Police attack May Day marchers in Istanbul

A vicious attack was launched against this year’s May Day demonstrators in Istanbul, Turkey, as they were gathering to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Taksim Square May Day massacre.

Riot police arrested more than 1,000 workers, among them 500-plus Communist Party members and trade union leaders. Hundreds were badly injured as police used tear gas, chemical sprays, water cannons, clubs, armored vehicles and helicopters in a brutal display of force.

Kemal Okuyan, general secretary of the Communist Party of Turkey, said, “If we hadn’t remained calm and under control, we would have scores of dead now.”

Tens of thousands of demonstrators from all over Turkey had massed in Istanbul to mark the anniversary of the 1977 May Day massacre, in which 36 workers were killed by CIA-backed Turkish security forces. Because of this year’s police violence, however, only 300 managed to make it to the square and lay red carnations where the 36 were killed.

The mobilization of left parties and unions for May Day was met with repression from the outset. The Islamist governor of Istanbul, Mouamer Guiller, had “prohibited” the demonstration, despite repeated requests by all the parties organizing the remembrance. The government took every measure possible to ensure that all forms of mass transport were closed down so working people would be prevented from reaching the rally.

Police blockades were set up at the ports and major highways leading into the city. Buses of demonstrators arriving from other cities were turned back. Snipers were stationed on rooftops and police freely opened fire into the air to disperse crowds. The police blocked all television crews from setting up satellite dishes for live link-ups.

Unionists, political activists and journalists were then attacked without provocation.

While the arrested demonstrators have slowly been released throughout this past week, left forces in Turkey and in Europe have been organizing a response.

The CP of Turkey, along with the major Turkish trade union organization, DISK, has filed a civil suit against state-sponsored terrorism and police repression.

In neighboring Greece, the All-Workers Militant Front, PAME, together with dozens of trade unions, organized a protest outside the Turkish Embassy on May 3 condemning the attacks. A statement from the Greek Federation of Construction Workers noted, “The development of class militancy and organization agitates [the Turkish government]. They don’t want Turkish workers to remember the history of their movement. This strike against the working class of Turkey is a strike against all of the working class.”

A longstanding U.S. ally in the area, a top U.S. arms buyer and, as of recently, a candidate member for joining the European Union, Turkey enjoys a biased immunity from the U.S. and the EU. Both conveniently ignore Turkey’s human rights violations, including political assassinations, extremely harsh treatment of political prisoners and the repression of left and Kurdish activists.

Currently, Turkey’s secular forces (including elements in the repressive military) are battling the Islamic-rooted ruling party over the role of Islam in politics. The CP of Turkey warns of U.S. and EU interests being served at the expense of the people.

“Islamists together with capitalists use state forces to suppress rising movements of workers, progressive youth, patriots, and communists and other left forces in Turkey,” the CP of Turkey said.

“The real problem in Turkey are the forces that ally themselves with U.S. and EU imperialism, regardless of whether they are Islamists, secular forces, neoliberals or nationalists.”

Laura Petricola (laurajopetricola @yahoo.com) writes from Athens, Greece.