May 1, 1977: “Taksim Square had become a battleground”

1 may taksim sqTaksim Square (May 1, 1977)

[An excerpt from Sakine Cansiz’s memoir Sara: My Whole Life Was A Struggle] 

The days crawled by, and May 1 [1977] approached. We decided to celebrate the workers’ holiday here in [the Buca] prison and discussed the program. In the outside world, preparations were running full steam ahead. In Istanbul all the leftist groups were planning to demonstrate at Taksim Square. I wondered how May 1 would pass in Kurdistan. Surely the friends would participate in the action at Taksim Square. In Kurdistan, police attacks were usually much harsher. I suspected there would be clashes. 

On May 1 we put on our best clothes. Red carnations had been sent to us from outside–we put them in cans and arranged them on the cabinets. At 9 a.m., out in the courtyard, we started with a minute of silence, then shouted slogans together. We heard slogans booming from other cells as well. We were loud even though we were only few in number. “Long live the first of May!” we cried, and in Kurdish: “Bijî Yeke Gulanê!” [long live
the first of May!]. 
Then, tensely, we turned on the TV news. State television was reporting mostly on police security measures, but sometimes it switched to showing crowds streaming into Taksim Square. Hundreds of thousands were marching with raised eft fists and roaring slogans. It was a splendid sight, strengthening our belief that this mass of humanity could really carry out a revolution. We all murmured with excitement at each new camera shot. Never had I so much confidence in the working class and the prospects for revolution in Turkey. I was fired up, even as I ached with longing for Kurdistan [. . .] The sight of workers in smocks and overalls was impressive. Occasionally they showed footage of the leader of the DİSK revolutionary trade union confederation, Abdullah Baştürk, and the chairman of the TİP, the Turkish Workers Party, Behice Boran. I listened carefully for the slogan “Down with colonialism” and scanned the crowds for banners saying “Kurdistan Revolutionaries.” Suddenly a commotion broke out.

The live broadcast showed everything as it happened We were riveted to the TV, and a few women screamed. At first we didn’t understand what was happening. The newscaster gasped that shots had been fired from the roof of the Sheraton hotel. Official announcements referred to a “clash between leftist groups.” Then we saw armored vehicles rolling into the square, and people lying on the ground. Taksim Square had become a battleground. Banners, flags, and flyers flew through the air. Panicking people tried to flee, and some got trampled. It was horrifying. Our joy vanished, replaced by sorrow and fear. Before our very eyes, a massacre was taking place. There had been half a million people on the square, and now water cannons were deployed against them, and smoke bombs made it hard for them to breathe. The newscaster said “at least 20” were dead, then 30. Then it rose to “36 dead and many wounded.” Thousands were arrested. We communicated with the men’s block about how to respond and decided on a three-day hunger strike. At a predetermined time, we shouted all together: “We demand justice for the fascist murderers!” “The martyrs of Taksim Square will never die!” and “Accountability for May 1.” Within our limited range of possibilities, we protested the May 1 bloodbath in Istanbul. [1]


[1] Sakine Cansiz, Sara: My Whole Life Was a Struggle: The Memoirs of a Kurdish Revolutionary, tr. Janet Biehl (London, UK: Pluto Press, 2018), 203-04.


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