Turkey: ‘Occupy Gezi’ -- Istanbul’s red-green uprising; Right to the City movement and the Turkish summer

By I. Zekeriya Ayman

June 2, 2013 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal/Green Left Weekly -- When the humble “Occupy Gezi” (Occupy Promenade Park) protest in Istanbul’s Taksim Square was brutally attacked on May 31 by police and spread like wildfire throughout Istanbul and into other cities, the Turkey’s left was in the thick of it.

In the early days of the protest, Sirri Sureyya Onder (national MP for the umbrella organistion of the Turkish-Kurdish left, the Peoples’ Democratic Congress, the HDK) lay his body, with the others, in front of bulldozers to stop them destrying the park’s 70-year-old trees. When he spoke to the media he was angry. He asked why the “idiot” alternative mayoral candidates were not there to defend this small green pocket of Taksim. When police attacked in the early hours of May 31, Onder again lay in front of the bulldozers. He was one of the first casualties to be taken to hospital.

Two days earlier the headline in the socialist daily Evrensel highlighted the potential 300 million Turkish lira that multinational companies stood to make from the construction of a new, third bridge accross the Bosphorus between Asia and Europe. On the day, Turkey’s Prime Minster Tayyip Erdogan laid the foundation stone at a launch ceremony, Evrensel reported the project would require destruction of 2.5 million trees.

Opposition to a third international airport and countless other destructive urban development plans of the Islamist ruling class -- a “class of looters” -- have been central to the left’s agenda.

Turkey’s left is well aware of environmental issues and very active around them. There have been hundreds of demonstrations by villagers against hydroelectric dams led by the left. Even in the midst of a civil-war environment, Kurdish people have been organising against the military’s burning of forests -- to uncover Kurdish guerillas hiding there.

With 53% support the Islamist government is arrogant. It has groomed ordinary people’s Islamic beliefs, arrested fascist generals (one in three generals are now in prison) and coup leaders, started peace negotiations with the Kurdish freedom movements and won three elections in a row.

“The decision is made. The project [demolition of Gezi Park] will continue”, said Tayyip Erdogan after four days of Taksim clashes. “If you gather 200,000 people, I will gather 1 million."

But Erdogan has stumbled recently. His attempt to ban abortion provoked a huge backlash. His vision for a religious Turkish youth was badly received. He foolishly suggested that ayran (a watery yoghurt drink) should be the “national drink” ahead of raki (the beloved aniseed-based spirit) and introduced a law that banned sales of alcohol between 10 pm and 6 am. His mass jailing of journalists has also been unpopular.

When he laid the foundation of the third Bosphorus bridge he announced it would be called the Sultan Selim. Selim was a 16th century Ottoman emperor who butchered thousands of Allevis, ensuring that Turkey became, and remains, dominated by Sunni Muslims. He ignored the feelings of the estimated 20 million Allevis living in Turkey today.

The chain of clashes spreading across Turkey from Gezi Park is a huge blow to the PM’s arrogance. For the first time he has appeared in defensive mode and “sincerely” asked protesters to go home.

Taksim Square has a special place in the heart of the Turkish left. We call it “May Day Square”. On May Day 1977 the square was bathed in the blood of dozens of workers and students who were among more than 100,000 people marching with red flags that day. Unknown killers opened fire at the crowd from top of buildings surrounding the square.

It remains an unsolved crime. Turkey’s left believes the perpetrators were NATO’s clandestine anti-communist paramilitary, Operation Gladio.

The Turkish government banned May Day marches ever since and every May Day there have been hundreds of clashes between police and demonstrators who want to march to Taksim. Taksim Square is the Turkish left’s symbol of resistance.

The interior minister admitted during an answer to an opposition MP’s question in parliament that on May Day 2013 police sprayed 14 tons of tear gas on demonstrators.

The Gezi Park resistance has brought much needed Turkish-Kurdish unity to the left opposition. Kurdish cities have joined the solidarity protests. Kurds, Turks, secularists, social democrats and nationalists merged in the clashes against police brutality. The left, with its “Taksim passion”, has played a leading role in the protests.

