On the night of April 30th in the Haiga Eirene, a fourth century basilica turned into a museum, I was sitting next to Michael Watt, one of the owners of London’s famous jazz club Ronnie Scott’s, who was there to watch the great concert for International Jazz Day, in which some 40 world class musicians from 26 countries took the stage; from Herbie Hancock, who also presented the show, to Hugh Masekela, from Anat Cohen to Esmeralda Spalding and Joss Stone. It was perhaps a once in a lifetime performance. But at the afterparty, the diplomats of the Turkish Foreign Ministry, as the host of the event, and the Istanbul Culture and Arts Foundation (İKSV) people had already started to get prepared for the next morning’s mayhem. It was for the same reason that Watt was told by the reception desk of his hotel (in the touristic Taksim district) that he’d better leave the hotel early in the morning for an afternoon flight;
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government had warned the trade unions earlier in the day that no Labour Day celebrations would be allowed in Taksim Square because of the safety hazard of a massive construction work going on for months.
Some of the unions agreed with the situation and shifted their rallies elsewhere, some did not with the justification that Taksim has a particular meaning since 34 people were killed there, mostly in a crush back in 1977 when – still – unidentified people opened fire on hundreds and thousands of demonstrators there.
Despite the fact that public transportation, including the ferries shuttling between European and Asian banks of the Bosporus, were blocked by the government, those mostly left wing trade unions and opposition groups attempted to go to Taksim but were stopped by the police (some 27,000) with water cannons, tear gas (a total of 2,000 capsules were used) and baton charge. Among those wounded was Gürsel Tekin, a deputy chairman for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) who told reporters before being hospitalized that the police sprayed the pepper gas into his eyes despite the fact that he declared his identity as a member of Parliament.
It is the same Erdoğan government which made the Labor Day a national holiday and nowadays is working on an important domestic peace project by initiating a dialogue to bring an end to Turkey’s painful Kurdish problem. It is also the same government which is expected to finalize two huge international bids tomorrow; the second nuclear power plant of Turkey and the third airport (to be one of the biggest in the world) for Istanbul. The first underwater railroad crossing is about to be completed to allow uninterrupted cargo traffic between Beijing and London an alternative to northern route over Russia.
There are certain things moving forward in Turkey, which is good. But for an overall upgrade of quality of life in Turkey more improvements in the field of democracy, such as more freedom of expression and demonstration are needed, too.