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Jun-11-2013 11:43printcomments

Iran Review: Protests in Turkey: A New Wall Street in Taksim Square

Most protesters are voicing their opposition to the way chosen by Erdogan to run the country’s affairs.

Protests in Turkey
Protests in Turkey, photo: Iran Review

(TEHRAN Iran Review) - Turkish people’s demonstrations started in late May 2013 in protest to the government’s urban development plans and gradually swept the entire nation. Early protests, which still continue, targeted the municipal officials of the port city of Istanbul after they decided to destroy the city’s iconic Taksim (Division) Square and an adjacent park. However, after heavy-handed police crackdown on protesters, the demonstrations were attended by various social groups that have currently made the government of the incumbent Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan the main target of their bitter protests. The important point is that demonstrations which were first attended by a small group of environmentalists in protest to destruction of the old park in the center of Istanbul, have now turned into a major protest movement against the policies of Turkey’s prime minister.

On the whole, one can claim that the main target of the ongoing protests is not the leading Justice and Development Party, but most protesters are voicing their opposition to the way chosen by Erdogan to run the country’s affairs. Therefore, it seems that those who talk about a Turkish Spring (by drawing an analogy to developments known as Arab Spring) do not have a good knowledge of Turkey. Taksim Square in Istanbul will by no means turn into a new Liberation Square as we have already seen in the Egyptian capital city of Cairo. However, it is almost certain that this crisis will turn into a new turning point for Erdogan and his party. Even now, the Achilles’ heel of Erdogan’s government is lack of proper balance between economic and political development. Putting a great number of political activists in Turkey behind the bars has dealt a tremendously serious blow to international image of this country and has also caused disillusionment of civil institutions and the free press. In view of the economic growth of the Turkish society and great changes in social structure of the country, this issue can deal a heavy blow to the ruling Justice and Development Party.

Another noteworthy point is that the officials of the ruling Justice and Development Party keep talking about continuation of reforms, giving promises that they want to transit the political system in Turkey from the present Constitution, which is a legacy handed down to them by the Kemalist politicians, to a new and more modern democratic system. However, during the past years that the party has been in power, several opposition fronts have come into existence in addition to traditional opposition parties, which are against the policies of the Justice and Development Party. Alawite and Kurdish opposition parties are good examples in this regard. It seems that even if the rebel members of Kurdistan People’s Party (PKK) accepted to leave Turkey, Kurds will still continue to account for about 15 percent of the population in the country. Therefore, they will find themselves in a state of limbo and will show impatience to see the big reforms taking place in the country. What Kurds demand from the central government is in line with the realization of their social rights and liberties. Therefore, their demands are different from what Alawites (which some analysts believe have been infiltrated by Syrian forces) are looking for, and are also different from the goals pursued through various kinds of urban protests. This difference should be considered a result of dynamic changes in the political power equations as a result of the recent peace agreement signed between the Turkish government and Kurdish groups.

Issues related to identity of the Justice and Development Party constitute only one aspect of the ongoing social unrest in the country and the political uncertainties resulting from it. In the opinion of party leaders, who look to the European Union as the source of their identity and reforms, the environment of the European Union is more secure in political terms than the political environment in Turkey. It should be noted here that in terms of social base, the Justice and Development Party is quite powerful and its political coordinates are not limited to its Islamist identity. As a result, the party has been able during the past 12 years to secure a foothold among all Muslim groups, even democrat ones. At the same time, the government of Erdogan has been also facing multiple serious challenges during the same period. Every time that the government has tried to introduce reforms in the Constitution, it has faced troubles. One of the latest of these troubles is the unrest which started in late May 2013 and is still going on. Therefore, the general outline and major factors inciting Turkey’s protests can be summarized in the following three categories which also include the main reasons behind political disagreements in the country:

    A) The process of the accession of Turkey to the European Union – whose
    negotiations started on May 1, 2004 – has become more serious and Erdogan
    has promised that Ankara will be a member of the EU in the next 10-15

    B) The next reason behind the ongoing protests is the proposed change in
    the country’s political system from a parliamentary system to a
    presidential one; the opposition parties are doing their best to prevent
    this from happening; and

    C) The local structure and social texture in certain parts of Turkey,
    especially its southern parts is such that interfering foreign forces can
    easily set the direction of the Alawite and Kurdish minorities toward
    their own desirable ends.

On June 6, the Turkish protesters changed the slogans they shouted at Taksim Square: “We do not belong to political parties. We are the people. We want a religion without the Justice and Development Party; an Ataturk without the Republican People's Party; our homeland without the Nationalist Movement Party; and the rights of Kurds without the Peace and Democracy Party. We are the people.” In my opinion, the contents of the aforesaid slogans cannot be summed up with simple focus on their combination and political coordinates. As a result, some analysts have argued that these protests will finally become a turning point in the history of Turkey as they will make Erdogan see the nation anew by looking beyond the limited circle of his supporters. By now, he should have understood that his nation does not have any interest in the history of the Ottoman Empire and there is a substantial gap between neoliberal economic development and political development in the country. Therefore, I believe that the political demonstrations in Turkey do not conform to the known model of the Arab Spring, but are more similar to protests launched by the American people in what has come to be widely known as the Wall Street Movement.

Reza Solat is a Ph.D. Candidate of International Relations and Expert on Turkey Issues

Firouzeh Mirrazavi
Deputy Editor
Iran Review.Org



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Dexter June 13, 2013 7:54 pm (Pacific time)

Very well written article . Not easy after a strict "ban" on free press-speach (from the Turkish press). So much for Turkey being part of the "Western" culture

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