Atatürk's Republic

Following Turkish News, Politics, Arts and Culture

Erdogan gets it wrong, again

leave a comment »

The fight for public input into “public” projects has moved from Gezi, Istanbul to ODTÜ, Ankara.  For the last several months the Middle East Technical University (acronym ODTÜ in Turkish), has been the scene of fierce protests against the construction of a road by the Ankara municipality through its campus.  Paralleling Gezi, the ODTÜ protests have centered around the environmental destruction the construction would cause, specifically the clearing of a large number of trees.  The ODTÜ protesters have also been subject to violent police intervention.

Over the weekend the struggle between the protesters and the local government escalated to a new level.  The University administration had joined the fight against the construction of the road, attempting to legally appeal the construction plans.  The University was apparently assured that construction would be halted until the appeals process was completed.  However, it appears that Friday night the municipality began clearing the forested area where the proposed road will run without notifying the University.  The University has issued a statement outlining its interpretation of the events and threatening legal action.  The AKP mayor of Ankara, Melih Gökçek claims that the Friday night construction blitz also came as a surprise to him.  However, he went on to defend the construction, stating that there were no legal obstacles to its continuation.

PM Erdoğan has also become involved in the controversy.  Discussing the issue on Tuesday he stated that “Everything can be sacrificed for roads, because roads are civilization. But those who are not civilized do not know the roads’ value. In our values, roads do not recognize any obstacle. Even if there is a mosque in front of a road, we would demolish that mosque and rebuild it somewhere else.  We won’t stop because somebody says so. Bandits used to block roads in the past, now modern bandits are blocking the roads.”

Erdoğan’s statement reveals that he still believes that he is facing an uprising of the old Kemalist secular elite.  However, later on Tuesday,  #direncami started trending on Twitter in Turkey.  The term diren (resist) became the term used for protesting or “occupying” during the Gezi uprisings.  The tag #direncami (resist mosque) is a twitter protest against the theoretical threat of Erdoğan to destroy a mosque in order to build a road.  The Turkish tweeters were signalling that Erdoğan missed the point entirely.  The protesters at ODTÜ are not calling for equal opportunity destruction but a cessation of all arbitrary destruction.

Whether or not Erdoğan would actually support the destruction of a mosque in order to build a road is largely beside the point (though I seriously doubt he would).  However, this statement should be a wake up call to his conservative Muslim supporters.   Erdoğan is willing, at least in theory, to sacrifice a symbol of the values that he supposedly holds most dear to the god of “progress.”  With his latest statement the Prime Minister has provided further proof that the popular uprisings in Turkey are not an example of secularists fighting against an encroaching Islamism, but about civil society fighting against an encroaching authoritarianism.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: