Istanbul celebrates glorious May Day in Taksim Square
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 5/1/2011 12:00:00 AM | İPEK YEZDANİ
The site of violent clashes in previous years, Istanbul's Taksim Square hosted a massive and peaceful celebration of May Day on Sunday.
The site of violent clashes in previous years, Istanbul’s Taksim Square hosted a massive and peaceful celebration of May Day on Sunday as hundreds of thousands rallied and danced to political songs by popular music groups.
Opening to Labor Day rallies last year for the first time in 32 years, the symbolic square drew hundreds of thousands of workers, laborers, civil servants and students, who chanted slogans, sang the “May Day March” and danced to the music of bands such as Grup Yorum and Kardeş Türküler, who incorporate left-wing political messages in many of their songs.
Trade unions, political parties and nongovernmental organizations marched onto the square from four different directions, Şişli, Dolmabahçe, Mete Street and Şişhane, to join the colorful celebrations led by Turkey’s largest labor confederation, Türk-İş, the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions, or DİSK, and the trade union of civil servants, KESK.
A large stage was set up in Taksim Square for the speeches of the labor union leaders and the concerts.
People carried hundreds of different placards and banners and hung pictures of Marx, Engels and Lenin on the square. A large picture of a worker with chains on his hands was also hung on the Atatürk Cultural Center, or AKM – the same image hung on May Day 1977, when Taksim became the scene of a bloody massacre in which at least 34 people died.
This year, police forces largely stayed away from the square, leaving security primarily up to the labor unions organizing the event. There was no repeat of clashes from years past.
The square has had symbolic significance for workers and the political left since it had been closed to such rallies after 1978. It was only last year that the square was opened to workers again, something they had demanded for many years.
[HH] Women with headscarves
Members of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and socialist parties such as the Freedom and Solidarity Party, or ÖDP, were unsurprising sights at the May Day celebrations, as they have been participating in the May Day festivities for a long time.
This year, however, they were joined by members of the People’s Voice Party, or HSP, founded by Islamic-rooted politician Numan Kurtulmuş. Members of the group carried posters saying, “We want a deputy with a headscarf” and “Say no to subcontracted labor.” Party members attending the celebration included women wearing headscarves and young people wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the image of revolutionary Che Guevara.
Barbaros Risal, a young member of the party, said he has socialist views but feels close to the HSP. “Being left-wing means being on the side of the oppressed ones. In this context our rhetoric is no different from the Communist Party’s rhetoric,” said Risal.
Journalists demanding press freedom were also among the groups celebrating May Day in Taksim Square. “As journalists we are subjected to a lot of oppression in Turkey. Now we are here to voice our demand for press freedom and for the release of our colleagues who are in prison just because of their journalistic activities,” said Elif Ilgaz, a journalist who is a member of the group “Friends of Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener,” named after two recently arrested reporters.
Some Arab trade union leaders from Middle Eastern countries also attended the May Day celebrations in Istanbul.
[HH] May Day notes from Taksim Square
- The May Day festivities were full of joyful celebrating and were generally peaceful except for a couple of minor events. Many people came to the festivities with their children.
- Supporters of the two major rival football clubs, Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray, marched in the May Day parade together.
- Members of the gay and lesbian associations were some of the most eye-catching groups in the crowd with their colorful outfits.
- Nil Gülsüm, a headscarf-wearing deputy candidate for the People’s Voice Party, or HSP, founded by the Islamic-rooted politician Numan Kurtulmuş, marched in the May Day rally wearing a red headscarf and carrying a red carnation in her hand.
- It took 18 days to make the banner of the “worker with his chains,” a replica of the one hung on May Day 1977, when Taksim Square became the scene of a bloody massacre in which at least 34 people died.
- Some people marching with the Turkish Green Party dyed their faces green.
- Some students marched with placards and banners protesting the alleged cheating scandal on the university entrance exam.