The mainstream media’s blackout of the protests – which is unprecedented – has brought the leftist media to the fore. Left-wing Hayat Television has been covering the protests non-stop, live.

There has been a protest outside the headquarters of national broadcaster NTV for turning a blind eye to the protests. Benjamin Harvey, Turkey bureau chief for Bloomberg tweeted, “Turks who aren’t in Istanbul and don’t get their news from the internet may have no idea anything is even going on here now.”

The Gezi Park resistance is a turning point for the people of Turkey. After many decades they feel their power again. It has reminded the left that they can lead the people’s spontaneous action.

[I. Zekeriya Ayman is a Kurdish Turkish leftist living in Melbourne, Australia.]

The Right to the City movement and the Turkish summer

By Joe Cassano

June 1, 2013 -- Jadaliyya -- As I write this, Istanbul is under siege. The might of Istanbul's entire police force—the largest city police force in Europe—is violently cracking down on peaceful occupiers in Gezi Park.

The protest, which began on 27 May, is ostensibly over a planned shopping center to be built over a park in Istanbul's central Taksim Square. Nevertheless, massive popular movements like this do not emerge out of nowhere. Typically, they are the result of the tireless groundwork of activists over the course of an extended period. And then, something happens: a spark sets off the lighter fluid accumulating unnoticed at everyone's feet.

The protests began with approximately seventy Right to the City protesters in Gezi Park on 27 May when demolition of the park was set to begin. These activists successfully stopped demolition and a little more than a dozen activists spent that night in the park. They erected two large tents, brought guitars, and made their opinions known to passersby. These activists were comprised of members of Taksim Solidarity and the Taksim Gezi Park Protection and Beautification Association as well as some unaffiliated but concerned individuals.

On 28 May, a coalition of Right to the City associations presented a petition to Istanbul's Council to Protect Culture Heritage calling on it protect the park. At 1:30 in the afternoon on 28 May, bulldozers returned a second time. The protesters resisted and police used tear gas to clear the park. One activist climbed a tree and was unable to be dislodged, further stalling demolition. Demolition resumed and continued until pro-Kurdish rights Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) and secularist opposition Republican People's Party Members of Parliament Sırrı Süreyya Önder and Gülseren Onanç blockaded bulldozers. This yet again stopped demolition and a protest was called for 7pm that night. Protesters slept in the park again.

The day of 29 May was more low-key as a few hundred people came out for protests in the park and created a festival-like atmosphere with films and concerts. Throughout the day, activists planted seedlings in the park as a token of resistance. Numbers swelled and 150 people slept in the park that night as the state regrouped.

On 30 May Turkish police, unwilling to allow a major tourist hub to be blighted in this fashion, gave the occupiers a five in the morning wake-up call in the form of tear gas. In case the message was not clear enough, they also set fire to occupiers' tents. With the park cleared and the state clear that it meant business, demolition resumed until at 7:50 in the morning, Önder yet again blockaded the bulldozers with his own body. After news broke on social media of the early-morning raid and concomitant police violence, people accumulated throughout the day and slept over in the park en masse.

The police tried the same tactics on the morning of 31 May, this time with several hundred people sleeping over in the park. The raid was more vicious than the day before and media was banned from the park. After this, Taksim Square officially became contested territory as police violence escalated and protesters clashed with police throughout the day.

In the ensuing mayhem, famed freelance Turkish journalist, Ahmet Şık was hospitalized after being struck in the head by a teargas canister. Onlookers claimed that Şık, who in 2011 penned a book about police corruption in Turkey that was banned from publication, was fired on intentionally from a distance of about ten yards. Önder himself was hospitalized after also being hit by a tear gas canister.

What likely would have blown over with no lasting impact suddenly ignited into one of the biggest mobilizations in recent Turkish history. Estimates during the day of 31 May put the number of protesters between five thousand and ten thousand, and police have attempted mass arrests of anyone occupying the park. Police forces have been making liberal use of teargas, resulting in a flood of instantly iconic images that capture the spirit of dissent. There are in fact reports that the police have used so much tear gas that Istanbul's police force has had to ship in more from the nearby city of Bursa. On Friday, #DirenGeziParki [Resist Gezi Park] was, for most of the day, the number one worldwide trending hashtag on Twitter.

