This morning, Turkish police surrounded protesters in Taksim Gezi park, the central square in Istanbul, blocked all exits and attacked them with chemical sprays and teargas.
An Occupy-style movement has taken off in Istanbul. The ostensible issue of conflict is modest. Protesters started gathering in the park on 27 May, to oppose its demolition as part of a redevelopment plan. But this is more than an environmental protest. It has become a lightning conductor for all the grievances accumulated against the government.
The occupiers adapted and started to wear homemade gas masks. More importantly, they called for solidarity. In April, a Justice and Development party (AKP) leader warned that the liberals who had supported them in the last decade would no longer do so.
This was as good a sign as any that the repression would increase, as the neoliberal Islamist party forced through its modernisation agenda.
Under the AKP, Turkey has been increasing its relative autonomy from traditional supporters in the White House and Tel Aviv, forging close relations with Iran, Hezbollah and even – until recently – President Assad of Syria. This has been interpreted, hysterically, as “neo-Ottomanism”. It is simply an assertion of Turkey’s new power.
Thus strengthened, the government is on the offensive. It has never needed the left or the labour movement, which it has repressed. It no longer needs the liberals, as its attacks on women’s reproductive rights, and its imposition of alcohol-free zones, show.
This is the context in which a struggle over a small park in a congested city centre has become an emergency for the regime, and the basis for a potential Turkish spring.