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The Past and the Future of ‘Protesting’ Taksim Square in the Heart of Istanbul

The Past and the Future of ‘Protesting’ Taksim Square in the Heart of Istanbul

If the center of the city is supposed to be the crossroad of big and important avenues, in Istanbul each citizen will point out Taksim as the main square situated at the European side of the city. Taksim is the main square in Istanbul with Gezi Park connecting apparently to the all other parts of the city. The square itself is hideously famous not only among the tourists but is a favorite place for its citizens as well. 


Nowadays Taksim, being the central crossroad for all the megapolis’s avenues, appeared only on the 30s of last millennium.  Before that for about 400 years at that very place was situated the Christian cemetery, one of the biggest one in Konstantinoupolis.  It was an Armenian cemetery known as Surb Hakob (Saint Hakob).

As the history states the area was gifted by Sultan Seliyman to his Chief cook Manuk Karaseferian, who saved Sultan’s life denying to participate in the conspiracy against Sultan and betrayed the organizers. Later, in 1919,  the cemetery Saint Hakob was not serving only a huge burial place for all Armenians, but a place where the memorial of Armenian Genocide has been raised:

None of the burials nor the memorial survived during the reconstruction of the city. While in July 2013 during the excavations 16 graves and the remains of XIX century building has been explored. The foundings approved the ancient importance of the district itself.

The staircases built of marble from the Armenian cemetery, photo: Giila Haddad

The district Beyoglu adjoined to the burials was a unique place. During the XIX century this prominent area in Istambul has been inhabited by the all non-Muslims and secularized population of the city. One of the typical characteristics of Beyoglu giving it a special atmosphere was the tiny ancient houses, which have been later destroyed by Municipality replacing the buildings with business centers and residential houses. It was the policy of the Republican authorities to construct a new Istanbul having no connection to the old one.

Chirch in Beyoglu district, Istabul, photo: Mutlu Gunay

Armenian football team 'Taksim', 1932, photo: Gila Haddad

Ironically or accidently, the area of ancient Armenian cemetery, later Taksim square became a distinct place for Turkish people to consistently express their social - political views.  The number of organized meetings was so hideously huge that Taksim square became the symbol of human rights and freedom for the majority of developing society. 

Through its roads and adjoined streets thousands of protest marches have been arranged against the assassination of Hrant Dink, a human rights protector with Armenian origins, who was the chief editor of  an Armenian newspaper ‘Agos’.  The crowd gathering turks, kurds, armenians and other nationalities exclaiming the slogan “We are all Armenians, we are all Hrant Dinks” proclaimed the murder as a continuation of massacre of 1915, the unsolved issue of the Armenian nation having another cruel and unrelenting victim.

Nowadays, after 100 years, the progressive part of Turkish society gathers in the square of ‘protests’ and demands precisely the same things that Armenians did: to live in the country with equal rights and freedom of each citizen regardless of ethnic and religious affiliation.

In 2013, in Taksim square the largest protest has been arranged against the conducted rules of the Government. At the beginning it was a peaceful meeting of citizens speaking against the massive eradication of 600 trees in the park and building new masque and shopping center instead. It was a vivid message from Islamic dictatorial authorities to establish some religious authorities in the most secularized part of the city. Overall, the masque has not been constructed while the monument of Kemal Ataturk has been raised as the symbol of country’s establishment.


The protest being organized by the supporters of peaceful march towards the ecological massive issues has been drastically changed into a huge anti-governmental and anti-Erdogan protest when the police started attacking protesters with water cannons and tear gas. Because of the violence thousands of people joined the protest and the protest itself started spreading abruptly throughout Turkey. Overall it lasted from the end of May to the start of August. As the result of police attacks there were 4 killed and more than 8.000 wounded protesters.

During the protest activists sited a temporary grave with an inscription “Armenian Cemetery Saint Hakob, 1551-1939: you already owned our cemetery, but not the park!”.

During the protests a satirical song has been written by the band of Kardesh Turkler “Pots and Pans” expressing their true solidarity to the activists. Find the link below:


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