Late in the night on 31 May, the police barricaded the park and closed all of the roads and public transportation leading to Taksim Square. This completed the square's transformation into a battleground as protesters attemptedand in some instance succeededto break the barricades. With news spreading that Taksim was barricaded, and growing outrage at the media blackout, residents of Istanbul began organizing in their own neighborhoods and marching together to Taksim. Unverified reports on Twitter estimated 40,000 people were on foot heading to Taksim, including thousands crossing the Bosphorus Bridge that connects the European and Asian sides of the city, which is normally closed to pedestrians.

Solidarity protests have spread organically to other cities, mostly as an expression of anger at police brutality. Protesters have taken to the streets in the cities of Ankara, Izmir, Izmit, Eskişehir, Kayseri, Antalya, Kutahya, and no doubt others. Radikal reports that protesters were tear gassed in Izmit and Eskişehir and dozens were detained in other cities. At the time of writing, it appears that numbers are only going to continue to grow and demonstrations will continue to escalate.

The police violence has been nothing short of excessive. According to the Turkish alternative news site Bianet, at least one hundred protesters have been injured. But this was reported during the day on 31 May and so seems like a conservative estimate at this point, especially given the level of violence and the use of tear gas, which is widely considered a chemical weapon. The Turkish Radikal daily has a series of videos available putting police violence on display. According to a live blog on the leftist website Sendika [Turkish-only], police have in multiple instances blocked ambulances from accessing the injured.

The reaction of the police prompted Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch, to declare Friday that "the display of extreme police violence yet again against peaceful demonstrators in the Taksim Park spells the government and local authorities' deep intolerance of the right to assembly and non-violent protest in Turkey today."

Origins of the uprising

The fact that the protests were not sponsored by a political party or related to the Kurdish conflict has led to comparisons with Occupy Wall Street (OWS) or even the Seattle World Trade Organization protests of 1999. OWS protesters in the United States, once inspired by tactics of the Arab uprisings, are now expressing solidarity with Turkish activists. Right now no party or group can claim ownership of the movement and the only sign of coalition is the information hub, DirenGeziParki.com.

But this protest is the latest manifestation of a movement that has been stirring for some time now. The shopping mall is only one component of a plan to entirely redesign Taksim Square into a more car-friendly, tourist-accommodating, and sanitized urban center. Mass protests have also taken place recently to stop the closure of the landmark Emek Cinema, located on İstiklal Avenue off Taksim Square, which is also being converted into (no surprise) a shopping mall.

Taksim Square is the heart and soul of Istanbul. It is common sense to Istanbulites that if a revolution is to come to Turkey, it would begin in Taksim. Protests are regularly held in the square, and issues run the full gamut of concerns of Turkish citizens: LGBT equality, recognition of the Armenian Genocide, an end to the Kurdish conflict, an end to military conscription, economic justice, and more. In 2011, there was a massive one-day protest in support of a free and open internet that drew upwards of thirty thousand people.

Protesters flood Taksim Square for the "Internetime Doukunma" ("Don't touch my internet") protest in 2011. Gezi Park can be seen in the background. Photo by Jay Cassano.

Taksim is also home to a massive May Day protest every year, in part a response to the Taksim Square Massacre on May Day 1977. On 1 May, Istanbul police violently cracked down on protesters, using over fourteen tons of water mixed with tear gas. As evidence of the link between current protests and those of May Day, the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions (also known by the acronym DISK, and one of the largest union blocks in Turkey) officially called on its members to come out and support the occupation.

The new Taksim will eliminate mass pedestrian entrances from all sides in favor of car tunnels, making it an impractical site to protest and congregate. In short, it will be reduced to a photo-op for tourists who pass through for five minutes and then continue on with their tax-free shopping.

