Learning from Taksim Square: Architecture, State Power, and Public Space in Istanbul. SAH Blog

By HEGHNAR WATENPAUGH (UC Davis)

In a matter of days, “Taksim Square” has become a household name akin to Tahrir Square, shorthand for a youthful protest movement against the brutality of state power in the Middle East. What began last week as a peaceful sit-in to protest the uprooting of trees from Gezi Park, one of Istanbul’s last open green spaces near Taksim Square, has morphed into a broader Occupy movement against the Turkish government, with massive demonstrations in many Turkish cities, as well as solidarity demonstrations throughout the world. The movement shows the deep discontent within a large cross section of Turkish society against the increasingly authoritarian government, and especially its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, of the ruling Islamist AKP party. People have reacted with shock at the Turkish police’s disproportionate, brutal repression of the protests, as well as Erdogan’s and other government officials’ apparent contempt for and vilification of the protestors, and their seeming indifference to their concerns. As the protest movement continues to unfold, there has been much analysis about the significance of the protests, the way they reflect class and identity divisions within Turkey and their possible repercussions, such as here, here and here.

The protests in Istanbul began with public dissatisfaction with urban planning: they reacted against the city’s ambitious ongoing plans to remake the square and its surroundings, that proceeded last week with the attempted uprooting of trees in Gezi Park, one of the last remaining open spaces in bustling, sprawling Istanbul. These grand plans have unfolded with little consultation with the public or those who live and work in that area. Daniel Jost aptly and succinctly describes these plans as “awful,” while Gokhan Karakus likens them to “a neo-Ottoman Las Vegas in [a] 6,000-year-old city.”

The area of Taksim Square and Gezi Park have always been politically charged for the residents of Istanbul, who are now re-asserting their right to their city. Orhan Pamuk reminisces about the significance of Taksim square, tied to many social movements and demonstrations of the past (see here). In its present form, designed in the 40’s by the French urban planner Henri Prost, the Taksim area is a vibrant section of the city and a symbol of modern Istanbul. When I lived nearby as a Ph.D. student, Taksim and its surroundings were endlessly fascinating and unexpected, where you encountered the wealthiest and poorest of the city, old cosmopolitan Istanbulites as well as immigrants from the Black Sea region, anarchist students and Islamist conservatives.

via SAH Blog.

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