Monday, June 03, 2013

Turkey Boils Over: Islamist Government Feels Secular Sting

Anti-government protestor waves a Turkish flag with a photo of Ataturk, the founder of the secular Turkish state. Ataturk saw Islam as holding back Turkey and created a secular revolution, now threated by an emerging Islamist dictatorship.

What Caused the Turkish Protests? -Ihsan Dagi

Protests erupted when the government sought to demolish Gezi Park in the center of Istanbul and build a shopping mall and luxurious residences.

Now Erdogan says he will build a mosque in Taksim. Trying to shift the debate from building a shopping mall in Gezi Park to the building of a mosque instead is a prime example of how religion is used to cover up and generate popular support in Turkey. The ruling party knows that as the debate revolves around Islamic symbols, it can control and rely on the support of the religious masses.

The disproportionate and indiscriminate violence used by the police under the command of the government turned an environmentalist movement into an anti-government protest.

Massive Demonstrations Shake Turkey -Barry Rubin, PhD

More than 1000 people have been injured in several days of protests in Istanbul against Turkey’s Islamist regime, involving more than 90 demonstrations, the biggest anti-Islamist protest in a decade. Hundreds more were hurt in conflicts with police in Ankara, the capital. The demonstration began as an environmental protest about the destruction of a famous Istanbul park but had spread to Ankara, too.

It all began when a small group of young people camped at a park in central Istanbul to protest Erdogan’s personal plan to build a shopping center on the site. Police raided the park just before sunrise, using tear gas, evicted the protesters, and removed their tents. Up to this point it was a normal response.

A few days later, about 30 young people returned and set up the tents again and the police once more launched a raid. This time, however, a great deal of force was used, including pepper spray. Tear gas was squirted into the faces of some young people, kicking and beating them, then burning the tents.

In response, thousands of people gathered around the square and park. The police attacked with water cannon mounted on vehicles in a major escalation. They attacked protesters, chasing them into side streets in downtown Istanbul past the many hotels and stores in the area. Those who tried non-violent sit-ins were beaten, including two members of parliament.

Protests spread all over Turkey, with participants counted in the tens of thousands. The issue now was the growing repression by the Islamist regime. Large areas were filled with pepper spray, tear gas, and the water cannons firing several times a minute. Many apartment buildings were deluged in gas.
The political implications of the protests are not clear. They are probably unlikely to shake the determination of the government. "We do not have a government, we have Tayyip Erdogan," political scientist and protester Koray Caliskan told the Reuters news agency.

Erdogan is very arrogant, has a strong base of support, and enjoys the full support of the Obama Administration. The Turkish economy is generally considered to be strong. Erdogan will have to decide whether to slow down the Islamization process—he has been clever at being patient—or perhaps will, on the contrary, speed it up claiming his regime is facing sabotage.
[The Rubin Report]


The good news in Turkey -Daniel Pipes, PhD

How to interpret the recent unrest on the streets of Istanbul and about 50 other Turkish cities? Specifically, is it comparable to the Arab uprisings over the last 2 1/2 years in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain?

On one level, they appear unrelated, for Turkey is a far more advanced country, with a democratic culture and a modern economy. But two connections — autocracy and Syria — do tie them together, suggesting that the Turkish demonstrations could have a potentially deep importance.

Erdogan is no Moammar Kadafi or Bashar Assad, and he will not massacre peaceful demonstrators, but heavy-handed police operations have reportedly led to 1,000 injured and, according to Amnesty International, two deaths. Further, the prime minister has reacted defiantly, not just insisting on his original plan for the park but announcing he can do whatever he pleases.

Erdogan is saying that having voted the AKP into office, Turks have given him authority to do anything he wants. He is the elected, unaccountable padishah. Well, the demonstrators and those hitherto eager foreign investors will have something to say about that, perhaps putting the country's China-like economic growth at risk.

Thanks to the Syrian imbroglio, Turkey has lost its enviable position of strength and popularity. If President Obama once bragged of his "close working relationship" with Erdogan, last month's White House meeting between the two showed neither the personal chemistry nor the practical results vis-a-vis Syria that Erdogan had sought.

In short, it appears that a decade of electoral calm, political stability and plentiful foreign investment has come to a halt and a new, more difficult era has begun for the AKP government. The moribund opposition parties may find their voice. The antiwar faction may feel emboldened. The secularists may be able to tap the wide unhappiness with the regime's efforts to corral citizens into becoming more (Islamically) virtuous.

This is excellent news.

Thanks to the demonstrations, we can be newly hopeful that Turkey may avoid the path it had been on, that of despotism, Islamification and increasingly rogue foreign relations. Perhaps its secular, democratic and pro-Western heritage can be revived.
[The Los Angeles Times]

Erdogan Over the Edge - Claire Berlinski

Over the past decade, Istanbul has seen a massive construction boom. Lovely old buildings have been razed by the hundreds. The protests were about a people exhausted by Istanbul's uncontrolled growth; by its relentless traffic; by the incessant noise; by massive immigration from the countryside; by predatory construction companies - widely and for good reason believed to be in bed with the government - which have, over the past decade, destroyed a great deal of the city's loveliness and cultural heritage.

But most of all, they are about a nation's fury with Prime Minister Erdogan's growing authoritarianism, symbolized by Istanbul's omnipresent police, the phalanxes of Robocops.
The writer is an American journalist who lives in Istanbul.
(City Journal)

Erdogan's Grip Weakening -Ozlem Gezer, Maximilian Popp & Oliver Trenkamp

Increasingly, Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan is looking like an autocratic ruler whose people are no longer willing to tolerate him. In Istanbul, people have begun whispering that the military is distributing gasmasks - but to the demonstrators rather than to the police. The message: The military supports the protests.

Turkish law prohibits Erdogan from running for another term. However, he appears to be leaning toward the model followed by Russian President Putin and is seeking to increase the powers of the Turkish presidency, preparatory to taking over the position himself in 2014.
(Der Spiegel-Germany)

Resisting by Raising a Glass -Tim Arango

After retaking Taksim Square in Istanbul after hours of ugly street battles with police officers firing tear gas this month, many of the haggard protesters cracked bottles of Efes beer and raised them in a mock toast to their prime minister, who had recently pushed through a law to curb drinking.       

Drinking is far from the only issue held up in the intense antigovernment protests that have convulsed Turkey for more than a week. But it has become closely intertwined with the broader complaints of demonstrators fighting what they see as the rising authoritarianism of the Turkish government.

It also cuts to the heart of Turkish identity, as both sides have cast it as a clash of Islamic and secular values. While protesters have held up new limits on drinking as an affront to the secular values of modern Turkey, Mr. Erdogan has said that “religion demands” curbs on drinking. He has gone so far as to implicitly refer to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of Turkey and a notoriously heavy drinker, as a “drunkard,” and in one of a series of speeches he delivered Sunday to cheering supporters, accused protesters of taking beer into mosques.
[New York Times]

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