Turkey Pulse

Yellow Vest protests cause satisfaction and resentment in Turkey

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Article Summary
Protests in Paris have ignited fears of copycat demonstrations against President Erdogan in Turkey.

Five years have elapsed since Istanbul's Gezi Park demonstrations, which started as a simple environmental protest but quickly escalated into a nationwide protest of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule by predominantly secularist quarters.

The fear and loathing caused by those demonstrations — which were suppressed with overwhelming police force and left eight demonstrators and two policemen dead — remain very much alive for Erdogan and his diehard supporters.

This was discernible in their reactions to the Yellow Vest protests in Paris, which also provided Erdogan and his supporters with an opportunity to delight in the difficult situation President Emmanuel Macron now faces.

The barely concealed sense of satisfaction over these events is on parade, from President Erdogan down to members of his government, as well as the pro-government media.

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None of them have held back from using the events in Paris to reveal their visceral resentment of the West.

Underlying Ankara’s rancor is the hatred generated by European governments and the Western media during the Gezi protests.

Erdogan, who was prime minister at the time, was harshly criticized over his handling of the protesters, most of whom had nothing to do with the rioting and vandalism of extremist groups.

True to character, Erdogan is now self-righteously gloating over what is transpiring in France.

Addressing an opening ceremony in Istanbul on Dec. 8, he contrasted European reactions to the situation in France with the positions taken during the Gezi protests in Turkey.

Erdogan blasted Europe for what he said was its low-key response to the Yellow Vest demonstrations, even though these were marked by police violence and rioting. “Europe has fallen short of its own standards of democracy, human rights and freedoms,” he said.

Addressing another audience two days later, during an event organized for World Human Rights Day, Erdogan ratcheted up his criticism.

“It’s no coincidence that those in the world who shout the most about human rights today are the ones that have always had the worst record on human rights,” he said, going on to blast “European hypocrisy.”

Erdogan also pilloried the Western media for what he said was its unequal coverage of events in Paris and Istanbul. “Those who championed human rights during the Gezi street demonstrations in Istanbul are blind and deaf to what is happening in Paris,” Erdogan claimed.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu echoed similar sentiments during an address in his hometown of Antalya.

“We are opposed to vandalism, but the excessive force used by the French police is worth noting," Cavusoglu said. "The attitude of the press in this case is also a disaster. This is what we refer to as double standards. This is what we refer to as being two-faced."

Erdogan had used the live coverage by the Western media throughout the Gezi protests to reinforce his contention that these protests were part of a Jewish-inspired Western plot, involving a shadowy “international interest-rate lobby,” to undermine him and his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP).

This belief remains firmly embedded in Erdogan’s mind and those of his followers, and their resentment of Europe remains strong. This is especially discernible in the pro-government media, which represent the greater portion of the Turkish media today.

Abdurrahman Dilipak from the Islamist daily Yeni Akit believes that what is happening in France is a simple case of “what goes around comes around.”

“Those who talked during the Gezi events are silent now. They did not expect the crow they fed to turn around one day and poke their eye out,” Dilipak wrote.

Ufuk Ulutas, the director for foreign policy at the government-funded Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) in Ankara, believes that the events in France have once again revealed the lack of Western empathy toward Turkey.

“Reproaching the vandals in France while romanticizing the vandals in Turkey is, to put it simply, a case of double standards,” Ulutas wrote in his column in the daily Aksam.

There is little effort on the part of these commentators to understand the socio-economic reasons for the current demonstrations in Paris. Instead, the events in France have elicited a slew of conspiracy theories involving international plots.

Little consideration is also given to the fact that the demonstrations in Paris have forced Macron to backpedal on the decisions that sent the protesters to the streets in the first place.

Appearing to be spurred on by President Donald Trump’s controversial remarks about the events in Paris, Dilipak alleged that Macron faces a US conspiracy.

“It was clear that these events would take place after Macron started talking about the need for Europe to establish an alliance similar to NATO, which would be independent of the US,” Dilipak wrote.

“Those who caused the turmoil in France are not friends of Turkey either. We must not forget this,” he warned.

Ibrahim Karagul, the firebrand editor-in-chief of the Islamist Yeni Safak daily, also sees a US hand behind the events in France.

“What is happening in Paris is a punishment meted out to those who reject US tutelage. … It is an Anglo-Saxon-Israeli intervention that is being serviced through the Saudi crown prince and the UAE crown prince, who represent the leg of this intervention in our region,” Karagul outlandishly reasoned.

Despite the self-righteous satisfaction in Turkey over developments in France, the Yellow Vest protests also serve as a reminder that such mass demonstrations can erupt unexpectedly at any time and spread fast.

There is, therefore, also the fear in Ankara that the events in France might ignite copycat demonstrations in Turkey, where the rapidly rising cost of living is also hitting millions of households.

Erdogan is currently preparing for crucial local elections in March and can ill afford such a crisis at a time when he already faces difficult domestic and foreign issues.

Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which acts as an unofficial coalition partner for Erdogan’s AKP, issued a dire warning in this respect.

“If there is anyone who wishes to emulate the Yellow Vest terror, they will pay a heavy price for this. Those who wear yellow vests should be prepared to sleep naked,” Bahceli told a gathering on Dec. 12.

Kurtulus Tayiz, another avid Erdogan supporter who writes for Aksam, pointed out that the street demonstrations in France had “excited the usual quarters” in Turkey. “These quarters are burning to set the streets on fire again and to destroy the country,” Tayiz wrote.

“Today we understand much better how right and justified President Erdogan’s uncompromising and firm stance during the Gezi events was,” he added.

Despite his criticism of “European double standards,” when referring to events in Paris, Cavusoglu also sounded a conciliatory note during his remarks in Antalya.

“Whatever the case may be, it is to our advantage that these events in Europe end as soon as possible, because the stability of those countries is important for us also. We would not want to see the economies of those countries harmed,” Cavusoglu said.

As usual the Turkish reactions to the events in Paris, which received wide coverage in the Turkish media, appear to tell us more about what is happening in Turkey than what is happening in France.

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Found in: turkish media, gezi park, protests, yellow vests, recep tayyip erdogan, european union, france

Semih Idiz is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. He is a journalist who has been covering diplomacy and foreign policy issues for major Turkish newspapers for 30 years. His opinion pieces can be followed in the English-language Hurriyet Daily News. His articles have also been published in The Financial Times, The Times of London, Mediterranean Quarterly and Foreign Policy magazine.

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