Opposition party calls on Turkish gov’t to allow May Day demonstrations in Taksim Square

Protesters chant during a May Day rally marking International Workers Day at Anadolu Square with the contribution of trade unions and non-governmental organisations in Ankara on May 1, 2023. Adem ALTAN / AFP

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has called on the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to allow May Day demonstrations in İstanbul’s Taksim Square, which has been closed for such events for over a decade, Turkish Minute reported.

The ban on May Day demonstrations in Taksim has been in effect since 2013 due to security concerns. Police close all roads leading to the square and increase its presence in the area in the early hours of the morning in an attempt to prevent protestors from reaching the area.

Only a small group of people is allowed to hold a demonstration in the area. Since the imposition of the ban, Turkey has seen violent confrontations between the police and the protestors as well as the detention of dozens of people in Taksim Square on May Days.

CHP Deputy Chairperson Gamze Taşçıer said in a statement on Thursday that representatives from labor unions want Taksim Square to be opened for May Day demonstrations and that her party’s provincial branch in İstanbul would discuss the issue with the İstanbul Governor’s Office.

“We want Taksim Square to be opened to workers due to its symbolic value. We support the calls of labor unions and democratic organizations,” said Taşçıer, describing the square as the “joint memory” of laborers.

Until 2009, Taksim was off limits to demonstrators following May Day 1977, also known as Bloody May Day, when 34 people were killed after unknown assailants opened fire on the crowd. Since then, May Day in Turkey has always been a source of tension.

In 2009, the government decided to declare May Day an official holiday and opened Taksim Square up to events. About three decades after Bloody May Day, under tight security, Taksim Square became the venue of peaceful demonstrations aside from a few minor incidents in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Yet, events in the area were again banned in 2013 despite calls from labor unions and civil society organizations to hold May Day events there due to its symbolic importance.

The ban remains in effect despite two rulings from the Constitutional Court last year that found right violations in the ban for May Day demonstrations in Taksim Square.

Labor unions including the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (DİSK), the Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK), the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects Chambers (TMMOB) and the Turkish Medical Association (TTB) took the ban on May Day demonstrations in Taksim Square in 2014 and 2015 to the Constitutional Court.

The court found a violation of the freedom of assembly for each of the applicants and ruled for the payment of damages to them. The top court also sent a copy of its decision to the İstanbul Governor’s Office, police headquarters and the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office to prevent similar rights violations from taking place in the future.

Taşçıer called on the government to act in line with the Constitutional Court rulings and allow the workers to hold May Day demonstrations in Taksim Square.

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