Turkish police use aggressive force against citizens of Istanbul on the anniversary of Occupy Gezi (31Mayıs 2014)
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31 May 2014- the one year anniversary of the occupy Gezi Park movement.
Unlike the scene one year ago in Taksim Square, the government was prepared for demonstrations. The prime minister of Turkey took massive precautions by maximizing his force by flexing his muscles- his police force. Prime Minister Erdoğan announced a public warning on Friday that he gave strict orders to his security forces and anyone not corresponding to his imposed fear by staying home will face the consequences. Erdoğan closed the roads as well as stopped all public transportation on Saturday to block access to Taksim Square. This complete shutdown of transportation (including all ferry services and the Bosphorus bridge) disconnected the city’s two continents and separated the city into two isolated halves.
he Turkish prime minister applied the same tactics on both halves of the city, but focused more attention towards the European side in which contains the infamous Gezi Park. All over Istanbul, P.M. Erdoğan deployed more than 25,000 police officers, 50 TOMA water cannons, as well as stronger tear gas all in an attempt to stop demonstrators from gathering in Turkey’s commercial capitol.
Most of the action took place on the European side, focused on Taksim- the heart of the Gezi movement. Due to the severe precautions taken by Turkish authorities, Taksim Square was not a battlefield mirroring last year’s successful energy but, rather, it was a territory occupied by the government’s armed men which highlighted the unresolved tensions that has continued to build among Turkish citizens’ dissatisfaction with the actions, policies, and attitudes of the government. The objective of the protestors on the anniversary was peaceful- to simply place flowers in Gezi Park to commemorate all the events that have taken place since the initial protests one year ago as well as to pay tribute to those individuals that lost their lives in the battle against the authoritarian ruling paradigm. The acting authorities and police played a strong defensive position to maintain their guard and occupation of the symbolic park. While the protestors all over the city were executing their traditional methods of displaying their dissatisfaction with the AKP government chanting by “her yer Taksim, her yer direniş” (translation: everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance) and banging pots and pans with kitchen utensils, the police responded harshly by firing tear-gas canisters and spraying water cannons to disassemble the demonstration.
While the defensive mode and corresponding tactics of Turkish security forces were uniform in all neighbourhoods in Istanbul, the protest in Kadıköy (the center of the half of the city that resides of the Asian continent) was much different from its sister demonstration in Taksim. Like most of the anti-government protests occurring in Kadıköy, the crowd of protestors was significantly smaller but was much more aggressive. Throughout the afternoon and night, there were highs and lows. Earlier in the evening, police made a preempted strike with tear gas by attacking locals attempting to enjoy their Saturday evening to scare them into going home and clearing the streets. Later, protestors marched down Moda Caddesi and met at the Kadıköy Boğa and continued to initiate attention and hostility from the police by vandalising public property, burning garbage, yelling as well as making fun of Erdoğan and his police muscle, and banging on everything that was metal. As well as their attempts at directly trying to intimidate the police, other demonstrators made attempts to rally more people by open firing live rounds on Sakız Gülü Sokak- one of the main streets in Kadıköy filled with popular cafes, bars, restaurants, and cinemas. Still, with the preparations and strictly implemented government orders as well as the oppositional forces being greatly outnumbered, the one year marker of Gezi was quieter than other anti-government protests.
Despite one year’s worth of anti-government demonstrations, six deaths, countless injuries and endless violence, Turkey continues to be dominated and corrupted by Erdoğan’s authoritarian regime. After one year of demonstrations and violence without even a slight budge from the religious conservative prime minister, one must ask: is there still hope that the many dissatisfied Turkish citizens will see their desired change?
The fabled ideal conception of “democracy” has been defined as being a form of government in which all eligible citizens participate equally which is supposedly done either directly or through elected representatives. This idea encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the “free” and “equal” practice of self-determination in terms of politics.
This concept is arguably controversial in all contexts where it has been executed and in its various abstractions, interpretations along with all of it corresponding glories , short-comings and failures.
