Today was Sunday and people had more time to protest here in Ankara, Turkey. Normally protests take place during the night. Kızılay is the name of the main square of Ankara, the battlefield, in essence, where the clashes between the Turkish police and the demonstrators are taking place over the past two weeks or so. But these are not mere protests, this is really a war. At this point it doesn’t really matter who started it; the situation has not gotten out of hand with regard to the protests simply because the police operations are already out of hand. The use of force and intimidation is vastly disproportionate compared to the number of protesters.
On the 16th of June, a regular day of protests in Ankara, since the Gezi Park events in Istanbul, people gathered in Kızılay to demonstrate and pay tribute to a protester that lost his life after being hospitalized. Police maintains forces on the ground at Kızılay 24/7 as a pre-emptive measure in order to be able to contain whatever demonstrations fast and more easily. Around the afternoon there were hardly around 2000 people peacefully protesting, many of them wearing medical masks. Yet, you could smell the tear gas from a mile away. You could see people running toward every direction, away from the tear gas bombs and the water cannons. Police had literally surrounded the square and had overwhelming backup forces standing by in a one-mile radius. The police forces arriving at Kızılay could not be seen as they were resting and waiting on the streets behind the buildings of the square. Dozens of buses with hundreds of riot police arrived at the location, both men and women. There were around 10 to 15 water cannon vehicles, up to 10 tear gas vehicles, dozens of police vehicles, a couple of helicopters scouting the area, and even military presence (note/addition: it might have been the Gendarmerie). You could hear the sounds of police cars, ambulances, tear gas guns, and people shouting. People sought refuge in nearby alleys and stores, and tear gas bombs were falling out of nowhere, at places where people were not demonstrating endangering unsuspected pedestrians.
The bottom line is this: it is obvious that demonstrations can be contained and dispersed with such an overwhelming force. The protesters were peaceful and relatively few for such a police reaction and presence. It is thus clear that the goal of the state is simply not to let those voices be heard. It is also clear that the right to assembly is being violated. Protests are one of the ultimate expressions of contemporary democracy; to crack down on peaceful protesters is to crack down on democracy. Now the problem is that as long as the police’s (and the state’s) actions are unjustified the reaction of the protesters will be intensified. To be sure, such state actions have not been seen only in Turkey. The solution is for governments to find ways to address the issues raised with one way on the other. After all no one would like this to continue, neither the protesters and the people losing their living because of the current situation, nor the police and the state; a compromise has to be made, otherwise the result might be very ugly.