What are the demonstrations in Turkey really all about?
IT’S WORTH CONSIDERING
After enduring the “Arab Spring” for the past few years, many people are wondering if the demonstrations Istanbul and 65 other Turkish cities are more of the same. In this brief article I hope to show why I think this one is different. First, let me say that while I support the stated “dissatisfactions” of the protestors, I’m glad my recent visit to Istanbul ended before the action heated up. Once a “mob mentality” has been born, anything can happen.
Be that as it may, I have been encouraged by what I have learned about the demonstrations. While those in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere were largely orchestrated by various Muslim factions who quickly took advantage of the chaos to gain more power, Istanbul’s demonstrations seem to reflect a genuine dissatisfaction of the heavy handed policies of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. What began as a localized dispute over the uprooting of a small park at Taksim Square in the heart of modern Istanbul rapidly grew into a national solidarity against his dictatorial “I’ll do as I please” attitude. While people are concerned over his Islamic aspirations, they’re more concerned that he has become “intoxicated with power.”
In the eyes of many people, Erdoğan’s ten year rule through his Justice and Development
Party (AKP) has resulted in: suppression of political criticism, crony capitalism, manipulation of the judiciary, unjust imprisonment, show trials and a disregard for the separation of powers. Many are particularly unnerved by the way Erdoğan has imposed his personal tastes on the country. He seems to believe that his election obviates the need for accountability of any kind.
Things started going downhill for Erdoğan when he got involved in the Syrian civil war against his onetime buddy, Assad. To make matters worse, Turkey has experienced new hostilities with Moscow, Tehran and Baghdad, lost both overland trade routes to the Persian Gulf and trade with Syria, suffered terrorism on Turkish soil (in Reyhanli) and seen tensions surge between its stridently Sunni government and the country’s heterodox Muslim populations. It appears that the past decade of political stability and plentiful foreign investment has come to a halt and a new, more difficult era has begun for the AKP government.
AS I SEE IT
From America’s point of view, this is all good news. Although a democracy, Turkey has been heading in the wrong direction under the AKP. In its foreign policy, the AKP government had begun to establish a dangerous alliance with Iran. Internally, it has jailed more journalists than any other state in the world. Although a secular nation, Turkey has been gradually imposing more and more Islamist regulations, including a rushed limitation on alcohol as well as warnings against public displays of affection. Although a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Turkey engaged in 2010 in a joint air exercise with China.
Although an applicant to the European Union, it has been courting the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, founded in 1996 by Russian and Chinese leaders as an anti-NATO grouping. Although supposedly an American ally, Turkey has humiliated Israel, called Zionism a “crime against humanity,” and acclaimed the terror-listed Hamas organization.
Any demonstrations that may turn the country in a new direction have my support. We should closely watch how the Turkish government reacts.
ON THE LIGHTER SIDE
Definitions you may not have heard:
Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.