This year the 8th of March was again tense and chaotic in Istanbul. Women wanted to demonstrate in Taksim, continuing their tradition of walking along Istiklal Avenue and reaching Taksim square to celebrate and voice their demands, but authorities banned them from doing so. The governorate of Istanbul announced that any gathering on the 8th of March in Taksim square and Istiklal Avenue would be banned, and authorities closed down metro stations reaching Taksim square and blocked entrances to the square with police barricades.

Women who went to Taksim anyway faced harsh police action, with police pushing women back and detaining around 30.

Last year it was actually worse, with police using tear gas and batons on women trying to march on Istiklal, with women also being accused of whistling and booing the Muslim call of prayer, the Ezan. All kinds of crazy comes to the minds of authorities when women want to march on Istiklal.

It is a fact that the ruling government has an obsession about Taksim square. The square is not only closed to women’s rallies, but pretty much any rally or gathering. Although there are exceptions, one being for a group of Syrians celebrating new years with Free Syrian Army flags.

The authorities cite security as an excuse to close Taksim square for events. However, marches against FETÖ (formally known as the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization) were allowed in Taksim. And when fans of the football club Galatasaray chose to march in Taksim, security was apparently not an issue.

Obviously, the government is picking and choosing what can take place in Taksim and what cannot. The obsession over Taksim is not without reason, and the area has historically been a neighborhood of non-Muslim minorities and night life since the Ottoman Empire. After the First World War, the Turkish War of Independence, and the establishment of the Republic, however, minorities began gradually leaving Turkey. Nonetheless, Taksim has continued to be a center of social life and activities in Istanbul. I remember when I was younger we would go to Taksim all the time–to have drinks, to see an opera, to have a nice meal, or to dance until morning. People would walk up and down Istiklal Avenue and socialize, and when people wanted to protest, Taksim was the center.

Yet the face of this famous center has been changing dramatically. First, the AKP government banned cafes in the area from putting their tables outside, which killed business. Then it became much harder for cafes and restaurants to receive alcohol licences, which changed their customer profile. Gradually, rallies have been banned, with authorities sometimes citing the possibility of terror attacks as an excuse. Even the pride parade is now being suppressed brutally.

Then Erdoğan had a giant mosque built in Taksim square, which is now bigger than any historical buildings around it, including the historical Greek Church. The mosque now dominates the square, just as the government dominates those who can use the square and those who can not.

Taksim is the symbol of Istanbul. So the government wants to keep hold of the square. Both as a show of force and as a symbol.