More updates re Gezi Park

Saturday, June 8
Things remain relatively quiet in Istanbul, but not elsewhere. 
Gezi Park continues to be filled with people, and there are no police to be seen anywhere in Taksim. At nine pm folks continue to bang their pots and pans as the Çapulcu phenomenon continues to grow. Occasionally walking the streets of Kadikoy or Taksim you encounter a group of students, or professors, or lawyers, or some other group participating in a march, shouting slogans. 
For now, at least, lots of people seem to be having an incredibly fun time. 
It's fun for now...


I don't see it lasting. PM Tayyip Erdogan came back from his North Africa trip Thursday night with an uncompromising message. Nothing is changing, he isn't backing down. The plans for construction--a mall or something else--on Gezi Park continue.
At this stage, even if the Gezi Park plans were canceled, active opposition and demands for Erdogan's resignation would continue. However, my sense is that, after a while, these too would probably dissipate if the government backed down in this case, along with acceding to other demands such as the release of people arrested in last week's melee and the firing of individuals responsible for the police riot. 
This is all speculative, however, since it appears quite clear that--for at least as long as Erdogan is in charge--there will be no softening of the government's approach. 
I frankly don't see how this ends. Erdogan, by all appearances, is spoiling for a fight. I think he must be going nuts right now, gritting his teeth at the continued occupation of the park. While things are quiet in Istanbul, the police have been going after protesters elsewhere in Turkey that are outside of the spotlight of the international media. There was, apparently, quite a serious gas attack on protesters in Ankara on Wednesday of this week. I've heard rumors of similar attacks in Antakya and Tunceli, but cannot say for sure what is going on in those place. While the Turkish media, which was almost completely silent last week while battles raged in Taksim and Beşiktaş, now discusses the Gezi Park protests, there is still very little information about anything going on elsewhere in Turkey. The Putinization of the Turkish media, which I first wrote about four years ago, has been accomplished. A once feisty, if not always very professional, media has been cowed.  
Never mind all of the money people have made and the supposedly super Turkish economy, as far as I'm concerned it's been the insertion of this kind of fear--my friends have been reluctant to talk about politics on the phone or Skype with me for several years now--that is Tayyip Erdogan's real legacy. 
Where do we go from here? If this were any number of other countries, Erdogan's own party would force him to step down. Other leading AKP figures like President Abdullah Gül, Vice-PM Bulent Arınç, and Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbaş, have been making an effort to defuse the situation. It's basically one man in government--Erdogan--who thinks it's a good idea to continue this stupid fight. I would think there would be a number of AKP members of parliament who would be glad to be rid of him by now.

Even Shepard Fairey is getting in on things 

The protesters, keep in mind, are for the most part calling for the resignation of Erdogan in particular, not the AKP in general. I think there are a lot of people both within and without the government who would be fine with an Erdogan-less AKP government at this juncture.  
But that won't happen thanks to an old problem in Turkey that is by no means unique to the AKP: there is no intra-party democracy. Political parties in this country are very closely associated to individuals. The AKP is Erdogan's party and they're stuck with him, just like the CHP was stuck with Deniz Baykal for years despite the fact that the man could never lead his party to a decent election showing. Just like True Path was stuck with Tansu Ciller and ANAP was stuck with Mesut Yilmaz in the 1990s. The leaders never leave. Yes, they are officially elected to the leadership positions by the party's members, but the voting members are usually people who have been put in their positions by the leaders in the first place. The only alternative is to create a brand new party. 
It might seem like parties should have the right to set their own rules about electing their leaders, but the consequences of this lack of intra-party democracy are serious, and can affect the whole country, as we are seeing now. 
So what else can happen? Calling early elections, I think, would be a solution, and might even appeal to Erdogan. As someone who doesn't like backing down from a challenge, he could be eager to show the world that he still has the support of the people. If an election were called relatively soon, I could see all parties throwing their energies into an election and the chance of violence declining precipitously. But the AKP was just elected to another five-year mandate in 2011. It's hard to imagine anyone in the AKP--especially current members of parliament--getting behind this idea, though yet again it doesn't really matter what anyone other than Erdogan thinks (the AKP is, again, not at all unique in its top-down command structure). 
Other than calling early elections, I don't know where we go from here. Erdogan, I think, must be ready to burst with impatience over this, and probably can't wait to get what he probably sees as a bunch of smug hippies out of the park. But there are thousands of people there, many (but by no means all) of them are students. The universities have just started their summer breaks. Rather than go down to Bodrum this summer (or perhaps in addition to doing so), lots of these kids will hang around all night in the park, where they seem to be having the time of their lives. 
Taksim Square continues to be blocked off by road, but there are other ways of getting in. True, the cops wouldn't be able to hide inside their water-cannon tanks, but they could still swarm the area anytime they wanted. 
For now, it seems like the plan is to end the protests in the rest of the country while the international media stays focused upon (quiet) Istanbul. Once that is complete, my sense is that attention will be returned to Gezi Park. 
The protesters are going nowhere, and neither is Erdogan. The Prime Minister does not strike me as the most patient person in the world, and he's dealing with a large group of people with all kinds of time on their hands. That's not a very pretty combination.

My fingers are crossed, but I don't have a very good feeling about this. 
More links, commentary and photographs available poolside at the Borderlands Lounge

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