Not Just Another Walk in the Park

The Middle East is such a hodge-podge of conflicting factions, all on the same side, yet constantly battling one another.  Still, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) have been doing a pretty fair job of turning their country back into an Islamic state.  According to the Jerusalem Post, in three consecutive elections, the party has increased its votes from 34.3 percent in 2002 to 49.8 percent in 2011.

But just because he wants his country to follow a 3rd Century religion doesn’t mean Erdogan wants his country to actually live in the Third World.  The fathers of Istanbul decided to build a shopping mall in Taksim Square, the city’s only remaining park and only remaining open space where citizens can gather for (hopefully) peaceful demonstrations.

Even Islamists can’t defy the environmentalists.  On May 28, a number of environmentalists gathered in the park to protest the building of the shopping mall.  The AKP’s project also includes plans to resurrect the Topcu military barracks, the site of a 1909 Islamist revolt (known as the 31 March incident) against the Young Turk government.  Now it’s the Liberals’ and pro-secular Turks’ turn to revolt.

The Jerusalem Post goes on to report, “The next day, during the opening ceremony of another of the government’s environmentally controversial construction project, Istanbul’s third bridge, which was named after Yavuz Sultan Selim (a 16th-century Ottoman Sultan who massacred 40,000 Alevis), Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized the protests in Gezi Park by declaring, “Do whatever you want to do, but we have made our decision.”

“And on May 31, his government sent the riot police to crush the Gezi Park protesters.”

“The police’s excessive use of violence, using tear gas and water cannon against the peaceful protesters, was the last straw for the masses, which took to the streets.  People from all walks of life (liberal, pro-secular, conservative, center-left, center-right, leftist, anti-capitalist Islamist, Turkish nationalist, Alevi, white-collar professionals, workers and students) spontaneously gathered together throughout the country to protest the AKP government’s authoritarian policies, Erdogan and his party members’ illiberal political rhetoric, and the AKP-backed police violence against the protesters.”

“The AKP, which has roots in political Islam, starting in its second term, has successfully mobilized against the secular-democratic state by exerting its power in executive, legislative and judiciary branches. As the party increased its votes, the AKP has started to reveal its authoritarian tendencies and has recently started to impose its Islamic values on Turkish society.”

“During its almost 11-year rule, as Erdogan stated, the AKP government initiated “a silent revolution” in Turkey. The AKP silenced its prominent pro-secular critics and curtailed the media and academic freedom by utilizing the Ergenekon trial – Turkey has become the country with the highest number of imprisoned journalists; increased the power of the police, which Erdogan called “the regime’s assurance”; silenced the secular military by utilizing the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer (Balyoz) trials; redesigned the mandatory education system favoring the Islamist movement’s strengthening and enabling the rise of a ‘religious and revengeful youth,’ in Erdogan’s words; prepared a draft law that would restrict women’s rights by imposing an abortion ban after the fourth week of pregnancy including cases of rape and incest, while severely restricting Caesarean births; ordered each theater and opera house to have a small mosque, and each university to build a mosque on its campus; banned the public’s celebration of national holidays, including the republic’s foundation day; erased the ‘Turkish Republic’ from official buildings; tried to intimidate the citizens, who protested the AKP’s policies, by sending the police over the protesters; and most recently, severely restricted the consumption, sale and advertisement of alcohol, while Erdogan implicitly called Atatürk and Inönü ‘drunken lawmakers.’

“In its third term, the AKP, having a majoritarian understanding of democracy, focused on replacing the secular-democratic values of the Turkish state with its conservative interpretation of Islam. Nowadays, every Turkish citizen can easily see the AKP in every sphere of his/her private life. Erdogan suggests that families should have at least three children and people should not drink alcohol because Islam forbids it, but should drink ayran instead, a traditional Turkish yogurt beverage.

“Erdogan, facing the Gezi Park protests, raised the tension by denouncing the protesters as “looters,” who were organized by “extremists” and “foreign elements”; called Twitter, which has become a hub for activists and a major news source, “the worst menace to society”; threatened to “choke” investors if they were caught speculating the bourse; and threatened to send his party supporters to crush the protesters.

“Indeed, during the demonstrations there were several incidents in various cities of pro-AKP civilians brutally attacking demonstrators with sticks, with no interference from the police. During the nationwide demonstrations, the police excessively used tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and nonlethal sound bombs against the protesters.

“However, the government’s policy of intimidating the protesters by applying brutal police force has failed and resulted in the creation of solidarity spirit among the protesters against the AKP’s authoritarian policies. The protests also revealed how the mainstream Turkish media applies self-censorship.

“During the demonstrations, CNN Türk was broadcasting a documentary about penguins, while NTV was broadcasting a cooking show.”

Yes, we here in America know how that goes.  The Tea Parties also know what it’s like not to be permitted to hold rallies.

“It seems that the tension will continue as Erdogan maintains his illiberal political rhetoric, and responds to the protests by holding mass political gatherings in Ankara and Istanbul, such as those on June 15 and 16. The state-controlled Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) fined four TV channels on June 12 for broadcasting the Gezi Park protests. And the police detained over 70 lawyers, who expressed their support for the Gezi Park protesters, in an Istanbul courthouse.

“The nationwide Gezi Park protests show that even if the AKP wins the 2014 general elections for the fourth time, the party may not be able to maintain the stability it has enjoyed since 2002. A consciousness has emerged among citizens in Turkey, particularly among the youth, that they do not have to remain silent facing the AKP’s authoritarian policies. The US has regarded the AKP as a successful model of democracy for the Muslim Middle East. And since 2002, the AKP government has enjoyed the US support. Yet, the recent mass anti-AKP protests reveal that time has come for the US to reassess its policy toward Turkey.

“The writer, Banu Eligur, is an assistant professor at Baskent University in Ankara in the Political Science and International Relations Department. She received her PhD in political science from Brandeis University, where she taught courses on Political Islam and Civil Society in the Middle East as a visiting assistant professor. She is the author of The Mobilization of Political Islam in Turkey (Cambridge University Press, 2010).”

Reading the article in her own words is important because this is a cautionary tale for Americans and it’s always better to hear the truth straight from the Turkish citizen’s mouth.

Published in: on June 18, 2013 at 11:52 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Underlining how deeply personal the issue has become for Erdogan, a spokesman for his AKP party blamed the protesters for allegedly reneging on a deal with Erdogan thrashed out two nights before.

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    thanks..great post…

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