|Saturday, June 15|
That low moan of relief you hear coming from Ankara is the sound of long-delayed satisfaction. Turkish PM Tayyip Erdoğan has been gritting his teeth for three weeks, thinking about what he should do to all of those free-love types taking over his future shopping center site. There was simply no way he was going to let those protesters stay much longer.
After announcing earlier today that the police would clear Gezi Park on Sunday, plans were changed and the cops entered the park in the early evening on Saturday, Turkish-time. Erdoğan's twenty-day itch has finally been scratched.
Events are unfolding as I write. In particular, pay attention to Beşiktaş, where people are already collecting.
Some quick thoughts:
1) These were not violent protests, they were police riots. From beginning to end the protests in Istanbul and elsewhere appear to have been completely peaceful. Even last week, when a few people threw Molotov cocktails at police clearing Taksim Square, the organization (DSP) that was accused of throwing the cocktails immediately disassociated themselves with the act and claim the throwers were not their people.
Prior to this evening, meanwhile, hundreds of people, at least, had been injured in beatings they'd received from the police--these are not municipal bodies, but rather part of a national force directed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Ankara.
2) It's not just about the park. Yes, there have been some cute pieces posted over the past couple of weeks about the importance of public space, etc, in this conflict. But no--there's a lot more going on than just the park. In fact, pretending that this is just about the park--and limiting this discussion to one about who plants/cuts the most trees--fits in completely with the AKP narrative ("why riot over 3-5 trees? Erdoğan planted hundreds of thousands when he was mayor!"). This is really misleading.
People are protesting over a wide range of issues, including the recent passage of a law limiting alcohol sales, but in my opinion what has galvanized people most over the past sixteen days has been a combination of two issues: a) people getting gassed and having their heads cracked just because they dared to protest, and b) the fear of Erdogan that has been so clearly expressed by the silence of the great majority of the Turkish media. Even the AKP figures--President Abdullah Gül, Vice-Premier Bülent Arınç, Istanbul mayor Kadir Topbaş--who spoke out (while Erdoğan was in North Africa) in favor of a more moderate approach seem afraid of Erdoğan, having completely shut up since the PM returned from his trip abroad.
3) This is not (just) a religious-secularist issue, although my sense is it will ultimately be fed into that narrative, I think, within Turkey. Still, the issue is democracy, and people's right to protest. For the most part, people have been calling for Erdoğan's resignation, not that of the AKP. The apparent desire of Erdoğan to push this conflict to physical confrontation is what people consider totally appalling. Any political figure acting with this kind of attitude towards peaceful protesters today would have elicited this reaction in Turkey.
4) Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a product of the Turkish Republic. Where did Erdoğan learn this kind of intolerance for political dissent? Remember, Erdoğan spent four months in prison for reading a poem by Ziya Gökalp. Lots of people were totally fine with that. Erdoğan saw his political mentor, Necmettin Erbakan, get pushed out by the military in 1997, then effectively banned from politics for life. Many mainstream folks thought that was perfectly okay, too.
Yes, Erdoğan is ruthless, as anyone who has read my Ergenekon posts knows all too well. Were he not this ruthless, had he not been proactive in jailing his opponents, I doubt he would have lasted this long in power. By no means does this excuse his actions over the past sixteen days, or over the past several years. But it's also important to remember, as inconvenient as it may seem at this particular juncture, that this crisis has been a long, long time in the making--since way before the AKP was even formed.
Also important to remember is that people have been getting their heads cracked--and worse--in the southeast of Turkey for decades for what were in many cases peaceful demonstrations/expressions of dissent and/or journalism. Folks who didn't feel personally invested in that cause were often comfortable calling those victims of state terror 'terrorists,' or at least were fine with letting that designation stand. Now the shoe is on the other foot.
Maybe this isn't the time to be bringing up these things, but recent events do show, I think, that a tolerance for injustice towards others can end up coming back at you. Will the events of the past few weeks open up people's minds regarding what many of them have been willing to believe were similarly 'unreasonable' demands of other 'marginal' groups in Turkey? I'm not that much of an optimist, but we'll see.
5) Follow the money. That's the case for the media companies, such as Doğuş Holding, which owns a lot of construction interests and doesn't want to miss out on the incredible infrastructure construction that the AKP has undertaken over the past several years (and which is a primary reason for the Turkish economy's growth during this period, austerity-heads!). Money is also, apparently, a big factor in the much-rumored struggle taking place between the AKP and the Gülen cemaat. Americans like to think of these issues in ideological terms. If only it were that simple.
And maybe one silver lining: people are no longer waiting for the Army to act on their behalf. This kind of popular action is unprecedented, at least among the Turkish population of Turkey, since the creation of the Republic. I don't think it is just a coincidence that this is happening at a time when people no longer see the Army as a realistic source of (extra-constitutional) change. Twenty, thirty years ago (or any time before all of the officers were locked up during the Ergenekon trials) a movement like this would have never taken place because the military would have stepped in before ordinary people had a chance to get much involved. If we can see any silver lining in these developments, it's that people are no longer waiting for the military to step in and straighten out the political situation for them.
Keep watching Beşiktaş, not to mention the rest of Turkey. This isn't over.
More links, commentary and photographs available poolside at the Borderlands Lounge.