Another key launching point was the planned construction of a third bridge crossing over the Bosphorus in Istanbul. Ground broke on construction of the third bridge on the first day of the protest and was one of the main concerns expressed by protesters, even though they were occupying Gezi Park and not the bridge construction site. If built, the third bridge is expected to complete Istanbul's deforestation by subjecting the northern Belgrade Forest to development. The third bridge is another example of the AKP's development-driven, car-oriented designs for Istanbul, with complete disregard for the viability of the city in ecological and social terms. These concerns were highlighted in a recent feature-length documentary, Ecumenopolis: City Without Limits, which sold out theaters in Taksim's İstiklal Avenue when it opened.

Culture wars or economic unrest?

The entire plan for Taksim Square’s redesign is part of an overall neoliberal turn that Prime Minister Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) are central to. Istanbul's city center has been undergoing a rapid process of gentrification, especially in the historic neighborhoods of Sulukule, Tarlabaşı, Tophane and Fener-Balat, which housed the poor, the immigrants, the Kurds, and the Roma. The goal of this so-called “urban renewal” is to make room for more tourist attractions, or to—at minimum—“clean up” the neighborhoods, removing working class urban dwellers who might scare off tourists. The idea is that this new and improved city center will attract foreign investment in Istanbul, which is to be further developed into a financial and cultural hub at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East.

Some outlets have linked the Gezi Park protests to the AKP's recent restrictions on the sale of alcohol. Journalists doing so are attempting to portray the Gezi Park occupation as a conflict between Erdoğan's Islamism and the country's secular ethos. The secularist opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) has also taken this stance, and has tried to coopt the uprising by turning the movement into a symbol of culture wars between a secular youth and an older Islamist generation.

Attractive as that framing may be to Western media, it could not be further from the truth. While many protesters are without a doubt staunch secularists who are motivated by opposition to the AKP's increasing social conservatism, there is no indication that this is what ultimately brought thousands of people out into the streets. In fact, when CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, came to Gezi Park to speak, protesters sang over him, preventing him from being heard. It is clear that the movement thus far is about a conflict in visions for urban space between ruling elites and the people who actually live, work, and play in the city. In this regard, it is telling that #DirenGeziPari emerged as the original hashtag on Twitter. This connects to protests held in 2009 in Istanbul against the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which took place under the banner of “Diren Istanbul”—“Resist Istanbul”—cleverly shortened in translation to “ResIstanbul.”

At the same time, and as the protests appear to spread and take on a more generally anti-government tone, it is not unlikely that general dissatisfaction with Erdoğan will eventually win out as the primary message of the movement. In that case, we can expect to see a rift between the liberal secularist opposition who joined the protest on 31 May and after and the radical protesters who spawned the movement in the first place.

Throughout the Arab uprisings, Turkey remained ostensibly stable. Some commentators proposed Turkey as a model for post-uprising Arab states, most especially Egypt. The mixture of a “moderate” Islamist prime minister and a "secular" constitution made NATO-member Turkey an attractive prototype for a new Middle East in the eyes of Western pundits. Others, along with myself, have pointed out that Turkey is a poor choice of role model, given its ongoing conflict with its Kurdish minority population as well as myriad other dynamics.

Today, it seems as though Turkey's internal divisions are surfacing in a way not seen for some time. What we are seeing in the Gezi Park occupation is the sudden explosion of this Right to the City movement, with some general anti-government sentiment mixed in. For now, an Istanbul court has temporarily suspended construction of the park, pending a hearing on the matter. As time goes on, and if this movement continues to grow, rifts are likely to occur and the meaning of the protests will become as contested as the physical space of Taksim Square. But for the time being, between the massive May Day protest and now this nationwide movement less than a month later, we may finally be in for a summer of uprising in Turkey.

[Cihan Tekay contributed research to this story.]

