May Day in Turkey: Protestors resist police violence

Once again Istanbul has been the scene of police repression during the May Day demonstrations. Demonstrators tried to reach Taksim Square, historically important for the working class movement in Turkey, and were brutally attacked by police. The reactionary AKP government could only prevent the workers and revolutionaries entering the square with extraordinary measures (which are actually quite ordinary these days in Turkey against any kind of mass demonstration).

Main roads leading to Taksim Square were closed to traffic and public transport was partially suspended for the day. Even one of the bridges over the Bosporus was closed. The government, who kept saying that the demonstrators would disturb the daily life of people, created chaos in the city, which has a population of 15 million.

40,000 policemen, 50 water cannons, helicopters and hundreds of undercover police officers were deployed against trade unions, socialist and communist organisations and revolutionary youth, who played an active role during last year’s June resistance. Even the MPs of the opposition parties HDP and CHP got their share of police attacks.

It was actually the current AKP government who in 2009 declared 1st May as an official holiday and allowed mass May Day celebrations in Taksim Square from 2010 to 2012. Some sections of the left had perceived this tactical move of the AKP as a victory for the working class movement. However it was all part of a plan to consolidate the liberal and opportunist left for the referendum on the constitution in 2010 and for the general elections in 2011. Coming out as the victor of the referendum and the general elections the tactical concession of May Day on Taksim Square was removed as per the decree of Tayyip Erdogan and in 2013 Taksim was again a banned square for May Day demonstrations. The arbitrary opening and closure of Taksim Square and the oppression of the people who want to march to the square is just another example of the anti-democratic character of the Turkish State.

On May Day the attacks by the police started in the early hours against crowds trying to reach Taksim Square from different assembly points. In the districts of Sisli, Caglayan, Besiktas and Okmeydani, trade unionists, socialists, communists, anarchists, women’s organisations and the youth, all much more experienced since the June resistance last year, resisted for hours with gloves on their hands to hurl back the teargas canisters, and with gas masks and industrial helmets, stones and slingshots to shoot marbles.

Despite this commitment and bravery, the police onslaught was just too powerful for the demonstrators to break. This time.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan seems to have won this round but he could only do it by naked use of police terror. According to reports of the Istanbul Doctors’ Association and the Progressive Lawyers’ Association, thousands of people were injured by teargas, police batons, plastic pellets and water cannon. There were 4 serious head traumas and 20 injuries from being directly shot with tear gas canisters. One demonstrator has lost one of his ears and another one had an arm broken. 266 people have been arrested including 3 lawyers. The report states that 150 demonstrators were tortured in police custody. Many more people were injured but did not go to the hospital for treatment.

Demonstrations and clashes with police also took place in other major cities. In the capital Ankara, where the June resistance was the most militant, demonstrators tried to march to Kizilay Square, which was banned for May Day demonstrations. The police had closed roads with steel walls and were guarding the spot near the square where Ethem Sarisuluk was shot dead at a demonstration during the June resistance last year.

The reactionary AKP government and especially the prime minister Tayyip Erdogan, who consolidates more and more powers for his one-man rule, are at the height of their arrogance and self-confidence, which, for them, was once again proven by the results of March 2014 local elections, in which they had 45.6% of the votes. This was despite the June resistance and the revelations of massive corruption, in which the prime minister and his family members were directly involved. The closest opposition party had 27.8% of the votes.

The first round of the presidential elections is due on 10 August 2014. Tayyip Erdogan is the most likely candidate of the AKP as for the first time in the history of Turkey the President will be elected by popular vote. The brutal repression of May Day demonstrations months before the August elections shows that the AKP government hasn’t got the wish or flexibility anymore even for tactical concessions. The government will increase the level of repression in the coming months in order to consolidate its rule. However there is no doubt that revolutionary, progressive and secular forces have gained experience and self-confidence since the June days last year and attempts by the AKP government to further dismantle the ever-relative democracy in Turkey will be opposed by hundreds of thousands if not millions.

Ali Demir


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