The marching column appeared over the asphalt curve of freeway D100 under a sun already unrelenting at 9 a.m., barely mitigated by the breeze that has swept away the asphyxiating mugginess of recent days.
In the lead is a group of security personnel, an endless file of black police uniforms and army camouflage fatigues bearing combat rifles.
But first of all, there is a flag with the yellow and red colors of a beloved Istanbul soccer team. And at the center of the flag is the image of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, father of the Turkish republic.
His is the face that opens the way of a protest march that began 400 kilometers away in the capital Ankara and on Sunday reached its destination in Istanbul.
They walked to the prison where Enis Berberoglu is being held. The Republican People’s Party (CHP) parliamentarian was jailed on charges of divulging state secrets, photographs that prove the transfer of weapons to Syria by the Turkish secret services. His arrest set the tone for a protest march and demands for justice rarely seen before in this country.
The crowd of several hundred thousand was orderly, flowing like a gentle river under the bridges and overpasses from which other citizens watched with curiosity. They shouted their support, cheering, waving the national flag or Ataturk’s portrait.
A few isolated individuals flaunted their disagreement, praising President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, showing the Turkish emblem of ultranationalism, the Gray Wolves, or the four finger symbol of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The protesters walked together and never broke apart. The order not to react to provocation was well received, and in response they only applauded and chanted the national anthem, some songs of independence. The rhythmic mantra repeated: “hak, hukuk, adalet.” Rights, law, justice.
The demonstration is dedicated to justice, with CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu calling the protest against the appropriation of the judiciary power by the government. “The parliament was taken from us,” he said of the April 16 referendum 16 that strengthened the presidency. “Now, we seek justice in the streets.”
The crowd united under the white color of shirts and hats that read simply, ”adalet.” There were no party flags or symbols, which were banned by the organizers to keep the initiative away from any partisanship “because justice is a common asset,” marchers said.
In this white river, various souls coexist in a way that is in some ways reminiscent of the most colorful and vibrant days of Gezi Park.
The thick beard and wrinkled face of Veysel “Amca” Kilic stand out, an individual far away from the secular Kemalist CHP. He admitted he is close to Milli Gorus, an Islamist political movement in which Erdogan participated in the past.
Kilic’s son, Sebahattin, is among the nearly 400 Air Force cadets imprisoned for almost a year. “But I do not trust the supposed independence of this judiciary. I want adalet, justice, in this country; I want to live free in my Turkey.”
Ayten is the mother of another one of those cadets. She carried signs demanding justice for the soldiers killed during the coup attempt and forgotten by a selective memory: “Even our children are victims of what happened a year ago and they ask for adalet, justice.”
There were workers and trade union members wearing white helmets, for whom “adalet must also return to labor” because Erdogan’s purges have not only sent thousands to prison, but many were fired from their jobs and have not been able to find employment again.
There were the families of the Soma miners, too. The town and those families have become a symbol of a labor tragedy, and they are still awaiting adalet for their deaths. Among the workers there are also journalists. Employees of the newspaper Sozcu marched this weekend, demanding that “journalism is not penalized, because without free journalism there is no adalet.”
Some of the marchers dedicated their steps to Semih Ozakca and Nuriyeh Gulmen, who are in prison for having started a hunger strike to demand their jobs back. Their hunger protest has been going on for more than 110 days. Fan groups of professional soccer teams are marching as well.
But also marching are the armed men in uniform as a reminder that “there is no adalet under a state of emergency,” which erases legal certainty and makes everything confusing and arbitrary.
The numbers participating in this march are imposing. According to the prosecutor’s office, more than 100,000 people walked, but other estimates were higher, a success considering that only a few thousand started from Ankara on June 15.
Even more surprising was the absolute absence of accidents. At the beginning, it was a more than plausible fear but, thankfully, it vanished kilometer after kilometer. Everybody abided by the principle of peaceful civil disobedience that led many commentators to compare the march to those of Gandhi in India.
Of course, the latter did not walk escorted by tens of policemen as Kilicdaroglu did. On Sunday, he walked the last three kilometers to the prison by himself, the final chapter of an initiative which gave him an enormous strength, after months of criticism for his passivity.
The real question is what will Kilicdaroglu’s next step be? Erdogan, after firing the first shots, has allowed the development of the initiative while preparing the anniversary celebrations of the attempted coup of July 15, with a possible show of force of multitudes on the streets.
Erdogan will capitalize on this march, stating the march itself is proof there is adalet in Turkey, in spite of the fact that more than 100,000 have marched saying the opposite. Four years ago, the fire of Gezi was extinguished by police water cannons and tear gas. Can the slow flow of this river, which calls for justice, realize a different ending?
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