“We are not leaving the square until the government resigns,” my friend writes to me from Taksim square.
She is a brave lady and her believe she will stay as long as she can. She is in Istanbul where, for the past few days, police have been engaged in a brutal crackdown against protesters after what started as a peaceful sit-in against further urban development in the city was violently dispersed by state forces.
Empty tear gas canisters litter the streets, these streets already soaked with water from the canons deployed by armored police as they rushed against those campaigning for a greener home. Thousands have so far been injured in the clashes according to the Turkish Doctors Association, while the image of a woman allegedly killed yesterday when a tear gas canister hit her on the side of the head is being shared online.
For many of those demonstrating, such an aggressive reaction to their discontent now makes this an issue that goes far beyond public concern for a development project. This is about Erdogan and his administration which, over the past ten years of rule, has become increasingly authoritarian.
Concerns have also been growing in relation to press freedom. Earlier this month Foreign Policy magazine released an article positioning Turkey as one of the worst places in the world to be a reporter, while revealing it to be the world’s leading jailer of journalists.
Indeed, there remains an almost overwhelming silence from the Turkish media in relation to these current events. A silence which is being broken across social media sites as Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo and YouTube vibrate with a cacophony of voices and images from a place that appears under siege from it’s own government.
Meanwhile, throughout the night, reports from former colleagues the press association indicate the city is anything but defeated. From the European to the Asian sound, residents have taken to their balconies hitting pots and pans, singing, shouting words of support for those in the streets below and beyond.
As sales of gas masks boom and the chaos threatens to spread, this morning Erdogan indicated that his government would maintain a heavy hand against dissidents and said planned transformation of historical Taksim into a mall would go ahead, “whatever they do.”
For those in Turkey, and Istanbul especially, keep posting your pictures and your stories. If the official media won’t spread the message, then it is for you the people to be the voice and power.