Taksim Square, Istanbul’s central and most symbolic space for demonstrations, was closed to civilians at 6am on Sunday, as it has been every year since 2013, to prevent Labour Day celebrations in the area.
Enforcing a ban by the governorship of Istanbul, the police placed barriers on all roads to Taksim and diverted vehicles and pedestrians to other routes.
Twelve people who tried to walk to Taksim through the back alleys nearby were detained by the police, according to a report by the daily Evrensel.
Members of Student Collectives who made an attempt to march to Taksim from nearby Kurtuluş, and another group of Youth Committee members who started from Beşiktaş, were also arrested.
Historical significance of Istanbul’s Taksim Square
Taksim is not only important for its central position for demonstrations in Istanbul, it is also of historical significance for Labour Day demonstrations in Turkey because of tragic incidents that resulted in the deaths of 35 people 45 years ago.
On 1 May 1977, as hundreds of thousands of people were gathered in and around Taksim Square for Labour Day celebrations, shots were fired, and 35 people were crushed to death in the ensuing panic. More than 120 were injured.
Although there were reports that some of the shots were fired from the windows of a five-star hotel, allegedly by provocateurs, that armoured police vehicles forced many people into a narrow alley where most were to be crushed to death, and that the incident was actually a planned massacre by a clandestine state agency, the criminal investigation eventually came to a dead-end.
The first time in the history of the Turkish Republic that Labour Day was celebrated in the form of a mass rally was in 1976. Hundreds of thousands of workers took part that year, reflecting the dramatic increase in membership of the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions (DİSK), founded in 1967 to offer workers an alternative to the existing trade union establishment, the Confederation of Turkish trade Unions (Türk-İş), which was practically run by high-level state officials and big company employers.
Labour Day was again celebrated by large crowds in Istanbul’s Taksim in 1978, but in 1979 a curfew was imposed on the entire city to prevent mass celebrations. In 1980, there was no curfew, but the Square was closed to celebrations.
The military coup of September 1980 banned DİSK and all other trade union activism, including Labour Day celebrations, and with subsequent civilian administrations continuing to impose bans on rallies in Taksim Square, it took 32 years for the workers to be able to return to Istanbul’s central point for their 1 May rallies.
In 2010, hundreds of thousands were at last able to gather again in Taksim for Labour Day celebrations. But it was not to last long. The ban was brought back in 2013, this time by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.