Here is what's coming in via Twitter this morning.
Istiklal street as of now! Check out the picture for #occupyistanbultwitter.com/_ElifYilmaz_/s…
— Mehmet Binay (@mehmetbinay) June 1, 2013
Lady in red who started İstanbul protests todayszaman.com/blogNewsDetail…
— Mahir Zeynalov (@MahirZeynalov) June 1, 2013
Lady in red who started İstanbul protests
|A decent-looking and brave Turkish woman in red. |
And a police spraying pepper directly on her face.
This is how all started.
A small-scale demonstration that has started with a dozen people has morphed into a nationwide protest, with violent clashes in many Turkish cities and major streets in Turkey’s financial center İstanbul.
The saga has started when several people gathered in Gezi Park of Taksim Square at the heart of İstanbul, protesting the demolition of trees in an area earlier authorities said will become a venue for a shopping mall. As the police violently dispersed the protesters for three days, the group swelled further and has gone beyond what was a modest protest earlier this week.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his advisers obviously misread the situation, believing that the protest is a marginal rally staged by those who already distaste the government’s many policies. “We decided to do this and we will move forward,” Erdoğan said on Wednesday, further escalating tensions.
Non-lethal irritants such as tear gas and pepper spray used by police to break up the protests had a reverse effect: It only helped others join the cause.
Most revolutions in the Middle East in the past two years have started with small incidents and gatherings. When faced with brutal government response and excessive use of force, the protests mushroomed. It is naive to suggest a similar scenario for Turkey, a democratic country where people can peacefully change their elected leaders if they don’t like their misguided policies. Undoubtedly, however, these protests are a major source of unrest and instability in a country claiming to be a safe haven for foreign investors and an emerging, vibrant economy.
Protests in Turkey are an ideal laboratory for how small-scale dissent can be transformed into nationwide protests. Erdoğan is a popular figure and this is exactly what makes him stubborn in not yielding to the demands of the protesters.
If the government comes out as soon as possible and steps back from its earlier position by announcing that they have abandoned the demolition of the green area in central İstanbul, the protesters could leave the streets. Current attempts to silence the crowds by using the excessive force will only bring many others into the protest ring.
I'm currently following occupygezipics.tumblr.com
— Paul Mason (@paulmasonnews) June 1, 2013
Oh WOW. Incredible! RT @mehmetbinay That is a brave Turkish woman: twitter.com/Niltakipte/sta… #OccupyGezi #occupyistanbul
— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) June 1, 2013
I am currently in #Dubai but when silent I can hear in distance huge laughter of #Assad and his gang. #turkey #OcccupyGezi
— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) June 1, 2013
right to peaceful protest and freedom of assembly, which are fundamental human rights in any democratic society.”
— Leigh Turner(@LeighTurnerFCO) June 1, 2013
“@amrgunner1: Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt calls to defend Erdogan against the Israeli Jewish plan to destory the Islamic state in Turkey.”
— Marietje Schaake (@MarietjeD66) June 1, 2013
"They took all the trees, and put em in a tree museum. And they charged the people a dollar and a half to see them" #Turkey #occupygezi
— שחררו את פלסטין (@SultanAlQassemi) June 1, 2013
“@kennethlipp: The only way Erdogan can appease demonstrators is compromise, an unlikely tack given AKP history theatlantic.com/international/…”Backstory via The Atlantic...
— Marietje Schaake (@MarietjeD66) June 1, 2013
Protests Show Turks Can't Tolerate Erdogan Anymore
The Turkish leader's opponents lacked a unifying way to denounce his "Ottomania" and heavy-handed leadership. Until now.
In the early afternoon Friday, Turkish police surrounded a peaceful group of protesters, and, shortly after the end of Friday prayers, began to volley a slew of tear gas canisters to disperse the crowd. The protesters had been camped in Gezi Park -- a small leafy park wedged near the bustling Taksim square -- for days to prevent the ripping out of trees to make way for the building of a shopping mall.
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has chastised the protests, claiming that the hundreds of people were unfamiliar with Ottoman history, and that the projects would continue unabated. In turn, the police have been using tear gas to forcibly evict the protesters camped in the park. As the use of force has escalated, the protests have morphed from an occupy style movement into a larger-scale rebuke of the AKP's heavy-handed rule. The protests have now spread to Kocaeli, Edirne, Afyon, Eskisehir, Bodrum, Antalya, Aydin, Trabzon, Mugla, Mersin, Ankara, Adana, and Konya.
|Residential towers are seen next to the newly built Mimar |
Sinan mosque in Atasehir, on the Asian side of Istanbul,
on September 4, 2012. (Murad Sezer/Reuters)
Despite having its genesis in the Gezi Park movement, the dynamics of the protests now reflect many of the fundamental antagonisms in Turkey's imperfect democracy. Erdogan's divisive rhetoric and his penchant for authoritarian rule have steadily eroded the party's support from small constituencies that it could once count on. While the AKP's voter base is often simplistically assumed to be religious conservatives, the truth of the matter is that AKP supporters include a small number of liberals eager to do away with the undemocratic constitution, a business sector happy with the party's handling of the economy, nationalists who are pleased with what they perceive as Turkey's re-emergence as a global power, Turkish Islamists obsessed with the proliferation of Ottomania (a growing desire among the Turkish population to reconnect and reacquaint themselves with the country's imperial past), and some members of Turkey's Kurdish minority who are pleased with AKP's democratic reforms.
