Two different and interrelated arrangements are planned for Taksim Square. Pedestrianisation is planned at the square by taking the roads underground via tunnels. Yet the placement of ramps in such an important urban public space would prevent pedestrian use and actually make entrances to the square difficult, opponents claim. The square has a very important role in urban memory (especially for demonstration meetings) that could not then be organized because of the entrance difficulties.
It was also planned to build a model of the pre-existing Taksim Halil Paşa Artillery Barracks as a shopping mall on the present Taksim Gezi Park area. As a result of destroying probably the only recreation ground in the city centre and turning it into a shopping mall, the public sphere would be left to the use of high-income groups only Protests against the project started at the end of 2011 and despite the counter movement, construction started in October 2012.
The project was first rejected by the regional Cultural and Natural Heritage Conservation Board in Istanbul on January 2013, but PM Erdogan had already declared “we will reject the rejection.” Overriding the decision of the regional board, the Higher Board of Cultural and Natural Conservation then approved the proposal at the national level.
When in late May 2013, news spread that bulldozers were moving in to uproot the park’s trees in preparation for the construction of the barracks, a group of activists occupied the park with tents and launched the hashtag #occupygezi on twitter calling out for support. More and more people joined the protestors in the park, transforming it into a socially and ideologically diverse solidarity arena. The construction was halted, and the park and the square occupied for 15 days. The protest in the square soon spread to the whole country.
In what was the largest wave of protests in recent Turkish history, hundreds of thousands took to the streets to contest the proposed demolition of the park.
These demonstrations that took place in June 2013 across Turkey generated widespread interest and coverage. The occupation of Gezi Park was not just meant to save trees, but to save Turkey’s democracy. Yet, while that story covers how the conflict escalated from a demonstration in an Istanbul park to a nationwide revolt, it also conceals a different reason for the unrest: the enclosure of public space by capital and the state, and a nationwide assault on the environment.
The Gezi Park is now a symbol of the resistance for rights, democracy, and the environment.