Since the 1980 military coup in Turkey, the May Day holiday in Istanbul had often been marked by violent confrontation between security forces and organized labor. This year, however, May Day proved festive, not combative.
For the past three decades, union members in Turkey had sought not just to celebrate the working class on May Day, but also remember the 36 people killed during a 1977 confrontation at Istanbul’s central Taksim Square. In subsequent years, authorities routinely tried to seal off the area, while workers went to great lengths to try to reach it. May Day events thus devolved into running street battles around the square, in which security forces tried to chase away protesters.
This year, Istanbul officials granted permission to union representatives and supporters to gather at Taksim Square. Security forces remained on the periphery, and water cannon and tear gas were not used. Workers self-policed themselves, maintaining relative calm. Local entrepreneurs, whose stores often suffered property damage during the annual melees, breathed a sigh of relief.
Jonathan Lewis is a freelance reporter and photographer based in Istanbul.