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Istanbul: Demonstrations brutally crushed by police

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  • Istanbul: Demonstrations brutally crushed by police

    It all started out about a small park in central Istanbul. Not just any park but one of the very few that crammed central Istanbul has. The ruling islamist AKP government is determined to tear it down and replace it with a pseudo historic shopping mall. The aim is two-fold. Making public property to gold and plaster the most secular city of Turkey with disneylandishOttoman Empire replicas.

    Istanbulis were pissed up and demonstrated in the park against its clearance. The protests had some limited success already by bringing the case to district court which is ready to hear it and forbid any construction work until it has done so. But that is not the end of the story. The police crushed the until then peaceful protest with outmost brutality and massive use of tear gas, pepper sprays and water cannons, deliberately targeting heads, obviously not caring about potentially lethal injuries. Tear gas was also used inside stations and people seriously beaten up for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    At the same time Turkish media largely ignored protests numbering in the tens of thousands and started only reporting when police began to retreat again, showing enraged protesters to turn the entire blame on them. It seems there are uncertain times ahead in Turkey. Is secular Turkey finally rising up against the not so hidden islamist agenda of the AKP? Erdogan pretended to be a moderate for a quite a while but we all know where he has his roots and it seems he never actually betrayed them.

    To be continued?

  • #2
    Re: Istanbul: Demonstrations brutally crushed by police

    An interesting aspect:

    The Turkish army apparently supplied demonstrators with masks for some basic protection against tear gas. While the practical use might be limited the symbolism is quite clear.


    • #3
      Re: Istanbul: Demonstrations brutally crushed by police

      Well, these are protests that started against the construction of a shopping-mall, that is supposed to flatten a park that the local residents deem important. Shopping -malls are rather not projects that Islamists use to advance their cause, right ? Nor is the shopping mall built by order of the governement. Nor is the turkish police suspicious of supporting islamist tendencies ( much rather consists of hardcore kemalist secular republicans). One should be VERY careful to reproduce claims like that and dig a little deeper.
      It is true that PM Erdogan has an authoritarian style, and islamic/conservative leanings. But he has been voted in democratically, continues to be the most popular turkish politician and has to leave office by the end of his current term anyway (since his maximum number of terms is up under the turkish constitution). That is why he would like to run for the turkish presidency, but the problem is there is a president, even from his party already, who has already said that he wont step down as a favour, like Medvedev for Putin. And since Abdullah Gl is considered to be a much more conciliatory and pragmatic type of politician than Erdogan, and even many in principle secular Turks dont dissaprove of his handling of the presidency (it was also apparently Gl who ordered the police to withdraw from the Taksim square in downtown Istanbul), the current gossip is that enthusiasm even among members of the AKP party for installing the on occasion advise-resistant and messianic Erdogan ( Nickname :"Sultan of Ankara") as Gls successor is not remarkable. And that means there might be a much less sweaty and bloody way than that of the demonstrators to get rid of him ( if that should turn out to be a majority position) : At the ballot box, since Turkey isnt Syria.
      But the current conflict also has a backround that needs to be understood and is remarkably absent from the news coverage : Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the first turkish leader EVER from a working class backround (his dad was a poor sailor), and not from the wealthy "kemalist" secular middle and upper classes of the big cities. And the poor quarters of these cities, the "Gecekondus" (often illegally built settlements on the outskirts of the metropolitan areas) , and also the rural regions of Anatolia are where his party has its main supporters base. For the simple reason that the "secular", oh so "pro-western" bunch of politicians has never cared very much about these people and at times even openly refused them political participation. That is also why one should be very careful to claim that the turkish military would guard western style democracy. It doesnt and never has ( war against the Kurds, various military dictatorships and more or less open attempts to force governements in and out? Also Erdogan and the AKP leadership have been jailed more than once) ). Mustafa Kemal, general and founder of the modern turkish republic, was hardly a western style democrat himself after all.
      It is also true that many lower middle and working class people, especially in the rural regions, tend to be a lot more religious and conservative than the higher ups, and that this is reflected in the AKPs party program. And that turkish "republicans" view this as a threat ( usually people with higher incomes, higher education, and a secular worldview). And part of their frustration is that Erdogan and the AKP have gained power perfectly democratically and skillfully avoided to be put in the islamist corner ( The party likes to compare itself to christian democratic parties in Europe, and measures like the current restrictions on alcohol sale are justified with the swedish and norwegian example that indeed have similar restrictions, not with Islam). Not to mention that on the economic front ( regarding foreign investment and creation of jobs), they have been EXTREMELY successful. :

      Turkey's economy is thriving in a dangerous neighbourhood | Jeffrey Sachs | Business |

      Yet Turkey has made remarkable strides in the midst of regional upheavals. After a sharp downturn in 1999-2001, the economy grew by 5% a year on average from 2002 to 2012. It has remained at peace, despite regional wars. Its banks avoided the boom-bust cycle of the past decade, having learned from the banking collapse in 2000-2001. Inequality has been falling. And the government has won three consecutive general elections, each time with a greater share of the popular vote.

