Back to Taksim again
It took three years, a lot of casualties and a desperate coup attempt to open Taksim Square to the masses in Istanbul. Since the Gezi Park protests in 2013, the police presence in the Taksim area had almost discouraged every citizen, who ended up bypassing Taksim. This year, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attacks made it even worse. Taksim had become a no-go zone for Turks and visitors alike. Things changed after July 15.
Justice and Development Party (AK Party) supporters have been holding democracy rallies every night since the July 15 failed coup attempt. Taksim is one of their favorite venues in Istanbul. But when the main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), decided to have a daytime rally in the square on July 24, police immediately went back to their factory settings. More security and steel barriers were present in the square than ever before. Nobody really could care less at this point. Hundreds of thousands poured into Taksim Square to sing, chant and celebrate the very existence of democracy, shouting: “No to dictatorship! No to coups!” The CHP’s rally was a big success.
As I was getting ready for the CNN Türk broadcast, an American couple that was passing by asked me why the secularist party was supporting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the government. “Because, it is the rule of democracy,” I said. “They may dislike Erdoğan and the AK Party government but the CHP has suffered under military rule more than any other party. They know they would be the first ones to be taken to prison. That is the rule of center-right coup attempts in Turkey.” “But this crowd could have easily supported the military 10 years ago,” said the woman. “Most likely,” I replied, “But they have changed and that is a good thing.”
Since the bloody 1977 May Day Protests, Taksim has been a “holy” place for Turkey’s leftists. Now, their monopoly is over and Turkey’s conservatives also have a fond memory of the area. For the first time since the 2013 Gezi Park protests, Taksim Square is everyone’s precious place now. That square, that building, those trees and yes Gezi Park, witnessed history once again and it is our common history.
Kadir Has University Vice President and daily Sabah columnist Prof. Dr. Hasan Bülent Kahraman told me it would be a better idea to have more and versatile crowds in the squares than less. He called the concept “Agoracraxi” and said that the masses would be the ones that shape democracy, so the CHP better act quickly and claim its space there. On Sunday, there were leftist, feminists, LGBT supporters and conservatives present in Taksim, singing “Ciao Bella” hand-in-hand.
As the evening approached, the AK Party supporters started filling the square that the CHP was vacating. The Erdoğanists started picking up the “no coup” signs that were left on the grass by the CHP followers. It was as if a relay race was taking place and they were handing the baton to each other. From this, maybe we can start all over again and try to build a “more perfect union.”
But the caveat remains intact. If the soldiers arrested are forced and tortured into making statements, if non-Gülenists are also dumped into this bag just like the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer trials, if teenage military school students are kept and threatened to admit things they did not know, all this may turn into a black night that lasts forever.