On Saturday, riot police pulled back from central Istanbul’s Taksim Square, and the tear gas cleared. But both sides in the conflict gripping Turkey remained firmly entrenched. Thousands of protesters massed in the square, spilling into the surrounding streets. And they showed no signs that they planned to leave—celebrating with beer and wine and erecting barricades out of dumpsters and overturned cars. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, refused to back down. “Taksim Square cannot be a place where extremists run wild,” he said, dismissing the protesters in a speech broadcast on Turkish TV.
Yet Erdogan—who has won three straight elections, the last one handily—has seen his stature battered badly by the worst unrest to grip Turkey in recent memory. The protests started earlier this week as a small effort to save a park from the bulldozers of one of Erdogan’s controversial urban redevelopment plans—but they quickly swelled in the face of police crackdowns and evolved into a broad push against the government. The crowds in Taksim now feature Turks from all walks of life bearing a litany of complaints against Erdogan—accusing him of everything from Islamism and authoritarian tendencies to riddling the city with a preponderance of malls. Similar protests have sprung up across the country.
With police gone, a festive mood settled over Taksim on Saturday that extended deep into the night, as protesters chanted and shot off fireworks. But with no solution in sight, tension also loomed—sporadic clashes between police and protesters broke out elsewhere in the city and the makeshift barricades around Taksim only grew.
These exclusive images from photojournalist Yusuf Sayman provide an up-close look at the Taksim demonstrations as they progressed on Saturday—from the chaos of the clashes to the surreal scenes of celebration that took its place.
– Mike Giglio