Of these interests, the only group to leave the party en mass during the AKP's rule has been the handful liberals that bounce from party to party in search of greater freedoms. Turkey's main opposition, the Republican People's Party (CHP), ostensibly represents the secular segments of Turkish society but has failed to expand their political base beyond the country's western coast.
Thus, during the early years of Erdogan's rule, which were characterized by a sustained push to reform Turkish laws along European Union standards, the ruling party was able to co-opt some parts of the more liberal segments of the population. Lots of people that did not compromise part of the AKP's core constituency, for example, would lambast Erdogan publicly but would quietly vote for him because he was handling the economy well and they were pleased with the growing liberal freedoms.
This dynamic has ended. After winning the last election, Erdogan's purposeful buoying of a sagging economy with massive infrastructure projects has allowed for these disparate sections of the non-AKP elements of the Turkish electorate to channel their growing anger behind one symbolic political cause. This anger has only intensified as the violence from the police has escalated.
Moreover, it is impossible to separate the demonstrations on the streets from the anger at the process for passing recent legislation. Erdogan has recently paired his environmentally questionable policies with more stringent restrictions on the sale of alcohol. The law, as is typical in Turkey, was passed quickly, and with little insight from the main opposition. The party brought the socially divisive issue to the Parliament and within two weeks passed it with little regard for how it would be interpreted by voters. The process reinforced the growing sense amongst non-AKP Turks of their disenfranchisement and their lack of real power in the political system. The Gezi protests, therefore, are an extension of this dynamic.
Erdogan's handling of the crisis thus far suggests that he remains confident in his ability to weather the storm. Undoubtedly, the powerful prime minster is confident that his core supporters will associate the protesters with the secular movement and blame them for causing trouble. This attitude is reflective of the major problem with Turkeys' troubled democracy: Namely that the Prime Minister refuses to compromise, or at least take into account, the demands of those who do not vote for him. Turkey's political agenda therefore reflects, by and large, the AKP's more conservative constituency.
Before the protests, the non-AKP voting bloc had not had a unifying cause to channel their growing anger at Erdogan's political agenda. The protests have unleashed this anger. In turn, this suggests that the only way for the government to appease the protesters is to compromise. Everything about the AKP's history, however, suggests that this route is unlikely. Thus, moving forward, the government is likely to offer a series of half-steps aimed at appeasing the people marching in the streets, like the recent court decision to halt construction on the park. While the government is bound to restore order at some point in the future, unless Erdogan is willing to make some concessions, the dynamics that have underpinned the protests will continue and clashes could erupt at any time.
If these weren't honor-and-dignity revolts yesterday, they are now. #Turkey
— Sharmine Narwani (@snarwani) June 1, 2013
The photog (Osman Orsam) who took the amazing "lady in red and teargas" pic blogs.reuters.com/fullfocus/2013… is injured: twitter.com/601sokak/statu…
— Zeynep Tufekci (@techsoc) June 1, 2013
|Woman in Red photo of Osman Orsal attracting trip's symbol |
immediately after the gas bomb wounded foto [Google translate]
@ selsnmez pic.twitter.com/IIS2fIUxrs
I can't tweet photos any more over cell phone & our local internet died. If cell networks go down, then this will truly be a Turkish Tahrir.— Ivan Watson (@IvanCNN) June 1, 2013
Twitter and Facebook have been slowed down!— Aaron Stein (@aaronstein1) June 1, 2013
Let’s be skeptical of reports that Twitter, Facebook, etc. are “blocked” in Turkey, unless there’s hard evidence. Could be lots of things.— Blake Hounshell (@blakehounshell) June 1, 2013
All hell breaking loose in Taksim again.Cops let thousands enter Taksim and Gezi Park, then unleashed tear gas. Now demonstrators rioting— Ivan Watson (@IvanCNN) June 1, 2013
Lots of fake photos from Taksim going around. My advice: Don't tweet unless it's clearly coming from the original, credible source.— Blake Hounshell (@blakehounshell) June 1, 2013
Update: Police withdrawing from Istanbul square, allowing protest, reports Turkish state-run news agency - @ap— Breaking News (@BreakingNews) June 1, 2013
Huge crowds flowing into Taksim square as police withdrew.— Mahir Zeynalov (@MahirZeynalov) June 1, 2013