Turkish gov’t rules out May 1 rallies in İstanbul’s Taksim Square

Istanbul: Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu has said Taksim Square will not be open for celebrations on May 1, Labor Day, despite the ambitions of a group of unions.

After talking with representatives from the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (DİSK), Mutlu suggested Yenikapı Square as a place to hold rallies, but the unions consider Taksim Square to be an iconic place for the celebrations. Mutlu stated that the famous Taksim Square would not be the best venue for such a large gathering, saying: “The celebrations should be held in Yenikapı Square instead of Taksim. I am open to appeals from unions and my doors are open to anyone. But if they come to me with a proposal insisting on holding a rally in Taksim, my answer will be no. If the unions decide to celebrate the day in Yenikapı, I will support them.”

Despite Mutlu’s decisive message banning entry to Taksim Square on May 1, several unions have declared their determination to rally there. Some unions who have failed to get permission from the government to do so have said they will be in Taksim Square on May 1.

ECtHR ruling on Taksim Square should be implemented

Despite the government’s rejection of proposals to celebrate May 1 in Taksim Square, a group of jurists have called on the government to implement a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling from 2012 that said people would be allowed to hold rallies in the square.

At a press conference following the government’s announcement that Taksim Square will not be open for May 1 celebrations, İbrahim Özden Kaboğlu, a professor of constitutional law at Marmara University, said that the ECtHR decided to open the square for May 1 celebrations, but that the ruling could not be realized in 2013 due to construction around the square.

“When the ECtHR heard the case in 2012, the government did not object to the decision, [which led to people] inferring that the government had accepted the ruling. Now, it is the government’s duty and responsibility to allow and provide [space for] celebrations for May 1,” Kaboğlu noted.

Memur-Sen will celebrate May 1 in Diyarbakır

Meanwhile, the Civil Servants’ Trade Union (Memur-Sen) announced its decision to hold Labor Day celebrations in Diyarbakır and not in İstanbul’s Taksim Square in an effort to demonstrate its support for the government’s ongoing Kurdish settlement process.

In October 2012 the government began talks with Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK), in an attempt to end a long-standing terrorism problem that has been troubling Turkey for more than 30 years.

In his statement, Memur-Sen head Ahmet Gündoğdu argued that Taksim Square has created a perception of Turkey as a country struggling with chaos and problems instead of symbolizing solidarity in its society.

Taksim has symbolic significance for unions given its turbulent historical record as the venue for large rallies and demonstrations, some of which have ended in bloodshed, like the notorious May 1, 1977 incident in which 33 people were killed in a stampede while trying to escape gunfire from unknown parties.

The bloody 1977 events have impacted later years’ celebrations, as subsequent Turkish governments denied unions entry to Taksim for both commemorations and new celebrations at the site, citing security concerns. Until 2008, persistent calls and massive efforts from leftist unions bore little fruit as they failed to convince authorities who fear another tragic incident in İstanbul’s iconic square.

Although celebrations have been banned in the square, unions were able to congregate there from 2008 onwards, sometimes clashing with riot police but for the most part gathering peacefully. Last year, however, the government denied access to Taksim Square, citing ongoing construction projects on the roads leading into and out of the square, which they claimed could have created safety hazards for the tens of thousands of people that were expected to attend.

SOURCE: TODAY’S ZAMAN