Note on the Events (Demonstrations) in Istanbul
The protests that begun in reaction to a development project in Taksim, Istanbul turned into nation-wide demonstrations against the AK Party Government on June 1st and 2nd. Dozens have been injured in the clashes with the police and hundreds have been arrested. The following points may help contextualize the events.
1. The decision for the Taksim Gezi Parki Project in the Taksim Square was taken at the municipal level several months ago. AK Party announced the project during the 2011 elections. The project includes the expansion of pedestrian roads and the re-building of an old military barrack called the Topcu Kislasi. The new project will not decrease but increase green areas in the Taksim area. The automobile traffic will be taken underground and the entire Taksim Square, one of the largest squares in Istanbul, will be reserved to pedestrians only.
2. The Topcu Kislasi was originally built in 1780 and remained in Taksim until 1940 when the governor/mayor of the time had it destroyed.
3. On June 1st, Kadir Topbas, the Mayor of Istanbul, called for a meeting with the representatives of the Taksim Gezi Park Platform and the Chamber of Architects to discuss the project. But under pressure from the protesters, they have declined to meet him. (A meeting may still happen).
4. Contrary to some reports, there is no intention to build a shopping mall in the Taksim Gezi area. Even though PM Erdogan has said this on several occasions, the protesters have refused to hear it.
5. What begun as an issue-based opposition with a specific purpose and demand (Taksim Gezi Parki Project) turned into an ideological opposition against the Government without a specific goal and demand.
6. Two groups have emerged in the course of demonstrations: those who went to Taksim to support the halting of the project and those who wanted to manipulate this into an ideological uprising against the AK Party Government and the person of PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
7. While the first group is composed of people of various backgrounds, the second group is mostly a combination of leftist, Marxist-Leninist and neo-nationalist groups. Their only common point – the unifying cause– is their hostility towards AK Party. The second group includes such well-known radical groups as TKP (Turkey Communist Party) and the outlawed leftist organization DHKPC, which carried out the attack on the US Embassy on February 1st, 2013.
8. In his two speeches on Sunday, June 2nd, PM Erdogan distinguished the first group from the second and acknowledged their right to dissent and protest. Government officials including Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister confirmed citizens’ right to protest in a peaceful manner.
9. The first group includes people who feel isolated and marginalized by the successive electoral successes of AK Party and some of its policies such as the recent alcohol bill, which regulates the purchase of alcohol. The Government is reaching out to these people in an effort to respond to their concerns.
10. The second group is largely responsible for clashes with the police. They have attacked public buildings, police cars, media buses, private shops and other places after the police have been ordered to withdraw.
11. On the first and second days of the events, the police have tried to manage the crowds through conventional methods. PM Erdogan has criticized the excessive use of tear gas/pepper gas in Istanbul and Ankara. The Interior Ministry has launched an investigation. The investigation is underway.
12. On Saturday, June 1st at 16.00, the police have been ordered to withdraw from the Taksim Square and protesters and citizens have been allowed into the Gezi Park.
13. This has brought down the tensions in the Taksim area. But certain militant groups have attempted to march to the Prime Minister’s Office in Besiktas with sticks, rocks, etc. They have caused damage to both public and private property along the way. The camera recordings show flags of various Marxist-Leninist organizations. The police have not allowed these groups to attack the PM’s Office and other buildings.
14. In Ankara, protesters have been allowed to protest in Guven Park, Kizilay. Some individuals have tried to storm the Prime Ministry’s main building. The Police have intervened to stop them from attacking ministerial buildings. Most clashes have happened here. The camera recordings show the crowds attacking police and public buildings without any provocation.
15. Peaceful protests have also been held in Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir and other cities. There have been few clashes in most of these demonstrations on Sunday, June 2nd.
16. As of Monday June 3rd, there are 64 injured civilians with one person in critical condition and 244 police injured.
17. There has been a large amount of fake information and false pictures circulated over Twitter and other social media to provoke the masses in an irresponsible manner. International media have bought some of these false stories and reported, for instance, that a number of people have been killed, that the police have used orange gas, that some protesters have been tortured, etc. The Amnesty International which announced the death of 2 people in the demonstrations issued a correction on June 2nd Sunday and apologized for reporting this claim without verifying it.
18. The claim that the mainstream Turkish media didn’t report the demonstrations under Government pressure is totally false. All national channels reported the events live, had reportage, commentary with visuals, etc. for hours.
19. The comparisons with the Arab Spring event and the so-called Turkish Spring analogy are totally out of place. Turkey is a parliamentary democracy and the last elections were held in 2011, which brought AK Party into power with about 50 % of the votes. The percentage of participation in elections in Turkey is usually above 80 %.
20. There will be municipal and presidential elections in 2014 and parliamentary elections in 2015 in Turkey. Those who oppose AK Party and Government policies can exercise their democratic right by voting for other parties.
21. The charges of authoritarianism and dictatorship have been made without any substantial evidence. One cannot call a government `authoritarian` that has come to power with 50 % of the votes and won three successive national elections.
22. The Government can certainly do a better job in terms of communicating its policies to the people, supporters and dissenters alike. But one should also keep in mind that certain groups will never under any circumstance accept AK Party.
23. The radical groups that have tried to manipulate the peaceful demonstrations in Istanbul are not the forces of democracy in Turkey. They have supported military coups and interventions in the past, opposed the resolving of the Kurdish issue, refused the rights of non-Muslim religious minorities in Turkey, advocated a crude form of Turkish nationalism, supported the oppression of freedom of speech and religion, etc.
Menaf Alıcı / Journalist – Sweden