May 28, 2014 | Policy Brief

One Year After Gezi

May 28, 2014 | Policy Brief

One Year After Gezi

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the massive wave of anti-government unrest in Turkey now known the “Gezi Park protests.” It began when a small group of environmentalists gathered around Istanbul’s Taksim Square to save a park. The small demonstration quickly turned into mass anti-government movement when the police brutally raided the protestors at dawn, sparking additional demonstrations across the country. A total of 3.5 million people in 80 of Turkey’s 81 provinces participated in the protests. Police crackdowns wounded thousands and killed eight.

The heavy-handed tactics of the Turkish police during the Gezi events marked the first time Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to authorize violence against Turkish people. One year later, these tactics seem to have become his default approach to any public demonstration against his authority. With protests erupting regularly since last May, Turks are no longer fazed by the sight of the police vehicles equipped with water cannon known as “TOMA” (Toplumsal Olaylara Müdahale Aracı).

Even after the mass movement of last summer died down, clashes between police and protesters continued throughout the fall of 2013. In December, a new wave of anti-government demonstrations erupted in response to the massive corruption scandals that led to the resignation of key cabinet members and other high officials. These protests, which Turkish police also frequently quelled by force, continued through March.

With the death in early march of 15-year old Berkin Elvan, who spent 269 days in a coma due to injuries sustained during the Gezi crackdown, protests erupted again. The teenager’s death sparked protests in 32 Turkish provinces, which were dispersed again by heavy-handed police tactics. Hundreds were detained overnight.

Earlier this month, the explosion at the Soma mine that killed some 300 miners was also followed by anti-government protests in Istanbul and Ankara. Police responded with tear-gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets. 34 people in Istanbul and 10 in Ankara were detained. Just last week, protesters took to the streets again in the Istanbul borough of Okmeydani. Police violence resulted in two deaths and eight injuries. One protester died from a stray police bullet.

Since the Gezi protests first began, Erdogan’s unapologetic use of violence against those challenging his authority has polarized Turkish society. Protests and police crackdowns have become a vicious cycle. With the August presidential elections approaching, the cycle is not  expected to end anytime soon.

To mark the anniversary of the Gezi Park events, organizers have already called for mass demonstrations this weekend. Using the recent past as a guide, heavy police crackdowns are likely.

Merve Tahiroglu is a research associate at Foundation for Defense of Democracies.