From the Bullet http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/831.php

By Sungur Savran

Istanbul has become a battlefield covered by tear gas. The police, no doubt at the behest of the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP government, have been attacking protestors in the centre of the city, near Taksim Square, for five consecutive days. This would have been no news at all: Turkish police are famous for their brutality in dealing with demonstrations unwelcome to the government. Only a month ago, on May Day, they had dispersed a gathering of thousands of workers and unionists using tear gas unsparingly. So nothing new on the police front. This time is different for another reason.

The difference lies in the determination and audacity of the protestors. The first four days saw a growing number of people, reaching many thousands Thursday night, that is, the fourth day of action, set up a camp each night on the so-called Promenade near Taksim Square. Every night, in the small hours of the morning, the police attacked the campers and dismantled their tents, burning them on the last third and fourth nights. The protestors are trying to protect life, the life of very precious trees right in the middle of a city with extremely limited green area. The Metropolitan Municipality of Istanbul, under AKP rule, has been busy preparing the ground to build a shopping mall (in the guise of a historic building) in the place where stands the Promenade now.

Police brutality

The sheer brutality of the police and some plainclothes thugs claiming to be municipal police (it is they who burnt down the tents) provoked the people of Istanbul to run to the aid of the attacked protestors. Istiklal, a major artery that runs from Taksim several kilometres south, a pedestrian zone that is the heart of culture, politics, entertainment and lately tourism, was soon packed full of people from one end to the other, Taksim Square itself being controlled by the police. Istiklal resounded to chants against the government, some going somewhat rashly as far as predicting its imminent fall.

There have been demands for some time that the Foreign Minister, responsible for the criminal policy of the government in Syria, and the Interior Minister, whom we call the “Chemical Muammer,” as a reference to “Chemical Ali” of the Saddam administration, be removed from office. The removal of the latter has now already come squarely on the agenda. There were already unconfirmed rumours tonight that the chief of police for Istanbul has been dismissed. Even if this were true, which is too optimistic, this is not where the cleansing should stop!

The working-class, left forces and the youth of Turkey are coming out of a period of extreme political passivity. But for the incessant struggle waged by the Kurdish people, Turkey has been a desert in terms of mass struggles for the past 15 years at least, interrupted exceptionally by the struggle of the Tekel workers (the tobacco and alcoholic drinks company, privatized earlier) in winter 2009-2010, unfortunately sold out by the union bureaucracy. So it would be rash to say that the movement is already at a point of no return. But the spirit is definitely one of regained self-confidence on the part of the masses. What is most important is to see how the organized working-class will react. There have been several important industrial actions lately. These may very well radicalize the attitude of some sections of the working-class, including the workers of Turkish Airlines. They have been on strike for a fortnight putting forth serious demands, albeit with limited participation. Their central demand is the reinstatement of 305 from among the work force, fired a year ago for a wildcat strike protesting the partial prohibition of strikes in civil aviation, which has always been a recognized right in the last half century. The prohibition of strikes has had to be rescinded, but the workers laid-off have yet to be reinstated.

More strikes

Another strike is waiting in the wings, one with potentially devastating consequences for the government. This is the metal workers’ strike which has already been announced (a legal precondition), but not yet put into practice. If all the workers involved go on strike (for legal reasons this has to be some time in the course of June), this will amount to over one hundred thousand workers, in a sector that has become the main export engine of the country's manufacturing industry in recent years. Although there are immensely complicated factors to be taken into account when analysing this potential strike, not least the clearly reactionary political stance of the ruling bureaucracy in the major union in the industry, the results may be dire in the context of this explosive situation.

History seems to be aiding the popular masses of Turkey. KESK, the Federation of Public Employees’ Unions, one of the fighting organizations within the union movement, had already declared a sector-wide strike for 5 June. This needs to be transformed into a general strike, adopted by the whole union movement, putting forth demands in the political sphere as well as voicing the considerable grievances of the workers of different sectors and industries. The present moment witnesses a people's revolt in the face of the arrogance and repressive practice of the government. Should this be combined with an insurgent working-class movement, Turkey would become open to all kinds of revolutionary change.

