Thousands of Turks mark anniversary of anti-government ‘Gezi Park’ protests

June 1, 2017 7:24 pm
Thousands of demonstrators have marched through the Turkish port city of Istanbul to commemorate the anniversary of the anti-government protests that swept across the Anatolian country in 2013.
Demonstrators took to the streets of central Istanbul on Wednesday, as they displayed banners reading “Continue to Resist.” And families carried portraits of their loved ones killed in what became known as the Gezi Park protests in 2013.
Hundreds of riot police forces, armed with batons and shields, blocked Istiklal Street in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district to prevent the demonstrators from convening around the Gezi Park, located in the vicinity of Taksim Square.
The demonstration was, nevertheless, held almost entirely in peace, and no report of clashes between police and marchers was released.

The families of the protesters killed in 2013 march with a banner reading “No, it does not end. Continue to Resist” in Istanbul, May 31, 2017, the fourth anniversary of the start of Gezi Park protests. (Photo by AFP)

On May 28, 2013, hundreds of pro-environment people held a sit-in in protest against an urban development plan to uproot trees in the park and rebuild an Ottoman-era barracks and other buildings on the land of Gezi Park, which is one of the few remaining green spaces in Istanbul. The barracks had originally been built in 1789 and was torn down in the 1940.
The peaceful sit-in protesters, however, were violently evicted by riot police, which generated outrage among people. Soon, other protests were held in the city and a domino effect created some 5,000 supporting demonstrations across the country during the next two weeks.

Riot police block Istiklal Street as people (unseen) gather to mark the fourth anniversary of the Gezi Park protests in central Istanbul, , May 31, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

The theme of the nationwide anti-government rallies went beyond the initial demands and began to include a wide range of concerns, at the core of which were issues of freedom of the press, of expression and assembly, and a condemnation of the purported authoritarianism of the then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Turkish government, however, launched a brutal crackdown on the protests, which led to the killing of 11 people and the injuring of some 8,000 others, dozens of them critically.
Together with a failed coup in mid-July 2016, the Gezi Park turmoil was widely viewed as one of the biggest challenges to the rule of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), led by Erdogan, since it rose to power in 2002. 

A general view of Gezi Park in Istanbul, May 31, 2015 (By AFP)

Erdogan, at the time, downplayed the protests as staged by “a bunch of looters,” claiming that they sought to destabilize the country. He vowed that the government would take a tough stand against the protesters.
The government’s heavy-handed security measures against the protesters elicited harsh condemnation from Turkey’s Western allies.
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