In a June decision that was just published Wednesday, a Turkish court ruled that plans to redevelop Istanbul’s Taksim Square and adjacent Gezi Park must be canceled. The site was a trigger point for protests that grew into a larger anti-government movement, fueled by opposition to what many have criticized as the authoritarian policies of Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
Authorities may well appeal against cancellation of plans for a replica Ottoman-era barracks on Istanbul’s Taksim Square. But the ruling marked a victory for a coalition of political forces and a blow for Erdogan, who stood fast against protests and riots he said were stoked by terrorists and looters.
Can Atalay, a lawyer for the Chamber of Architects which brought the lawsuit, said the administrative court ruled in early June at the height of the unrest that the plan violated preservation rules and unacceptably changed the square’s identity. It was not clear why it had only now been released.
“This decision applies to all of the work at Taksim Square … The public-works project that was the basis for the work has been canceled,” Atalay told Reuters.
Gezi Park has been closed to the public since police first took control in pushing out the protesters on June 15th. The conflict began when a small group of environmental activists demonstrated there against Erdogan’s plans to bulldoze the site and replace it with a mall, a mosque, and other proposed buildings. But the aggressive response from police forces, which used water cannons and tear gas against demonstrators, fueled larger protests that eventually spread across the country. Turkey’s government responded with increasingly hostile actions, including mass arrests of protesters and a crackdown on social media.
To many in Turkey, Gezi Park has far greater significance than just that of preserving open space.
Taksim carries enormous symbolic value for many Turks of different political stripes.
It was the site of a 1977 May Day massacre that killed up to 40 leftists. For secular Turks, its development in the early days of the republic represent the nation’s founding principles, while devout Muslims have long sought to build a mosque there.
Erdogan, whose ruling party traces its roots to a banned Islamist movement, has said that his effort to remake Taksim aims to return it to its original form. He also said he would erect a mosque at the Square and rebuild the Ataturk Cultural Centre, named after Turkey’s secular-minded founder.
Most expect the ruling will be appealed, but for now, developers and the government must abide by the decision. Meanwhile, Gezi Park remains today even more so a symbolic part of Turkey’s landscape.