Gila Benmayor - English
Gila Benmayor - English
Gila Benmayor - EnglishYazarın Tüm Yazıları

Not-so-’normal’ May Day in Taksim Square

It was calm early Friday morning around Taksim Square, the central district of Istanbul second only to Sultanahmet as a place for tourists to stay. The television screens showed visitors trying to drag their suitcases and policemen in yellow, white and blue helmets keeping the street entrances under control.

The nearby Talimhane district where I spent a decade of my life was a training area for Ottoman-era artillerymen. Now it has been transformed into a decent district, with fancy hotels, restaurants and cafes filling the streets leading to Taksim. As I watched the televised activities organized by trade unions to celebrate May Day, I thought, "The neighborhoods of my childhood are being transformed, but not normalized." The May 1, 1977, massacre took its place in the pages of history as the city’s "bloodiest day" when the left was on the rise in Turkey. Since then, Taksim Square has not been able to experience normality. With the Sept. 12 military coup, a true meeting place for workers in Istanbul was closed and May Day celebrations were banned for years.

Police are laborers, too
We all remember the outrageous incidents of May Day last year involving groups of demonstrators who wanted to go to Taksim Square. We saw how people were beaten by policemen, how they were subjected to teargas and how they were arrested while trying to protest. So everyone was expecting that this year, demonstrations might be allowed in Taksim and May Day would be celebrated in a relatively calm, or perhaps, even "normal" manner. But what happened Friday?

Tension surfaced between police forces and trade unions, such as the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions, or DİSK, the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions, or KESK, and the Turkish Doctors Association, in addition to members of about 70 non-governmental organizations. By using teargas bombs and pressurized water, police forces kept demonstrators from reaching Taksim from the districts of Feriköy, Kurtuluş and Dolapdere. Injured people were once again seen on TV. But we also saw on television that DİSK leader Süleyman Çelebi made quite a meaningful statement in the early morning hours. "Police and trade union members shouldn’t stand against each other because the police are laborers too," Çelebi said. "In Western countries, policemen are members of strong trade unions."

Though Çelebi was right to stress this, Istanbul Security Director Celalettin Cerrah seemed disturbed by the idea of having crowded groups of trade-union members and demonstrators in Taksim Square. In a police station set up at the square, Cerrah was following demonstrators second-by-second on MOBESE cameras, and was directing police operations like a conductor. In the end, while I was writing this piece, around 4,000 demonstrators reached Taksim Square, 32 years after the "bloody May Day."

Red and black flags representing DİSK and KESK, as well as the purple flags of feminists, were being waved. As far as I saw on television, people were singing and dancing in Taksim Square. Although they were cheerful, the situation was still quite far from what is normal.

Who can say that a celebration day escorted by 25,000 policemen is something "normal"? "We’ll act like a dead man. We’ll be in Taksim again," Çelebi said in his speech at the square. We understand that the important thing for our labor unions was to have celebrations in Taksim.

But trade unions in France were worried about the global economic crisis, not a banned square. We are at the beginning of a long and narrow road towards things being "normal" at Taksim Square.
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