What is happening in Istanbul?

What is happening in Istanbul?


What are the reasons of the protests?

By Manolis Kostidis – Istanbul

“We want a sober youth” Erdogan said explaining the reasons behind passing laws that restrict alcohol

“Alcohol bans have sobered us and now we’ve woken up Mr. Prime Minister”, protestors shout in Istanbul

Protests in Istanblu’s Taksim Square, continuing for a fifth consecutive day with dozens of people injured and 60 arrests made, should not be put down to environmental activism.

Tens of thousands of Turkish citizens could not have risen up, not only in Istanbul but also in Ankara and Smyrna, for the sake of one park. There have been worse environmental disasters in the neighboring country in the past where calm prevailed soon after a few demonstrations.

It is possible something lies a lot deeper, a voice of anguish that the trees of Geza park that the municipal bulldozers wanted to tear down acting as a spark that lit the fire.

Hurriyet columnist Ahmet Hakan likened MP Sirri Sureyya Onder who stood in front of the bulldozers to stop them, to Boris Yeltsin who had climbed onto tanks, while other journalists are reminded of the Tiananmen Square protestor.

Protests grew larger and violence erupted after overreaction on behalf of the police to peaceful protests. Officers even set fire to tents demonstrators had set up.

Police has fired tens of thousands of tear gas canisters.

Now, in Pera and surrounding areas, hotels are opening their doors to protestors, shops offer free water bottles and pharmacies offer masks also free of charge. Those attending the protests say such massive support to demonstrators has never been witnessed before.


To draw a conclusion, one should perhaps observe the five latest events in Turkey in the past week. Alcohol restriction, the naming of the new Bosporus Bridge, the “kissing crisis”, Erdogan’s reference to “two drunks” and the Geza Park incident all have a political background we ought to consider.


Last Saturday, the Turkish Parliament passed a bill restricting alcohol. The new law, grocery shops, kiosks and mini-markets are prohibited from selling alcohol from 10 pm to 6 am. Anyone who wishes to have a drink at night should buy it earlier.

The law also prohibits the sale of alcohol as well as the operation of restaurants that serve alcoholic drinks within a 100 meter radius from schools, dorms and mosques. There are 81.000 mosques and 68.000 schools in Turkey!

Many in the neighboring country believe that this law interferes with their lifestyle.


Addressing his party’s parliamentary group members, Erdogan said “alcohol is the mother of all evil”, while adding that restrictions on sale, consumption and advertising of alcohol “protect the country’s youth”.

Furthermore, Erdogan posed the following question: “Why is it when two drunks propose a bill you support it and when we do it based on what our religion preaches, you dismiss it? Why?”

Erdongan’s statement was taken by the main opposition to be about Kemal Ataturk and Inonu.

Republican People’s Party Vice President, Umut Oran, called the Prime Minister to explain who the “two drunks” were. “Erdogan has an obligation to state whether or not he considers Ataturk and Inonu drunks”.

The reason such upheaval was caused are historic. In 1920 the first national assembly has banned alcohol consumption. However, in 1926 a law that freed advertising, sale and consumption of alcohol was voted. Kemal Ataturk was President and Ismet Inonu was Prime Minister at the time.


Last Saturday, 200 people kissed at the Ankara Subway defying an announcement calling passengers to act according to moral rules, after a couple had been spotted kissing by security cameras.

The opposition reacted to the incident by accusing the governing party of attempting to expand the role of Islam in Turkey. Islamist groups organized a counter demonstration, shouting “Allah is great” and attacking couples.


The name chosen by the Turkish government for the third Bosporus Bridge, the foundations of which were laid on May 29th, has caused great debate. The Turkish President announced the bridge will take the name of Sultan Selim the first. Turks call him Yavuz Sultan Selim.

However, according to Radikal newspaper, “Selim the First was on the throne eight years and his crusades in the East expanded the Ottoman Empire. He is accused of great massacres against Alevis and Shia Muslims. Giving his name to the bridge is very controversial”.

“When religious wars are going on in the Middle East shouldn’t you be more careful”, columnist Ahmet Hakan asks.

It is estimated that there are 10-15 million Alevis in Turkey and they have nothing in common with Sunni Islam where Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the majority of Turkish people belong.

Alevism is a humanistic approach to Islam. Alevis do not pray in mosques, are monogamous and are wine drinkers. The Turkish Republic brought them closer to Kemalism as it promotes the secular state. In more recent decades, however, they consider themselves to be religiously oppressed as 81.000 mosques have been built in Turkey but not one Cemevi, assembly houses where Alevi worship, singing and dancing takes place.


“Whatever you do, no matter how much you protest, we will go ahead with our plan”, Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the first protestors that gathered in Taksim Square to fight the municipality’s and the government’s plans to uproot hundreds of trees in order for a shopping center to be built that would resemble an old Ottoman military camp that used to be located there. Thousands of protestors call for the park, one of the city’s few green areas, to be maintained.

Erdogan’s words on May 29th caused skepticism. However, when on the same night police set fire to tents protestors had set up and fired tear gas at them, control was lost. As the number of demonstrators rose, so did the number of police officers.

In Pera, Istanbul’s liveliest area visited by most tourists, tear gas is fired by police every day. Protests and clashes have extended to areas such as Besiktas and Chalcedon. Now among protesters are opposition MPs, artists and actors.

Day by day the crowd gathered increases.

All these events might appear independent from each other, however, they all took place in the same week and soon after, violence erupted. The city’s mayor and the prefect argue “known groups” organize the clashes.

But something else is happening in Turkey and authorities should look into that immediately.