The Gezi Park protest has shown to the international community the best face of Turkey: peaceful, courageous, open, determined and ingenious.
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Started as an environmental protest against the destruction of Gezi Park to build yet another shopping mall and grown day after day after the gratuitous violence the police used to disperse the peaceful protesters, the park next to Taksim Square has become the symbol of the civil resistance against the authoritarian government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who, especially after the last elections, in the belief that the majority of votes he got was enough to silence the rest of the Turkish population, accelerated the islamization of the nation he started a decade ago.
Intimidations against the media to the point that on May 31st, when the police attacked the peaceful protesters who were trying to reach Taksim, no TV channel gave the news; detention of journalists, intellectuals and artists (such as the musician Fazil Say, the journalist Ahmet Sik and Turkan Saylan, founder of the Association for the Support of Contemporary Living, just to name some recent cases); the gentrification of many historical areas of Istanbul, from where the original inhabitants have been pushed out and their houses destroyed to build hotels, residences and upscale apartment buildings; restrictions to the abortion law (in force since 1983) and limitations to the sale of alcohol, are among the reasons of the protest, beyond and besides the plans to destroy the park.
Spending some time in Gezi Park, one understands how widespread the discontent is: there are university students and pensioners, workers and unemployed, Kurdish people, Alawites, nationalists, anticapitalist muslims, kemalists and communists, people who voted for Erdoğan’s party but do not feel represented by his paternalistic and authoritarian conduct. Among the protesters, more than half are women of all ages, whom Erdoğan’s government has been steadily relegating to the exclusive role of wives and mothers.
The atmosphere at Gezi Park is joyful and full of hope: some people sing, some read, some chant slogans to ask Erdoğan to resign, some discuss what to do to make sure the protest ends with concrete results, some draw satirical cartoons, some prepare witty slogans, some play volleyball. In groups, every day the protesters clean the park and help the garbage collectors to load the trash on the municipality trucks. Whoever can, brings food and the food is distributed for free. There is a medical center, a veterinary center and a community center for the children of the protesters; there are also a library and an area with a television for those who cannot sleep at night.
Where the mainstream media failed to report the facts, the young Turks have used social media, immediately demonized by Erdoğan, to tell the world what is going on. In a divided and polarized country, where 70% of the population is under 30 years old, the young people have given a lesson of democracy and an inclusive, non-party message aiming only to fight any form of fascism and to promote human rights, environmental rights and freedom of expression. It is the first time that so many Turks unite to ask for a true democracy that takes into account, rather than repressing, the voices of dissent. Whatever happens with Gezi Park, this is already a historic victory.
by Delizia Flaccavento
(Yeşil Gazete / Türkiye)