Turkish Spring?

Turks takes to the streets to protest the policies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

al-monitor Demonstrators stand in front of a makeshift shield during clashes with Turkish riot police in central Ankara, June 2, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Umit Bektas.

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protests, demonstration, turkey, arab

Jun 2, 2013

A violent police raid on a sit-in protesting plans to build a mall at Taksim Square in Istanbul on May 31, 2013, became a rallying point for anger over the policies of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Cengiz Candar, who has covered historic events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, wrote that the protests most remind him of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in 1989.

Reporting from the streets of Istanbul, Candar commented: “What Tiananmen means for Beijing and Tahrir means for Cairo, Taksim means for Istanbul. That's why, although there have been no losses of lives so far, the incidents that erupted with brutal pepper gas attacks by police on a group of people who opposed the cutting of trees at Gezi Park, the incidents quickly lost relevance with the original grievance and shook the Erdogan government to the core like a massive earthquake.”

Yavuz Baydar, also reporting from Istanbul, observed that the protests are directed at the perceived intrusive and polarizing policies of Prime Minister Erdogan, adding that those “who filled the streets were predominantly the young — with a mixture of seculars, socialists, Marxists, Kemalists, anarchists, nationalists, Alevis and Kurds — who manifested high emotions and resolve against what they saw as an insufferably authoritarian way of managing affairs.” 

Erdogan, writes Tulin Daloglu from Ankara, “does not seem to be getting the message. While this protest may now turn ideological, it all started as a small gathering of about 500 people on Monday [May 27]. The reason it got out of control with massive protests in 10 other cities around the country — Adana, Konya, Tunceli, Mersin, Mugla, Marmaris, Izmit, Adana, Izmir, Van and Sivas — is that Erdogan has shown no culture of consensus-building with those who disagree with him.”

Amberin Zaman wrote from Taksim Square: “Be it through restrictions on alcohol or disregard for the environment, people who do not share Erdogan’s worldview are being made to feel like second-class citizens. The sentiment is especially strong among the country’s large Muslim Alevi minority whose long-running demands for recognition continue to be spurned much as they were by past governments.”

Mustafa Akyol,  leading a lively Twitter exchange on @AlMonitor on May 31 as events were exploding at Taksim, wrote: “For those who think in a simple democracy vs. dictatorship dichotomy, Turkey is a surprise: A democracy with many illiberal traits.”

Zaman concludes on a similar note:  “Turkey is not on the brink of a revolution. A Turkish Spring is not afoot. Erdogan is no dictator. He is a democratically elected leader who has been acting in an increasingly undemocratic way.”

Candar mostly agrees, but responds, “We can’t anymore be sure of validity of any observations from now on. After Istanbul 31 May-1 June 2013 many things — including even the fate of Erdogan — will be unpredictable.”

Regular readers of Turkey Pulse  are familiar with the diversity and depth of debate over Erdogan’s perceived Islamic nanny-state policies and statements, government curbs on press freedoms and worries by some democracy advocates about the pending constitutional referendum.

And there is of course Syria, where Turkey’s failed policies to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are unpopular and another source of friction.

In sum, whether we are witnessing a Turkish Spring or not, Erdogan is under pressure for his Islamism and perceived authoritarianism at home, and his sectarianism abroad.  His policies and rhetoric are promoting division rather than unity; this is especially dangerous given the troubles both on and within his borders.

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