens of police forces used tear gas and water cannons against the protesters. Some fought back while others remained peaceful.

Earlier on Tuesday, police forces pushed through to the center of the square, bulldozing barricades that had been constructed by protesters around the site. As gas bombs exploded, many scattered away from the square, with tears in their eyes and makeshift masks over their faces, smoke chasing them down the cobblestone streets.

Others continued determinedly into the center of the mayhem, hoisting a large red flag between them and chanting the slogans that are graffitied all over the city walls: "Resign prime minister! Resist Taksim! Taksim is ours!" 

By 1 p.m., the call to prayer blasted throughout the city. It was the latest in a series of incongruous sounds: the distant explosion of gas bombs, the panicked shuffling of passers-by, blaring traffic, and the thin sound of accordions played by the truly destitute – beggars with no time to protest as they tried to earn enough change for the day's meal.

Today's show of police force came despite a contrary message by Istanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu. On Twitter he wrote “Gezi Park and Taksim will never be touched. This morning you are in the safe hands of your police brothers.” Dozens have been injured, according to news reports.

The renewed protests come on the heels of Erdoğan's agreement to meet with protest organizers tomorrow, a departure from the administration’s previous reactions to the demonstrations.

Ahead of today's meeting, Erdoğan's labeled the protesters "terrorists", vowing a zero-tolerance policy. "We will not only terminate these incidents, we will be on these terrorists' back in the frame of law. No one will get away with what they did," Erdoğan's said. "There will be no tolerance afterwards."  

While hordes turned out in protest on Tuesday night, Twitter is also alight with supporters like Selda Goktan, who tweeted the following last week: "We support #Erdoğan since he is a man of suffering, he's determined, he doesn't back off in any way & most importantly he only fears #God." With small exception, the Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of Turkey's population, have also been conspicuously absent from the protests, according to The New Yorker.

The protests were originally sparked after a small environmental group gathered last week to oppose the razing and commercial development of Gezi Park, located in the center of Taksim Square.