On May 28, a small group of environmentalists began to camp out in Gezi Park in Taksim Square to prevent its demolition as part of a city redevelopment plan under which the park would be razed for the construction of a replica of an 19th century Ottoman barracks that would house a shopping mall and luxury residences. The peaceful sit-in, which by then had attracted several hundreds, was crushed on the morning of May 31 when police attacked tents in a dawn crackdown, spraying protesters sleeping in tents with tear gas and hitting some of them with gas canisters.
Outraged by the police brutality, people started to flood into Taksim Square but the crowd was different this time; it was not made up of the usual activists but the educated, white-collar İstanbullus, most of whom were taking to the streets for the very first time in their lives to join a civil protest. Yet, the police continued to respond with excessive use of force, triggering heavy clashes in downtown İstanbul that quickly spread to all major cities. In one of the iconic moments of the protests, thousands of people crossed the Bosporus on foot to join the protests on the European side of İstanbul early in the morning of June 1. Later in the afternoon, the police retreated from Taksim, letting tens of thousands of demonstrators enter the closed-off square. That was the beginning of the “occupation” of Gezi Park, until it was cleared again by the police using tear gas, batons and water cannons on June 15. Sporadic clashes continued across Turkey in the following days but they subsided and gradually the Gezi Park protests came to an end.
The toll from the protests, in which 3.5 million people participated in almost all Turkey’s provinces, is high: Five people, including a policeman, were killed; about 8,000 people were injured, some of whom lost an eye after being hit by gas canisters; and about 5,000 people were detained in connection with the protests.
But the political ramifications have been even bigger……