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CP contributor reports from the ground on unrest in Turkey

Editor's Note

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contributor currently in Turkey sends the following report. The contributor has asked to remain anonymous to avoid reprisals.

9:30 PM, Istanbul A week ago, a small group of demonstrators started gathering in Taksim square, sitting on the ground with signs. They were protesting the destruction of Gezi Park, one of few remaining public green spaces in the heart of Istanbul, which was slated to be built up as an Ottoman-style army barracks housing yet another shopping center in the area. My brother and I passed the group on Wednesday, noting an armored Panzer vehicle mounted with a water cannon and a group of policemen off to the side of the gathering. On Friday we realized the situation had escalated when Metro service to Taksim, and our adjacent stop, Osmanbey, had been canceled. We learned that the Taksim protest, which was first perceived by some Turks as an environmental cause, had grown in size. It was not comprised of "tree huggers," but of people with varying ideologies who wanted to prevent a valued space from being taken by the government for commercial use without any input on what the public wanted. The move to destroy the park, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, now in his tenth year in office, was viewed as an offensive decision in his increasingly authoritarian reign. Even more offensive are the developments surrounding this decision. That day, the crowd of peaceful demonstrators was violently forced from Taksim square and down the pedestrian street with an excessively heavy use of tear gas and water cannons. Tear gas canisters were fired out of gun-like launchers directly at people's bodies, injuring many, taking out eyes, and reportedly caused a fatal heart attack. Afterwards the ground was covered in a blanket of used gas canisters. The previous day, police had also started an assault against an encampment in Gezi Park itself, where officials set tents on fire and  used water cannons and tear gas to drive out demonstrators. The outraged protesters and public were not calmed by Erdoğan's TV address later that night, but revived. As he was broadcasted at two in the morning, my brother and I heard clanging outside. Our neighbors were leaning out of their windows banging on pots and pans, waving Turkish flags, and flashing their apartment lights on and off in protest. A crowd started gathering in the square below our balcony and we decided to join, pots and wooden spoons in hand. The group yelled chants like "Tayyip İstifa!" (Tayyip, resign!), sang songs, and rallied passing vehicles. It was apparent that though the day was brutal, spirits were high. The group started marching, and we followed up the street to gather around the neighborhood police station. The police here watched calmly, one sipping tea with his automatic rifle in hand. We continued around the block to a main street, where a barrier had been constructed from granite sidewalk tiles and tree planters. By four we decided to go home. Luckily our march was not met by police force, but elsewhere the violence has continued, and intensified. The news media, intimidated by the Turkish government's harsh treatment of critical journalists, has failed to accurately report the extent of the brutality against the public. Though Taksim is now held by demonstrators, clashes are still going on in other areas of the city, and across the country. Police continue to use profuse amounts of tear gas, so much that their supply is running low and they have resorted to using expired gas canisters, which are even more dangerous than non-expired ones. The burning gas clouds even reached our neighborhood, at least a mile from the conflict zones. Rubber bullets have been used, police are attempting to enter homes, universities, and restaurants sheltering demonstrators, and are tear-gassing them. A destroyed police vehicle was reportedly found to contain an AK-47, a weapon not used by the Turkish military, allegedly to be planted as evidence against protestors. A friend shared a story of someone being beaten to death last night by extremists of Erdoğan's political party, the AKP, and it's getting worse. The media has not been reporting much of this. CNN Türk broadcasted a three-part penguin documentary the other night as riots raged and CNN International broadcast the street coverage. People are relying on social media to learn what is going on. There are scores of videos and photographs showing unbelievable footage, meanwhile Erdoğan is still calling the people's media "a nuisance" and the many crowds of people standing up to the injustice "fringe groups and extremists." On the contrary, the people standing up are all ages, all income levels, with various religions and ideologies, and they are attempting to uphold the existing principles of their democratic country. Despite the opposition, and the perception that Erdoğan is losing control, the people are doubtful that the stubborn leader will come around.  On Saturday he appeared to be unfazed, saying "The Taksim project will go ahead. If you bring 100,000, I'll bring out a million." On Monday perhaps he was losing patience when reporters asked whether he understood the message from the public, and he responded saying, "What is the message? I want to hear it from you." The people of Turkey are strong, they are fighting, they are taking care of their wounded brothers and sisters, they are spontaneously chanting and clapping in the streets, waving flags, they are laughing and honking their horns, and they are not stopping for Erdoğan. As a Turk, and an American, I hope that the people of this country get the support they deserve in their fight toward justice. Right now they are blaring horns and cheering outside, and they will continue to, I hope, until they prevail.

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