By Soumya Raj:
“We are stuck. We are stuck between the East and the West. Between the past and the future. On the one hand there are secular modernists, so proud of the regimeÂ they’veÂ constructed; you cannot breathe a critical word.Â They’veÂ got the army and a half of the state on their side. On the other hand there are the conventional traditionalists, so infatuated with the Ottoman past; you cannot breathe a single word.Â They’veÂ got the general public and the remaining half of the state on their side. What is left for us?”
– Excerpt from “The Bastard of Istanbul”, by Elif Shafak.
Democracy, as a concept, is a kitsch in Turkey. The recent protests are emblematic of that. Going steady for the past one month, the people of Turkey refuse to give in, and continue to fight for the rights that have been denied to them. It is wrong to observe these protests as a “revolution”, rather, they are a much needed remedial required for the regressing democracy that is Turkey.
Turkey’s democratic regime is an exasperated adolescent (barely two decades old), and has been reborn after a tumultuous period against various coup d’Ã©tats and military intrusions. The people of Turkey are restless, they are agitated and impatient, and are fighting for a more tolerant, secular and egalitarian governance. On 28th May, 2013, a small group of people occupied the Taksim Gezi Park in Istanbul, protesting to save one of the last few green spaces in the city against government encroachment. The autocratic Turkish rule intends to replace the Gezi Park with the Taksim Military Barracks demolished in 1940, and also wishes to house a shopping mall in the complex. This small fire gradually ignited the whole country, urging the masses to step in and voicing the various grievances not met by Erdogan’s monocratic rule.
Spreading nationwide like a forest fire, the protests grew and arose in many parts of Turkey, also going on actively in countries where the Turkish population is a majority. On 31st May, 2013, the police attempted to dampen the protesters’ agitations by using tear gas, arresting activists and injuring hundreds. The protest and the police tyranny received wide attention online on social networking forums like Twitter and Facebook, which are also the central organizational agent of these demonstrations. Over the weeks, the subject of the protests, which have a sharp resemblance with America’s Occupy Movement, have extended to government’s encroachment, lack of freedom of expression and assembly and secularism in Turkey. Feeling threatened, Erdogan went on to say that Twitter is “the worst kind of menace for the society”, “a curse” and “all kinds of lies can be found there”. Ironically, the prime minister himself is an avid Twitter user, with about 2.5 million followers.
Erdogan’s political party, the Justice and Development Party, is deeply traditionalist and Islamic-rooted. Not used to such blatant displays of intolerance for his regime, he has, in a fit of arrogance, used despotic and disproportionately forceful measures against the people of a country who are profoundly accommodating and peaceful. For now, the protests have become a symbol of a range of people’s disapproval. Turkey needs the checks and balances of a free democracy, with the agency of different mechanisms like a press with freedom of expression, unbiased, independent judiciary, honor of minority rights and public consensus. For now the protests have sprouted a new branch with the LGBT parade, adorning the streets with rainbow hues, fighting for an anti-homophobic, transphobic, sexist, and forbearing society. The “provocateurs” consist mainly of the working-class Turks, minorities, journalists and the opposition parties who, it seems, are reluctant to back down unless their demands are met.
Erdogan seems unlikely to accept defeat and is harvesting political support from the traditionalist and orthodox strata of the public. It is finally now that Turkey is awaking from its dormancy, and the unreality and improbability of these dissensions have upset Erdogan’s rule so much that he hasn’t bitten his tongue twice before talking. He has gone ahead to term those who have aligned to protest as “extremists” and “terrorists”. Not only has he misused his power against the protesters, he has also attempted to manipulate the Turkish Constitution in his favor, altering it such that it keeps him in power perhaps till 2024.
Turkey’s democracy is backsliding, and Erdogan seems to have had a taste of power on his tongue. The dust of the movements may settle down but not until the people overthrow the dictatorship Erdogan is bent on constructing. The people of Turkey have shown remarkable unity and courage in the face of unfairness and brutality, refusing to crumble despite the tyrannous and cloudy strategies adopted by Erdogan. The people nationwide have gone into a state of permanent protest and shall not rest unless the egalitarianism and fairness promised to them is restored. The people will be stopped from “chapulling”(a term coined by the Prime Minister himself, meaning fighting for rights), and the energy of the movement will not die down, not so soon.