ISTANBUL – Anti-government protests in Istanbul’s Gezi Park came to an abrupt
end on Saturday night, as police riot-control vehicles moved into the
During the first of the two “Respect to National Will” rallies
planned for the weekend in Ankara and Istanbul, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan gave an ultimatum to protesters to clear Gezi Park, where protests raged
for the 19th day.
The Taksim Solidarity movement, organizer of the
initial protests against the demolition of the park to enable the construction
of a replica Ottoman-era barracks, defied the ultimatum and repeated its call
for a counter-meeting in Taksim, where they expected to gather “one million
Within three hours of Erdogan’s televised warning, Istanbul
police raided the park, clearing it of all protesters in under an hour, using
tear gas and water cannons.
Claudia Roth, co-head of the German Green
Party and a member of parliament, was among those in the park. She described the
scene to Reuters as “war-like,” adding that “we tried to escape and the police
During the clashes, Roth and hundreds of protesters took
refuge in the nearby five-star hotel Divan, which houses a makeshift first-aid
infirmary that was set up during the initial clashes.
After a tense
stand-off between the police and the protesters in the hotel, the riot police
sprayed tear gas through the gates in the lobby in order to force the protesters
to come out.
Several medical personnel in the infirmary were arrested
overnight for not having obtained proper licenses to treat patients, according
to the Turkish Medical Association.
It issued an “urgent call” to the
World Health Organization and World Medical Association to condemn the arrest of
In its statement, TMA said that “the police
forces are using chemical gases savagely on the unprotected civil masses... Over
11,000 people declared that they have been affected by the
Appealing to the government to stop the use of excessive force and
initiate a prompt investigation into allegations of abuse, TMA claimed that
“data shows that the gas bombs were targeting the people.
Many of them
[have] injuries of [the] head, face, eyes, thorax and abdomen which could be
One of many Istanbul residents affected by heavy tear gas is the
author of this report.
I reside in an area close to Taksim Square, the
ground zero of the widespread demonstrations in the country.
night in the area was marked by sounds of explosion from stun grenades and
tear-gas canisters, loud chants and slogans, as well as the occasional screaming
of the protesters trying to avoid being trampled when pushed back by police
At 4:15 a.m. on Sunday morning, while I was sleeping, the windows
of my apartment were shattered by two tear-gas grenades launched by the police
squad stationed against a row of buildings in the direction of my second-story
Soon after being startled by the loud noise, I noticed the thick,
toxic white gas quickly permeating the apartment. As a feeling of intense nausea
and asphyxiation hit, I abandoned the apartment within seconds, coming out into
a street that resembled an urban battle zone, with police in armored vehicles
chasing the demonstrators away from the Taksim area.
I received minor
skin burns during my escape. Nausea lingers on, more than 12 hours after the
incident, but all other symptoms of gas intoxication dissipated within three
hours of exposure.
In that time frame, most attempts at calling the
police or the fire department were unanswered.
Each time I could speak, I
was told somebody would come soon, but after more than two hours of waiting in a
state of pain while inhaling more tear gas, no one showed up.
was able to attract the attention of the riot police, who were busy firing more
tear-gas shells at the demonstrators, but they refused to help with medical
issues. Eventually, I used my own means to get my medical needs attended to,
after reaching safety outside the clash zone.
On Sunday, Prime Minister
Erdogan held his second rally with hundreds of thousands of AKP supporters in
the Istanbul neighborhood of Kazlicesme. Erdogan defended the use of force
against Gezi protesters and accused the Western media, specifically naming CNN
and BBC, of conducting one-sided reporting and ignoring his rallies, “where the
real image of Turkey is to be seen.”
Turkey’s Minister of EU Affairs
Egemen Bagıs also issued a warning to protesters, saying, “After this hour,
anyone at the Gezi Park will be considered a member of a terrorist organization
by the state.”
However, as of Sunday evening, clashes continued in many
of Istanbul, including all those bordering Taksim, with the
gendarmerie, part of the armed forces, joining the riot police.
also continued in other cities.
The Confederation of Trade Unions of
Public Service and the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions of Turkey –
which, together, have over half a million members across Turkey – called for a
general strike on Monday.
Uncertainty looms. Many ordinary Turkish
citizens are worried that the decades-old divisions over the country’s identity
are manifesting themselves increasingly through hostile rhetoric in the public
realm and mass demonstrations frequently met with excessive use of force.Igal Aciman is a business development executive and a free-lance journalist. His blog can viewed at www.igalaciman.com