To international media that love dramatic footage, the eruption of protests about the fate of Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park – and the government’s violent repression – seems overblown. Tear gas and gunfire over some trees and greenery?
Of course, the occupiers of the park have much more on their minds: the preservation of public space for democratic life. Imagine how far the Occupy protests in the US would have gotten without a public space for their encampment. Democracy needs places for citizens to meet and talk – a way to publicly express themselves. This is precisely what the Turkish government would like to shut down. Far better to turn everyone into consumers. It wants to turn Taksim Gezi Park (see photo below) into a huge shopping mall.
The Turkish government’s militant crackdown is being waged by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The Guardian (UK) characterizes the AKP as “a conservative Muslim bourgeoisie” that uses “the politics of piety to gain a popular base and to strengthen the urban rightwing.” The party has eagerly adopted a neoliberal economic stance to promote “development.” Enclosing one of the last great commons in Istanbul makes perfect sense for its agenda.
The government probably didn’t count on the pitched protest from occupiers or the viral international protest that has ensued in only 24 hours. On the popular website Reddit’s worldnews subreddit, posts on the Istanbul protests have been the top stories. Tweets on the incident have also been trending worldwide, especially at #occupygezi – or, in Turkish, #direngeziparkı.