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'We Represent the Trees': Turkish Demonstrators Face Down Tear Gas to Protect Public Park

Violent standoff turns into night-long 'mini-festival' as Istanbul residents defend public space

Lucia Brown

Turkish citizens trying to save central Istanbul's last public green space were met with police violence on Tuesday, facing down officers wielding riot shields and tear gas spray. 

Taksim Gezi Park is slated to be demolished for development purposes, raising concern and opposition from environmentalists and local residents. Tuesday's clashes occurred when police confronted the demonstrators who had blockaded construction equipment at the site.

"Each of us will guard a tree, and in the morning, we will give a report to the birds.” –Sırrı Süreyya Önder

Ultimately, however, the demonsrators held their ground, winning what appeared to be at least a short-term victory. As the local Hürriyet Daily News reports:

The struggle eventually transformed into a night-long sit-in protest by the demonstrators. [...]

Police pulled out of the area as dusk set, allowing around 1,000 protesters to stage a mini-festival during which they vowed that the park would not be turned over to “land speculators.” A group of protesters said they planned to stand guard at the site all night long to prevent any night-time demolition.

Backers of the development project, namely members of Turkey's conservative Justice and Development Party, plan to use the space to rebuild the Taksim Military Barracks, which will serve not as a military outfit but as a shopping mall and residential area.

Demonstrators first gathered on Monday, prompted by social media messages asking for support.

And as the Hürriyet Daily News also reports, it was Sırrı Süreyya Önder—a deputy in the more progressive Peace and Democracy Party —who has been a major figure in the protests, blocking the path of a bulldozer and demanding to see the license for the park's demolition.

Önder made his intentions clear at the scene, stating:

“I am not merely an Istanbul deputy. I am a deputy of the trees, too. We might have repelled [the police] today, but they will surely come back tomorrow. The hunger of this neo-liberal system is such that if it cuts all the forests, it won’t be satiated..."

He told the crowd, "Each of us will guard a tree, and in the morning, we will give a report to the birds.”

Video shows the close range and aggressive use of tear gas by the police:

Lucia Brown is a summer editorial intern at Common Dreams.


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