Turkey: Another Park takes Center Stage in Protests
The Occupy Wall Street movement convened and took over Zucotti Park in the Financial District of downtown Manhattan. Egypt’s Arab Spring commandeers (still!) Tahrir Square, which although it is not a park contains a wide grassy circle in the middle of it which is perfect for camping protesters. Now, Turkish protesters have claimed an Instanbul park-Gezi Park- not only as the stage but also the reason for their protests.
Gezi Park, located in the city of Istanbul, has been marked for demolition by the Turkish government for quite some time. Protesters staging a sit-in on Friday, May 31st, were broken up by the police who used excess force against the demonstrators. Since then massive protests have erupted throughout the capital, spilling over into nearby Taksim Square and spreading throughout Turkey and across the entire world. A quick scan of images online shows us protesters as far apart as Germany, the Netherlands and New York (a Turkish promoter on my Facebook was urging people to protest in Manhattan today), showing that, once again, protesters have the solidarity of the common folk everywhere.
Protests were particularly violent today, with water cannons and tear gas being fired by baton-wielding police. CNN reports that 939 people have been detained in connection with the protesting. All of this begs the question: why? Why did the Istanbul police force decide to use excessive force when removing a small group of protesters who were protesting something that was uncontroversial compared to, say, human rights or a political leader? Now the situation has turned into a human rights protest, giving it a new drive and sparking rumors that this could be a “Turkish Spring.”
The police-and more importantly, political leaders, who in other countries seem to have more of a control over police matters than, say, local governors or mayors here in the United States-clearly do not read the international news. Otherwise they would see that using tear gas and force on innocent protesters gets you absolutely nowhere with both your fellow countrymen and the international world. As a whole, the Turkish press-including television stations-is keeping mum on the subject, as is Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, the source of much ire among the protesters, whose sole comment was “Vous faites ce que vous voulez, notre décision est prise” (Do what you want, our decision has been made). However, in true 21st-century fashion, the protesters have taken to the internet: Radio France International reports that an ‘International support for Ocupy Gezi Park, Istanbul‘ page has been set up, and Stamboulites (people from Istanbul) and foreigners alike have taken to Instagram, leaving comments on the pictures of the most-high profile people, urging followers to support the protesters.
A semester of discussing international politics and the “right to intervene” has certainly taught me to view the situation in a different way than I would have previously. Whatever the reasoning behind the use of excessive force and then the water cannons, the Turkish government cannot take back what it has done, but that does not mean it has to continue doing it. Even if Erdogan has been careless and largely silent, it looks like President Abdullah Gul has brought about a cease-fire for now, as police withdrew late on Saturday and Turkish flags celebrating victory filled Taksim Square. The Turkish State, like all governments, forgets that its response to problems can sometimes be more significant and heavy-weighing than the problem itself. What started out essentially as a protest over replacing a nice park with a shopping mall-a local, neighborhood-situated issue that could have been argued at a neighborhood town hall (if Turkey has such democratic forums, not sure) but is now an issue spanning several issues, and the Turkish government now additionally has to deal with international backlash as well.
My advice to the press would be this: back off. If the protest has finished, let Turkey figure out how to handle this. Let’s not guilt shame the government (even though its actions were cruel, horrible, unjust, stupid, miscalculated….the list goes on); after all, didn’t the US Government use water cannons on Civil Rights Protesters back in the 50s and 60s? I don’t believe it has apologized….and even if it has, this issue does not have to become an international one blown to new proportions. Relief groups should be set up in Turkey for those who were in the protests, but it doesn’t mean the whole world has to make it this out-of-proportion issue. I know what I’m saying sounds rather, well, heartless perhaps-but just as the Turkish government made an issue exponentially bigger because of its handling of the situation, so too can outside interference, and not in a good way.
“In a democratic society, reactions should be allowed to be given in accordance with rules without causing abuses. Similarly, authorities should exert serious effort to lend an ear to differing opinions and concerns,” Turkish President Abdullah Gul said in a statement, and I believe this shows promise-as long as Gul and co. act on it. Clearly, Turkey has a problem with freedom of the press and political dissent, but the fact of the matter is that these problems are not new. So the rest of the world has to stop trying to turn this into a Cause du jour and hop off the Gezi Parki bandwagon. Turkish citizens are not ignorant. Let’s see what they can do first, shall we?