Protesters in Istanbul denounce the draconian laws imposed on the people by the authoritarian regime of the AKP, reports Shabbir Lakha
International Workers’ Day has been marked around the world by gatherings and demonstrations commemorating the struggles of the working class and addressing issues currently facing society. In Turkey, protesting is not strictly illegal but the new homeland security legislation passed last year gives the police the right to arrest protesters indiscriminately without evidence and even use lethal force for any number of ambiguous reasons.
In 1977, up to 500,000 protesters were gathered in Istanbul’s Taksim Square on 1st May when shots were fired and up to 42 people were killed as a result of being shot or crushed from the resulting panic. The perpetrators of what has come to be known as the Taksim Square Massacre have never been brought to justice and there is some evidence that agents of counter-guerrilla operations within the police and military may have been involved. Honouring those who lost their lives 39 years ago is a big reason why protesters remain inclined to have a presence in Taksim Square on May Day.
Last year the May Day protest planned to gather in Taksim Square was banned by the government, so when some 120,000 or so protesters turned up anyway, there were severe clashes with security forces. This year, the police barricaded and locked down Taksim Square and some surrounding roads from the early hours of the morning and all public transport routes going to Taksim were diverted. Several hundred protesters in small groups attempted to defy the police and get into the square. They were met with water cannons, tear gas and pepper spray. One person is reported to have died after being run over by a water cannon truck while trying to get into the square and at least 40 people have been arrested.
Trade Union leaders were able to negotiate with the government and police to allow a peaceful protest to take place in the outer suburbs of Istanbul near Ataturk International Airport. There was a large mobilisation of Socialist, Communist, Maoist, Women’s Rights and other political parties and groups and Trade Unions that led a march of over 100,000 people along the main road in Barkiköy.
There was a heavy riot police presence surrounding the protesters along the route but the protest went largely without confrontation. The only exception was an attack by the police on the HDP (the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party) bloc along the march with tear gas and pepper spray. The HDP last year managed to significantly increase their Parliamentary representation in Turkey’s June elections, removing the incumbent AKP’s majority in Parliament. However, a failure to form a coalition government meant a second general election was held in November, in which they just managed to make the threshold. Calls of foul play and the AKP government’s stance on Kurdish rights have led to increased tensions between government and the HDP.
A frustrated taxi driver told me yesterday that in Turkey, the police represent only President Erdoğan. “When it comes to actual crimes, the police are useless,” he said. “They’re only there to stop people that Erdoğan doesn’t like.” And he vented his disenfranchisement when I asked him if he would be participating in the protests: “Protests are good. But what is the point when America, UK and Europe are best friends with Erdoğan? The economy is supported by them and there are no sanctions, so why would Erdoğan need to listen to us? This is a dictatorship.”
This sentiment was echoed by the thousands of protesters today. The speakers called out the draconian laws imposed on the people by the authoritarian regime of the AKP, the brutal crackdown on the rights of Kurdish people, the horrendous treatment of refugees and the government being an extension of Western imperialism.
Turkish military intervention against ISIS in Syria, along with being used to also target Kurdish forces in Kobane, is seen as a factor in the increased attacks by ISIS in Turkey – such as the bombing in Gaziantep today or in Bursa earlier this week – and the people hold the government responsible. One of the speakers also spoke about Turkey doing the EU’s dirty work by shooting at refugees at the Turkey-Syria border and stopping them from crossing the Aegean, while at the same time not providing support for the 3 million refugees already in Turkey.
Shabbir Lakha is a Stop the War officer, a People's Assembly activist and a member of Counterfire.
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