Analysis: Protests in Turkey Continue to Rage

image

By: AAA Summer Interns – Robert Avakian, Hamlet Tamazian, Matt Hanessian, and Alex Azarian

           Turkey’s economy has grown tremendously over the last decade, but the fundamental rights and freedoms of Turkish citizens have not kept pace. A day before the beginning of the Taksim Square protests a report titled “Why Turkey is Thriving” was published. The report applauded Turkey’s economic achievements and went so far as to state that other countries should learn from Turkey’s example.[1] It is evident that Turkey has made significant economic strides, but at what cost? What is being sacrificed in exchange for economic success? So far it has been the freedom and social progress of the people, as many see Erdogan and his AKP party creeping toward Islamization.

            On May 28, the Taksim Square protests began as a peaceful sit-in. GeziPark, one of the last patches of green in Istanbul, had been designated for development – construction of a new shopping mall that would resemble old Ottoman military barracks. Soon after the sit-in began police arrived. Meanwhile, CNN Turk, the local CNN outlet, was broadcasting nature documentaries about penguins. NTV, a major news channel in the area, did not report the unrest for six days.[2] While Turkish media smothered the real news, they also smothered the fundamental freedoms of their fellow countrymen.

            Police attempted to disperse the peaceful protesters, prompting White House Press Secretary Jay Carney to express America’s “serious concerns” about the “excessive use of force by police,”[3] who continued to use batons, rubber bullets, tear gas, and high pressure water cannons. News of the police crackdown on peaceful protesters attracted an even larger crowd and reached the masses, spreading to other parts of the country. The latest reports detailed that 5,000 protesters and 600 police officers had been injured, and 5 people have been killed.[4] Another botched response from the government became the final straw in a string of incidents that left average Turks wanting more from their government and Erdogan, in particular.

image

            Newly enacted bans on alcohol arrived on the heels of an ongoing headscarf controversy. Protesters were quoted as saying, “Erdogan doesn’t let you breath.”[5] In response to the bans on alcohol one protester responded “Who are you to tell me not to drink? Are you my father, my grandfather? You can’t tell me how to live.”[6] Meanwhile, at the outset of the protests, Erdogan left the country to visit Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Before departing he expressed his view of the situation, calling the protesters “drunks, extremists,” and also blaming Twitter for the demonstrations.[7] In the first several hours of the protests, Twitter and social media were the only ways to spread news as local media would not cover the events – further illustrating Erdogan’s suppression of freedoms and control of the media. More troubling is the report that forthcoming regulations will monitor social media for those who are “inciting people or coordinating and directing events that would cause social incidents or endanger material and physical public safety through manipulative, false news.”[8]

            Regulations and articles have been signed into law and abused by the Turkish government for decades as a means to an end. Signed into law under Erdogan’s rule, Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code is a classic example. Article 301 states that “publicly denigrating Turkishness” is a punishable offense. The extreme use of this law became most evident in the case of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, who was hauled off to court and became a target for extremists. The suffocation of a free press in Turkey continues today as “The imprisonment of journalists is having a ‘chilling effect’ on Turkey’s media, which exercised self-censorship during this month’s anti-government protests, Europe’s main rights and democracy watchdog said.”[9] Adding further tension to the protests has been the demographic differences between the protesters and those in Erdogan’s camp.

            The “rioters” mainly come from the economic middle and lower classes that have been excluded from central areas of the city due to the ruling political party’s favoritism of the wealthy during this time of rapid development and foreign investment.[10] The protesters are cognizant that their civil rights are being withheld. While the rich get richer, the middle and lower classes stand up for democratic and societal progress. A segment of the opposition is particularly upset about the proposed style of the mall, which is reminiscent of the Ottoman Empire barracks that had been built over an Armenian cemetery and previously torn down.[11] It is clear that these peaceful protesters wish to progress as a democratic society, and view this particular proposed style of construction as inflammatory and a step backwards.

image

            Even though the situation remains unsettled, the effects of the protests are felt not just outside Istanbul, but beyond Turkey’s borders as well. In Azerbaijan, many are sharing photos and spreading the news of the protests from Turkey through social media. A young Azerbaijani journalist said he felt “sorry for Azerbaijan” because “Due to our own passive political life, and a society that doesn’t advance, young people are living through the lives of their neighbors.”[12]

            Others are keeping an eye on Turkey as economic interests clash with access to basic freedoms and democratic values. Archbishop Vicken Aykazyan, Legate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America, visited Taksim Square during the protests. Speaking about Turkish growing pains he said “something is changing in Turkish society.” According to Archbishop Aykazyan, some of the protesters told him that “this is for our freedom, our rights.” It was palpable that because of “their convictions…they had to do something,” he said.

            At the heart of this conflict is access to natural freedoms, and the disappointment felt by the Turkish people in their government’s lack of social progress. Daron Acemoglu captured the severity of the situation in his New York Times opinion piece: “the Turkish news media still seems cowed into submission, so much so that it did not report much on how the small protests against a new shopping center on one of the few remaining parks in Istanbul turned into a spontaneous mass movement challenging Mr. Erdogan’s authoritarianism.”[13]


  1. “Why Turkey Is Thriving.” Sachs, Jeffrey D. Project Syndicate. May 27, 2013
  2. “When Turkey was not Thriving.” Erten, Ceyda and Voeten, Eric. The Monkey Cage. June 4, 2013
  3. “White House Briefing with Spokesperson Jay Carney.” Carney, Jay. Embassy of the United States – Ankara, Turkey. June 3, 2013
  4. “No Clear Result after Turkish PM, Protesters Meet.” The Associated Press. CBCnews CBC/Radio Canada. June 13, 2013. Web. June 15, 2013.
  5. “Protests in Turkey: Will Taksim Become Erdogan’s Tahrir Square?” Zalewski, Piotr. Time World. June 2, 2013
  6. Id.
  7. “When Turkey was not Thriving.” Erten, Ceyda and Voeten, Eric. The Monkey Cage. June 4, 2013
  8. “Turkey Arrests Dozens in Crackdown on Protests.” Kareem Fahim and Sebnem Arsu. The New York Times. June 18, 2013
  9. “Jailing of reporters has “chilling effect” on Turkish media: OSCE.” Dahl, Fredrik. Reuters. June 13, 2013
  10. “Generation Y on the Rise in Turkey.” Birdal, Mehmet S. Ahram Online. June 12, 2013. Web. June 13, 2013.
  11. Id.
  12. “As Turkish Protests Rage, Baku Watches With Interest.” Sindelar, Daisy. Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty. June 3, 2013
  13. “Development Won’t Ensure Democracy in Turkey.” Acemoglu, Daron. New York Times. June 5, 2013

Further suggested reading:

About Armenian Assembly of America

Established in 1972, the Armenian Assembly of America is the largest Washington-based nationwide organization promoting public understanding and awareness of Armenian issues. The Assembly is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt membership organization.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply