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AKM Building - Taksim/Istanbul HDR - June 2013

What's happening in Turkey right now?

How did the protests start?

The protests began when a small group of activists tried to stop the demolition of Gezi Park, one of Istanbul's few remaining green spaces. Around 50 people set up a camp among the trees. The riot police moved in with brutal force, using teargas on peaceful protesters. News of the attacks spread rapidly via Twitter and other social media. Thousands more people flooded into the park and the adjoining Taksim Square, which Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, wants to redevelop. Riot police tried to gas the protesters out for several days, then last weekend abandoned their attempts. Unrest has now spread to more than 70 cities in Turkey, including the capital, Ankara, and the smoldering third western city of Izmir. Three people have died, 4,000 have been hurt and 900 have been arrested.

What do the protesters want?

They want to save the trees and stop Erdoğan building an Ottoman-style barracks on Taksim Square. They have also demanded that senior officials implicated in the police crackdown be fired. More broadly, the protesters are unhappy with Erdoğan's neo-Islamist social agenda and his intemperate ruling style. Since he was re-elected in 2011 with a whopping majority, Erdoğan has passed new, religious-driven laws which infuriate Turkey's secular middle classes. He has restricted the sale of alcohol between 10pm and 6am, and banned it from the vicinity of schools and mosques. The protesters want him to resign – which won't happen.

Who are they?

The protesters lack any ideology or party political affiliation. Rather they are predominantly young, educated and secular Turks who have been unhappy for some time with Erdoğan's creeping conservative social programme. They include students, IT programmers, teachers but also jewelry designers and housewives. Over the past week Gezi Park has been transformed into a vast open-air Glastonbury-style area, complete with tents, a library, and volunteers collecting rubbish. The protesters have extremely diverse views but are united in a desire for personal freedom and democracy.

Is it likely to be resolved soon?

No. Turkey is entering uncharted political waters. Erdoğan points out correctly that he and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development party (AKP) enjoy tremendous support from half of Turkey's population. He has convincingly won three elections. Since the protests began, Erdoğan has been characteristically defiant, branding his opponents looters, drunks and fringe extremists. On Thursday he vowed to press ahead with the square's controversial redevelopment. The protesters say that regardless of what happens to the square they have won, by reminding Erdoğan that he is not a dictator or a sultan.

Can you travel to Turkey?

Yes. The Foreign Office warns Britons to avoid demonstrations in major Turkish cities. But Istanbul is safe and Gezi Park is now a thriving Woodstock at night, with dancing, drumming and singing. Some countries are warning against going to Turkey, though. In Syria, where an ongoing civil war has killed about 80,000 people, authorities advised against travelling to the neighbouring country "because of the deteriorating security situation … and the violence of Erdoğan's government against peaceful protesters".
Image details
Image size
5610x3798px 8.19 MB
Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Shutter Speed
1/128 second
Focal Length
24 mm
ISO Speed
Date Taken
Jun 5, 2013, 7:17:38 PM
EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM
Sensor Size
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