As protesters prepare for mass demonstrations this weekend to mark the first anniversary of last summer’s Gezi Park protests, the İstanbul Police Department is organizing an unprecedented level of police deployment around Taksim Square and Gezi Park.
Some 25,000 police officers and 50 water cannon trucks (TOMA) will be deployed on May 31 in the Taksim, Şişli and Beşiktaş neighborhoods of İstanbul to prevent gatherings.
What began as a peaceful demonstration against plans to uproot trees to build a shopping mall on the site of Gezi Park, a green space in central İstanbul’s Taksim Square, spiraled into nationwide protests against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government after a brutal police crackdown on peaceful protesters on May 31, 2013.
Taksim Solidarity, a collective of labor unions, opposition parties and civil society groups that helped organize the protests, has said it will take to the streets again on May 31 to mark the anniversary of the start of the uprising. “We will be on the streets, with millions of people, with dozens of different languages, different voices and all of our colors,” the group said in a statement.
Prominent figures from Turkey’s art world, including actors Genco Erkal, Tarık Akan, Orhan Aydın and actress Şebnem Sönmez, film director Ezel Akay and singers Edip Akbayram and Nejat Yavaşoğulları have appeared in a video titled “We will be in squares on May 31,” calling on people to take to the streets on May 31 to mark the anniversary of the Gezi protests.
The Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK) also announced that KESK members will take to the streets and squares. “Our rightful and legitimate struggle has been continuing despite brutal police violence, arrests, all kinds of oppression and unlawful practices for one year… We are taking to the squares for an equal, free and peaceful Turkey. We will be in the squares across Turkey on May 31,” KESK said in a statement released on May 29.
The police are not planning to surround and isolate Taksim Square with steel barriers as it did on May 1, but water cannon trucks will remain on the alert around the square to crack down on any incidents.
The police will not allow gatherings around Taksim Square, and extra groups of riot police will be stationed in the neighborhoods of Okmeydanı, Gazi, Dolapdere and Sancaktepe, where the police expect similar protests. Police helicopters will conduct air surveillance of potential gatherings and public transport to Taksim will be canceled.
İstanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu has said the security forces will take measures against “small marginal groups that might act illegally.” However, it is not clear whether mass demonstrations in Taksim Square will be held or not, as riot police have maintained a presence in Taksim since last year and on May 1 prevented labor unions from going anywhere near the square, a traditional rallying point for May Day marches.
Responding to a question about whether Gezi Park will be shut down, as has been the case during recent protests, Mutlu said there might be closures for “a few hours” for security reasons, explaining: “We [would] never close Gezi Park and Taksim to our people. There might be closures for a few hours in order to reinstate security if necessary. We would like to keep the park accessible to the people on that day.”
In Ankara, similar protests will be staged in central Kızılay Square on May 31 and June 1. Ankara Solidarity, a collective of civil society groups that helped organize the protests in the Turkish capital, have called on the people of Ankara to take to Kızılay Square on May 31 to mark the anniversary of the Gezi protests. On the following day, Ethem Sarısülük, a Gezi protester who was shot dead by a police officer in Ankara’s Güvenpark, near Kızılay Square, on June 1, 2013, will be commemorated in the place where he was shot.
“We are appealing to the government. We are taking to the streets for our rights. Pull your police, TOMAs and armored vehicles out of our way. Don’t stand before the people,” İsmet Meydan, a spokesperson for Ankara Solidarity, said at a press conference on May 29.