The 1st of May in Turkey

Published 01.05.2013 19:00
Updated 01.05.2013 19:06

Today, the 1st of May, is recognized internationally as a holiday for workers, (the international counterpart to Labor Day in the United States) a day in which workers from all over the globe are given recognition and well deserved rest. This holiday, globally celebrated with festivities and ceremonies to recognize and commemorate the working class has taken on all too much of a sinister nature here in Turkey.

Written by Tevhid Basturk

I didn't know what to expect from this day, for this being the first year I have resided in Turkey, I am yet to adapt to the culture as a whole. Throughout the week I was given a fair share of warnings from those surrounding me, advising me to avoid public city squares, for the native Istanbulites knew all too well the face this holiday has taken on here in Turkey. In Turkey, especially in Istanbul, the 1st of May is accompanied by protestors and protests rather than by celebration. These protests often turn violent and lead to the destruction of the streets they use as venues. Today was no exception to these expectations.

The 1st of May in Turkey…

When I heard the warnings and stories from the protests in the years past, I was skeptical and thought of them as exaggerations; but today I witnessed with my own eyes the violence with which the protestors greeted the police force that was standing on guard attempting to keep the event as orderly as possible.

The Events of Today…

Today as fate would have it I found myself in Mecidiyeköy, a crowded city square in Istanbul. What I saw there not only surprised me, but also left me appalled. Here I found myself surrounded by ill willed political protestors, who as it seemed prepared for the repercussions of their actions with their faces already covered many bearing projectiles, and the Istanbul riot prevention task force. These were not like the peaceful protestors that I had seen on Wall Street in New York the summer before last, for at Wall Street, the protestors were confident in the nobility of their actions, and they certainly were not armed. But instead here I saw a crowd, carrying various political banners, shouting slurs and curses to the officers.

What surprised me just as much as the protestors were the police force stationed to prevent the potential break out of a riot. They stood in rank, disciplined, and unresponsive to the verbal assault that they were receiving, the very same verbal assault one could be convicted for in the United States. As the time passed the aggression of the protestors escalated further, and soon they began to throw the projectiles they brought with them, along with the stones and pieces of the sidewalk they dislodged from the surrounding sidewalks. It was then and only then after being assaulted physically with projectiles that the police force responded. The response I witnessed was one of a very mild nature, there was no surge into the protesting crowd, nor was there any use of excessive force, but rather the only response undertaken was to disperse the crowd and restore order in what was quickly becoming the scene of an impending riot. The Istanbul Police force responded calmly, composedly and mildly in comparison to the NYPD in how they dealt with the Wall Street protestors. The use of tear gas, or pepper spray, didn't occur today until it was used to restore the order that had been disrupted as a consequence of what was unarguably aggravated assault committed by the protesting parties; the same crime, aggravated assault on a police officer, is a serious criminal offence in the United States. It was not until the police in Mecidiyeköy were seriously threatened and assaulted that they turned to confront the malicious protestors.

Around the City…

The event I describe above was not isolated to one area of the city, but rather spread out over the major city centers of the city. Police in Beşiktaş faced similar problems with the protestors, as the frenzied crowed targeted not only police, but also neighboring shops, businesses, and vehicles. There was even an incidence of protestors setting fire to a vehicle that was harmlessly parked in their vicinity. It didn't matter what square the altercation took place today, for the story was the same throughout. Protestors assaulted police offices, vandalized the public sidewalks and local properties, and the police responded with tear gas as a means of riot prevention and self defense.

At the end of the Day…

Here looking back in perspective, the "celebrations" of the 1st of May workers' holiday here in Istanbul today could be called protests, but rather malicious and misleading acts of a political nature, intended to provoke the riot prevention task forces into conflict. This was evident in the clarity of fore planning of the protestors, who came geared for combat which was fully reflected by their conduct in various areas of the city today. The Istanbul Police were commendable for how they dealt with the issue, their patience in dealing with the chants, slurs and curses that were aimed in their direction, and how they acted reasonably to restore order, after and only after the frenzied crowds began acting upon their aggressive intents.

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