For the past few days, the citizens of Istanbul have been protesting against the demolition of Taksim Gezi Park – one of the few remaining green areas in the center of Istanbul. According to the Justice and Development Party (AKP) under leadership of Erdogan, the park has to be demolished for a large shopping mall and the reconstruction of military barracks under the ‘Lost Heritage Recreation Project, which was established to reproduce the Ottoman identity in the city.
Hundreds of people have gathered in the park, design by the French architect Henri Prost, which was constructed in the 1940’s after demolition of military barracks, that used to belong to the Ottoman Empire. The real conflict, however, is more profound than only the preservation of the park. It is an outburst of society against the government’s mega-construction projects, and the undemocratic, top down policies neglecting citizens’ influence in the city and the destruction of their own ‘Urban memory’
Edogan seems insensitive to the protests and declared that demolition will take place and the project will be realized, no matter what. He has sent his police forces to the camp, using water cannons and tear gas to disperse the protestors. After a few days of protest – which meanwhile spread throughout the country – there seems to be some perspective for preservation of the park. A court in Istanbul recently ordered the suspension of the construction project, and the police has retracted from the square. Time will tell if the park remains untouched, or if the ‘historical’ barracks will arise. One thing is for sure: people will remember Gezi Park as the place where Istanbulians from all ages and various political backgrounds fought together to protect their urban environment.
This text is written in collaboration with our PHD candidate Melodi Oz who studies the Political Destruction and Reproduction of Urban Memory in Contemporary Istanbul.