Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks in extremes to make his points. It is the same kind of approach he takes on many domestic and foreign policy issues. It works for him and his audience, but he distances those who differ from his viewpoints to such lengths that it becomes nearly impossible to reconcile those opposing views in an attempt to create a rather manageable relationship and a peaceful environment. There is a poisonous vicious cycle here, which has potentially not seen its worst yet considering the June Gezi Park protests.
The simple reason is that Erdogan’s approach to these protests is very simplistic, turning everything into black and white, which, if handled differently could actually help all sides to bring the best out of themselves and their projects. Here is a good example.
Addressing his Justice and Development Party (AKP) provincial mayors meeting on Sept. 18, Erdogan talked about a banner he had seen recently. He said, “The banner read ‘We don’t want roads, we want forests.' Could there be such a banner? Can you believe that university students hung this banner?” He continued, “For those who demand a forest, there is plenty of it. But they don’t know that road is civilization. Is it possible to talk about civilization in the absence of roads, [running] water? You couldn't even reach your university if there are no roads; you can get to university as a result of these roads. … If you want a forest, let's send you to a forest. You go and live in a forest, but you should at least not disturb the city people.”
Instead of proposing to send the university students to a forest — if one can really believe that the prime minister of this country came up with such a suggestion — there is also the third way, that of city planning. Turkey’s youth — whether politically in alignment with the ruling party or the opposition — are an existing entity with its strengths and weaknesses. There may be much to be proud of as well as room for more advancement. However, Middle East Technical University students are smart enough to know that roads are a necessary infrastructure — not a luxury item. But Erdogan likes to speak in extremes, somehow insulting and sidelining these youth on the streets who object this controversial road project. Because Erdogan believes his way is the only way.
Since the Ankara metropolitan city municipality declared its intent to build a road cutting through the campus, there has been an ongoing debate. The plan only became public when the construction machinery arrived and trees were cut. Students boycotted classes and gathered at the scene, sparking yet another round of confrontation with the police. On Sept. 4, the university president’s office said in a written statement that around 3,000 trees would be cut as part of this project, and that this is not what they had agreed with the municipality and government authorities.
These days, one tends to say, “So, what’s new!” Nothing. Erdogan will continue speaking in his high-pitched voice, recommending to the youth that they should go and live in a forest, while at the same time he continues to argue that he is the prime minister of all Turks. And Turkey’s youth have grown sensitive to the destruction taking place in the green areas in big cities, because there really is not much left, and the drabness surrounding city life does not help the youth to wake up with new hopes and dreams and reach for the stars. Greenery is needed for breathing, and these projects are perceived to cut the city’s oxygen supply.
Yet, Erdogan and his supporters will continue to disagree with this rousing objection to his projects, and there seems no interest to find a middle ground, even in an attempt to save some 3,000 trees. Turkey is on a collusion course. What is interesting is that Turks in the past adored former Prime Ministers Bulent Ecevit and Turgut Ozal, the first for his politeness and elegance and the latter for his ability to laugh at himself. So, who really changed, and why? The answer may not be that easy to address.
Tulin Daloglu is a contributor to Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. She has also written extensively for various Turkish and American publications, including The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Middle East Times, Foreign Policy, The Daily Star (Lebanon) and the SAIS Turkey Analyst Report. On Twitter: @TurkeyPulse