It cannot be exaggerated how a revolutionary transformation of Turkey will have a tremendous impact on the rest of the Middle East and North Africa. Under Erdogan, Turkey has become a decisive actor in the region, a “model ally” of the U.S., role model for the newly fledgling Muslim governments of Egypt and Tunisia, frontline fighter for the Sunni front established by the Saudi and Qatar kingdoms in a potentially disastrous sectarian confrontation between the Sunni and Shiite fronts in the region and a growing economic and military power with a hegemonic project. The elimination of this reactionary actor and its possible replacement by a progressive force at the helm of this NATO member will have immense repercussions throughout the region. Solidarity with the mass movement of Turkey will definitely be helpful to the progressive and revolutionary agenda in the whole Middle East.

Istanbul, 3 a.m.

I have just left another central square of Istanbul, itself not far from Taksim. The place is packed with people and thousands, even tens of thousands of cars are still slowly moving toward that square. There would have been nothing extraordinary about this – were it not almost three o'clock in the morning. Ankara, the capital city, was out protesting today as well. Izmir, the third biggest city on the Agean sea, is still alive, with street fighting going on.

One blogger said tonight: “Well, Tayyip Erdogan, through his arrogance, has at last united Turk and Kurd, Sunni and Alevi and secular!” Well, this is what we have been saying all along. This was what happened when the Tekel workers entered their two and a half month fight. This is what is now happening on a much more gigantic scale.

This is not yet Tahrir. But demonstrations on the two continents of Istanbul, Asia and Europe at three in the morning, that is decidedly unusual and gives one a taste of Tahrir. This is not yet a revolution, but it is not only tear gas that marks the air in Istanbul. It is also a scent of revolutionary aspirations. •

Sungur Savran is editor of the newspaper Isci Mucadelesi (Workers' Struggle) in Istanbul, Turkey.



Footage shot in Taksim Square on Sunday evening

To any student of social history the sight of an urban middle class using its fingers to dig up cobblestones, form a human chain and pile them 3ft (1m) high to make a barricade screams the words "Paris Commune".

That is what I saw in the streets around Besiktas stadium last night and the comparisons are ominous.

This was the third big night of fighting in Istanbul.

The protesters methodically erected barricades to seal off Taksim Square, which is on a hill. By now some of these barricades are six or seven feet high and movable only by bulldozer.

In the park, earlier, there were three or four meetings going on, with the left-wing nationalist Youth Union of Turkey the biggest, and a more impromptu samba-band thing for the more anti-globalist protesters.

It was good-natured, and the two main social types were educated young women, dressed I would say 90% in Western style, and young men with football scarves and shirts.

They made a massive thing out of the fact that they were standing shoulder to shoulder, on a big plinth, the rival teams of Istanbul who hate each other's guts.

“There is a pent-up anger - and when I point to the impressive growth, and fiscal solvency of Turkey, they point to the fact they can't afford a flat, and that 'the money ends up in the pockets of those in power'”

Then, around 21:00 (18:00 GMT), the crowd streamed down the hill towards Besiktas and the clash with the police started. I was close to this, and have to say it was standard if very heavy riot policing: baton rounds, CS cartridges in abundance, and finally water cannon.

Only about 10% of the people are fighting, and this is in fact testimony to the social depth of the movement.

There were a large majority of people you would expect to find on an engineering course at college, or sitting over a laptop in Starbucks, the young, global, secular urban middle class.

Most of them had not come to fight, but fighting is what they have been drawn into. The men and women in masks are doctors, teachers, students, as well as the typical urban poor youth ducking and diving, who remain a minority.

Around 02:00 I went out again. By now the barricade right outside my hotel was under attack - though the protesters beat the police back this time.

People started to tell their stories.

The main meme - as with the flags - is "we are sons of Ataturk". That is, we are a secular republic and we are worried about the autocratic use of power by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, combined with a creeping Islamisation.

"We don't want to become Iran," one man said.

Protesters dig up cobblestones to build barricades
Protesters dug up cobblestones and piled them high to create barricades

The secondary meme tends to contradict this.

"We're all here," one masked woman told me. "Communists, anarchists, democrats. It's not an Ataturkist movement."

