Erdoğan shooting himself in the foot
For the last two years Labor Day celebrations have no longer been a source of political tension in Turkey as in the past. It was Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government which declared May Day a National holiday for labor, opening Istanbul’s Taksim Square back up to demonstrations. Taksim Square was the scene of tragedy back in 1977 when 34 people were killed, mostly crushed in the crowd when still unidentified people opened fire on hundreds and thousands of workers and demonstrators gathered there.
It is true that there has been massive construction work going on around Taksim which might be a safety risk for masses to gather there. It is true that some trade unions were insisting perhaps too much on having the rally in Taksim, as an apex of symbolism. But the government could have taken precautions in the months leading up to May 1st in cooperation with the unions to have a safe rally there.
Instead, Erdoğan was determined not to let the masses gather in the heart of Istanbul; possibly due to worries that the Labor Day rally could turn into a rally against the government by opposition groups.
Some 27,000 policemen were mobilized in order to stop demonstrators from rallying to Taksim. Public transportation, including metro, city buses and ferries and boats commuting between the European and Asian banks of the Bosphorus were suspended.
Police used water cannons, tear gas and baton charge in order to disperse the crowds. In Beşiktaş district, where Erdoğan’s Istanbul office is, the police intervened to the rally group of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in one of the worst cases on May Day. Gürsel Tekin, a deputy chairman for the party told reporters that the police sprayed gas in his face despite the fact that he declared his identity as a member of Parliament; later on he was hospitalized.
At the end of the day, the picture is not a bright one for Erdoğan who is actually taking promising steps for domestic peace by initiating a dialogue process to bring an end to Turkey’s chronic Kurdish problem.
Freedom of expression and demonstration for all groups in a society are important for domestic peace, too.