In my observations abroad, the pillars of debate in regards to Turkey (with additional respects to Egypt and Tunisia) are as follows:
Majoritarian versus Representative forms of democracy.
This concept refers to the form of democracy that is based upon the majority rule of a nation’s citizens and is the “conventional form” that which is used as the basis of political social structure in many modern states.
This common form is not universally accepted for it has been greatly criticized posing the threat of becoming a “tyranny of the majority” whereby the majority (ruling class) of a society could oppress or exclude minority groups. Contrasting this fearful idea, consensus democracy was developed as an antithesis of such for it emphasizes rule by as many people as possible tin order to promote the ideal to make the government inclusive (this is executed with a majority of support from society merely being a minimal threshold). It differs from trends of fascism for the it assumes equality of citizens and they claim that it is a form of authoritarian democracy (that represents the views of a dynamic organized minority of a nation as opposed to the disorganized majority).
2. Representative (republican) Democracy
Contrasting the former is representative democracy (also referred to as “indirect democracy or “republican democracy”) which based on the principle of elected officials representing a group of people, as opposed to direct democracy. This variation transcends to all modern “Western”-style democracies such as theUnited Kingdom (a constitutional monarchy) and Poland (a parliamentary republic). This contains elements of both the parliamentary and presidential systems of government as well as is it is generally curtailed by constitutional constraints such as an upper chamber. As it modifies certain aspects of the ideal definition of democracy as I first states, this has been further described and identified by some political theorists as being a polyarchy.
Keeping the terms defined in mind, it goes without saying that the road to democracy is a process rather than being an event that occurs instantly overnight– it requires an ongoing struggle.
Struggles, conflict, and confusion are, unfortunately, all inevitably linked. Within the political atmosphere that clouds the Middle East is a distinguishable fog that rains an undeniable conceptual confusion of conceptions that on wets the acute political alienation of the societal elements that feel subject to both a governmental leadership as well as a policy agenda that bleeds the ideal color s of democracy and leaves hostilities to their particular interests and values as residue. The worst environments for such a glum forecast are where they are most prevalent– in the “one-man shows” that consequently allows for the correlation of both adoration and demonization.
Specific national contexts reflect history, culture, values, and such referring to an ideal zeitgeist in which empowers and unites the nation’s identity and resonates in its psyche. Paralleling these are the relating sense of common experiences and similarities that are both skeptical and critical of certain Western “hegemonic” conceptions of modernity, constitutionalism, and governance. I have found the archetype of such abstraction in the illustrated representation in Turkey.
The conflicting sentiments of above in the context of Turkey has generated turmoil as well as it has highlighted both the dangers and passions of lethal polarization.This was formulated, initially, within the drama of Gezi Park and its repercussions and has now grown into the incomprehensibly enormous clash between Prime Minister Erdogan and the exiled Islamic leader Fethullah Gulen.
Turkey’s situation is very unique in a peculiar way for two distinct reasons:
1. The economy of Turkey has grown exponentially within the past eleven years. The development has subsequently produced a flourishing middle class as well as a dominant business community that has a lot at stake if both investor confidence and currency exchange rates steeply drop. This reality is complicated by the fact that part of those that have gained economically have been aligned with the AKP, and by the degree to which the Turkish armed forces are also major stakeholders in the private sector.
2. Another critical achievement of the past eleven year reign of the AKP leadership has been to depoliticize the role of the Turkish military. This has been partially justified to protect itself against interference as well as another factor being that of meeting the standards of the EU accession criteria.
From Turkey’s situation, which applies to mutual tensions in nearby Islamic nations, are elements of absence of common, political community, past preoccupations and
With these distinctions that shape Turkey, alienation fused with emotional distress have become symptoms (rather than explanations) for justifying the existence of such a strong political charge.
These conflicts are about religion, social stratification, class, status, political style, and varied opinions of governmental control. Complimenting this is an additional source of public antagonism that is the unresolved (and sketchily unacknowledged) debate about the true nature of democracy as the ideal for “good” governance. One perplexing element is language, especially its use by politicians concerned with public opinion.
