Starbucks has long been a target of anti-corporate protests. But one store on Istanbul’s Taksim Square has quietly given aid to Turkish protestors.
The anti-government protesters who have taken over Istanbul’s Gezi Park and the adjacent Taksim Square have found a surprising corporate sponsor, Seattle-based coffee giant Starbucks.
Despite orders from Turkish police that the cafe should not aid protesters, the staff of the Taksim Square, Starbucks provided food, water, and first-aid to hundreds of protesters seeking refuge from police brutality.
“From the first moments of the protests happening in Taksim Gezi Park, Starbucks stores have kept their doors open to all those in need and provided all necessary assistance,” stated Starbucks Turkey in a press release published on their Facebook account.
On May 28th a small group of environmentalists camped out in Istanbul’s Gezi Park in an effort to save the park from corporate developers. The small protest quickly mushroomed into a widespread youth revolt that lead to violent clashes with police on the streets of Istanbul and around the country, leaving at least three dead and hundreds more injured.
Toykan Topcu, a 23-year-old student at Boğaziçi University took shelter in Starbucks during the second day of violence.
“Employees were helping people who needed shelter, putting waters out before somebody asked for them, and opening restrooms (normally secured with passwords),” said a thankful Topcu.
But Topcu’s grateful sentiments were not universal. During the first day of confrontations many people published statements on Twitter saying that Starbucks was denying people entry.
“There may be some misunderstanding or they may be some mistakes done by employees,” said Topcu. “Now many protesters shout slogans against Starbucks, but I know the fact that there is no such political decision of Starbucks company like ‘don’t help these protesters, let them die.’”
Some protesters believe Starbucks was attacked on Twitter solely because it is a large international corporation, and not because of the behavior of the employees onsite.
“In this kind of demonstration which is against capitalism, world capitalism, the first victims are generally McDonald’s and also Starbucks,” said 28 year-old social democrat and occasional Starbucks customer Ufuk Unfug.
Unfug also said that it is the responsibility of large international corporations to build solidarity with local citizens.
“Starbucks, McDonald’s, Burger King etc, should be much more careful than other companies. They should be with people more, they should support those people more because as I said they are the first victims,” added Unfug.
On June 2nd Starbucks closed its doors and has not reopened since while other international corporations on the square, including both McDonald’s and Burger King, reopened almost immediately. Most other local businesses, many of them covered with graffiti and other signs of political unrest, also reopened as soon as the violence ended.
However the company may have provided aid even after closing. For the first few days after the initial protest the cafe’s patio functioned as a first aid and food distribution center. Omer-Arglin Goreuli, a 32-year-old programmer and web developer, volunteered at the site and said Starbucks staff gave them permission use the patio area and gave them some cups and other supplies.
“Starbucks can’t open then they said to us ‘we are closing here, you can use here,’” said Goreuli. “In some ways they are helping us, it’s really cool. It really helps,” he added.
A spokesman for Starbucks in Turkey denied that they had given anyone permission to use the patio.
The first-aid supplies were moved into the park after a few days but several members of Turkey’s socialist party continued to occupy the site on the grounds that it was an internationally recognized symbol of capitalism.
Although the area around Taksim Square was peaceful for all of last week, Starbucks refrained from reopening given the volatile nature of the protests. A Starbucks Turkey spokesman said the cafe will reopen only when the protests are over and they feel it is safe and ready to do so.
The debate surrounding the Taksim Square Starbucks is in many ways indicative of the ideological divisions within the Occupy Gezi movement itself.
Many vocal protesters are communists or socialists who want a complete overhaul of the current political and economic system. But others traipse through the grounds sipping on Starbucks coffee and texting on their iPhones, quite content in the age of global capitalism.
Starbucks corporate office in Seattle didn’t not respond to requests for comment on the protests.