From A World to Win News Service

Turkey: Police Rampage Against International Women's Day Demonstrators

Revolutionary Worker #1273, April 3, 2005, posted at

The following article is from A World to Win News Service:

March 14, 2005. A World to Win News Service. Police in Istanbul, Turkey, attacked with special brutality a demonstration marking International Women's Day.

The demonstration of some 150-200 women began in Beyazit Square in central Istanbul in the early afternoon of Saturday, March 5. One of the women began to read out a statement proclaiming their determination to take part in the worldwide events to celebrate International Women's Day. Almost immediately the police ordered them to disperse. Then a large contingent of riot police attacked, firing tear gas projectiles directly at women. Their aim was far more than simply breaking up the protest. They beat demonstrators to the ground and then kicked and beat them more. They chased demonstrators through the park and streets and even into neighboring cafés where the demonstrators tried to take refuge, in order to break bones and beat unconscious as many of the women as they could.

Such brutality against demonstrators is not rare in Turkey, but neither is it used against every demonstration. The Islamic attire worn by most of the women at another International Women's Day demonstration on March 8 itself contrasted with the secular nature of the Saturday protest, and the March 8 action was not attacked.

The Saturday demonstration was organized by a coalition of various leftist women's groups, among them the newly formed Democratic Women's Movement (DHK), associated with the Maoist Communist Party (MKP). The DHK had held its founding Congress in Istanbul on the weekend before the demonstration. It was attended by 150-200 women from around the country who came to unite their ranks and mobilize to take part in the fight for revolution to establish new democracy in Turkey.

Though the women were well aware that their action was more controversial than most, and so could come in for harsher than usual repression, they were also aware that numerous demonstrations had been held in the same square in recent months, including by Islamic fundamentalists, without incident. The Turkish ruling class has been under increasing pressure from the European Union to "clean up its act" and eliminate some of the more openly repressive features of its rule as part of negotiations regarding Turkey's joining the EU. It was also well known that a high-ranking EU delegation was in Istanbul for discussions on Turkey's adhesion to the EU right as the demonstration was taking place. So the spotlight of the European media would be squarely on Turkey for a few days.

Given all this, the savagery of the police attack took many by surprise.

The EU delegation expressed outrage and condemned the attack, saying this was not how "democracies" act. A spokesman for the police said that the difference was that the Saturday event was not "properly authorized" and responded to the EU delegation's criticism by explaining, "Turkish police have the right to use violence like every country's police force." (Here he may have had in mind, for example, the UK's shooting down of peaceful demonstrators in Northern Ireland, killing 14, in 1972.) Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan complained that the women themselves had "provoked violence." This situation formed the backdrop for the March 14 London meeting between British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul.

Straw might have had trouble mustering up any real human rights outrage to Gul, since his own government had just forced through passage of a new "Prevention of Terrorism" act that undoes the legal protections against arbitrary arrest and imprisonment that have been considered the hallmark of the rule of law in Britain for the last 800 years. In light of this latest legislation and the UK's repeated clashes with the EU Human Rights Charter and efforts to opt out of it in past years, if the EU were based on anything but imperialist interests, the UK might not qualify for membership either.

Media commentators in Turkey have discussed the possibility that the attack was instigated by forces in the Turkish ruling class who are reluctant to join the EU, including because of some thinking that this might threaten relations with their main imperialist master, the U.S. The EU may have great economic influence in Turkey, but the army that has been at the heart of every government in Turkey for decades is under U.S. influence, to put it mildly. So in this view, attacking the women so viciously delivered a message meant to reassure the Americans, put the Europeans on notice, and let revolutionaries and other anti-regime forces in Turkey know that they should have no illusions about any fundamental change in the nature of rule in the country.