Cross-section of Turks unite in Taksim protest

After more than a week of demonstrations, the epicentre of the protests is starting to take on an air of permanence

Protesters sing and shout slogans during a demonstration at Taksim Square in Istanbul on June 5, 2013. Photograph: Reuters

Protesters sing and shout slogans during a demonstration at Taksim Square in Istanbul on June 5, 2013. Photograph: Reuters

 

The youthful protester, his shoulders draped in the Turkish flag, offered a sesame-covered pastry before exclaiming: “Welcome to the People’s Republic of Taksim.”

After more than a week of demonstrations that began small over the redevelopment of Istanbul’s Gezi Park before morphing into something much bigger across Turkey, the epicentre of the protests here in Taksim Square is close to taking on an air of permanence. When police withdrew from Taksim earlier this week, following a crackdown that drew more to the streets, activists erected barricades to prevent them from returning. Protesters have pitched dozens of tents in nearby Gezi Park. “We’re here to stay,” said one.

Inside Taksim is something of a marketplace of ideas, a whirl of grievances and causes. Images of Che Guevara jostle for space with those of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Turkish republic.

Members of some of Turkey’s largest unions turned up, lending muscle to the motley gathering of Marxists, LGBT activists, anti-capitalists, Kurds, anarchists, and curious designer-clad Istanbulites. A group of Alevis, the country’s largest religious minority, drew cheers with a banner decrying the government for “destroying nature and democracy”.

The protesters cut across generations. Octogenarian Gulten Aren said she was proud of the youth who sparked the rallies. “They just want their voices to be heard.”

Most of Taksim’s ire is directed not so much at the ruling AK Party (AKP) but one of its founding members, prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose bullish speeches denouncing the protesters as ideologically driven extremists deepened resentment over what many view as his increasingly authoritarian ways.

“Tayyip Istifa [Resign]!” is the most common chant. But criticisms are not confined to the 50 per cent of Turks who did not vote for the AKP.

“[Erdogan] is wrong, this is not ideological,” said Belka Kaya, a student who voted for the AKP. “I was against the Gezi Park development and I have religious friends who took part in the protests. This is not about ideology, it is not about secular versus conservative. It is more complicated than that.”