Taksim Square, situated in the European Part of Istanbul, is considered as the heart of modern Istanbul. Taksim is an important transportation hub and it is a popular destination both for tourists and the native population. Taksim Square is also a favorite location for public events such as parades, celebrations or other social gatherings.
Cumulative burden of traffic and more crowded streets for years necessitated a renovation and a project called ‘Pedestrianising Taksim Square’ was proposed by Metropolitan Municipality of Istanbul. The project was approved on 16th Sep 2011 in Municipal Assembly (composed of the members of both governing and opposition parties) by consensus. Reconstruction of historical Military Baracks (from Ottoman times) that will replace some parts of green area called Gezi Park is one of the components of the project. Environment activists carried out many campaigns in order to stop construction of a building on the park.
The project was put into practice in October, 2012 and proceeded smoothly until the end of May 2013 when transfer of a few trees from Gezi Park to another part of Istanbul started. On 28th May, about 50 environmentalists started camping in Gezi Park to stop intended changes in the park. Use of teargas by police on the environmentalist protestors was the first wave to activate more people to join camping in the park. A second attempt by police to the group on 31st May set the fire and almost 10000 people gathered in Taksim, protesting the project.
Social media was faster and stronger than we thought and although central conventional media didn’t mention about those thousands of people gathered in Taksim, almost all parts of the country became aware of protests. Ongoing efforts by anti-riot forces to disperse thousands of people and increasing number of injuries related to the use of water cannons and teargas strengthened the public support to the civil protestors.
Some kind of friendly speech from the government could have a sedative effect on the protestors. However, the speech of Prime Minister criticizing the protestors on 1st June changed the scope of protests from an environmental campaign to an anti-governmental public outcry. Topic was no more only the Gezi Park. According to our observations, we can say that, most of the young people who joined the first huge meeting on 31st May had never been a part of political movements before. They were there to support environmentalists and freedom to speech. But, the profile of the crowd changed gradually and more political slogans were heard through the following days of the outcry. Protests were not only in Istanbul anymore, these were happening in every parts of the country.
Protestors were mainly members of Generation Y, who show increased use of communication, media and digital technologies. When compared to their parents, these young people had a different sense of humor which helped them in stimulating more people. They have produced hundreds of caricatures that symbolized another characteristic of the Y Generation: ‘Being more open-minded in controversial topics’
In 2 weeks of time, protests turned out to be merely political demonstrations to oppose the politics of ruling party. At the end of 2nd week, ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) developed a strategy to arrange meetings in the capital city Ankara and then in Istanbul successively. These 2 ‘Respect to Democracy’ meetings were accepted to be the start of their campaigns for local elections in upcoming spring 2014. It is estimated that more than 500000 people attended Prime Minister’s Istanbul meeting. Anti-governmental protests on one side and the start of ruling party’s campaigns on the other, the country was dragged to an ‘election climate’ which will open more channels to be opportunities for further discussions.
Government officers leaded by Prime Minister and his deputies, arranged round table discussions with people including influential figures who support the protests. After listening to demands and requests, Prime Minister announced an important decision, which is carrying out a referendum in Istanbul for the details of the project.
It is important not to forget to note that, medical professionals and medical students undertook outstanding responsibilities during demonstrations. Because of the actions taken by anti-riot forces and with the effect of crowded streets, there were many examples where people couldn’t find opportunities to reach emergency departments. Young doctors and medical students were on the field to help people who needed emergent medical care. They didn’t only cure the public, but many times did the same for police officers. Unfortunately, we heard some examples where medical volunteers were affected by the action of anti-riot forces. Young Doctors Platform tried to influence the policy makers in Turkey, to guarantee the inviolability of people who provide medical support. At the same time young doctors and medical students learned to make their symbols more visible to the police and public.
Results and Lessons Learned:
It is estimated that almost 2.5 million people across the country attended the demonstrations and protests that started in Gezi Park. We were really happy to see the public reflex towards environmental and humanitarian issues. Turkey, a politically and economically stable country who has started negotiations with European Union in 2005, should analyze every step of this public event and dissect some lessons. Turkey has a long way to go and Turkey’s increments in the practice of democracy should be carefully protected. On the other hand, characteristics of different generations and their behavioral pattern should be taken into consideration for a modern government style in the country.
Young doctors practiced the role of medical staff in such acute public emergencies and learned a lot. This was not a topic in our agenda but we previously heard about ‘Healthcare in danger’ discussions of our colleagues from different parts of the world. Practice and policies of Young Doctors in Turkey can be good examples to be reflected on.
Last, but not the least; there is no doubt that the future of Turkey will include better civil constitution where peaceful demonstration by the public will not face that much excessive force from the police.