Taksim Istanbul and The Battle for Starbucks

Taksim Istanbul and The Battle for Starbucks

İstiklâl Caddesi is no stranger to riot police, it’s very common in Istanbul for those with a grudge or cause to gather, chant, hand out flyers or light candles, more often than not just a handful of disillusioned students, they will sit with legs crossed puffing on roll-up cigarettes and look about as threatening as hippie Nuns on weed while just around the corner will be the local constabulary, for every student several dozen fully equipped armed Turkish Ninja’s standing in formation beside their busses, just in case it all kicks off, which it rarely does of course.
The last three months have been a little different, this time though it has been more than students that have been disillusioned, the occupation and subsequent clearing of Gezi Park in Taksim square the headline grabber but demonstrations in various guises have continued around the country till now, the Turkish administration will not be dictated to, this clearly is their job, the brutal police crackdown has resulted in half a dozen deaths, the most recent happened in Hatay in the south of the country; Ahmet Atakan was only 22 years old when he was apparently killed by a tear gas canister while protesting in Antakya, the government much like a wife beating husband has said his death was an accident, falling off a building rather than just down the stairs, the killing but also the callous way his death has been treated has needless to say prompted another week of protests around the country.
When people come out onto the streets outraged at the killing of an innocent protestor the government sees only one way to deal with it, another brutal police crackdown, clearly there is no other alternative.
Mondays demonstration was due to start at 7pm, I was occupying my usual table at Urban Café just behind İstiklâl and at precisely 7pm the calls for justice could be heard ringing out swiftly followed by the smell of tear gas, the waiters knew the drill and cleared the tables form outside and closed the windows, I had an appointment further along İstiklâl and ducked under the police tape blocking the alley and jogged past the battalions of Ninja’s preparing to do battle with its disgruntled population.
I returned to Taksim a couple of hours later, the streets were a mess, very small groups of protestors seemed to have been pushed back into the side streets, a rubbish cart was on fire, a police water canon sped down the street to douse the flames, a small platoon of police jogged behind, the protestors were not very close and it looked rather dramatic, one man with a bucket of water would have been just as effective, back along İstiklâl tear gas was permeating the air again, I slipped down another side street to wash my eyes, protestors were taunting the police, two foreign tourists trapped in the side street were asking people how they can get out, rows of police were blocking almost every street, a café waiter was giving them directions and telling them the police would let them pass.
I circled around and re-entered İstiklâl Street further along, the police had arrested a protester and with his head in an arm lock were dragging him off to a van, a crowd of press cameras straining to catch the police in flagrante, a women with a child in a push chair was pushed out of the way, in Burger King families were still sitting down with flaming whoppers, outside the police with flaming tempers were trying to push back the crowds, then another charge, a snatch squad of half a dozen riot police thundered down the street and stormed Starbucks, terrifying everyone, one policeman was beating somebody in the street with his baton, a family if Indian tourists in summer Sari’s dragging suitcases were desperately trying to get out of the melee, a police Toma drives past with the crowd jeering and a guy waves his Turkish flag furiously, the battle for Starbucks may have been won but the war is clearly not over.

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