Yesterday at 5PM I wandered, disbelieving, into a newly opened Gezi Park. Gone was any trace of the hundreds of protesters who had lived there for weeks. It was pristine in a slightly surreal way: perfect, freshly planted flowerbeds, newly running waterfalls and a few locals wandering around as if nothing had happened. There was something not quite right, however: officials wearing fluorescent vests proclaiming themselves “Özel Güvenlik” (Private Security) hung around eyeing up anyone who stood out – the octogenarian sitting serenely on a bench with an enormous Turkish flag in his hand, or the father and his teenage son wearing matching t-shirts with the slogans: “Everyday I’m çapulling” (a popular refrain during the protests, after Erdogan referred to protesters as çapulcular – looters).
The park felt a bit like something beautiful but sour, a sinister counterfeit, but at the time I thought I was imagining things. After about an hour of wandering around I heard a familiar chant start up: “Her yer Taksim, her yer direnis!” (Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance!” A small crowd had gathered under some trees, perhaps thirty people, and immediately there were riot police everywhere – the borders of the park were lined with them, and as I left they were stopping people getting in and arguing with enraged locals who demanded to be let into the park that had been confiscated and then falsely promised them.
The square was already shut and taped off. As I walked round, I noticed a battalion of female riot police standing near the park – a new sight. On Istiklal I saw hundreds more police – they must have been at the ready for some time, and some were already putting on their gas masks. Ten minutes later, I encountered people with streaming eyes who had been chased down from Taksim Square by police – many were in their suits, having just got off the metro from work.
It would be naïve to expect police not to be anxious about people re-occupying the park. But this response to a few people chanting was totally uncalled for: a reported 80 people were arrested last night (many of them at least a kilometre from the park), hundreds more gassed, fired at and water cannoned. Residents were asked aggressively whether they were protesters by non-uniformed thugs. Last night for the first time, ordinary locals were united in rage; when I finally returned to my flat via a circuitous backstreet route, I found one of my neighbours screaming at a line of police at the end of our road. He was backed up by several others: they were fed up of the intrusion into their lives, the police searches, the heavy-handedness. A friend of mine was searched and asked why he was carrying swimming goggles.
“They’re for swimming, mate” answered my friend amiably.
“No they’re not.”
“Well, since you ask, they’re to protect my eyes from the poisonous gas which you are in the habit of throwing at us. Can I pass?”
A word on Turkish politics: last week I explained how the main opposition party, the CHP, are defined by their reactionary policies – they disagree with anything the ruling AKP says on principle. I would like to modify that and extend the criticism to the AKP. This morning I read that a bill was put to vote in parliament yesterday, and defeated by the very party which had proposed it: the AKP. The bill included some reforms to rural healthcare, and the CHP, unusually, voted in favour of these reforms. AKP deputies automatically voted against them, assuming that they had been put forward by the CHP, so the proposal could not pass. In the words of CHP deputy Haydar Akar:
“They [AKP deputies] do not read the laws, they do not follow Parliament. They are not present in the assembly hall, they come in running when there is voting and look at each other puzzled.”
As I have said, the CHP are guilty of this kind of behaviour too, but it is amusing to see that the AKP are equally clueless and sheep-like. Apparently, once the AKP deputies realised that they had scored an own goal they tried to get a re-vote but it was too late – the proposal was beyond recall. Luckily for the government, their police force are more than in control of events on the ground.