Turkish opposition to appeal govt’s ban on May Day rallies in Taksim

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said on Monday that the government’s decision not to allow workers’ unions to use Istanbul’s Taksim Square for May Day celebrations is an arbitrary decision that flies in the face of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruling that Taksim Square cannot be closed to demonstrations.

Holding a joint press conference in Parliament about the May Day celebrations debate in which the government and workers’ unions have failed to agree about the location of mass gatherings, Rıza Turmen — the CHP İzmir deputy and former judge at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and another deputy, Izzet Cetin — said that banning labor unions and the public from celebrating the May 1 Labor Day in Taksim Square is against the law.

Stressing that the decision to close Taksim Square to peaceful demonstrations is a violation of individual rights, Turmen said, “Since it is against the law, we will have to take this arbitrary banning decision to the Constitution Court.”

“The decision where rallies will be held is made by those who organize the gatherings, not by administrative officials. It is not their place to decide the venues for demonstrations and assemblies or how they will take place. There is a close link between the place of such rally and its goal. If the political authorities try to ban people from entering a certain location, then the final goal of the gathering disappears,” he said.

Recalling the ECtHR ruling in 2012 following the banning of rallies in Taksim by the government in 2008, Turmen said that Taksim Square has a unique place in the public memory and that putting restrictions on any freedom which does not violate others’ rights is against human rights. The deputy stressed that finding a pretext to block the assembly has no legal basis.

Turmen asserted that security forces had been instructed to intervene in the demonstration on May Day, adding: “Over the last few days, 39,000 policemen with 50 water cannon vehicles have conducted an exercise prior to the [expected] demonstration in the venue. They fired water at plastic cans in that exercise. I wonder how they plan to block the demonstration, by firing water at those plastic cans.”

CHP Ankara deputy Izzet Cetin recalled that workers all around the world celebrate the solidarity and unity needed in order to fight injustice and that it has been celebrated in Turkey since the 1920s. Noting that the government has tried to ban large gatherings on the grounds that Law No. 2911 on Meetings and Demonstrations does not grant permission to hold such assemblies in the square, Cetin also recalled that workers and people across the world gather to celebrate the day in venues which have a symbolic and historical meaning.

Cetin asserted that the government’s initiation to block workers’ unions gathering in Taksim Square was an indicator of the government’s fear of workers. Calling on the government to ensure that May Day does not become a source of tension in the country, Cetin claimed that the political authorities had plans to ban the celebrations as soon as it declared May 1 as Labor and Solidarity Day and an official holiday.

İzmir independent deputy Ertugrul Gunay also held a press conference in Parliament and said that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government should compromise with the workers’ unions over celebrating May Day in Taksim Square instead of offering alternative locations. Gunay stressed that the government should adopt a constructive approach towards the workers’ unions who have asked the government to allow peaceful demonstrations in Taksim Square and put its prohibiting attitude aside by giving permission to demonstrators to enter the Square on May 1.

Recalling that 34 people were killed in the 1977 May Day celebrations, Gunay said that this is why it has special meaning to people, adding: “The government should consider sensitivities on the matter. The government’s only duty is to provide security in the area where the celebrations will take place. This decision would contribute a decrease in tensions in society. Increasing tensions in society is a serious threat to Turkey. The possibility of a clash on the day of celebration risks creating new tensions.”

Criticizing the government’s stance opposing the unions’ choice of Taksim Square as the location for celebrations, Gunay warned about a possible increase in political tensions prior to the presidential election which is scheduled for Aug. 10, adding that everyone should adopt a pro-dialogue stance.

Bloody May Day in 1977 not forgotten

The government declared May 1 an official holiday in 2009 and reopened Taksim Square for celebrations, albeit under tight security. Taksim Square then became the site of peaceful celebrations, aside from a few minor incidents that occurred in 2010 and 2012. But the site was closed once again in 2013 due to construction in the square and Turkey has returned to the same debate about access to Taksim Square for this year’s May 1 march.

The heart of May Day celebrations has always been in Istanbul’s busiest square, Taksim, but it was closed to demonstrators following May Day in 1977, also known as Bloody May Day, when 34 people were killed after unknown assailants opened fire on the crowd. Since then, May Day in Turkey has always been a source of tension. In 1977, the unknown assailants opened fire on the crowd from the Marmara Hotel. A police armed personnel carrier then pushed the crowd toward Kazancı Hill, which was blocked by a truck, and many were crushed to death.

The shooters were never found and no effective investigation took place to find out why Kazancı Hill was blocked or why the personnel carrier directed people there, but Taksim Square was closed to May Day celebrations from then on. The event is considered the beginning of the period of turmoil and chaos that took Turkey to the 1980 military coup. The military government then completely prohibited May Day celebrations.