What the 12 trees meant for Gezi protesters
May 27 marked the first anniversary of the nationwide Gezi Park protests, which were part of a peaceful movement that started against a government plan to demolish İstanbul's central park in order to replace it with a replica of an Ottoman-era military barracks.

After construction vehicles entered Gezi Park in Taksim to fell the trees, the news immediately spread on the social media, leading to a group of activists arriving at the site to stage a sit-in. However, the demonstration took a new turn when riot police brutally attacked the peaceful protesters by firing tear gas canisters and water cannon. The excessive force by the police has been iconized by a now-famous photograph showing a woman in a red dress being sprayed tear gas by a policeman right into her face, while merely standing in the park. The woman later turned out to be an academic. Such incidents triggered larger protests and anti-government street demonstrations spread across the country. Police drew another series of harsh criticism for setting fire to tents set up by protesters in Gezi Park. During the Gezi Park protests, four protesters were killed due to police violence. Although Gezi Park was cleared of protesters on June 15, the spirit of the Gezi movement continued for months around Turkey with discussion forums held in public parks.

In her Wednesday piece, Milliyet daily columnist Mehveş Evin reminded readers that the "Gezi resistance" kicked off against the pedestrianization project in Taksim and the suddenly announced plan to rebuild the Topçu barracks. "Today, the government claims that the protests [indeed aimed at stirring] started 'with the excuse of 12 trees planned to be removed.' Government officials might have forgotten what the real reason was, but we did not," Evin said. According to Evin, the project of rebuilding Topçu barracks was planned as one of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's "crazy projects."

Evin also stated that the Taksim Platform submitted a petition with 50,000 signatures against the project to the İstanbul 2nd Regional Board of Protecting Cultural Heritage in December of 2012. Eventually, the same board rejected the Topçu barracks project in January last year. However, contradicting the decision, a 70-year-old pedestrian bridge connecting Gezi Park with Asker Ocağı Street was demolished by the İstanbul Municipality in February 2013, Evin stated. By April 2013, the number of signatures against the government's redevelopment plans for Taksim reached 80,000, Evin added. "I was at Gezi Park on May 27 when riot police, municipal workers and construction company employees stood in front of 30 to 40 protesters. Taksim and Gezi Park had become a camping spot for the police. A unique scene from a police state! However, Taksim and Gezi belong to the people. And they will remain this way whatever despot method is implemented," Evin commented.

In a piece titled "You have never understood what the 12 trees meant," Radikal daily's Ezgi Başaran wrote on Wednesday that Prime Minister Erdoğan still reduces the Gezi protests to a movement against the felling of 12 trees. "He utters these words as an insult, as he says: 'What was the reason for Gezi? Twelve trees.' This remark demonstrates that he has still not understood what the point is, after one year. It seems as if he will not understand after 100 years as well. Because it is not in his nature and he is not willing to understand," Başaran wrote. The felling of 12 trees symbolizes the destruction of the city and people's natural habitat, violent neo-liberal policies and oppressing those different from the majority, commented Başaran.

GÜNAY HİLAL AYGÜN (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CİHAN
Last Modified: 2014-05-29 11:00:03
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