One side of the argument contains the strong desire to base the legitimacy of governmental on pleasing the citizenry while the other side insists upon constitutionalism as well as fidelity to law. Both sides are motivated by stubborn, unchangeable convictions and they both refuse to take into account the others position as being valid or legitimate which makes compromise a far-fetched whim. In synthesis, “good governance” is virtually impossible without a sense of community. From this, social unity is currently unattainable in the presence of the sort of alienation that grips the public sector of Turkey and beyond.
Other aspects of the controversy are simplified into the difference of opinion over the ideal nature of democracy and which elements are necessary to make a government legitimate. The two opponents in Turkey being those of majoritarian and representative distinctions of democracy.
The central tension within this is as follows:
The publicly conceived myth (in all countries that deem themselves to be “modern”) is that legitimacy lives in endorsing the republican tradition of “limited government” as well as internal checks and balances. Political culture says otherwise for it is decidedly ambivalent for it can spontaneously legitimize the majoritarian prerogatives of a popular leader with strong societal backing. Those displaced, lament authoritarian tendencies that never troubled them in the past when they held the reins of governmental authority.
An element of the most recent confusion entails that, on occasion, the authoritarian tendency gets corrupted to the breaking point where it loses support with the people that share both its class and ideological outlook; from this, a reformist enthusiasm emerges. This has not happened in zTurkey but nearby Egypt, the tenure was short lived as its adherents (whom were drawn from the ranks of the urban educated elites) quickly realized that their values along with their interests were dangerously jeopardized by the “new” order– more so than it had been by the excesses of the “old” order. This was not, however, the case in Turkey. In Turkey, the situation is more subtle yet exhibits analogous features. Despite the outcome of elections that brought the AKP to power initially in 2002, it was subsequently reinforced by the stronger electoral mandates in both 2007 and 2012 (although the majority of the opposition never accepted these results as legitimate). In the background of this alienation, there was an implicit and feared belief that the AKP was mounting a challenge to the strong secularist legacy of Kemal Ataturk (an under-ratedly powerful idea). With political acumen, the AKP acted pragmatically and created a rapid-growing economy where it proclaimed its fidelity to the secular creed. From this, it gradually subjected its armed forces to civilian control. Despite the magnitude of these achievements the AKP , the prime minister never gained respect from the anti-religious opposition. Strangely, this “alienated opposition” was never able to present a platform for responsible opposition that could give a possible positive alternative to the Turkish public.
To further the understanding of Turkey’s political roots, it is appropriate to mention that the legacy of Ataturk’s nation includes an acceptance of “procedural democracy” in the form of free and fair elections that are accompanied by the apparently implied assumption that the outcome would be faithful to a modernist appetite. When the AKP disappointed those expectations in 2002, the opposition became quickly fed up with the workings of “democracy”. Erdogan’s harsh style of discourse is particularly irritating to an already alienated opposition, reinforcing their belief that any alternative is better for Turkey than the AKP. Similarly, the still obscure public falling out between the AKP and the “hizmet movement” has inscribed a new dimension in Turkish politics. It is not extreme to suggest that Turkey is currently experiencing some of the mishaps associated with keeping a political party in power for too long. Such prolonged control of government almost inevitably produces scandal and corruption, especially in a political culture where both the rule of law and the ethics of civic virtue have never been strong.
So, the debate of which form of the Western conceptualization of democracy is legitimate prevails. In reiteration and synthesis, the majoritarian form of democracy allows for the leadership to be essentially responsible to the electorate and (f its policies reflect the will of the majority) the perspective and values of opposed minorities do not need to be respected. Critiques of such call for such forms of government to be treated as susceptible to the “tyranny of the majority”. Such is arguably the case in Egypt (Morsi in 2012).
