A minor public demonstration that began in Istanbul, Turkey, last month to protest the removal of some trees in Gezi Park and mushroomed into a worldwide movement to protect Turkish democracy also spilled over into Baton Rouge on Saturday.
A dozen people, including Turkish students and business owners, held a rally at Free Speech Alley on the LSU campus Saturday afternoon to demonstrate their solidarity with friends and families who are protesting what they say is an increasingly dictatorial and Islamic rule by their once-secular and democratically elected Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
A live video link of an underground Internet news channel displayed on a widescreen television set operating on an extension cord plugged into the nearby Student Union showed thousands of huddled and chanting protesters in Taksim Square awaiting squadrons of police and clouds of tear gas designed to break the movement up.
Baton Rouge demonstrators scrolled through their cellphones to show recent social media updates that reported alleged police brutality in areas other than Taksim Square.
“People in Baton Rouge and around the world should care about what is going on in Turkey because they are fighting for their freedom of speech, for their constitutional rights to protest the demolition of the park and the government’s oppression of the press,” said the group’s spokesman Kemal Cambazoglu, 35, of New Orleans.
“There are more than 60 (television) channels in Turkey, and this one is the only one broadcasting the demonstrations,” Cambazoglu said, pointing to the TV screen. “It started about a park, but it’s not just about a park anymore.”
“Hundreds became thousands, which became tens of thousands and spread from Istanbul to all the villages and towns in Turkey and now around the world,” said Cambazoglu, who arrived in the U.S. eight years ago. Social media updates reported related demonstrations underway in London.
Dilsad Meraler, 30, attended school in Turkey, has been in America for seven years and owns a business in Baton Rouge.
“It was about trees and a peaceful protest, but now it is about a dictator. He is prime minister — but we call him a dictator — until he began to jail journalists and now he is involved in people’s personal life,” Meraler said. “This is about our children. He wants to put women in hijab. He is changing the education system.” (The hijab is a type of head covering some Muslim women wear in public.)
Nabi Ozoral, who came to Louisiana in 1973 and is now a U.S. citizen, repeatedly called Erdogan “a bully” and stressed that the demonstrators want their nation to remain democratic and not to be ruled by Islamists.
“They want their freedom — just like here in United States,” Ozoral said. “(Erdogan) changed the traditional high schools and made them religious schools and changed the laws for girls to cover their head — like Afghanistan or Pakistan.”
The group issued a news release calling the recent police tear-gassing of demonstrators in Istanbul, “foul acts by the government (that) made the resistance stronger and resulted in a nationwide movement.”
People in the Free Speech Alley gathering stressed they do not want to overthrow Erdogan, but his democratically elected position “does not grant him the right to oppress the media, to order the police to brutally and violently attack the citizens, to prevent freedom of speech and ignore the voice of his own people.”
The demonstrators wrapped up their rally by chanting the slogan, “Everywhere is Taksim, Everywhere in resistance,” and then they repeated it in Turkish, “Her yer Taksim, Her yer direnis!”