Reactions to my reports on Twitter tend to echo this division too.

So what has caused it? Everybody is clear that the park - intended to be bulldozed to make a shopping mall shaped like an Ottoman Empire military barracks - is not the issue.

"The issue is freedom," one woman told me.

I have been to the Taksim emergency hospital tonight. I met a volunteer doctor who ended up a patient after being shot at close range with a CS gas canister. Another man came out covered with lacerations and bruising.

The patients alleged deliberate police brutality, the connivance between police and what sounds like an unofficial militia from the ruling Justice and Development (AK) party, police using knives at close quarters to stab people in the legs, and the persistent use of orange smoke canisters that cause severe distress.

I did not see any attacks of this nature, but there were enough claims for the allegations to be taken seriously and investigated.

When I have expressed surprise at the way this escalated into an all-or-nothing confrontation, the rioters too say they are surprised. There is a pent-up anger - and when I point to the impressive growth, and fiscal solvency of Turkey, they point to the fact they cannot afford a flat, and that "the money ends up in the pockets of those in power".

By pulling back from Taksim, for the past 48 hours now, the Turkish police have lessened the tension inside it.

'It's a revolution'

Walking around at 04:00, among little groups squatting around fires and others huddled under blankets in doorways or on the grass of the park, there is again the echo of that event in Paris. Then, too, the state pulled out, leaving the urban middle class and workforce of Paris to run the city for 100 days. But it ended in tragedy and bloodshed.

One woman working as a medical volunteer pulled me aside just now.

"I'm telling everybody to stop fighting," she said. "This can't end with massive bloodshed."

There is a sense among some of the protesters that the scale of injury, the out-of-control nature of the policing at times, and their isolation from the rest of Turkey (Turkish TV is not exactly covering the events in great detail), means they have to back down.

Others though are clear.

"It's a revolution," says a man in a mask, face lit by the flames of a burning car. And some people are clearly high on it.

I have covered Syntagma, the Occupy protests and reported from Tahrir Square. This is different to all of them.

First, it is massive. The sheer numbers dwarf any single episode of civil unrest in Greece.

Second, the breadth of social support - within the urban enclave of Istanbul - is bigger than Greece and closer to Egypt.

"Everyone is here - except the AK party," insists one young woman.

People nod. In Greece, the urban middle class was split. Here the secular middle class are out in force, united across political divisions, to say nothing of football hatreds.

All eyes on the workers

Is this the Turkish Tahrir? Not unless the workers join in. Turkey has a large labour movement, and a big urban poor working population, and Monday is a work day, so we will see. It is certainly already something more than the Turkish version of Occupy.

Could it spill over into the wider Middle East conflict? Most definitely. Because Mr Erdogan has been the lynchpin of Western power in dealing with Syria.

Some read his willingness to ditch his liberal supporters and push for the low-level Islamisation of society (alcohol bans, anti-abortion policy etc) as part of a wider willingness to carve out a role independent of the US in the region.

The opposition know they are weak, they have no leadership and do not want one, and the official strategy is about the park and police brutality, whereas the hopes that blaze behind the eyes of people in masks are about getting rid of Mr Erdogan and making Turkey a secular democracy.

All I know, stumbling through the detritus of a week of urban conflict just now, is that there is a weird lull, a whole city district without police for two days, a quiet order. But it is not clear how long it is going to last.

The Paris Commune of 1871 was long studied by revolutionaries as a test case in how not to act. It was isolated from the rest of France, which voted conservative, it did not know what it wanted, it revelled in its apparent freedom and then was crushed.

As I read tonight the US state department urging "restraint" on Tayyip Erdogan, it is possible that the parallel has occurred to someone there as well.


Hi: I read about the unjustice and pain in what are supposed to be emerging countries, and when I liken them to the situation here in america, I want to shed a tear for our unchecked hypocrisy. Change the names and locations and these stories apply just as well here as they do there - and WE should know better. If WE are THEIR hope, THEY are likely to be in for one hell of a dissapointment.