Last night police stopped people trying to enter Taksim Square with clouds of tear gas and water canons: so far, so normal. What was unexpected was a group of machete-wielding men rampaging in the streets around Taksim Square. These men were ignored by police, who talked to them briefly and let them get on with lunging at passers-by. The “machetes” are, on closer inspection of the footage, the specialized blades used in the preparation of kokoreç or sheep’s intestines, a popular Turkish street food – I have also seen them used to cut up onions and tomatoes. The men wielding them wear white shirts and dark trousers, possibly employees of the same kokoreç-selling establishment. The knives were not used but they were of terrifying size – I would not be surprised if the men had been instructed to frighten protesters away but not shed blood. Instructed by whom? We cannot say. But it is interesting that peaceful protesters have their goggles and masks confiscated by police while thugs brandishing enormous knives are waved on their way. If we have a situation where not only secret police but paid pro-government thugs are on the loose, things might get very nasty indeed. This government will literally have blood on their hands.
Footage below from the Dogan news agency.
Last night I tried to cross the square with a friend and we were stopped by police. As we stood, pondering which backstreet route to take to Istiklal St, a policeman sitting nearby told us to get going – we were not allowed to stand there. I am so pleased the Standing Man has left such a legacy.
Gezi Park is set to open today but that might not happen in the current climate of uncertainty and violence. Last night’s trouble would be the perfect excuse to keep it closed, much better than the excuse given hitherto, namely that municipal workers have been beautifying the park with new flower beds. This process has taken several weeks, making the AKP look like nice environmentalists while conveniently preventing anyone getting back in the park.
Later today, the First Annual Gas Man Festival will be held in Kadikoy on the Asian side of town, a festival which ironically celebrates the tear gas used during the Gezi protests. It is to be hoped that it will bring back a bit of the air of celebration and solidarity which characterised Gezi Park a few weeks ago.
Last night in parliament, a CHP minister tried to interrupt an AKP minister talking about the finer points of a new bill. He wanted to know whether the AKP had investigated the identities of the machete-wielding men. His questions were ignored, until an undignified scuffle broke out between CHP and AKP ministers and Mehment Emin Dindar, an AKP deputy, had his eyebrow split by someone in the melée.
This, to me, was an incident of exquisite absurdity given the situation in Taksim.