Despite seven days of protests, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that the plans for Gezi Park’s reconstruction will go on. Erdogan called the protestors “extremists” and said his security forces have arrested seven foreigners.
The Prime Minister made his statements from Tunis. He was expected to return from northern Africa Wednesday.
The protests began peacefully, and mushroomed as police violently ‘cracked down’ on the people in the park. The demonstration became a full-fledged riot.
There are people from every ethnic, racial, and religious faith defending the park against what they are calling a “dictatorship.”
Beste Yurekli is an 18 year old high school student. She is shy, not someone you would expect to be part of a protest. She and her friend insisted on cleaning up the debris at the park in Taksim Square in the evening after the police tear gassed her friends and neighbors. Her goal us to study English Literature at university; “But not here,” she said. “Somewhere else. In another country.”
She is excited about the protestors, and the unity they are displaying. “It’s everyone. For the first time it’s everyone,” she said. “All of Turkey, we are united. We are one for the first time.”
Burak Sofuoglu is 30 year old international lawyer. The base of his business is in Istanbul. Right now, he lives in the park. “I packed a bag, I brought three pairs of underwear, eight T-shirts, two pairs of shoes. I go to the Turkish baths nearby to wash. Because this is my home now.” He’s determined to stay in the square for as long as it takes. “How long? That’s not our problem,” he says. “That’s the government’s problem. I am with my friends here. I can stay for years if I have to. We don’t like this leader. Recep Tayyip Erdogan has done bad things.”
Burcak Ongur is a 44 year old working mother. She has a catering service, and gives cooking lessons. But, for now, her business is with the demonstrators. She and her husband take shifts in the park. She takes food to the others during the day, until her husband relieves her. She then goes home to her 16 year old son, and 13 year old daughter. Occasionally her son will accompany her, but because there has been violence, she will not allow her daughter to be present.
“They’re aware that this is for their future,” she says.
The protesting has become a family affair. “My parents come too. They’re both over 70,” Ongur says.
“There’s a very diverse demographic here. People from all sectors, from all religions. And many different age groups.”
Elif is 59 years old. She says she voted for Erdogan, but now regrets her decision. She is a devout Muslim and wears a scarf. She does not feel comfortable revealing her surname.
“I used to support Tayyip Erdogan, but he was a hypocrite. He’s a liar,” Elif said. “I voted for him twice, but now I wish my hand had been broken” and she had been unable to vote.
Her health kept her from joining the protestors on the first day. She said she has fond memories of Gezi Park. “When I was younger I came here to have picnics with the children,” she said. “Now, all over Istanbul I just see high-rise buildings. I can’t breathe anymore.”
Erdogan, she said, “is trying to polarize people” with his statements saying the protesters were nothing more than common troublemakers. “But as you can see, every religion is here.”
Erdogan’s term limit is up next year. He is not expected to voluntarily step down before then.
He swears that he will ignore the will of the people, and Gezi park will be replaced with the planned reconstruction project.
The Guardian Express