Istanbul police intervene during reading of May Day statement

An attempt by the representatives of the May Day Committee — a group formed by Turkey’s major professional chambers and workers’ unions — to make a public statement in Istanbul’s Taksim Square on Monday was stopped by tear gas fired on the crowd by police.

The May Day Committee, made up members of 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 Doctors Union (TTB), was trying to announce that its membership will celebrate May 1, or May Day, marked in Turkey as the Day of Labor and Solidarity, in Taksim Square, despite a government ban on using that location. However, police did not let the group read the statement and used tear gas on those assembled and detained many of those present.

Several union members, including the general manager of the energy industry workers’ union, the Energy, Industry and Mining Public Employees Union (Enerji-Sen), Ali Duman; the secretary-general of the health workers’ union Dev-Saglık İs, Gursel Demir; unionizing expert Erdogan Demir; İbrahim Gidik, a member of the food industry workers’ union Gıda-İs; Erdal Kopan from the logistics industry workers’ union Nakliyat İs; and Kamil Kartal, a representative of the tourism industry union Dev-Turizm were among those detained by the police.

DİSK Chairman Kani Beko later made a statement outside the Hill Hotel in Taksim, saying, “We will not give up in our determination to celebrate in Taksim. The European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR] verdict should apply.”

An ECtHR ruling in 2012 said people shall be allowed to hold rallies in the square.

The heart of May Day celebrations has always been Istanbul’s busy Taksim Square. On May Day in 1977, also known as Bloody May Day, 37 people were killed when unknown assailants opened fire on the crowd. Since then, May Day in Turkey has always been a source of tension, and the square was officially declared off-limits to May Day demonstrators. In 2009, however, the government decided to make May Day an official holiday and opened Taksim Square up for celebrations beginning in 2010. But last year the government announced that it would not allow celebrations in Taksim Square due to construction going on there at the time. It has been prohibited again this year, with Interior Minister Efkan Ala saying, “Taksim is no place for a celebration,” and insisting that not allowing celebrations in Taksim is not the same thing as imposing a ban on celebrations there.

Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chairman Gursel Tekin visited the union leaders after the incident. Speaking to members of the press after his visit, he said Turkey has reached a point where the country’s prime minister cannot tolerate a public statement being made by civil society organizations and professional unions. He said it was important for the unions to celebrate May 1 in the square. “We are faced with a dictator who cannot tolerate a press statement. You will see that unions and civil society groups are not alone on May 1,” Tekin said.

DİSK’s Beko recalled that in 2011 and 2012, not a single person was injured when the unions were allowed to hold a May Day rally in Taksim Square. He said it has important symbolic meaning for the unions, which want to commemorate the workers that died there on May 1, 1977.

“We haven’t agreed to the venues the government suggested, namely Yenikapı, Kadıkoy and Kartal. For us, the place to celebrate May 1, the Day of Solidarity, is Taksim.” He said DİSK would continue peaceful dialogue with officials until May 1.

Last year, clashes between police and groups trying to hold a May Day rally Taksim Square turned parts of the city into battlefields, leading residents to suffer from the halt of public transportation services in various locations as part of security measures.

There were clashes not only in Taksim Square, where the labor unions insisted on holding a mass rally, but also in other parts of Istanbul such as Besiktas, Mecidiyekoy and Sisli.