In contrast, representative democracy spawns from a generally skeptical view of human nature and it consequently seeks for procedures and support to nurture a specific political culture– one that favors moderate government over both efficiency and transcendent leadership. Par example: the American adoption of “republican democracy” that is a classic instance of sculpting a constitutional system that was threatened by majorities and protective of minorities as well as of individual rights (although initially totally blind to the human claims of slaves and native Americans). Secularization has tarnished the link between religious claims of certainty with the consistent republican sensitivity to the flaws of human nature and the general ethos behind “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Over time, every political system faces crises– it is inevitable. the American founders realized that the envisioned arrangements would only survive the tests of time if two conditions were met: first, reverence for the constitution by both lawmakers and citizens, and second, judicial supremacy to override legislative and executive swings towards either implementing the momentary passions of the mob or aggrandizing power and authority, and thereby upsetting the delicate balance of institutions.
It need hardly be argued that neither Turkey (nor Egypt and others) are remotely similar to the United States, but the superficial embrace of democracy might benefit from closely examining the menace of majoritarian democracy in a fragmented polity as well as to make note of the difficulties in establishing a representative democracy in political cultures that have been controlled by militarism and authoritarianism for a long time.
At current, Turkey is attempting to preserve both sufficient stability and consensus to enable the self-restrained persistence of “procedural democracy” and a subsequent successful process of constitutional renewal that would rid the country of the 1982 militarist vision of governance, and move it towards establishing the institutional and procedural frame and safeguards associated with representative democracy. Visions relating to an ideal, democratic future for Turkey greatly call for a process, not an event. Such an objective will require an on-going struggle that is inevitably distracted by the crises of legitimacy to be adequately obtained. The general hope is that calm minds and soft power will prevail which would mean for the serving of long-term interests of a state that transcends into a greater potential of being a true role model for the region and for the world.
Forty-five master builders and sixty apprentices
were laying the foundations for a bridge over the river of Arta;
they would toil at it all day, and at night it would collapse again.
The master builders lament and the apprentices weep:
<<Alas for our exertions, woe to our labours,
for us to toil all day while at night it collapses!>>
A bird appeared and sat on the opposite side of the river;
it did not sing like a bird, nor like a swallow,
but it sang and spoke in a human voice:
<<Unless you sacrifice a human, the bridge will never stand.
And don’t sacrifice an orphan, or a stranger, or a passer-by,
but only the chief mason’s beautiful wife,
who comes late in the afternoon and brings his dinner.>>
The chief mason hears this and falls down as dead.
He quickly sends to his wife, with the bird as his messenger:
<<Let her dress slowly, change slowly, and bring the dinner late,
let her come to cross the bridge of Arta!>>
But the bird ignored it and gave her a different message:
<<Hurry, dress quickly, change quickly, and bring the dinner early,
go quickly to cross the river of Arta!>>
So she went and appeared at the end of the white lane.
The chief mason saw her and his heart broke.
From far she greeted them, and when she came near she spoke:
<<Greetings builders, and greetings to you apprentices.
But what’s wrong with the chief mason that his looks are so dark?>>
<<He lost his wedding ring, it fell into the first chamber.
Who’ll go down here and up again to find the ring for him???
<<Master, don’t worry, I’ll go myself to fetch it,
I’ll go down there and come up again and find the ring for you.>>
She had hardly descended, hardly went down into it,
when she called: <<Pull me up, dear, pull the chain,
I’ve looked everywhere but can’t find anything!>>
One comes with the spade and one with the mortar,
and the chief mason himself goes and throws a big stone.
<<Alas for our fate, woe to our destiny!>>
We were three sisters, and all three star-crossed.
One of us worked on the Danube, the other on the Euphrates,
and I, the youngest, on the river Arta.
May the bridge ever shake, as carnations shake,
and may those who cross it ever fall down, as leaves from trees.>>
<<Girl, take that back, make a different curse,
because you have your only dear brother, lest he happen to pass by.>>
And so she took it back and uttered a different curse:
<<When the mountains shake, then may the bridge shake,
and when the wild birds fall from the sky, then may those who cross it fall.
For I have a brother abroad, lest he happen to pass by.>>