Atatürk's Republic

Following Turkish News, Politics, Arts and Culture

Posts Tagged ‘occupy turkey

#irritated Ankara

with one comment

From contributor M. James:

The following, written on 6/8/13, is a follow-up on a prior post, which sought to explain how Turkey’s multi-party system not only fragments the opposition of the ruling party, but also perpetuates Turkey’s illiberalalbeit democraticsociety. As part of this chronically fragmented society, the demonstrators of this last week will have a difficult time unifying to effect meaningful political change. Worse, they don’t even know what they are fighting against.

One week ago, at 2:30am, I dropped my duffel on a poorly lit street corner and hailed a cab for Esenboğa International Airport. My shirt was damp and my sinuses were still tingling, but I was oddly at ease. In three hours, I’d be on my way home.

I offered the remaining bills in my pocket80 liraand the driver’s face lit up. He asked what time my flight was, urged me to buckle up, and handed me his sweater-vest as a pillow. I sneezed; he laughed. For the next hour on the road, I pretended to sleep. The city was calm, but there was electricity in the air. The deliberate cacophony of pots and pans emanated from one apartmentwhat would become, over the next few days, a 9:00pm ritualbut the rest of Ankara seemed asleep. I couldn’t help wondering, though, if theylike mewere only hushed, with one eye open.

The evening had been, in some ways, a bust. Intruding on my last, nostalgic night of draft beer and good company was the unwelcome irritation of expired Brazilian tear gas. I consulted Reutersthese were already, allegedly, the biggest protests to rock Turkey in years. And so, through the pungent smell of propellant, the tinny sound of the canisters, and the sight of sprinting protestors through the windows, I wondered aloud at what the next step would be.

The Turk seated across from me shrugged. He wanted garlic bread, but the bar had been too busy cutting lemons for its gas-afflicted patrons to complete the order. We called a few friends and urged them not to join us after all. Once the garlic bread arrived, we could talk. “It’s about time,” seemed to be his outlook on both the bread and the protests. “Won’t get good media coverage, though.” Being that he would start working at a Turkish newspaper in three days, I trusted his judgment. Would anything really change, though? We disagreed on that point.

We did agree, though, that our allergy symptoms were improved by the CS gas. The asthmatic bartender wasn’t as pleased. I blew my nose into a napkin and squeezed lemon into my eyes.

News and social media were already exploding. It was the “summer of discontent” in Turkeyobvious echoes of the Arab Spring. I laughed. It wouldn’t catch onthis was not anything like the Arab Spring. Soon, it would be re-branded as part of #occupy. Closer, but not quite. A few days later, I would begin to see the locally originated #diren, the imperative of “to resist,” oreven better“to put your foot down.” Much closer.

The question, of course, was whether or not those sprinting figures outside the window agreed on what they were resisting. Some came into the bar and, like many of the staff, sported tree-shaped stickers to demonstrate their solidarity with the Istanbul Gezi Park protesters. But everyone knew that this was not about a park, or greenspace, or even environmentalism. When I asked, the first word I heard was “fascism.” Adequately vague, but adequately powerful. The point was that these people had preexisting grievances with their government, and this was a timely outlet.

We walked outside just as the displeased throngsmarching from park to park since the afternoonreturned to John F. Kennedy Ave., carrying banners and chanting slogans. There were only three hundred, at the most, but within ten minutes, they drew a reckless police TOMA truck and plenty more tear gas. I was pulled into the next bar after being “warned” by the TOMA trucka quick water cannon across the chest. I ordered another beer. Someone threw a chair at the truck.

Half an hour later, still bemused and sniffling, I decided to head back to the apartment and grab my luggage. Part of me was happy to be leaving these streets, but another part was irritated enough to want to stay. And the more I sneezedsuch an unbecoming complement to indignationthe more irritated I got. Did what I was doing tonight really warrant that police response?

I suspect that many who witnessed that night on JFK Ave., or earlier that day in Gezi Park, walked home with similar thoughts. Fascists. What has made matters even worse is PM Erdoğan’s typically inflammatory reaction: A recitation of his perverse idea of what “democracy” means, i.e., nothing beyond election day. Many marginally displeased Turks have certainly been drawn into the ranks of the irritated by these authoritarian responses to what would have otherwise been truly marginal protests. And they have clearly been irritated enough to withstand the systematic irritation of their collective sinuses.

I have posted already, on Atatürk’s Republic, about how Turkish politics is only “democratic” in the strictest sense of the term, lacking anything that could be called liberal. The “liberal” use of tear gas in the last week only underlines this absence.

