Over the past several months we have witnessed outside of our office window facing Taksim Square the repeated confrontations between the protestors and government riot police. What began as a peaceful demonstration against the destruction of Gezi Park by a few hundred environmentalists on May 30th of 2013, soon turned into a nationwide protest against the increasingly autocratic nature of Prime Minister Tayip Erdogan’s AKP. It became clear that what seemed to be an isolated incident was in reality the final straw for the people fed up by the government’s forceful positioning on multitude of issues ranging from censorship, regulation of alcohol consumption, police brutality, and urban renewal projects in the likes of Gezi Park and Taksim Square.
We are now used to seeing the riot police gear up every day in their makeshift base at the AKM parking lot behind our office. But as each day goes by, and there are no signs of the police waning, we begin to question the government’s unprecedented effort in defending their construction plan from the protestor’s simple request to keep it a park. Why does the PM insist on going ahead and building the Ottoman Barack replica shopping mall?
In Taksim Square, unlike Tiananmen Square or the Red Square, protests occur in a daily basis whether it is for the LGBT, Doctors Union, or the Chamber of Architects. So why is it that the government chooses to use unprecedented police brutality for this particular occasion? Have the protestors pushed a vulnerable button by physically deterring a government sponsored construction project? Does this particular space hold more value than that of its potential real-estate? Why is it so important for the current government to re-construct an Ottoman era army barracks? And how/why did the construction of a single building on top of a small park trigger the entire nation to take a stance at an unprecedented scale? Can an architectural project really stir a national revolution?
While the media have shifted their stories from environmentalists saving a park, to the struggle against the autocratic government, to police brutality, we would like to focus back to the essential question, what is it about the park and square?
In doing so we hope to discover the significance of this square for the city of Istanbul.