Protests against the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been spreading throughout Turkey in recent days. On May 3, thousands of people once again filled the Taksim Square, the most emblematic one in Istanbul, to ask for Erdogan´s resignation.
The crisis started when the Turkish police used tear gas and water cannions to disperse a sit-in of hundreds of activists who were protesting in Park Gezi against the government´s plans to bulldoze one of the city´s few parks and build a shopping mall. It is noteworthy to point out that the mayor of Istanbul, from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), is the owner of a retail chain that will have an important presence in the mall. And the man who holds the contract for this urban redevelopment is Erdogan´s son-in-law.
The clashes between policemen and demonstrators were very violent. Two opposition legislators were hospitalized after being affected by the gas. Two protestors suffered broken arms and several others had minor bone fractures.
Shortly after, more than 10.000 people gathered in Taksim Square to protest against the violent crackdown. In the capital, Ankara, thousands also took the streets to denounce the attacks on demonstrations in Istanbul and the government´s general policies.
On June 2, thousands of protesters marched on Erdogan´s office in Ankara, shouting, “Dictator, resign!” and “We will resist until we win,” and clashed with riot police. In the coastal city of İzmir, there was also a big demonstration and violent clashes between policemen and demonstrators, who set fire to the AKP headquarters. According to official sources, 1,730 demonstrators were arrested in different cities during these protests.
The following day, more Turkish protesters took to the streets in major cities, including the capital, Ankara, and Istanbul, for the fourth day, calling for Erdogan´s resignation. Interior minister, Muammer Guler, said that there were 235 protests in 67 different Turkish cities that day.
“Our prime minister is like a fascist. He takes everything he wants, but we are standing up, we want our rights, and I am very happy for that because with this AKP government they have been pushed down,” the CS Monitor quoted a middle-aged housewife named Derya, as saying.
For his part, Erdogan adopted a defiant tone by accussing demonstrators of being “extremists”. He added that the security forces were investigating possible “foreign links” with the protesters. He also called Twitter and social media “sources of liers” and “the worst menace to society.” and threatened to unleash AKP backers against the demonstrators.
Later, however, he tried to play down the protests. “The situation is calmer now and the reason is prevailing” he said in a press conference in Morocco. “I think things will return to normal”.
However, the situation on the ground seems to be different. Three demonstrators have been killed in Turkey up to now and clashes between police and protesters continue in major cities across the country. A 22-year-old man, named Abdullah Comert, died at a hospital on June 4 after being shot by police during an anti-government demonstration in the southern Turkish province of Hatay, AFP quoted Turkey´s NTV television as saying .
On June 1, Amnesty International criticized the use of excessive force by the Turkish police against the demonstrators, describing it as “disgraceful.” It also said that some protesters had been left blind by the massive quantities of tear gas used by the police.
AI pointed out in a report that 1,500 people had been injured during clashes with riot police in Istanbul in the previous days, while at least 414 others sustained injures in Ankara. The rights group added that 420 protesters were wounded in demonstrations in Izmir.
Reasons for the uprising
Actually, the Turkish revolt is the result of popular rejection of an increasingly authoritarian government that is ruling in benefit of a small layer of crony businessmen which support and fund the AKP.
The neoliberal economic policy of the ruling party has stalled. Some years ago, Turkey was called “the tiger of the Middle East” due to its high growth (around 9%). However, this figure fell in 2012 to 3% and this year to virtually zero. The unemployment is rising, especially in the industry and public services. Some economists have also warned that Turkey suffers a credit bubble, which has generated a devastating debt burden. The latter has led Turkish consumers to largely reduce their spending.
Current anti-government protests could make the situation worse. They have already led to the fall of the country’s stocks, bonds, and currency. Istanbul´s stock exchange, Borsa Istanbul, lost nearly 10.5 points on June 2. It was the worst fall for the index since March 2003. The Turkish Lira also weakened to 1.889 against the dollar, which means a 16-month low against the dollar.
On the other hand, the Erdogan government has adopted restrictive policies punishing the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression. Turkey is the first country in the world by number of journalists imprisoned. These journalists have been accused of supporting “terror” and other unspecified “offences”. Other journalists are under pressure from the state or blacklisted.
Turks condemn Erdogan´s policy towards Syria
Most Turks also condemn Erdogan´s policies towards neighbouring Syria. Turkey is currently the main supporter of terrorist groups that fight in Syria. These militants receive arms, money, logistic aid and permission to move across the Turkish territory and to cross the border to Syria from the Turkish authorities. Moreover, Turks oppose to the government´s alignment with the US. According to recent polls, only one-quarter of the Turkish population backs Erdogan’s policy of arming the groups fighting against the Syrian government.
It is worth remembering that a fifth of Turks adhere to the Alevi sect, a branch of Islam. Erdogan´s emergence as the leader of militant groups in Syria have worried the Alevis, who have a long memory of persecution. Turkish Alevis sympathize with Assad because the Erdogan government appears to be determined to destroy his government. Erdogan’s support for the Syrian and foreign militants upsets Turkey´s Kurds too.
Significantly, protesters in several cities chanted mottos as “Chemical Erdogan”, a reference to the tear gas used by police, but also an implicit criticism to the Turkish PM´s promotion of false claims that Damas has used chemical weapons in order to give the US Administration a pretext to attack Syria.
After the recent car bombing attacks in Reyhanli, there have been anti-government protests, in which demonstrators called for Erdogan´s resignation. The Turkish opposition and some reports linked these attacks with the Syrian armed groups and especially the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliated organization.
The Turkish regime accused the Syrian government of being behind the attacks and threatened Syria with a military action. These allegations were later exposed as lies after a Turkish hacker group RedHack published documents of the Turkish intelligence services that showed that the cars used in the Reyhanli attacks had been prepared for operations by the al-Nusra Front. The Erdogan government responded by punishing the responsible for the leak. Turkish Interior Ministry confirmed that a member of a gendarmerie unit who allegedly gave the document to RedHack had been arrested.
It is difficult to say how this uprising against Erdogan and his policies will end. However, protesters have vowed to keep the pressure on the government. “It has become a (protest) movement against the government”, said Hamdi, a local Ankara resident, to AFP . “We will continue”.
The popular uprising of June 1 has certainly deeply shaken Erdogan and AKP´s power and it could influence the behavior of the party in the future. However, if Erdogan and its party refuse to listen to the popular demands and to change their attitude, the country will be pushed towards a real revolution. In any case, the so-called “Turkish model”, which was praised by Western leaders two years ago as the right solution to the political, economic and social problems of the Arab world, appears to be definitely dead.