Gezi Park Unrest Uniquely Turkish

As Turkey's Gezi Park protests gain more media attention, the unrest becomes more distinct from common comparisons such as Tahrir Square in Egypt or the Occupy movement.

al-monitor Anti-government protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks pose for a souvenir photo on top of a damaged public bus at Taksim Square in Istanbul, June 1, 2013.The slogan on the bus reads, "Gezi memories." Photo by REUTERS/Murad Sezer.

Topics covered

tahrir, protests, justice, istanbul, islamization, erdogan, censorship, alcohol in turkey, alcohol, akp

Jun 4, 2013

Another Turkey

Those participating in Gezi Park protests were from another Turkey. There were Kurds and even Nationalist Movement Party [MHP] supporters. But the majority were Turkish flag-carrying, urban, secular and middle-class people who for this or that reason feel marginalized and punished by the government. Apart from the Justice and Development Party [AKP] constituency, the square was filled by people feeling shoved around by the government. Sound familiar?

A leaderless memorandum

Protests at Gezi can be perceived in a way as memorandums issued but without soldiers, leaders and political parties dictating. No, I am not going to invoke Tahrir Square literature. Any similarity between Taksim and Tahrir is superficial, nothing more than both being in the center of cities. The government has to read the protests and objections at Gezi Park correctly.

CHP came later: The main opposition Republican Peoples Party [CHP] was not the leader of Gezi events. It is better that way. If the event had become a CHP event, rightist conservatives who sympathized with the protests and got angry with police brutality would have been uncomfortable and the AKP could have fielded its own constituency to counter the Gezi protesters.

It’s not Tahrir because   

Tahrir changed the political calculus of Egypt. Gezi was the uprising of a different segment. To expect major shifts in Turkey’s voting patterns after Gezi would be nothing but revolutionary romanticism.

Government failure: Although it won’t mean much by way of changes at the ballot box, the Gezi protest was a legitimate and understandable grievance. A system is democracy only if the demonstration and protest rights of citizens are guaranteed. The government by reverting to disproportionate force flunked.

Seven ways of angering citizens: Violence begets violence. The most important lesson the government must learn is that the excessive use of pepper spray by the police has politicized a very large segment of the society.

Now it is personal

I toured Taksim, Beyoglu, Gumussuyu and Cihangir after the Gezi protests. They were thronged with people in a mood of jubilation. The most striking feature of the protests was the way they were personalized against Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan. All the graffiti on the walls and negative slogans chanted were about the prime minister.

I honestly found the situation distressing. In politics, what is healthy is the competition between parties and ideologies. Here, everyone was focused on one person and had directed all their fury against Erdogan.

This protest was not only about Gezi Park but against the style of governance of the prime minister. No doubt the debate on the alcohol ban, curtailing May 1 Labor Day in observances as if under military rule, the tense relations of the police with Besiktas and its bazaar and most important, the argument over the presidency have contributed to rising of anger.

If May 1 had been observed at Taksim, if such massive amounts of pepper spray had not been used against Besiktas a couple of weeks ago and if the debate on alcohol had not been used to create a perception that anyone who drinks is a drunkard or an alcoholic, the Gezi protests would not have been so violent and angry.

The media sold out

First thing I saw was the booing of Ihlas news agency’s car. The same thing happened to vehicles of other news agencies. In Gumussuyu, I heard men, women and children shouting “Media sellouts!" I am glad I was wearing my large-sized sunglasses. On the walls there were angry messages not only to the media but specifically against media bosses.

The anger was about the meager coverage of Gezi protests by the mainstream media and TV stations. The mainstream media gave some coverage to the events but I have to admit that by and large the media failed miserably.

In an environment where there are no professional media, no quality journalism, people have no choice but to resort to social media. They are right. But the social media has a higher dose of adrenaline, and no filters of news reporting. It is a colossal gossip instrument. That is why, apart from instant reporting, there was also much exaggeration and disinformation in the social media.

Now the government is complaining that totally baseless rumors such as the use of deadly “Agent Orange” were spread via Twitter. But this is mainly due to timidity of the mainstream media, withdrawal of professional journalists from the field and their replacement by the rumor mill.

In brief, I have a short message to the government’s media advisers: In this age it is not possible to prevent circulation of news and information. The worst mistake you can make would be to obstruct the work of professional media by warning them, “Don’t feed the flames of tensions.”

The only way you want to prevent “agent orange” kinds of lies is to allow the people to see what is happening without obstructions.

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