It’s 9.00pm in Kabatas, not far from Taksim Square, and the now nightly sounds of solidarity burst out – the clanging cacophony of Istanbul residents in the Beyoglu district, leaning out their windows and their balconies, beating pots and pans to support the embattled protesters in Taksim Square and Gezi Park.
Tuesday night, while we were still on our way to Turkey, the riot police charged again, without warning, to try to drive the protesters away with tear gas and water cannon and violence. Once again they failed.
After our arrival in Istanbul, we walked through Taksim and Gezi yesterday, and the whole area looked like a war zone.
There were police everywhere around the edges, lounging around and in cafes, but still in full riot gear, and with tear-gas and water-cannon trucks (more like tanks, really) in many strategic places.
Taksim was a shambolic mess of barricades and rubbish and rubble, and signs of fires and fighting. Gezi Park was like Woodstock on the fifteenth day, with hundreds of tents, mountains of rubbish, and every alternative hawker, healer and haranguer you could imagine.
Many wore light gas masks loosely around their necks, and it was a faction factory, with dozens of groups discussing politics and tactics. The more aggressively radical groups were in Taksim, while the biggest numbers, and the greatest diversity was in the Park.
Then today, Prime Minister Erdogan threatened the protesters with even tougher language, despite growing international pressure, and some earlier suggestions of a compromise.
The protests, and Erdogan’s intransigence, is the only topic of conversation here, where the parallels for us to Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland are a bit too close for comfort.
Erdogan enjoys a comfortable majority-support from conservative and religious Turks, largely in the rural areas, and is also a friend to the white-shoe brigade. However he has alienated and repressed the younger and more progressive city-based Turks, which suits his supporters just fine.
The problem is, these progressive urban Turks are the ones that are responsible for his country’s positive and contemporary image that makes it attractive to tourists (a massive industry here), and to Turkey’s pet national projects – gaining membership of the European Union for Turkey, and hosting the 2020 Olympics in Istanbul.
The Western media have gone ballistic over the level of violence, now being played out in the mainstream media, not just the twitterverse, and the EU came out today with a statement very critical of Erdogan.
Tonight’s expected attack on the protesters has just been called off, and a second, more-representative peace negotiation has been called in Ankara, beginning shortly, but on past form it seems doubtful that Erdogan will concede anything like enough to satisfy even the moderate elements within the protesters.
After a day of visiting the historic wonders of Sultanahmet, to the ever present soundtrack of the call-to-prayer that occurs five times daily, we are even more moved by the new sound of Istanbul, the 9.00pm call-to-Taksim.