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The protests in Turkey are not manipulated

03 June 2013 / 20:06:34  GRReporter
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This is the fourth day of Turkish society boiling with anger. Since Friday, the central Taksim Square in Istanbul has been the epicentre of the violent civil unrest against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which had started as a protest against the construction of buildings on a green area.

All analysts agree that this was only the reason for the protests, and not the cause. Pantelis Touloumakos, Researcher at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy ELIAMEP and expert in the field of social and political history of Turkey and its relations with Greece, is talking with GRReporter about the events that have led to the mass protests, their future, the political correlations in Turkey and how the situation will affect the country's relations with Greece

Why are Turkish citizens protesting?

Indeed, from the moment it assumed power until today, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has taken many important steps. We must not forget the reforms it has carried out. We should also bear in mind the fact that the basis of its recent popularity was the economic development of Turkey. So, the political reform and economic progress were the main factors for the rise of the Justice and Development Party (AKP). A poll has recently been carried out which showed a very high percentage of support to the government.

On the other hand, there are facts showing that the Turkish government has recently turned to a more conservative policy. The purges in the army, which were initiated by scandals like Ergenekon, had initially left an impression and they were probably part of the incentive to “clear” the army of ultra-rightist persons. However, many Turkish analysts commented that this was the way for the AKP to establish its power in the army as well. Now we note that there is other evidence of a bad government policy. Examples of this are the large number of journalists who are in jail, the recently imposed ban on drinking alcohol. Generally, we could say that the policy of the government has taken a more conservative path.

Protesters’ profile

In order for us to be able to understand the causes of the rebellion, we must consider the profile of the Turkish citizens. Many young people in Turkey are graduates of foreign universities or of Turkish universities, many of which operate according to Western standards. A large number of Turkish citizens are recipients of Western culture and they already have this mentality. They want to live according to the example of Western societies. They react against a clearly emerging course to Islamic conservatism.

Is the rebellion spontaneous?

The majority of the protesters went out in the streets spontaneously. Their reaction is not a product of the moment. The interesting fact here is that the protesters belong to various social and ideological groups. The common thing for them is that they oppose the politics pursued by the government. Perhaps this is the reason why they could not be put under a unified leadership. The Republican People's Party (CHP) tried to do this but failed.

The future of the protests

I would define as risky any forecast as regards the future of the protests. If things are fitted into a narrower framework, we could assume that the situation would calm down at some point. But my opinion is that it is very likely that new protests will follow. Sometimes it is necessary for things to be repeated several times in order for the picture to become clearer. Let's not forget that this is the first such large-scale protest since the AKP took power in 2002.

What is the alternative to the AKP and Recep Erdogan?

I cannot answer that question. But I could say with some certainty that, for the time being, the strength of the other parties is rather diminished. It is important to note that the Republican People's Party (CHP) experienced a crisis when its leader was changed, a change triggered by the scandal closely connected with the chairman at the time, Deniz Baykal. Bearing in mind this fact as well as the results of recent polls, there is no political force that, at least at first, will be able to attract the majority of votes and to form an independent government. However, I repeat that any forecast is too risky at present.

The effect on relations with Greece

For the moment, the events are concentrated inside Turkey. We should follow the course of the developments, the form they will take and especially the players who will emerge on the political scene. It is too early to give any answer to this question.

I think it’s difficult to connect this with the entry of Turkish warships into Greek territorial waters two days before the events. Such offences were occurring before the deteriorating situation in Turkey. We cannot exactly know whether the events are related or not.

Turkey and its aspirations to become a regional power in South East Europe

What is interesting here is how these protests may affect other issues such as Turkey's ambitions to become a strong regional power. Until very recently, some of Ankara’s arguments in favour of this desire sounded rather convincing in the international arena. However, the prerequisites for this are domestic political stability in the country, the presence of democratic order that is based on solid foundations and above all, the absence of such shocks.

I think that the developments are still at a very early stage. We have to follow them in order to be able to analyze them later. This protest is not just a single expression of dissatisfaction. From the moment it broke out not only in Istanbul but also in dozens of other cities, there have been a large number of injured protesters and it has created a precedent. If the government continues with this policy, probably new protests will follow. Besides, in Turkey, many people are moderate Muslims, fully supporting the secular character of the Turkish Republic; they are not in favour of this turn towards a more conservative Islam. There are a fair number of them and they may go back into the streets to express their protest.

The protest in Athens

A protest in support of the rebellion in Turkey was organized in Athens late in the afternoon. Around 300 Greeks, Turks and Kurds, many of whom are members of leftist parties and organizations, had gathered in Vassilis Sofias Avenue and headed together to the building of the country’s embassy in Athens.

They were shouting slogans in Turkish, among which "Erdogan fascist" and "Erdogan terrorist" could be clearly heard. Some of them were holding in their hands posters reading, "Solidarity with the Turkish nation" and others were carrying Kurdish flags and a banner with the picture of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.

The protesters failed to reach their target, as the streets around the embassy were blocked and closely guarded by dozens of policemen.
"I'm here to protest against the violence that the police are using against the protesters in Turkey. This is a movement that seeks to challenge our freedoms. That's why we are so angry and we are here, outside the Turkish embassy, to express our dissatisfaction," Denise Gedik from Turkey, a post graduate student at the Panteion University, told GRReporter.

She points out that the protests are a response to bans that have continued for years. "They wanted to ban abortion, alcohol and many things related to environmental protection. There is no trace of democracy in the decision-making process. There are problems in the education and health policy. Furthermore, we advocate our right to expression. I think this movement is for the good of Turkey."

"The media say it is nationalist. This is not true. Indeed, there may be nationalists and even Kemalists among the people but it is a people’s movement. In Turkish society, there are conflicts and now we are all together, even the Kurds support the movement," she states.


Tags: PoliticsTurkeyProtestsRecep Tayyip ErdoganConservative IslamGovernment
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