Turkish police seal off İstanbul’s Gezi Park on eve of protest anniversary

Following a call made by Taksim Solidarity, one of the leading groups formed to represent Gezi Park protesters, for a protest on Thursday evening, the fifth anniversary of the Gezi protests of 2013, Turkish police barricaded the park and also closed some roads leading to Taksim Square.

According to a report by the Doğan News Agency, the police have closed off access to İstanbul’s Gezi Park on the eve of the anniversary of anti-government protests that shook Turkey in 2013. Police closed off Gezi Park’s entrances with barriers early on Thursday morning, according to the report.

Taksim Solidarity had earlier announced an event to mark the protests’ fifth anniversary at 7 p.m. on May 31 at the iconic park. “As Taksim Solidarity, we’ll go to the park with flowers in our hands and peace and friendship in our hearts  to remember our children and see to their demands,” the group’s secretary-general, Mücella Yapıcı, said in a written statement.

Taksim Solidarity also held a press conference at the Turkish Union of Engineers and Architects Chambers (TMMOB) Büyükkent branch to announce the activities organised for the fifth anniversary of the Gezi Park protests, issuing a statement and calling on people to go to Gezi Park at 7 p.m. on Thursday with the slogan “Darkness passes, Gezi remains.”

“Wherever you are, chant a slogan, prepare a banner and take a picture of it, tie a cloth around a tree, take to the parks, organize a forum, talk with one another, sing our songs. Gezi is everywhere you are.”

Journalist Ahmet Şık, a pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) candidate for İstanbul in the 24 June elections, appeared at the press conference together with Gülsüm Elvan, the mother of Berkin Elvan, a 14-year-old boy who died after being hit by a police gas canister. Two of the wounded from the Gezi protests, Okan Göçer and Volkan Kesen Bilici, and Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Ali Şeker also attended.

Lawyer Yalçın Deniz Özer talked about the ongoing judicial process launched to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths during the protests. “There has been a lot of whitewashing when it comes to the killing of protesters. Mehmet Ayvalıtaş’s death was presented as a simple traffic accident, and Ayvalıtaş was actually held responsible for his own death,” said the lawyer.

In the case of Ali İsmail Korkmaz, the defendants were given reduced sentences, while the police officer who hit Ethem Sarısülük was just fined. The soldier who shot Medeni Yıldırım was acquitted. Berkin Elvan’s case was opened 3,5 years after his death. The lawyer pointed out that there is only one line of reasoning: The people who gave the orders are not being prosecuted.

Bilici, who was injured during the protests, described the problems he has had to live with since the protests. Bilici said families were forced to travel hundreds of kilometers to follow the trial proceedings and added that they could not enter the courtrooms in some cases.

Yapıcı, who said Gezi Park gave millions of citizens the hope of a beautiful future, added, “The Gezi Park resistance was an example for many around the world.”

The protests started when then-Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced he would go ahead with plans to build a shopping mall and destroy Gezi Park, one of the few green spaces in the centre of İstanbul, Taksim Square.

Thus the Gezi protests erupted on May 27, 2013, when a small group of young protesters refused to leave Gezi Park in Taksim in order to prevent the cutting down of trees. Following the government’s harsh response, the protests spread to the whole country on May 31, 2013. During the protests, 11 people were killed by the police, including eight youngsters, and more than 8,000 were injured, dozens of them critically.

“Some roads at Taksim Square and in its vicinity will be closed to vehicular traffic as of 3:30 p.m. until the security measures have been lifted,” said a written statement released by the İstanbul Police Department.

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