The Battle for Taksim

On 11 June 2013, after nearly two weeks of sustained anti-government protests across the country, Turkish riot police were ordered to clear Taksim square, the place where the protests had started. In the beginning, the authorities claimed that they wanted to enter the square to remove offensive flags and propaganda from statues and buildings where they had been hung by protesters. It quickly became apparent, however, that this wasn't going to be a straightforward undertaking.

Having missed the dawn raid itself, I only arrived in the square at around mid-day. Over the next several hours he watched what seemed to be a carefully choreographed, but maddeningly aimless manoeuvre by the police, walking amidst large groups of peaceful protesters and clashing with a minority of stone throwers, while using endless amounts of teargas and water-canon with abandon. The fight ebbed and flowed but by the evening, as people finished work, the square filled to capacity with more peaceful protesters.

As dusk approached the atmosphere returned to its original carnival like state, only now with hundreds of heavily armed riot police surrounding the square. For a tense few hours everyone waited for the inevitable - the moment orders were given for the police to move in with teargas and water canon to once again clear the square. After a sustained barrage the square was cleared of people and filled with gas. The stampede to get out of harms way was chaotic with many people unprepared and without proper gasmasks. Teargas was fired into the middle of the crowd but also ahead of people running down side streets so they found themselves confronted with another wall of gas.

The tactics were brutal but effective, perhaps a precursor to what was to come a week or so later when the government decided to clear Gezi park adjacent to Taksim Square. The square and park may now be cleared and cleaned but many peaceful demonstrators have been left perturbed and resentful at the heavy-handedness of the authorities.

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