In Turkey in 2014, May Day was an official holiday, and yet demonstrations in Taksim were banned. They had been banned also in 2013. In June of that year, I opined that the banning had contributed to the rage that erupted in the Gezi protests.
Why would the government ban demonstrations again this year? The only reasons I can think of are suggested by my title.
May Day demonstrations were permitted in 2012, and I remember the day as a joyous occasion. Some photographs of mine should suggest this.
Workers marched to Taksim from several directions.
Many showed off their parading discipline.
Evidently people were proud and happy to march.
And why should they not have the opportunity? It is a fundamental right.
A tweet from a Turkish writer alerted me to an article of the Constitution of the Turkish Republic:
Kısım: Temel Haklar ve Ödevler
Bölüm: Kişinin Hakları ve Ödevleri
Anayasa’nın 34. Maddesi:
B. Toplantı ve Gösteri Yürüyüşü Düzenleme Hakkı
Madde 34. – Herkes, önceden izin almadan, silahsız ve saldırısız toplantı ve gösteri yürüyüşü düzenleme hakkına sahiptir.
Toplantı ve gösteri yürüyüşü hakkı ancak, millî güvenlik, kamu düzeni, suç işlenmesinin önlenmesi, genel sağlığın ve genel ahlâkın veya başkalarının hak ve özgürlüklerinin korunması amacıyla ve kanunla sınırlanabilir.
Toplantı ve gösteri yürüyüşü düzenleme hakkının kullanılmasında uygulanacak şekil, şart ve usuller kanunda gösterilir.
Here is my amateur translation, based on no actual knowledge of Turkish legal language:
Chapter: Basic Rights and Duties
Section: Personal Rights and Duties
34th Article of the Constitution:
B. Right to Organize Demonstrations and Marches
Article 34. Everybody has the right to organize a demonstration or march without weapons or violence, without taking permission.
The right of demonstrating and marching can be limited only by law, for purposes of national security, public order, prevention of crime, and protection of public health and morals or other rights and freedoms.
In the use of the right to organize demonstrations and marches, the form, condition, and method are shown in the law.
In fact the original tweet referring to this article showed only the first sentence, without the ensuing conditions:
TC Anayasa/Madde 34: Herkes, önceden izin almadan, silahsız ve saldırısız toplantı ve gösteri yürüyüşü düzenleme hakkına sahiptir.
— Yekta Kopan (@yektakopan) May 1, 2014
The ensuing conditions seem to give a lot of leeway to the government. In any case, laws are not self-promulgating or self-enforcing. The people have to decide what to make of them.
The authorities can well predict that if May Day marches are banned, then there will be public disorder. This becomes an ex post facto justification for having banned the marches. Indeed, one can never be sure how much violence is not done by agents provocateurs. The prime minister seems to thrive on confrontation. One might argue that he was embittered by being imprisoned for reciting a poem, after having been mayor of Istanbul. In any case, when he stands up to putative enemies, it only makes some people support him all the more. So I wonder if nonviolent resistance in the manner of Gandhi or King would not be the best approach to this man. On the other hand, I am aware that, to the authorities, nonviolent resisters may start to appear as reasonable people, only because there are other, violent resisters.
After some overcast days in Istanbul, May Day 2014 dawned clear. On the skyline seen from our balcony, only one building used to stand out: a hotel. Now another, taller building is going up, with more behind it.
We are a forty-minute walk from Taksim, on one of the main marching routes used in 2012. This year, 2014, the route was sealed off by the police. In the distance here are the Trump Towers. At the base of the Towers is a shopping mall. I discovered just recently that, from a subway entrance on this side of the elevated highway, you can walk underground to the mall. The tunnel also gives access to the “metrobus,” running on dedicated lanes in the middle of the elevated highway. But today the subway was inaccessible.
I crossed many blocked side streets until I found where one could pass under the elevated highway. On the other side, people seemed to be going about their usual business. At least they were trying; the people below did not understand why the police would not let them pass. I am not sure how well the police understood either. It appears many of them had been flown in from other cities in the middle of the night.
The tower on the right is the one visible from our flat. This whole complex is going up in a former athletic stadium. The stadium was open space that could have been made into a park for everybody. There is very little space around here for children to play. There are a few pocket parks here and there with jungle gyms, but nowhere to run freely. Actually today could have been a great day for running in the street.
I do not think people normally walk on this elevated highway, so I assume the ones here had been trying to reach Taksim somehow.
What did the authorities expect people to do today? Most public transportation was closed down. The road closures made our local shopping mall inaccessible by car. I call it our local mall; but it is said to be the biggest in Europe. So many foreign visitors shop there that some announcements are in English. Our students also hang out there after class. And yet, at noon on a holiday, the mall was nearly empty. Most shops were closed: workers could not get to work. Shops should be closed on International Workers’ Day. But then people should be out celebrating in the streets, and the authorities were not allowing this.
Here we are a bit closer to Taksim, one one of the side streets leading to the sealed-off marching route. The side street begins at a hospital. People who would be on the hospital grounds anyway sat on the benches, observing the protesters. The police had a TOMA down the street. When it rolled into view, looking very silly as it spewed water at the crowd, I did not get a photo; I just got back. Then some protesters started hurling rocks at the police. Here you see a fellow getting them ready. Actually I had spoken to him earlier, asking if the police were using tear gas or water. He recalled that Berkin Elvan had been killed by a gas cannister, used by the police as a projectile.
I do not know if throwing rocks at police is a wise tactic. If it is unwise, then I can only imagine that an agent provocateur is encouraging it. On the other hand, people do not need much encouragement to be foolish.
Yet again, last June, the police were driven from Taksim and Gezi Park, not, as far as I know, by purely nonviolent resistance, but by violent attacks—violent, if only to the extent of rock-throwing. (I have some photos of the aftermath.)
In any case, I did not stay long around the rock-throwing this year. I did note that when ambulances came to the hospital, the protesters made way for them.
I do not know the point of burning trash in a bin.
I suppose it is good that the terrain of Istanbul is hilly. Otherwise one might not be able to see much of the sky. This is the view from the hospital.
And this is the view from our own flat. I was sitting at my desk, sorting out my May Day photos, when I heard a commotion and saw police officers marching past on the street along the next ridge. I scrambled to get the camera working, but was too late. I did catch a cloud of tear gas—above a school.
The next day
On the afternoon of April 30, the bank headquarters near our university building was getting ready for May Day. The plate glass windows were being covered up. The cafeteria and textile shops further along the street did not seem to be worried. And on May 2, their windows were still intact. However, one establishment along my route to work did not have intact windows. It was a medical laboratory of some kind. The slogan above the empty window frames is, “An end to animal experimentation!”
An advertising display was also smashed. These things represent a theft of public space. The sidewalks are too narrow as they are.
Some recently laid paving stones had been torn up, presumably for use against the police.
If only the Prime Minister could have tolerated a May Day enjoyed by people who did not necessarily like him!