PM Erdoğan meeting with representatives of the Taksim Solidarity Platform
Ankara, June 13 2013 (photo: aksam.com.tr)
[update below] [2nd update below]
It looks like PM Erdoğan, after trash talking the Gezi Park protesters and issuing threats as is his wont, has decided to lower the temperature and initiate dialogue. C’est bien. He does have some political skills, after all, and must have become aware of the damage the heavy international news coverage of the protests has inflicted on his image and that of Turkey under his rule. “Turkey’s house of cards tumbles down,” as Michael Koplow aptly described it on his Ottomans and Zionists blog. Money quote
Perception matters a great deal in world politics, but in Turkey’s case perception has been even more important, as it fueled Turkey as a figurative growth stock all the while masking some very serious problems. As should now be clear to everyone, Turkish democracy is not nearly as robust as the government wanted the world to believe. Turkey under Erdoğan has had a real problem with creeping authoritarianism that is looking a lot less creeping every day. And yes, the problem is authoritarianism and not Islamism. This has been a recurring theme for me, as lots of people have a hair trigger when it comes to any action on the part of the AKP that has a whiff of Islamist rationale behind it while glossing over the much larger issue, which is garden variety autocratic and illiberal behavior. (…)
Turkish economic growth has been driven by foreign borrowing and increasing reliance on energy imports from Russian and Iran, which have led to an over-leveraged economy and a structural current account deficit, neither of which have any prospect of abating in the near future. There is a civil war taking place right across Turkey’s southern border, and not only is it not going to end any time soon, the Turkish military is in such a sorry state as to be unable to respond to the downing of its aircraft or to stop the Syrian military from shooting across to the Turkish side. These are all problems that have existed in one form or another for some time, but now that Erdoğan has decided to go postal on his own citizens, it is going to be a lot more difficult for Turkey to paper them over.
Turkey is about to see its foreign financing disappear as the perception of Turkey as an island of stability goes up in a cloud of tear gas smoke. The enormous building projects designed to attract the 2020 Olympics are now going to be used solely by Istanbul residents, since not only will Turkey not get the Olympics but regular tourists are going to stay away in droves. Erdoğan and Davutoğlu can also forget about hosting various foreign conferences, as Western countries are going to elect to forego the optics of meeting in a country where protestors are being dubbed as marginal terrorists. The next time that Davutoğlu insists that Turkey isn’t a model for anyone while actually implying that Turkey is indeed a regional exemplar for Arab states to emulate, who is going to take him seriously? The next time Erdoğan crows about how the European economy needs Turkey more than Turkey needs Europe, who isn’t going to dismiss him out of hand? What Turkish diplomats are going to have the gall to seriously talk about Turkish democracy as a genuine success story? All of those issues that Turkey was able to largely keep under wraps by painting a portrait of a country on the rise, a country with a vibrant economy and a vibrant democracy and a vibrant diplomacy, are now about to be exposed to the world.
Yep. Claire Berlinski, in a first-rate reportage in The Spectator, discussed “Turkey’s agony – how Erdogan turned a peaceful protest into a violent nightmare,” in which, entre autres, she noted
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s strenuous effort to aggravate the situation by making speeches so unrepentant and inflammatory that the benchmark Istanbul Bourse tumbled with every word that came out of his mouth. One speech, in particular, caused the stock exchange to tank by 7.5 per cent. (I leave it to the mathematicians to calculate the per-word cost of that speech to the nation’s GNP.)
Claire is a great writer. And perceptive too. E.g. she offers this
Nonetheless, somehow the command seemed to have come down from above — from where, no one knows — to call off the dogs for the day. Several days earlier, Erdogan, thank God, had scuttled out of the country to attend some exceedingly urgent North African pourparler, leaving his beleaguered underlings to handle the chaos. Within hours of his departure, the police withdrew from Taksim, leaving only their burnt-out vans as mementos. And for a few days, Taksim and Gezi Park became the City of Evet.
Let me explain. In 1978, Jan Morris — to my mind one of the century’s greatest travel writers — visited Istanbul. She wrote a superbly observed essay titled ‘City of Yok’, which would be loosely translated as ‘City of No’, but ‘No’ doesn’t quite capture the entirety of it. ‘I don’t speak Turkish yet,’ she wrote, ‘but yok appears to be a sort of general purpose discouragement, to imply that (for instance) it can’t be done, she isn’t home, the shop’s shut, the train’s left, take it or leave it, you can’t come this way, or there’s no good making a fuss over it.’ The opposite of yok is evet— meaning yes, and it has no analogous counter-associations, which tells you something right there.
