At the end of last week, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with the leaders of protesters who had been occupying Gezi Park, the last green space in the center of Istanbul. He made what seemed to be a concession, that he would hold off on redeveloping the park until a court could review the case. Representatives of Taksim Solidarity who attended the meeting said that a referendum would be held if the court ruled in favor of such.
Then on Saturday, Erdogan sent in riot police with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets to force the protesters out of the park. Police detained doctors and nurses who had helped treat injured protesters as well as the owners of luxury hotels who had allowed protesters to enter their lobbies and ballrooms and arrested at least one foreign journalist.
Erdogan cracked down on protests in other cities, including the capital of Ankara and held a mass rally of his own supporters at an outdoor arena on the Sea of Marmara on Sunday. At this, he proclaimed “if anyone wants to see the real picture of Turkey, this is Turkey,” dismissed those who had occupied Gezi Park for 18 days as “vandals” and “terrorists” and mocked the BBC, CNN and Reuters on the grounds that they had “fabricated news.” Meanwhile a myriad of people waved flags with photos of Erdogan’s face and the logo of his Justice and Development Party (known as A.K.P. from its Turkish initials).
Erdogan’s Harsh Response Draws Opposition Together
After ten years in which parliamentary opposition to him has been weak, Erdogan’s autocratic response to the protests has enabled “liberals, secularists and minorities” to find a “common cause.”
Turkey was founded in the early twentieth century after secularists defeated Islamic Ottoman forces. The secularists continue to frown upon references to Ottoman rule such as the replica of a 19th-century Ottoman barracks that had been part of Erdogan’s original Gezi Park redevelopment plan. A survey in a Turkish newspaper, Today’s Zaman, says that growing numbers of Turks are concerned that their government is becoming more authoritarian and, in particular, imposing “lifestyle choices” that limit personal freedoms such as a recent law restricting alcohol use.
Erdogan has frequently pointed to Turkey’s economic growth and rising standard of living under his rule. Certainly he has more than plenty of supporters who minimize the extent of the protests and attribute them to foreigners. But with Turkey seeking entrance into the European Union, Erdogan should be aware that his harsh response could “undermine Turkey’s image as a rising global power and a model of Islamic democracy.” While not saying that talks involving Turkey’s accession into the EU should be called off, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has expressed shock at Erdogan’s crackdown and said that “what’s happening in Turkey at the moment is not in line with our idea of the freedom to demonstrate or freedom of speech.”
“National unity, done his way.” This is the path Erdogan has chosen, say the BBC; one Turkish government official has spoken about calling in the army if necessary. Workers have already planted flowers and brought in fresh sod into Gezi Park and police have regained control of it and Istanbul’s central Taksim Square. But Erdogan’s brutal, authoritarian clamp down on three weeks of civil unrest in Turkey has only coalesced and “solidified opposition against him.”
Photo of Gezi Park via Burak Su/Flickr