The problem is systemic, and can be blamed squarely on Turkey’s ill-conceived multi-party system, which all-too-naturally begets tyranny. Ironically, the men and women who have taken to the streets in the last week will try to work within their constitutionally illiberal democratic system, believing wrongly that the person of Erdoğan or the AK Parti is exclusively to blame for the “fascism” that they perceive. Even more ironically, the young secularists who make up a large portion of the disaffectedthemselves quite liberal-mindedwould be the last to advocate the two-party system that Turkey needs if it is to become a tolerant, rights-based, secular nation. Not only does the multi-party system prima facie seem more liberal, but the constitution that prescribes it came from Atatürk’s hand.

Until they realize what it really is that they should be resisting, the demonstrators will only be confused and irritated. And even if they do realize, and continue to seek change, they will soon understand that full-scale revolution is the only answera step that very few would be willing to take. Unfortunately, I do not see any other way out. The only solution is to challenge the very nature of Atatürk’s republic.

As we pulled up to the international departures terminal, I thanked the driver for his sweater-vest, dragged my duffel from the trunk, and handed over the 80 lira, and 75 kuruşall my bills and change. He thanked me. I smiled and nodded.

Kolay gelsin seemed the best parting words. Literally, “may it come easily.”

Advertisements

Written by ataturksrepublic

June 10, 2013 at 3:59 pm

What can we say about Occupy Gezi?

with 5 comments

The obsessive Turkey watcher that I am, I have spent a good chunk of the last few days following the news and analysis coming out of Turkey.  Though we are still in the midst of the storm, there are some conclusions that can be drawn with a fair amount of certainty.

-Popular frustration has been building up in Turkey over the last several years because of lack of public input into projects.  There has also been a disturbing trend of police using excessive force against peaceful demonstrations of all kinds.  These two elements, among others, created a volatile situation that exploded on Friday.

-After the initial police interventions, the protest became a magnet for all kinds of Turks with grievances against the government.  Some of these new protesters are also frustrated with the AKP’s construction programs, others are perennial AKP opponents.  One protester interviewed Piotr Zalewski in his great Time article nicely sums it up when he says “We’re against everything.”  Any and all pent up frustrations against the current government are on display at the moment.

-The protests started out among the largely secular and young.  however, over the last few days I have seen mounting evidence that, even if they are not joining them in the streets (though some are), the protesters are gaining support from at least some of the AKP’s base demographics.

– We can not say for sure how many AKP supporters sympathize with the protests but there is no doubt that the AKP’s support will be diminished.  The AKP’s economic success and history of liberalizing reforms has won the support of many “secular” Turks (not traditionally associated with the AKP) including liberals and the businessmen.  Those who were late to jump on the AKP bandwagon will cast their vote elsewhere.  However, Turkey’s opposition parties are both weak and unappealing to large segments of the population.  The AKP will therefore remain a force to be reckoned with in Turkish politics until a viable alternative capable of bridging the many divides of Turkish society appears.

-Despite the fact that many are making the easy (and inaccurate) comparison between the Occupy Gezi movement and the protest movements that brought on the Arab Spring, in all likelyhood this movement will not birth a full out revolution.  Unlike the Arab Spring countries, Turkey is a democracy.  The importance of this cannot be overstated.  The AKP (embodied by Erdogan) received an impressive 50% of the vote in the last election.  As discussed above, the popularity of Erdogan and the AKP will certainly take a hit but when it comes down to the line, I am willing to bet that Turkey would rather go with the devil it knows (and elected) over the devil it doesn’t know.   However, Erdogan’s ability to guide the creation of a new constitution, already compromised, is likely lost and with it his dream of becoming Turkey’s first American style president.

– If Erdogan continues to insist upon eating his foot, and assuming that no new political opposition party is conjured up, Turkey’s calls for alternative leadership will have to be answered from within the AKP itself.  The most likely candidate to step up to the job is the current President Abdullah Gul.  Though informal polling indicates that he is unpopular among the protesters, he has consistently shown himself to be the foil to Erdogan’s impulsive and often volatile style of politics.  I suspect that after things have cooled down, the AKP base, and those on the bandwagon, will see him as the rational alternative to Erdogan.

– Erdogan, and Turkey in generally, will see their soft power and popularity seriously weakened in the region.  Bashar Assad’s denunciations of Erdogan’s handling of protests is certainly ironic but not undeserved.  The man who touted democracy abroad refuses to bend to the will of his own citizens.  Erdogan’s hypocrisy has been laid bare and I doubt the beleaguered populations of Egypt and other Arab spring countries will any longer have any interest in buying what he is selling.

-Footnote: This should be (and is) is the least of Turkey’s concerns right now, but I cannot see how the IOP will ever agree to give the 2020 Olympics to Istanbul after this weekend.

Written by ataturksrepublic

June 3, 2013 at 4:41 am