Frequent, intense clashes a constant headache for Gazi shopkeepers

Apart from a few broken signs and cracked windows, the main street of Istanbuland’s Gazi neighborhood appeared calm and tidy during one mercilessly hot July afternoon.
But a few days earlier, images fit for a warzone emerged from the neighborhood after several days of heavy clashes between protesters and police. During such standoffs, local businesses have no choice but to shut down their shops, barring them behind metal barriers. Even if they escape physical damage, remaining closed for days at a time eats into revenues.
and”That was from a tear gas canister,and” Sanduleyman Erdogan told Sundayand’s Zaman as he gestured toward the broken sign hanging above the small grocery store he runs near Gaziand’s main street.
and”You canand’t work for three or four days, but there are still taxes and rent to pay,and” grumbled Erdogan.
Located an hour northwest of central Istanbul, Gazi is the last urban frontier before a swath of forestland. The quarter is home to a large community of Alevis, a minority numbering around 12 million in Turkey that are distinguished by their heterodox practice of Islam. For this they have remained suspicious in the eyes of a Turkish state founded on Sunni identity, and have been the targets of several massacres during the 20th century.
The neighborhood also is home to a stronghold of outlawed leftist militant groups such as the Revolutionary Peopleand’s Liberation PartyFront (DHKPC) as well as legal leftist organizations.
Skirmishes broke out in Gazi on July 24 following the death of DHKPC member Gandunay andOzarslan, who was killed in a raid staged in a separate district targeting members of designated terrorist organizations. The standoff lasted for three days, as TOMA water cannons were pelted with rocks and Molotov cocktails by masked militants, and police dispersed crowds with showers of plastic bullets and tear gas.
Residents claim the police deliberately and repeatedly attacked the neighborhoodand’s cemevi (Alevi house of worship), pummeling it with tear gas canisters. Windows were broken and the cemeviand’s sign showed heavy damage during a recent visit.
While the authorities claim to be targeting outlawed groups and quelling violent demonstrations, many Alevis claim they themselves are the actual targets, arguing that neighborhoods like Gazi are subject to excessive and constant police pressure. A major police precinct looms just above the neighborhood, and the presence of armored police vehicles in the area is a near-constant.
and”There were people throwing stones, but the police were firing canisters at fifth-floor apartment buildings. Why on earth were they doing that?and” Erdogan blurted.
and”On one hand and itand’s very hot out, on the other there is tear gas everywhere so you canand’t open the window,and” Erdogan said.
and”Of course the conflict is bad for small businesses. And we arenand’t just here trying to make a profit, we are trying to meet the needs of the people living here,and” said another shopkeeper, who requested to remain anonymous.
Widely considered a dangerous no-go neighborhood, Gazi is in fact a friendly, down-to-earth place with a vibrant local business culture. There are a number of quaint outdoor cafes perfectly suitable for enjoying a cup of tea when the air isnand’t thick with tear gas and whizzing with plastic bullets. The names of many shops in the area include the word and”Munzur,and” a reference to eastern Anatoliaand’s Munzur Valley, a haven of natural beauty sacred to Alevis.
But Gazi is perhaps best known for a series of riots that followed a drive-by shooting that resulted in the death of an elderly Alevi religious leader in 1995. More than 20 people were killed after police brutally suppressed demonstrators in protests that lasted for days. The killer was never found. Since then, Gazi has been plagued by regular and often violent confrontations, making it a difficult place to run a business.
and”I opened up and closed down three or four times. I had to throw away meat worth hundreds of liras,and” said the owner of a small kiosk selling grilled sandwiches, referring to the recent weekend-long conflict.
and”But honestly, we are used to this by now,and” he said, attempting a smile.
A young boy sitting at the kiosk pointed to his fatherand’s fruit stand across the street, which proudly displayed rows of robust watermelons. and”We had put out TL 1,000 worth of fresh fruit, but out came the TOMA and ruined it. We had to throw it all away,and” he said.