A Pocket Guide to the Gezi Park Protests

"Woman in Red" image that caught international attention to the unrest (Credit: Reuters)

“Woman in Red” image that drew international attention to the unrest
(Credit: Reuters)

Civil unrest in Turkey began on May 30, when demonstrators staged a sit-in at Gezi Park in Istanbul to protest the park’s planned demolition in order to build a replica Ottoman era barracks with a shopping center. On May 31, the protestors were set upon by police with tear gas and water cannons trying to break up the demonstration. Subsequently, the protestors in Gezi Park grew in number, and demonstrations spread across the country.

The protests transformed from a local environmental matter into a movement criticizing Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP.) Grievances against Erdogan and AKP include allegations that Erdogan ignores the wishes of political opponents, as well as AKP’s pursuit of policies that are considered authoritarian, such as restricting the sale of alcohol and the imposition of conservative Islamic values.

Demonstration in Turkey's capital, Ankara (Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

June 5 Demonstration in Turkey’s capital, Ankara
(Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

Erdogan has remained defiant throughout the protests, bolstered by the popularity that he and the AKP enjoy. Erdogan was re-elected to his third term in 2011, when AKP received almost 50 percent of the popular vote in Turkey’s parliamentary election. Under AKP’s rule, Turkey’s economy has boomed, the nation has paid off its debt to the International Monetary Fund and the government has made inroads to calming conflicts with Kurdish rebels by calling on a common Islamic heritage.

On June 15, riot police cleared Gezi Park of anti-government protestors in advance of a massive pro-government rally on June 16. Reuters reports that “hundreds of thousands” of Erdogan and AKP supporters arrived at a parade ground in Istanbul to hear Erdogan speak, while police chased protestors through side streets to prevent them from regrouping. Erdogan told the gathered crowd, “The attitude across Turkey with the pretext of Taksim’s Gezi Park is not sincere. It is nothing more than the minority’s attempt to dominate the majority.”

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to supporters in Istanbul (Credit: Andalou Agency)

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to supporters in Istanbul
(Credit: Andalou Agency)

The protestors and the government appeared to reach an uneasy truce when protestors adopted the nonviolent “Standing Man” protest, but on Saturday police used water cannons to disperse demonstrators who were leaving carnations at Taksim Square in Gezi Park to pay tribute to those who died in the unrest.

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