01 May, 2008


Update (12:55pm): eventually a group made it to my sokak and up onto Cumhuriyet. According to the a friend they were only allowed to get to Pangalti this morning. The crowd here just drifted towards Taksim and away a few times before being chased by riot police firing tear gas. Not bad here, but I did have to close the windows. It's provided quite a show for me and the neighbors...Spoke to soon....they just gassed our street.

It's May 1, or May Day, International Labor Day and in Istanbul the police have been out crushing plans by labor unions to march on the city's central Taksim Square. Şişli is very near where I live and is where I used to work. It's never comfortable to watch television coverage of police rounding people up, firing tear gas canisters and using water cannons on crowds and especially so when you know exactly where they're doing it - in front of shops you frequent, on streets you walk. Protests in Taksim have been banned since 1977, when unidentified gunmen fired into a crowd of May Day protesters in Taksim, leading to the deaths of some 40 people. The gunmen were never identified, but accusations included collusion with the police and agents of the "deep state". Every year brings some level of unrest and violence. Last year the were small barricades erected and burned in Taksim by so-called anarchists and plenty of people beaten by police. A Turkish friend who planned to march said people were meeting at three locations to march on the square. The unionists said they would come bearing carnations to present to the police. All this week the police and city and national government warned of threats received from unnamed "provocateurs," including Molotov cocktails and other weapons. The claimed they were unable to mobilize to protect protesters in a space as open as Taksim, however they seem to be able to mobilize to shut down and cordon off the square today and crush the beginnings of the march in Şişli. I'm sure some Turkish friends will claim I don't understand because I'm not Turkish, a familiar way to shut down discussion on many topics. A friend working on Istiklal reported that police are mobilizing at Odakule, towards the Tunel end of the street. So, I am listening to a helicopter buzz the nearby neighborhood, chatting online with a friend who lives nearby who reported rioting on her tiny sokak, as the Şişli protesters scattered and tried to regroup, and watching images from this morning in Şişli on television: union officials grabbed from head offices and arrested by throngs of police dressed in stormtrooper-like protective gear, people crouching in the streets to stay in position under water cannon blasts, police shaking batons over their heads and firing many rounds of gas canisters after fleeing protesters. Oddly, my neighborhood, along Cumhuriyet, is rather quiet and it's a normal, lovely spring day - cars on the street, people going about their business, the sounds of daily routine can be heard. You would never know what's going on less than half a kilometer away. Seems like the plan was to end it before it even began. The police helicopter is now buzzing over Dolapdere and just made a low pass overhead. We'll see if anybody makes it to Taksim.


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