The last 16 people on trial for allegedly masterminding the 2013 Gezi Park protests were acquitted by an Istanbul court on Tuesday. On Monday, 230 Gezi activists in the small Thracian city of Kırklareli had already seen their charges quashed. It had seemed too much to hope for a similar decision in Istanbul. Outside the hearing, Republican Party (CHP) leaders waited, apparently ready to pronounce another day in the death of Turkish democracy. When the verdict came, Atatürk’s party seemed to find itself, once again, wrong-footed by the AKP. At least this time the surprise was a pleasant one. Within hours of his release, however, one of the 16, the businessman and philanthropist Osman Kavala, was arrested on a new warrant, accused of involvement in the coup attempt of July 2016. Others had old charges against them reinstated.
In the end it was never even close. Ekrem İmamoğlu was elected mayor of Istanbul yesterday for the second time in three months, taking 54 per cent of the vote, more than double the share of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan when he ascended to the post in 1994.
President Erdoğan, once such an astute political operator, should have sensed early that rerunning the March election was a mistake. After winning a spirited first campaign, and bringing political fresh air to Istanbul for the fortnight he was in office in April, İmamoğlu’s movement only grew as the second ballot approached. His unapologetically upbeat campaign slogan, ‘Herşey çok güzel olacak’ (‘Everything will be OK’), was popular beyond the metropolis. It was reported that people mistakenly showed up to vote as far afield as Diyarbakır, a predominantly Kurdish city in the south-east.
Yiğit Aksakoğlu has been in jail in Turkey for four months. He and twelve others were imprisoned last November, awaiting trial on charges of ‘attempting to overthrow the government’ during the Gezi Park protests six years ago.
The other twelve have been released, but Yiğit – pronounced ‘Yeet’ – remains in the maximum security Silivri prison, west of Istanbul. He is held alongside Osman Kavala, now in his second year of arbitrary detention, and 14 others whom the Erdoğan government accuses of insurrectionary ambitions in a 600-page document of which only a few pages, lawyers say, have any legal significance.
To outsiders, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan can appear to be a tub-thumping, monologic rabble-rouser, but he isn’t, or not quite. Childishly proud of having attended one of the Imam Hatip (preacher training) schools that were once a marginal but are now a central part of the educational landscape, he was also a semi-professional footballer; he can talk down to strangers and shout across at teammates. As the coup attempt unfolded in the early hours of Saturday 16 July and some of his teammates failed him, Erdoğan’s face appeared in public for the first time in six days – he was on holiday – on an iPhone held by a presenter on CNN Türk; with as much calm as he could muster, he appealed to his people to go out on the streets, confront the rebels and save democracy. Two hours later, at Atatürk Airport, flanked by his entourage and confident that he wouldn’t be deposed, he was more expansive, calling the coup a ‘gift from God’ and outlining plans for retribution.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spent yesterday talking. On Saturday, the authorities relented and withdrew the police from Taksim Square, when it became clear that serious clashes would be unavoidable. Crowds were approaching from four different directions and the police were trying to stop them before they reached the square, but they kept coming; at around 4 p.m. news came that the police were pulling back. Many thought that this might be tactical. In the end, however, the demonstrators had Taksim to themselves. On Sunday morning, under a drizzle, they peacefully cleaned up the square while Erdoğan made the rounds, denouncing the extremists, justifying his actions and defiantly repeating his commitment to overhaul the social and physical space of the meydan.