ISTANBUL, Turkey – Tourists bargain over shiny souvenirs. Local youth dressed in the latest fashions chat in cafes. The smell of roasting chestnuts fills the air. This is Istanbul’s Taksim Square where, day and night, it is a challenge to navigate through the bustling crowd of shoppers and frolickers.
While the exterior appears calm, Taksim Square has been tense beneath the surface in the one year since the start of the Gezi Park protests, when Turkish police used tear gas and water cannons in response to a gathering of environmental activists. Since then, a fierce chain of events has exacerbated the country’s unrest as demonstrators continue to fight against police brutality, lack of personal freedoms and government corruption.
“We are worried about our future,” a philosophy student who goes only by the name of Emine said. “If no one joins the protests, if no one resists, if everyone stops talking, the government can do more and more and press down on us even harder.”
Sitting by her side, fellow student Baris Okumuclar added, “Our ruler is a despot. He does not understand what young people need.”