Turkey’s agony – how Erdogan turned a peaceful protest into a violent nightmare



By now, everyone has heard of the brutal suppression of protests all over Turkey, which began with a peaceful sit-in in Istanbul to protect a hapless apology for a park from demolition. Right by the city’s unofficial centre, Taksim Square, Gezi Park had been slated to become yet another one of the ruling AKP’s signature Ottoman-cum-Disneyland construction projects. It was hardly much of a park, by London standards, but it was one of the last remaining places in the area with a few trees and a bit of room to stroll around. The protesters found the idea of losing that tiny refuge from Istanbul’s urban chaos unbearable.

The police removed the inoffensive tree-huggers in a surprise dawn raid, using violence so disproportionate and sadistic — and unfortunately for the police, so filmed — as to set off enraged demonstrations around the country. These, in turn, provoked even more psychotic retaliation from the police. Every story you’ve read of the brutality the cops inflicted on peaceful protesters is true, and more. I saw it. I’ve been seeing it with my own eyes for weeks, but by far the worst took place on Tuesday, when the police descended in the early morning to retake Taksim Square, directly after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had lulled the protesters with promises to meet them the next day to listen to their concerns.

The surprise attack began at 7.30 a.m. Black smoke quickly rose over the square, and tear gas enveloped the entire neighbourhood. Then the water cannon arrived, half a dozen, followed by another burst of gas. While at least six cameras from Taksim were feeding this scene live to the entire country, Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu assured the public, on Twitter, that ‘some protestors used materials that release fog and smoke. We should all know that their purpose is making the impression that the police used excessive gas.’ It didn’t occur to him, I suppose, that it is not just fog and smoke that indicates the presence of a lachrymatory agent. He also promised the protesters that only Taksim itself would be ‘cleaned’. The protesters and the park, he swore, would ‘never’ be harmed.

Three hours later, protesters formed a human chain around the park to prevent the police from recapturing it, but the cops shot rubber bullets, beat up journalists, and detained not only countless protesters, but their lawyers — 79 lawyers, according to the Istanbul Bar Association. The government is now dropping hints about an ‘operation’ against ‘provocateurs’ on Twitter — not an idle threat, for many have already been detained for writing ‘misinformation’, which apparently encompasses, among other things, tweeting the phone numbers of physicians on duty. A Turkish journalist reports that prosecutors have obtained warrants to seize any mobile phone they require. I have not yet been able to confirm this, but it wouldn’t in the least surprise me.

But this was just the beginning. After an afternoon of calm, on a lovely summer evening, some 30,000 people returned in force to Taksim Square — their square, after all, as it has always been. The police responded with an even more vicious strike, blanketing the massive crowd with a cumulonimbus cloud of gas accompanied by sound grenades. Terrified and choking, the crowd — students, street vendors, women in dresses and summer sandals — stampeded into the surrounding streets. Parents were separated from their young children. Someone tweeted frantically that her sister had fallen and the panicked crowds had run right over her. The police shot water cannon at a man in a wheelchair who had been brandishing the Turkish flag.

Writing blood types on their arms, volunteers ferried the injured to a makeshift field hospital. Chanting gangs of extremist opportunists (who bore little resemblance to the peaceful demonstrators in the park) taunted police in the streets leading toward the Golden Horn, drawing tear gas and water cannon through the whole of Istanbul’s old Pera district. International reporters, who have become accustomed of late to police crackdowns, described this as the worst in recent memory.

After a fortnight of clashes, four deaths have so far been confirmed; an untold number have suffered severe brain injuries; and at least ten young people have lost an eye after being shot by plastic bullets. Reports of injuries are coming in fast, but they are hard to confirm. The Turkish Human Rights Foundation is now placing the number at some 5,000, based on hospital reports. But keep in mind that not everyone who is wounded goes to the hospital. A gas grenade to the leg can cause a great deal of injury, but for those who can’t afford medical bills, it’s a hell of a hassle to go to an already overflowing state emergency ward — not least because the cops have been chasing protesters right into those very wards and gassing them there, too.

Moreover, many doctors, presumably under state pressure, don’t record ‘clashes with police’ as the cause of injury, but report instead that the victim has ‘had an accident’. (It is also possible that doctors are trying to protect their patients from subsequently being arrested as ‘rioters’.) I obtained records, however, from the hospitals in my neighbourhood, which is close to Taksim Square. I was stunned by what I read: each hospital listed hundreds of injuries — ‘A 22-year-old male has lost his left eye due to a plastic bullet … a 19-year-old male is being watched closely with a subdural haematoma diagnosis … trauma in the testicle … trauma of the left eye … has lost all eyesight … maxillo-facial trauma … brain haemorrhage … life-threatening condition…’ The reports went on for pages, and the doctors were quite firm that these were not ‘accidents’.

Perhaps the most painful part of the whole thing so far was the glimpse of peace we enjoyed for several days in Taksim Square and Gezi Park in the lull between the attacks. That was when we saw, all too briefly, what this city could be.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/8934351/turkeys-agony-the-view-from-taksim-square/

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