Archive for August 2014
In an article yesterday, Claire Berlinski commented on the eerie and depressing similarities between the Gezi protests last year in Turkey and the ongoing protests in Ferguson, MO. Indeed, there is a trend in the images produced by protest movements- clouds of tear gas, police in armor and choking but defiant citizens. The post 9/11 world have given rise to the nearly universal militarization of police forces. Whether recent protests have taken place in an autocracy, democracy, or one of the many semi-democracies, police have again and again erred on the side of excessive force.
Both Ferguson and Gezi are examples of a dangerous world-wide trend in law enforcement. However, the demands and demographics of the protesters in these two cases actually have little in common. A more apt comparison to Ferguson in the Turkish context would be the intermittent and chronic protests by Kurds against government repression, particularly the building of gendarme outposts, in Turkey’s Southeast. Both involve an ethnic and socio-economic underclass that largely inhabits marginal areas. Both groups have been the target of brutal police repression but are often ignored by the mainstream media.
Of course comparing these two very complex and very different cases of minority repression is dangerously reductive on many counts. That being said, at this particular moment in Turkish history, Turkish politicians would be wise to take a broad lesson from the history of African-Americans in the US, of which Ferguson is only the latest manifestation. Turkey is in the midst of a much heralded attempt to finally reach a settlement with its indigenous Kurdish armed movement in return for increased cultural rights for Kurds. Even if this process reaches the ideal outcome of granting equal cultural and legal rights to Kurds, the residual social and economic discrimination faced will not be erased. The Turkish government cannot drop its focus on Kurdish issues and concerns once the settlement process is deemed complete. Even if a formerly second-class group group of citizens is recognized as having full legal parity with the majority, in all likelihood discrimination will continue in practice for many decades to come. Leaders on both sides of Turkey’s settlement process need to realize that the current legal negotiations are only, and should only, be the beginning. In the decades to come, social, educational and economic inequalities will have to be addressed in order to truly reach equality between ethnic Kurdish and ethnic Turkish citizens of Turkey.