Protesters in Harvard Gather To Support Occupy Gezi Rallies in Turkey
The uprising began as a non-violent, sit-in by fifty environmental activists in Gezi Park on May 28th in response to the construction of the military barracks and a shopping mall at the expense of the removal of the park in Istanbul - a city with little green space. The small event grew as quickly as Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park did in its early days – families brought tents, food, and medical supplies to the park, and a library was established.
The resulting encampment was met with brutal force from Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's regime. Three weeks later, there were at least there dead, over four thousand injured, and widespread unrest. From Ankara to Istanbul, this fight has become about more than a park. The range of issues being addressed has spread from left to right wing issues, from reproductive rights, to war with Syria, anti-secularism and anti-authoritarianism. Police have has used pepper spray, water cannons, rubber bullets, and tear gas, shot directly at people from a lethal distance. Beatings and arrests have risen.
Ezgi Hacisuleyman, a Ph.D. student at Harvard University and an organizer of the protest, is originally from Istanbul. She said, “I’m the only one here, in the United States, from my family. My mom, my father, my sister -they have been part of the protests. My sister was beaten up one day, but now she is alright.”
In Boston, 500 people had previously demonstrated at State House on June 1st, and another protest too place outside of the Turkish consulate on June 5th.
Hacisuleyman continued, “The demolition of the park was the reason why this protest started. It was very peaceful, people were singing, but then it was met with incredible police brutality. They have been gassed, beaten up, and many of them have been taken into custody for no reason, and tortured.”
Protesters around the world are demanding an immediate end to the police brutality, and human rights safeguards during arrest and detention to be upheld. In Turkey, an unknown number of people are in custody for protesting. Their families are calling on the government to set them free.
Solutions for the future in Turkey are nebulous. Some protesters want Erdogan to step down. Others just want the government to reestablish civil liberties. Another organizer, Selen Yanmaz, grew up in Turkey and is here to study for a Ph.D in sociology. She spoke about potential solutions. “Any leader that is independent of his party or ideology…perhaps they can be elected. Erdogen has responded by saying that this is a small group of marginalized people who don’t represent the people of Turkey. We know this is not the case. I have many friends of all ideologies and classes from every sector of society. What people want is freedom of expression and democracy and ability to say what they want. This can be about a park, this can be about women’s rights, this can be LGBT rights…anything. They want to be able to say, I’m here, and this is what I think.” Yanmaz also mentioned build-up to the Gezi Park incident. “Authorities didn’t allow the May Day Rally. There have also been issues with protests around reproductive rights.”
Turkish antiterrorism units arrested 84 people on Tuesday, June 18th, bringing the total of detained protesters to 176, according to lawyers for the detained. Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc has mentioned bringing in the military to deal with protesters, while Interior Minister Muammer Güler says the administration is preparing to censor social media outlets and find organizers for rallies via Twitter and Facebook.