      There is nothing flashy about Turkey's rise, which has been based on fundamentals, rather than bubbles or resource discoveries. Indeed, Turkey lacks its neighbours' oil and gas resources, but it compensates for this with the competitiveness of its industry and services. Tourism alone attracted more than 36 million visitors in 2012, making Turkey one of the world's top destinations..........Turkey's diversified, innovative base of industry, construction, and services serves it well in a world in which market opportunities are shifting from the United States and western Europe to Africa, eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Turkey has been deft in seizing these new opportunities, with exports increasingly headed south and east to the emerging economies, rather than west to high-income markets. This trend will continue, as Africa and Asia become robust markets for Turkey's construction firms, information technology, and green innovations.

      So, how did Turkey do it? Most important, the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his economics team, led by the deputy prime minister, Ali Babacan, have stuck to basics and looked to the long term. Erdoğan came to power in 2003, after years of short-term instability and banking crises. The International Monetary Fund had been called in for an emergency rescue. Step by step, the Erdoğan-Babacan strategy was to rebuild the banking sector, get the budget under control, and invest heavily and consistently where it counts: infrastructure, education, health, and technology.

      Turkey is a country undergoing tremendous societal and economical changes, and wether you consider them for the better or the worse depends where you stand in society, at the bottom or up, with the danger to fall. That is also why I would urge caution to brand this as a "people vs. Governement" unrest. The old elites of the kemalist republic felt comfortable under the semi-authoritarian (and VERY corrupt) regimes of past days ( that also we in the West found more convenient to deal with than the new self-confident brand of turkish leaders), feel shut out of the "new Turkey" that Erdogan and the AKP are busy constructing around them ( it is obviously unclear where the political journey goes) and that is why they are demonstrating. And while parts of their anger are understandable, plenty of accusations should be taken with a grain of salt. Since no small amount of the loudest AKP enemies are not exactly the kind of secular=democratic= subscribing to western values company that you and me want to be in, if you look a little closer at least. Turkeys main problem are and continue to be socio-economic inclusion/exclusion issues. Islam is linked to that, but rather remotely (a headscarf is not just a religious statement, but often also an indicator of a certain socio-economic backround/origin, and to exclude women with headscarf (and/or their husbands/family members) from certain positions also means to exclude people with a certain backround effectively. And these people are largely Erdogan/AKP voters. Clear enough ?). The issue is not that much actually between Islam and Secularists, but between "haves and havenots", "town and country", "up and down". And these tensions Turkey needs to defuse. For example through a more inclusive style of politics, that includes more dialogue and less measures imposed top-down ( like construction plans). Erdogan is a too polarizing leader for that, but probably a successor ? We in the West could also help. For example by starting to finally question dearly loved simplistic policy dogmas. Like Islam=bad, secularists= democratic=good. Turkey could be a place to begin.
      Last edited by Voland; 06-03-2013, 01:42 AM.


      • #4
        Re: Istanbul: Demonstrations brutally crushed by police

        I am not an expert but I heard that the police is under solid control of the current government. The army of course isn't. I would be weird if the AKP controlled interior ministery would not have managed to get the police under control during the last 10 years.

        Erdogan clearly who ears to me to be the kind of man who would not hesitate to bend the constitution as much as it needs to ensure his continued position at the top. No matter if its called Prime Minister or President. But you are right to doubt if he has the power to do so. After all the AKP is not quite a one man show, even if he is a very strong figure there. And if you are saying that some municipal project is not the business of the federal government I wonder why is Erdogan so involved in it? He made it pretty clear that it is him who wants to make sure that this thing is getting built. Why does he even care?

        I don't know why he cares that much, if his clan has some economic interests there or if its just because he supports that project and will not give in one inch because he could loose face by doing so after what he has said already.

        The project does have an islamist touch however. That touch comes by the fact that this shopping mall is a fake revival of some Ottoman barracks in the heart of Istanbul. You don't have to think about it too hard to see the symbolism there. Maybe Erdogan does not even have vested interests there but simply likes that symbolism.

        I support those protests and you know why? If anything, maybe it helps in preventing Erdogan from beding the constitution sufficiently to install himself as president with strong executive powers. These protests could weaken his position in favour of a more pragmatist politician like Gl. Even though I am not sure how much of a difference it makes if Gl or Erdogan is at the top. They are good friends, after all, aren't they?

        Btw, that shopping mal was just the last drop. There is a clear islamist push feelable in Turkey nowadays. Of course that push comes in small steps. But I am not all too sure that Erdogan's vision of Turkey, once he is finished with his agenda is all too moderate.