But on Friday night, I strolled through Taksim and Gezi Park, and for the first time in the decade I’ve lived in Istanbul, I found myself in the City of Evet. It felt like a free country. I have never seen anything like this before in Turkey. (…) And it was glorious — a huge innocent carnival, filled with improbable (I would have hitherto thought impossible) scenes of nationalist Turks mingling amiably with nationalist Kurds, the latter dancing to some strange ghastly species of techno-Halay, the former pumping their fists in the air and chanting their eternal allegiance to something very nationalist, I’m sure. Balloons lit with candles sailed over the sky; hawkers sold every species of Gezi souvenir, and the only smell of pepper in the air came from the grilled meatballs served in hunks of fresh bread and sprinkled with chilli powder.
Among the protesters’ grievances was the prime minister’s imperious effort to pass restrictive new laws on alcohol sales, so in a gesture of special defiance, entrepreneurial protesters — or maybe just entrepreneurial Turks — sold ice-cold beer from coolers. (I’ve never before seen anyone sell beer from coolers in the streets of Istanbul.)
There were commies and pinkos of every species sharing that beer with right-wing whackjobs of every stripe — groups that in the 1970s fought gun battles here, drenching the streets in blood and leading to the 1980 coup. The communists didn’t seem the sort to worry about — when people complained that the price of beer had risen in response to demand, they shrugged: ‘What can we do? If people want to sell it, we can’t stop them.’
There were trade unionists and doctors and ordinary yuppies and, mostly, college kids; there were gays, Alevis, Sufis and yogis; there were impromptu skits — all making fun of the government, and some of them very funny but untranslatable both linguistically and culturally; there was impromptu dancing (innocent and sexless by western standards), barkers enjoining the crowd to jump up and down for the liberation of the park (and everyone did), a stall that advertised itself as the park’s new free lending library, and vast crowds of people smiling in a silly, carefree way that grave Istanbullus, serious people, people who dress in dark colours and worry terribly about what the neighbours will think, rarely do.
Claire sadly concluded that after the police intervention earlier this week, Istanbul had reverted to being “the City of Yok.” With RTE now trying to calm things down—possibly as the AKP’s ‘Anatolian Tiger’ base may have sent him friendly suggestions that he do so—we’ll see if Istanbul can once again become the City of Evet.
On Istanbul’s days last weekend as the City of Evet, UNC-Chapel Hill prof Zeynep Tufekci offered this essay (w/pics)—and which Claire says “is really worth reading”—on “What do #occupygezi Protesters Want? My Observations from Gezi Park.”
In a post in The Utopian on “The Gezi agenda,” NYU doctoral candidate Onur Alper makes observations similar to those of Zeynep T. and Claire above, such as this
There’s a reason why it has been so difficult to keep the power of the Turkish state in check. To do so would have required groups that have little in common to stand up for each other’s rights—a feat of coalition-building that no political group has truly accomplished until today. Intriguingly, it is in this respect that the Gezi Park protests are perhaps unprecedented. For the few days last week when police was nowhere to be seen, Gezi Park looked like a remarkably inclusive fairground of discontent. Groups with different—at times even clashing—ideologies and causes had set up tents where they freely made their voices heard. There were Kurds, Alawites, secular nationalists, communists, anti-capitalist Muslims, LGBT activists, feminists, environmentalists, members of the state theater company frustrated by increasing pressure from the government, labor unions, and even fans of football teams with a record of fierce rivalry. (The forms of expression were similarly varied: there were conventional speeches, formal manifestos, placards with witty slogans, graffiti, chants, yoga, group dances, and live music performances.) Even though challenges abound on the road ahead, the atmosphere of solidarity that has emerged amidst horrific police brutality may help the movement build a lasting, united front for freedom and democratization in the years to come.
Following in this vein, Hürriyet news editor Emre Kızılkaya has a post on the Huff Post blog, in which he informs the reader that “Behind Turkey’s viral revolution, there are mad men (actually women).” Many women taking leading roles in the Occupy Gezi movement, and which is being fueled by social media. Kızılkaya says he’s sure about one thing
Like the right-wing in the United States, Islamo-conservative Turkish government fails to read the changes in demographics and how “minorities” are being empowered by and with the New Media.
