Saturday 31 May, 2014 by Uncle Spike
A year ago. Yes it was 12 months ago that the rumblings of discontent and oppression boiled over on to the streets of Istanbul, spreading across our country with mass protests that were met by police, their tear gas, pepper spray, water cannons and media blackouts. And 11 deaths, some 8000 injured, thousands arrested and retributions against people or businesses found to have been sympathetic.
During the past 12 months we have seen continued protests, with tear gas and water cannon used on residential streets every night for some 2 months in some cities, and sporadically ever since. More water cannon tanks are on order as protests are regularly and heavy-handedly stifled by the government.
The death of one 14 year old, after 9 months in a coma from being hit in the head by a police gas cannister, sparked more protests. But the prime minister said he was ‘a terrorist’ and just last week questioned why people wanted to mark his ‘anniversary’ – saying basically ‘he has gone, that’s old news’.
And then in December, a massive graft inquiry went public, implicating high level officials and government ministers and their families. These were met with purges of thousands of senior and ranking police, judiciary. Laws were changed all over the place, Twitter and YouTube banned until recently, and the separation of powers from executive to judiciary practically severed.
Local municipal elections in March were dominated by national politics. Mass rallies were held with thousands and thousands of government supporters bused in from across the country. In the end, you never even knew who the ‘local’ politician standing for election even was. In Istanbul, all ferries were free for supporters to get to rallies, and others had to pay, or found there was no room to board. The government won handsomely – a surprise ‘result’, not.
It took weeks for the ‘official’ results to be announced, with rigging objections galore falling on deaf ears. Images of burned ballot papers, sacks of opposition ballot papers found behind polling stations and a number of deaths did little to settle things down.
More recently, a mining disaster that left 301 dead was another bone of contention, with the ‘dont blame us’ government response and ‘these things happen’ within a couple of hours of the first dead being brought to the surface. The fact that we have the highest death rate in the industry, by many times over, and only Turkey, Pakistan, and Afghanistan not having signed up to international mining standards having apparently nothing to do with it.
Images of the prime minister slapping a protester, and his aid repeatedly kicking a mourner during a visit to the grieving town have, yet again, done little to bring the dangerously polarized nation together.
And so to today, the anniversary of the events at Gezi Park. Some 25,000 riot police and 50 water cannon are on the streets of Istanbul. All the ferries from the Asian side to the European side of the city, and therefore to Taksim Square (and Gezi), have been cancelled. Masses of undercover police are everywhere – but bizarrely, all wearing the same identical backpacks, lol.
Presidential elections are in some 10 weeks time; but we pretty well know the result. We are probably a nation undergoing gradual change, but this weekend is unlikely to be the turning point – that may be some time off; the government appear to pretty well have a handle on the army (after mass ‘coup trials’), the police, judiciary and media.
Oh and did you see, a CNN International live report was stopped by security police just a couple of hours ago, and the reporters detained. Democracy is never boring in this part of the world…