        • #5
          Re: Istanbul: Demonstrations brutally crushed by police

          The project is planned and run by the Istanbul municipality in cooperation with one or two private investors, not the federal governement. Just like it would be in western Europe. And also in most of western Europe the federal governement would become involved if clashes like this happened. It is furthermore quite a stretch to argue that using ottoman architectural elements (in a shopping mall !, not a mosque) would constitute an "islamist touch". Have you ever checked what the real Islamists are saying about the Ottomans and ottoman art ( especially their use of painted pictures, forbidden by the Koran) ? Are you claiming that a nation like Turkey shouldnt use it its centuries old cultural and architectural heritage as inspiration for modern construction ? It is true that the turkish republic has been based on the consensus to reject ottoman tradition, also in the arts and architecture. But its current revival is a little more complex than you make it look, Im afraid.
          "Real" Islamists are accusing Erdogan of being much more a neo-ottoman nationalist with some roots in Islam and sultanesque tendencies than a truly devout Muslim by the way. And they cite as backup besides his style of politics, and they are united with his secular critics in that, (interesting ?) other projects like the new Bosporus bridge under construction that Erdogan wishes to name after the 16th century sultan Yavuz Selim. While the ottoman empire and its culture was around its peak of power under Selims rule, his nickname means "the cruel", or "the brutal". He also sometimes shows up in history books as "the bloodguzzler" and was probably poisoned. Clear enough ?
          There are many reasons to oppose and dislike Erdogan. His monarchic style, his little concealed messianism (that has also made members of his own party distance themselves from him), and his tendency to take his partys electoral success as charter to lecture Turks about lifestyle issues (like kissing on the Ankara subway or buying alcohol f.e.). Under Erdogan political decisions and measures are not discussed or developed in dialogue, they are imposed (by pointing to the reliably high approval polls), and that is ONE reason for the protests. President Gl has issued a statement that is interpreted as a slap in the face for Erdogan, saying : "Democracy is about more than just elections". While it is true that Erdogan has a clear democratic mandate, and the unrest may be also fueled from sides interested in unrest, democracy also means to work with the minority and not to alienate them on purpose and to exclude them. Which is more a general style in turkish politics however than limited to the AKP.
          There are also the "wrong" reasons to dislike him however. Like Erdogans backround as a "black Turk" from a poor suburb of Istanbul, and not a member or crony of the "old families" that formed the political establishment since the days of Atatrk ("white Turks"). The "black Turks" were/are Istanbul harbour workers, sailors or poor craftsmen and outside Istanbul also small farmers and farm labourers that did dirty work ("black") and were/ are condemned to an existence at the bottom of society (like Erdogans dad). Another explanation for the "black" is that they are allegedly intermixed with african slaves imported to the Ottoman empire. Which is one more reason why the "white Turks" look down on them and also use the term as a swearword. That is one of the roots for the intense mistrust between the generals, the old secular establishment, and the AKP ( that has swept many "black Turks" to power with them). And obviously the city slum and village population are reliable Erdogan voters (he grew up among them after all, and Atatrks revolution has largely passed them by), especially after Erdogan has managed to kick off an economic boom.
          No democratic system in Turkey will be stable that discriminates parts of its people, wether the secular or the religious ( or that mixes social inclusion/exclusion and career opportunities with religious practices, social status and origin, like under the Kemalists). And precisely for that reason it would be terribly naive not to also question the motives of at least parts of the opposition. The largest opposition parties CHP and MHP are (first) left/hard left and VERY nationalistic, and (second) hard right and VERY nationalistic f.e. : And it is also time to acknowledge in the West that democracy in non-western cultures must not always bring those to power that WE like. Erdogan is NOT a dictator, he can be replaced at the ballot box. If the unrest continues there might be only one party likely to profit that one should be VERY careful to wish back on the stage : The army.


          • #6
            Re: Istanbul: Demonstrations brutally crushed by police

            One of the key misunderstandings that Westerners make when dealing with the cultures of the Near/Middle East is the claim that democracy, western values, secularism and tolerance must always coincide. Which is obviously OUR ideal, but does not match the reality in the region. Unveiled women on their way to watch western movies in the cinema or people having a beer in the sun are not likely to be seen anymore on the streets of the syrian capital Damascus if the rebels topple Baschar al-Assad. While Assad is a brutal dictator, the Baath regime has also enforced religious tolerance and protected minorities and their lifestyle, like Christians and Alawites ( as long as they supported the regime or at least kept out of politics). And while it is easy to sympathize with the turkish protesters ( that are actually a quite heterogeneous bunch of leftists, nationalists, ecologists, secular students etc. but most certainly all members of the urban middle class and elite) all polls suggest that they do NOT represent the majority in the country. Erdogan would still win elections with his hands tied. That does not mean that one has to sympathize with Erdogan or that the demonstrators were not raising completely letigimate points of criticism. Or that the police brutality wasnt outrageous. But that is the trouble with democracy. It can also lead to less openness, more rural, conservative Turks (to confuse islamic Conservatism and Islamism is another typical misunderstanding) in the corridors of power and more headscarfs on the streets --by using the ballot box. Turkey isnt one but two societies in a way and how to engage both deeply hostile camps in a constructive dialogue for the greater good of the country is now the challenge. To frame this as a righteous struggle against political Islam while ignoring the polls and the connected social issues is hardly helpful, Im afraid.........
            Last edited by Voland; 06-07-2013, 02:21 AM.