16 April 2014, Wednesday
Today's Zaman


3 June 2013, Monday

It smells of teargas and dissent

Riot police fire tear gas during a protest against Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling AK Party in central Ankara on June 2, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

What Aristotle notes above has never been Turkey's best attribute. Here we can't seem to listen to people we don't agree with -- a phenomenon that exists at the state level and trickles down into our daily lives.

A series of top down decisions on public decorum and İstanbul's urban space --no kissing on public transportation, legislation on limiting alcohol sales and İstanbul's third bridge -- brought a group of people last week to plant themselves on a patch of green that had come to symbolize their frustration.

More than six days into the Taksim Gezi Park protest, a chain of demonstrations are taking place throughout the nation with initial concerns over Gezi Park being uprooted to build a military barracks now having been transformed into full blown protests at the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government's policies. This followed the heavy hand of the İstanbul police by way of tear gas towards the frustrated few at the heart of the action.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's vow that he was the leader of a party that would work for not just the 50 percent who voted for him, but of the whole nation, following the 2011 general elections, has proven hard to believe for those who have taken to the streets, as they find his discourse increasingly alienating.

Erdoğan's anticipated speech on the protests over the weekend showed no sign of backing down from his plans to go ahead with the new urban planning in Taksim. In his trademark austere tone he said that a mosque would also be erected in the area, while acknowledging that the use of tear gas by the police was a mistake.

The AK Party, during its incredible 11 years as Turkey's leading power, has done much to transform Turkey into a more democratic nation, and this is acknowledged by all -- supporters and (in between the lines) critics alike. The AK Party has been able to tackle the beasts of military tutelage, (more than any of its predecessors), minority rights, the Kurdish problem that has claimed approximately 40,000 lives and pushed Turkey forth as a regional power that was relatively unscathed by the global financial crisis. While they succeeded at doing all this at one end, seemingly small issues at home may be what Turkey's leadership succumbs to.

Erdoğan's rhetoric of “it will be so because I said it” in international matters may be why has become one of the most powerful leaders in the Muslim world and certainly Turkey's most popular leader since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk; however, that very attitude when applied to national issues has proven less charming. Turks like a leader that has firm resolve, one that puts his fist on the table on international issues, but not domestic matters, as has become increasingly apparent over the past week.

Erdoğan in his speeches over the weekend spoke about all that the AK Party had done for the nation and the city of İstanbul in particular. He mentioned how much greener İstanbul was and how the perpetual water shortages and other urban problems of the past had been remedied -- none of which can be denied. He underlined that people were choosing to turn a blind eye to all that for “ideological reasons.”

Erdoğan's inability to take criticism is an issue that continues to concern. It is common sense that the masses angry at the AK Party's use of urban space should have been allowed to peacefully voice their grievances. Bringing in armies of police, forming barricades and unleashing teargas to an initially peaceful protest, in addition to a police raid of the protesters tents at night is what fueled the rage, causing the protest to snowball into something far greater than it was. It was only after the police clamped down on the protesters so hard that the tone of the protest began to change, bringing vandalism and increasingly hostile discourse. There is a very evident change in both the demographic participating in and the tone of the protests at this point. It is no longer sounding like the voice of all concerned in Turkey, but rather those who hold contempt for the masses who voted Erdoğan into power, i.e. half the population.

Erdoğan, during a visit to Middle Eastern Technical University (ODTÜ) in Ankara a few months back was backed up by thousands of police officers that were on site to respond to a protest by students. It's this type of grandiose display of power and muscle flexing over an expression of disagreement that yanks at the frustrated crowds.

So while he manages to wrestle gigantic international issues to the ground, at home, “12 trees” become his greatest challenge.

Erdoğan over the weekend expressed his dismay at the social media for circulating false information about the protests, and he is right -- there have been reports of attacks and deaths that were false, even reports that lethal Agent Orange was being used -- all of which have marred the protests and its legitimacy.

Milliyet columnist Aslı Aydıntaşbaş's tweet over the weekend summarized a great deal about the media and the leading power when in reference to Erdoğan's highly criticized stranglehold over the Turkish media, she tweeted, “If you establish such domination over the media, you'll be confined by Twitter and what is said through the grapevine. The government fell into the very ditch it had dug.”

At this point, fingers are crossed that the protests end peacefully and are not used to create enmity between different ideological camps in Turkey. Many friends have noted that what's happening in the protests as they see it is much like the Feb. 28, 1997 period that they lived through. Let's hope not; this would be of benefit to no one.

This photo does not reflect the reality, police shoots the teargas capsules right at people. Many are injured with these capsules, some people have head injuries, some people are burned with it. If you guys are honest journalist please address the police brutality.
erdem cahit
I'd never be guilty of including Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the same sentence with the name of todays leader of Turkey who's talent for power may be nothing more than arrogance and ego.
Bobby George
This is one of the most impressive and balanced articles I have read till now on the issue.
Mohammad Behzad Fatmi
Your balanced opinion and moderation, along with those of TZ bloggers Şule and Laura stand out as excellent journalism, whereas I often end up spitting mad after reading what the ed and deputy ed write, Then again, they must obviously support you so they can't be all that bad :) Together you bring a...
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