Feature

Turkey: Crackdown prompts nationwide movement

An environmental sit-in has turned into an open revolt against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey is in open revolt, said Lale Kemal in Today’s Zaman. The protests sweeping the country started out as an environmental sit-in aimed at reversing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plan to raze one of Istanbul’s few green spaces, Gezi Park, to rebuild an old Ottoman barracks that would house a mosque and a shopping mall. But after police stormed into the park last week, shooting teargas and pepper spray at peaceful demonstrators and wounding dozens, a far larger movement ignited. Now “people from all walks of life”—in Istanbul and cities across the country—are united in outrage against police brutality and the government’s disdain for democracy. Erdogan, with his “arrogance and overconfidence,” has only made things worse by sneeringly dismissing the protesters as looters and saboteurs. In reality, among the many protesters were some of “those who brought Erdogan to power” and supported his economic reforms.

People are fed up with Erdogan’s Islamist overreach, said Semih Idiz in Hurriyet. First elected in 2002, his Justice and Development Party has grown ever more oppressive, trying to “curb freedom of expression and people’s secular lifestyles.” Erdogan has imposed restrictions on alcohol and abortion and brought religious symbols into public life. He cites religion as the foundation of his laws, asking why laws written “by a drunk”—a dig at Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the war hero and notorious boozer who founded modern, secular Turkey—should be respected while those written by the pious should not. Even Erdogan’s effort to rebuild the barracks in Gezi Park is religiously motivated: The site was once the headquarters of Islamic fundamentalists who sought to impose sharia law until Ataturk quelled their insurgency and demolished the barracks.

“Outside forces” are fomenting this unrest, said Yeni Safak in an editorial. Just look at the images we see on state-run television, of masked men throwing firebombs at cars and shattering shop windows. Tragically, the environmental cause has been co-opted by opposition parties and foreign money. These aren’t peaceful protesters—they are thugs.

State-run TV is purposely trying to make it look that way, said Ilker Akgüngör in Vatan. In reality, old people, young people, women, even dogs are being sprayed in the face so avidly that the military is actually running out of the stuff. Yet “solidarity is everywhere.” Shops are giving out free gas masks, and hotels have opened their lobbies to protesters, offering them water and lemons to counteract the teargas. Pharmacies “stayed open all night” as people bought masks, goggles, and supplies “not just for themselves but for others also.”

This is democracy in action, said Abdulhamit Bilici in Zaman. Don’t call it a “Turkish Spring,” as some foreign media are doing; the “more apt comparison is Occupy Wall Street.” Turkey is not a dictatorship, and the demonstrators here aren’t seeking regime change. All they are doing is saying that the government, elected by the majority, must listen to the minority. That’s a message that can only “improve our democracy.”

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