On Monday hundreds of people, including many Turkish Vancouverites, gathered outside the Vancouver Art Gallery in solidarity with the ongoing protests in Turkey. Addressing the broad anti-government protests in Istanbul and throughout Turkey, speakers at the VAG condemned the Turkish government’s undemocratic tactics, police brutality against the protests, media blackouts, and religious fundamentalism.
Some organizers drew attention to the original event that sparked the movement. “What started everything was a public space, Gezi park in the city centre…The government decided to turn that into a shopping mall and that wasn’t even a lawful decision. There’s a court decision against it,” said Ozgur Sapmaz, a volunteer organizer of the rally at the VAG.
“People occupied the park to prevent construction machinery from getting in there, which was about to start chopping down the trees. There were about 100 protesters there, who started sitting in, setting up tents. Cops came and tried to kick them out, and they used really brutal force…It started getting attention from the artist community. It became this massive resistance against the construction effort.”
Despite the distance between Vancouver and Turkey, the events in Gezi park bring to mind local history. There was the fight to save the entrance of Stanley Park in 1971, the Crab Park occupation in 1984, the successful UBC student campaigns from 2007 – 2009 to stop the privatization of the centre of campus and the UBC Farm, the Olympic Tent Village, Occupy Vancouver, and many other squats and tent cities. If the destruction of Gezi Park — a seemingly innocuous and unexceptional event — can spark such an uprising in Istanbul, could the same not happen here?