An engineer, who stumbles through the clouds of pepper spray. A doctor to be, who brings medicine and lemon juice, which is supposed to help limit the effects of tear gas. A teacher, who is filming everything with her camcorder. A foreign exchange student, who is there to experience the revolutionary atmosphere. A left-wing activist, who has been camping for days on Taksim Square in the heart of Istanbul, defending it against the police.
All kinds of people are demonstrating against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Monday night marked just the latest gathering in Turkey's biggest city, part of the wave of protests that has spread across the country after a handful of people in Istanbul came out to prevent the destruction of a small park in the city. It has become a revolt. Hundreds, if not thousands, in Taksim Square have refused to go home and continue to brave the tear gas wafting through the streets. Though the situation has calmed down since the weekend, protesters remain behind their makeshift barricades, made of police barriers and whatever else they could find.
"We are staying until Tayyip goes and we have our freedom," says 24-year-old Balkan. He has taken a break from making films and now sees himself primarily as part of the resistance movement. Looking out at the people on the square, he says "they are all my friends."
The protesters are encouraged, convinced that they have won the first victory in their struggle against Turkey's most powerful man. The police have, at least for now, withdrawn from Taksim Square and Erdogan has been forced to admit that his response to the protests has not been without error. Furthermore, the Istanbul protests have been emulated in more than 40 other cities across the country, including the capital Ankara and the coastal metropolis Izmir. The whole world is now looking at the protests in Turkey .
What they have seen is a brutal police response to the demonstrations, and one that has been sharply criticized by the European Union. The United States, too, has spoken of an "excessive use of force," and German Chancellor Angela Merkel has likewise given voice to concern.
The violence has been flaring up for days. In Istanbul, the most intense clashes have moved to the Besiktas quarter, while in Izmir, a building belonging to Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) was set on fire. Police action in Ankara has been notable for its violence. Doctors and human rights activists say that more than 1,700 people have been injured in the clashes, though Turkish officials have only confirmed 170 injuries. At least two people have been killed thus far.
Yet Erdogan has merely denounced the protesters as "plunderers" and "marauders" who are being controlled from abroad. They call him simply Tayyip, often combining it with a less-than-complimentary reference to his mother. After a decade with Erdogan as prime minister, many feel as though they know him. And now they want to make it clear that they no longer take him seriously. They don't see him as a proud statesman, rather as a raging leader who has lost touch with his people. They call him a "dictator" and a "fascist," and cover buildings with anti-Erdogan graffiti.
Many of them have begun dreaming of a "Turkish Spring" modeled afterl the Arab Spring revolts that shook North Africa in 2011. "The square belongs to us," says a computer specialist who has begun coming to the protests after work. Normally, the man in his early 50s is reserved and balanced. But at the demonstration on Monday night he was filled with the euphoria of revolt.
Still, it is much too early to speak of a movement. The nationwide protests show that Turkish society, despite the economic boom and increasing prosperity, has plenty of grievances when it comes to Erdogan's rule. The question, however, is how long those grievances will continue to propel people onto the streets.
'Not Giving Up Hope'
Or whether the protests will change anything at all. They are certainly larger than usual in Istanbul, a city which sees some form of demonstration almost every day. The variety of people marching against Erdogan is also striking -- old and young, men and women, right-wing and left-wing, Kurds and Kemalists. Even some AKP supporters have turned out.
But according to current surveys, were elections to be held now, Erdogan would still win. In the last election, he managed a huge majority of over 50 percent -- and even today he remains Turkey's most popular politician.
Instead, the demonstrations could be a sign that the divisions in the country are deepening. Pollsters have begun warning of a broad schism splitting Turkish society. Bekir Agirdir, head of the independent polling group KONDA, told the Wall Street Journal that Turkey is experiencing a "worrying polarization of identities" and that "this is a dangerous direction."
Among some of the demonstrators, however, resignation and exhaustion has begun eating away at the euphoria of recent days. "I am afraid that not much will change," says Canon E., 36, who works as an English teacher. "But we are not giving up hope."