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Turkish Protesters Celebrate Small Victory, But Remain Resolute

  • Glenn Kates

ISTANBUL -- Demonstrators in Istanbul show no sign of backing down, despite Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc’s apology on June 4 for the use of excessive force by police.

In the wake of Arinc's comments, protesters who assembled in Taksim Square later that day said their celebratory mood should not be mistaken for an end to hostilities.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- who had dismissed the protests as undemocratic exercises supported by "extremist elements" -- clearly remains the target of their anger.

Bora Kilic, a 27-year-old marketing specialist, told RFE/RL he saw the deputy prime minister's olive branch as a meaningless gesture in the absence of a similar statement from Erdogan himself.

"Even if they want to sound more tolerant, I think they can't do it because of the prime minister," Kilic said. "If [the apology] was enough these [protesters] wouldn't be here tonight."

Kilic said that Erdogan's hard-line positions were the real issue behind the protests. It's not just about saving a city park or protesting against new limits on alcohol sales.

A road sign thrown on barricades during clashes between police and protesters near Istanbul's Taksim Square on June 5.

A road sign thrown on barricades during clashes between police and protesters near Istanbul's Taksim Square on June 5.

"It's not just about two or three trees, or saving a park. It's about people who have had enough of this fascist approach towards the people -- limiting their freedom and imposing their own lifestyle on people," he said.

In For The Long Haul

Clashes pitting demonstrators against police occurred in several neighborhoods surrounding Taksim Square on the evening of June 4 and are expected to continue on June 5.

On nearby Inonu Street, protesters have been busy constructing makeshift defense barriers using slabs of wood, corrugated steel, metal beams, and various junk.

READ: What's Really Fueling The Turkish Protests?

The demonstrators are here for the long haul and they have come prepared. Most have surgical masks at the minimum; many have gas masks.

Such supplies are easily obtained. Perhaps more prevalent than the savory Turkish kofta grill and the juicy fresh watermelon stands scattered throughout the Taksim area are so-called civil-defense stations, where a surgical mask and goggles can be had for five lira (about $2.50) each.

Protesters sit near a poster portraying Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as Hitler in Istanbul on June 5.

Protesters sit near a poster portraying Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as Hitler in Istanbul on June 5.

And should those fail to hold back the tear gas, volunteer-run pharmacies provide protesters with Talcid, a white substance that turns milky when mixed with water and is said to ease the pain from tear-gas burns.

Midway up the hill on June 4, the police abruptly stopped their advance and the crowd cheered, as if a great battle has just been won.

'Pushing Them Back'

Reha Yundis, suffering from bloodshot eyes and sweating profusely, said he was caught in the exchange but had become used to the tear gas.

"We've got our gear and we know what to do with them," Yundis said. "[The police] just keep up and we just keep pushing them back."

Mert, a 20-year-old who studies abroad at the University of Toronto and declined to give his full name, said images on social media of police brutality scared him, but he felt an obligation to come to the square.

"To be honest, I don't know what's going to happen in the end, but there has to be something. This is the turning point," Mert said. "There's going to be something, or not. We're going to be slaves, or not."

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