Turkey was such a society in the past. We can even say that despite the winds of change in recent years, we continue to stick to many of our old habits. There are lots of events that accumulated over time and were pushed to the dark side of the moon.
During the May Day celebrations held in İstanbul’s Taksim Square in 1977, a disaster occurred and 34 people died -- three shot to death and the majority crushed to death. This incident became a major milestone in the run-up to the coup of Sept. 12, 1980, which served as a significant fault line in the history of the country. Even the prosecutor has regarded it as one of the most suspicious incidents in the case and included it as a plot devised to create chaos and pave the way for the eventual military takeover in the indictment for the ongoing lawsuit against the two surviving generals of that coup.
The general conviction is that several snipers working for the “deep state” opened fire on the rallying crowd from the windows of a hotel -- currently the Marmara -- and from the rooftop of the [İstanbul]Waterworks Authority (İSKİ), and in the resulting panic people crushed each other.
This was what the general public believed about the massacre of May 1, 1977, and the “leftist” groups of Turkey rightfully produced an extensive narrative based on this victimization. For the left wing, which was the target and a sure loser in the Sept. 12, 1980 coup, this served to reinforce the legend of being beaten by a very powerful force.
Speaking to Belkıs Kılıçkaya from Habertürk on Tuesday, May 1, and to Ertan Altan on Wednesday, historian and author Halil Berktay voiced a claim that can hardly be considered novel and yet all hell broke loose.
Berktay was a former Maoist and was in Taksim Square on that day, and he recounted the incident as follows:
“In 1976, the May Day rally had been very crowded, and the rally had been conducted under the control of the Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions [DİSK], which was dominated by the Turkish Communist Party [TKP]. This, of course, aroused the envy of other groups. On the other hand, the TKP saw this as a stronghold, a paragon of sovereignty that must be protected. Therefore, the tension had already escalated between the rival groups ahead of the May Day celebrations in 1977. The tendency of the TKP and DİSK was not to allow any other political group to enter Taksim Square carrying the TKP’s or DİSK’s banners. In particular, they were determined to ban the groups which they referred to as ‘Gauchists’ or ‘Maoist Grey Wolves.’ In response, the rival groups such as the People’s Liberation, the People’s Way and the Turkish Workers and Peasants Liberation Army [TİKKO] would say, ‘We will enter Taksim Square and we will not abandon Taksim Square to revisionists even if we lose 10,000 people.’
“I think I had joined one of the groups at Beşiktaş and we were walking towards Taksim Square. The atmosphere was very tense. It was as if everyone was waiting for an incident to break out at any moment.
“Suddenly, repeated gunshots were heard from the direction of the Waterworks Authority. The People’s Liberation, the People’s Way, TİKKO and similar groups were trying to enter the square from that direction. They possibly hit DİSK’s checkpoint and a clash erupted between them. Someone started to fire their guns, either in the air or at certain targets. That snipers opened fire from the windows of the Marmara Hotel and from the rooftop of the Waterworks Authority is completely a lie, an urban legend.”
When Berktay narrated the incident as a witness, but without any evidence to support his case, many people reacted harshly and even launched a smear campaign and denigrated him. It is clear that we are still unable to discuss this incident, even though 35 years have passed since. Undoubtedly, this tension between the rival groups reinforces the possibility that the deep state might have stepped in to take advantage of it, and Berktay does not rule out this possibility either. But shouldn’t our normal reaction be to demand that the claims be investigated and the material truth uncovered?
I think this is what the main problem in Turkey is already: Every group has a totalitarian mentality of forcing other groups to accept its subjective narratives.