This is how hundreds of thousands of seculars, Kurds, ultra-nationalists, far-leftists, environmentalists, feminists, white-collars, blue-collars, 70-year-old women and 17-year-old students from all corners of Turkey come together to make an urban, pluralist and decentralized pact to say “No!” to an increasingly divisive and authoritarian central government.
The renowned cognitive neuroscientist Ian Robertson—whose existence I admittedly learned of just today—has a most interesting post on his blog, in which he rhetorically asks: “Could the 10 year illness be afflicting Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan?” The illness in question is what happens, neurologically-speaking, to people who exercise executive power for a decade or longer. Money quote
Power’s effects on the brain have many similarities to those of drugs like cocaine: both significantly change brain function by increasing the chemical messenger dopamine’s activity in the brain’s reward network. These changes also affect the cortex and alter thinking, making people more confident, bolder – and even smarter.
But these same changes also make people egocentric, less self-critical, less anxious and less able to detect errors and dangers. All of these conspire to make leaders impatient with the “messiness” of opposition and contradictory opinions, which we can see clearly in Prime Minister Erdoğan’s intransigent and aggressive response to the demonstrators, including his infamous claim that “there is an evil called twitter” and that “social media is the evil called upon societies”.
The neurological effects of unconstrained power on the brain also inhibit the very parts of the brain which are crucial for self-awareness and what Erdoğan has to realize for the sake of Turkey’s future is actually the hardest thing for any human being to appreciate – that his own judgment is being distorted by 10 long years in power.
This is the strongest argument one will find for the 22nd Amendment of the US Constitution. Also for the revised Article 6 of the French Constitution (merci Monsieur Sarkozy).
On the question of RTE’s now ten-year rule, the NYT’s Tim Arango has a good dispatch today, explaining, entre autres, how the Turkish PM’s reactions to the protests have been driven in part by his sense of personal victimhood and class resentment.
Also in today’s NYT is an op-ed by former CIA analyst Graham E. Fuller—and author of books and reports on Turkey—on “Turkey’s growing pains.”
FWIW, the BBC News website has a piece—that the eccentric academic Norman Finkelstein saw fit to post on his blog—on “Turkish voices [that] back Erdogan against protests.” As if we didn’t know that lots of Turks side with their PM, including on this issue…
And for those who have the time, WINEP has a 1 hour 20 minute Policy Forum discussion with James F. Jeffrey and Soner Cagaptay, “Turkey: will protests at home affect its foreign policy?“
UPDATE: The Russian website PenzaNews has an article on how “Turkish protests indicate growing independence of civil society,” in which several Turkey specialists are quoted. One, the Istanbul-based analyst Iason Athanasiadis, had this to say
The events unfolding in Turkey are typical of the instability that develops in countries where a government supported by a largely popular rural base improves their material conditions (even while exploiting this base by impoverishing them long-term by extending easy credit and sponsoring neoliberal policies, but that is another story) but crashes up against a privileged urban elite for whom material goods are not a primary concern…
[The protesters] are also angry at the changing of Istanbul’s appearance from that of a minimally-maintained global capital with nearly two thousand years of history whose cosmopolitanism, minorities and religious and secular architecture were sacrificed during the Kemalist period to the necessities of creating a mono-lingual, mono-religious nation state united around Turkic nationalism. As Istanbul’s mayor, Erdogan spruced up and modernized the city, whereas as prime minister, he ushered in a neoliberal crony capitalism whereby political allies suffering from an Anatolian nouveau riche aesthetic were brought in to build the kind of Westernizing infrastructure that, in the opinion of the protesters, detracts from Istanbul’s essential atmosphere.
An Anatolian nouveau riche aesthetic… And pace Erdoğan, a lower class Beyoğlu one too.
2nd UPDATE: Washington-based communications scholar Ali E. Erol has a post on his new blog, The Daily Direnis, entitled “A sociolinguistic look at chapulcu & chapulcu identity: Utopic Robin Hoods of Turkey.” The blog’s tagline: Analysis, Commentary, and Interpretation of #OccupyTurkey and Turkish Democracy.
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