Saturday, April 19, 2014
Having systematically destroyed much of the opposition to the AKP within Turkey's 'permanent' state (the bureaucracy, the military and the judiciary), in 2013 the government took on the Gezi Park protesters.
Do you remember Gezi? I wrote about those events quite a bit last year, as I was residing in Istanbul during much of the protests. What struck me as particularly interesting about the events of last summer was the chilling feeling that I experienced when it first became clear to me that Prime Minister Erdoğan seemed totally fine with the idea of civil violence. He repeatedly called the protesters 'terrorists' and held a massive campaign rally in Istanbul at the very height of tensions.
Mock Olympic campaign poster, 2013
More than anything, Erdoğan seemed to believe that, for as long as a little more than half the population supported him, it was perfectly okay for people to be fighting in the streets. Rather than seek out any form of reconciliation with the protesters, the Prime Minister's attitude was: full stead ahead. Hence, the completely disproportionate use of force--especially teargas and water cannon--on the protesters throughout the summer and, over the course of sporadic encounters, in the months which have followed.
Then, in the fall, even more bizarre behavior. This time, Erdoğan became locked into conflict with his own backers: the cemaat, or brotherhood, centered around Fethullah Gülen. For some time, there had been rumors circulating which alleged that Erdoğan's Ak Party had been in conflict with their financial supporters in the Gülen brotherhood over the question of how to divide the pie. With so much construction going on--you know, the stuff that is usually discussed without reference to its political implications--it would seem like there would be plenty of money to go around to everyone. With so many construction projects going to the AKP-friendly holding companies that control much of the Turkish media (who show their gratitute through their silence), perhaps there isn't enough to go around, after all.
In November of last year, Erdoğan's government first suggested closing private cram schools. While the AKP's erstwhile allies in the Gulen brotherhood are involved in a number of business sectors, one of the most identifiable has been these schools. Their closure--which was finalized in March of this year--brought about a ferocious counter-offensive from Gülen's supporters in Turkey. This came in the form of a corruption investigation, launched by Turkey's national police force, targeting the families of AK Party ministers and Erdogan himself.
If taking on the permanent state (through Ergenekon), Kemalist 2.0 youth (during the Gezi summer), and the Gülenists weren't enough, now the Turkish government is declaring war on social media.
It's not the first time. Back in 2008, YouTube and Blogspot were banned in Turkey, although the impetus for this was not with the AKP. In any case, most people just logged on via a proxy server, easily circumventing the ban. Now, they're hoping they can get companies like Twitter to open offices in Turkey, making them vulnerable to Turkish police and tax assessors.
My sense is that the current proposals will likely lead nowhere, but you never can tell. Summer is approaching. The universities will be closing soon, and there will be lots of Gezi youth--who had the time of their lives last summer--seeking to relive the magic of 2013. The less social media, reasons Erdoğan and his advisors, the more difficult it would be for street protesters to organize and disseminate information.
It's like he can't stop. The Prime Minister has been embattled for so long, and on so many sides, that it seems like he needs the confrontation. I don't think we'll ever get to the day when Erdoğan is just ruling the country. Instead, he'll always be in a war, whether it's with his political opponents, his former allies, or the worldwide web itself.
The drama will never cease with this man.
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