Turkey: On the "standing man" protests and other questions

Tuesday, June 18
Watching this past weekend's spectacle of still more police violence only made clearer my earlier sense--based upon what I saw with my own eyes during the first two weeks of protest and what I've been observing since then--that these are basically police riots inflicted upon peaceful protesters. Both within Gezi Park and since the dispersal of the occupiers last week, the protesters have, for the most part, gone out of their way to be non-violent.  
Even non-Turkish speakers should check out the live feed of the action from Halk TV, which I provide here. Even if you can't understand the language, the visuals are really incredible, and give a good indication of who is behind the violence in Turkey.

Watch Halk TV on the JMB feed

So watch, especially at night, Istanbul-time, and especially over the weekend. The Turkish government is sure to amp up the pressure on Halk TV and the handful of other small stations defying the media censorship that has been taking place in Turkey more generally since May 31 (they're also preparing to crack down on social media), so make an effort to see these historic events while you still can.  
Anyway, here are a few questions I think are worth asking right now: 
1) Why are all of these people standing around?
The 'standing man' (duran adam) stood in front of the Ataturk Cultural Center in Taksim as a form of protest for almost six hours. He was then detained by police, as were many of the dozens of people who began standing around nest to him.
The original standing man (in white) and other standers

Now, as a means of showing solidarity with the standing man (whose name, apparently, is  and, more importantly, of underscoring the peaceful nature of these protests, people are now standing still for five minutes, with their hands in the pockets, at 8 pm every night. This is going on both in Turkey and worldwide among sympathizers of the protest. So, if you see someone just standing someplace at 8 pm Turkey-time (ie, in the early to mid-afternoon in the most places in the US) there's a good chance you've got a çapulcu (or at least a sympathizer) in your midst!


"Every day at 8 o'clock stand for five minutes on the closest big street. Join the peaceful protest"
2) How long can these protests last?
The protesters seem to have all kinds of energy (again--watch the footage). The cops, on the other hand, seem exhausted. Is this what they really signed up for? Lobbing gas canisters at civilians and cracking heads?  There were reports (on Halk TV) that up to 1000 police backups were flown into Istanbul last weekend from other cities, mainly located in the far east of Turkey. If this is true it would be highly, highly irregular given the fact that the east is usually where the presence of the cops is considered necessary. Shuttling in cops from other cities is hardly unprecedented, but could be a sign that the cops they've got are running out of steam.  
After the first week of protests, there were reports that six policemen had committed suicide as a result, at least partly, of 'stress' connected to their roles in suppressing the protests (police officials say the timing is just a coincidence) While the cops are people that the AKP have recruited into the force over the past ten years, in most cases these are ordinary people who just received a job through political patronage. For the meager salaries they receive, they can't be feeling good about the prospect of spending a hot, humid summer chasing protesters and lobbing gas bombs at them.

Stressed out cops: something tells me a lot of these guys are being pushed past the breaking point
3) Other than using the police, what options does Erdogan have?

Erdogan has been relying on the police, I imagine, because he feels he can't trust the Army. For Erdogan and the AKP, of course, simply neutralizing the Army must be considered a victory (see: Ergenekon file). But it's one thing to neutralize the Army--ie, to bring it to a point, thanks to Ergenekon, where no one really looks to the Army as a credible source of intervention--and something else entirely to get the Army to fight the protesters for you. Incredibly, this is now an option that is apparently being weighed in Ankara, as deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç indicated yesterday.

Calling in the Army is a real sign of desperation, in my view. The AKP must be really convinced that they've installed enough of their own people in the military to trust them with a situation like this.  
There are a couple of different lines of thinking that I've heard on this. One is that this has been the plan all along--create a crisis unnecessarily, then call in the Army as part of a 'self-coup' that would jam through a new constitution (just like the last constitution, written after the coup of 1980, and approved by referendum in 1982 largely because the Army made it clear they wouldn't give up power until the constitution was passed). This reading requires a level of foresight and planning that I think is probably quite exaggerated, to say the least. 
More credible, in my opinion, is that Erdoğan and Co. have been  responding to events ad hoc, and are increasingly in panic mode. Or maybe it would be better to say that Erdoğan's staff and government are in panic mode, while Erdoğan is living in some kind of alternate universe where only 'terrorists' oppose him.
If the latter is true, calling in the Army is a big risk.  If the Army joins the police in crushing the protest, they'll only be able to do it through a massive show of force, martial-law style if not exactly martial law. 
But what if only part of the Army supports the Prime Minister? If the Army isn't totally on board with cracking the heads of anti-government protesters, things could quickly become exponentially more complicated. I don't even want to think about that right now. 
Any way you slice it, getting the Army involved would be a big, unpredictable gamble.   
Bonus question: Where is Obama? 
Nowhere to be found, apparently. 
The one politician that Erdoğan seems to have decent relations with is Barack Obama, whose administration has been largely silent during the course of this crisis. The fact that all of this is taking place while a new secretary of state is getting his feet wet is a boon of sorts for Erdoğan--perhaps Hillary Clinton would have been more forceful in criticizing these police riots than John Kerry has been. 
Washington's silence, embarrassingly, has been publicly lauded by the authorities in Ankara.  
If the Obama administration cares at all about the stability and democracy of its oldest and best friend among the Muslim-majority countries of the world, it needs to step up its game, and fast. Obama's occasional tendency to space out into months of rudderless non-leadership at home is bad enough, but it could be disastrous when applied internationally.  
The situation, I think, is very fluid. I can't see it lasting for very long as-is, mainly because I doubt the ability of the police to continue doing what they've been doing all summer long. If the police stop following orders, it's all over for Erdoğan. If they start taking Erdoğan's words seriously and treating the protesters as "terrorists" (as Erdoğan has called them repeatedly), then we're in danger of getting into a realm that Turkey, or at least those parts of Turkey outside the southeast, has not seen since the late 1970s/early 1980s. 
Time, I fear, is running out. The protesters have been peaceful, but the situation is getting more and more tense--any kind of provocation could cause serious, serious damage to Turkey, its society, and the region. I've been through some tough political times in Turkey before--more than ten years of my adult life has been spent there--but I've never seen such apparent determination among someone in power to create a political crisis and risk political violence. I'm very worried. 
If Obama has any influence over Erdoğan at all, the time to try using that influence is right now. 
Hey Borderheads, go to the Borderlands Lounge for updates re these and other events taking place in the Turkic-Russian borderlands.

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