31 Mar ’14
Protesters gathered in Istanbul’s Taksim Square June 1st, 2013, in response to the escalating citywide riots and numerous violent clashes between citizens and police in Turkey. The protests began on May 27th as an environmentalist gathering inGezi Park, a park in Taksim square, to show their disapproval of the governments plan to turn the park into a strip mall; things escalated from there with more and more people joining each day to show their discontentment of miscellaneous government actions, primarily their accused Islamic agenda. It is estimated that over 3.5 million people participated in these protests; just two weeks into the protests, 5 were killed by police, over 8,000 were injured, and thousands of arrests were made—these numbers continued to rise as the protests went on. The TaksimSquare protests quickly became the largest political demonstration in Turkish history. Facebook and other social media sites were used to spread the message and encourage further demonstrations around the country, not just in Istanbul. Taksim Square is another example of the political impact of social media; the work that Facebook and Twitter did in Turkey during this time is similar to how it was used to spread the Arab Spring across a number of Arab nations, beginning in 2010.
Days after the protests began, CNN reporter Nate Hoveereported it as the “first clear sign of victory accomplished by the Turkish people, for the Turkish people, in over 10 years.” However, although the protests seemed like a step towards freedom in Turkey—the nation is currently categorized by Freedom House as “partly free,” just a small step above the freedom experienced in China, Syria, or Iran—once they were dispersed there have been no protests to this scale in Turkey; not even when the Prime Minister banned YouTube and Twitter or when it was reported that his political party embezzled millions of dollars. Taksim Square had a lasting impact on Turkish society—although not necessarily a beneficial impact because nothing major was accomplished within the government except for stricter regulations—and demonstrated, for the first time, that Turkish people are willing to stand up for their rights when they believe it worth it.
As I write this blog on looking back on Taksim Square, Turkish citizens are simultaneously voting in municipal elections, the first national elections since Takism Square. These elections have been surrounded by controversy, corruption, and outrageous social media bans. According toDimitar Bechev at the European Council on Foreign Relations, in a statement I obtained from Europe Online Magazine, the current Prime Minister and his party is expected to win this election, regardless of unfavorable public opinion. Whether or not this actually happens is a discussion for another time.