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Turkish Protests Heat Up


Turks have been taking to the street since Thursday across the country to protest the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan after local protests in Istanbul unleashed wider discontent. Turkey is a secular state, but many think Erdogan and his AK Party are turing into autocrats dedicated to “Islamicizing” the country. Today the protests got more violent, as the Guardian reports:

In Istanbul, police used water cannon and teargas on thousands of protesters who marched from the east to the west side of the city over the Bosphorus river bridge to join the demonstrations.

Police also used teargas to disperse protesters in Gezi park in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, where the unrest began on Friday with a peaceful protest against the development of a shopping centre on the Ottoman site.

The demonstration escalated as anger mounted at violent police tactics and turned into a wider protest against Erdogan, who is seen as becoming increasingly authoritarian

The protests started in Istanbul after government workers tried to push ahead with plans to redevelop Gezi Park, one of the city’s last remaining green spaces, into an upscale shopping mall. After police violently cracked down on protesters, leaving dozens injured, the protests spread to Izmir and Ankara where they were joined by young Turks upset over a new law that restricts alcohol sales. The protesters may have scored at least a temporary victory, as a court issued an injunction halting construction—but the anger is hardly over, as thousands are flocking to the area after riot police withdrew this morning.

These protests also spring from the political transition the country has undergone. For a big part of the 20th century, Turkey was ruled by Atatürk’s Kemalist Party. Under Kemalist rule, a blanket of conformity and uniformity, reinforced from time to time by military coups, kept some of the tensions and volatility in Turkey out of sight.

But with the rise of the AKP and the decline of both Kemalism and the armed forces, submerged tensions are coming to the surface. The last twelve years have been good ones for Turkey, with a booming economy and a rising regional profile. The government appears to also be making serious progress towards reaching a peace deal with the separatist PKK and has improved its relationship with Israel. Erdogan’s AK Party has two sides: on the one hand, it is a genuinely liberating force opening up space in Turkey for new voices and views. On the other, it is tempted to replace the Kemalist straitjacket with an Islamist one.

What we are seeing over the last few days is a look at both the anger and vitality of contemporary Turkey: one of the most interesting and dynamic places in the world—a country which does not know where it is headed in the 21st century.

[Photo of Turkish protests courtesy of Getty Images]

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  • wigwag

    The take home message from Turkey for those wise enough to see it is how smart Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and the rest of our founders were. They understood that few things are as contentious and likely to lead to a failure of civil comity as religious disputes are. In Turkey, the secular and religious citizens are increasingly alienated from each other, not to mention the majority of Sunnis and the substantial minority of Alevi (don’t even ask how the Erdogan Government treats Orthodox Christians). Our founders had a front row seat to the bloody disputes between Protestants and Roman Catholics in Europe.

    It seems to me that we should be grateful that they created a Constitution and amended it immediately so it contained a “no establishment” and a “free exercise” clause.

    Yet some, like Professor Mead, forget the wisdom of our founders; they would risk the civil comity that helps make America great by doing foolish things like providing vouchers paid for by American taxpayers that could be used for children to attend religious schools.

    If Professor Mead had his way, Scientologists could use vouchers for their children to attend Scientology based schools and accolytes of Louis Farrakahn could use vouchers to attend Nation of Islam Schools. Of course, under the system Professor Mead has advocated in the pages of his blog, Roman Catholics could do the same as well as ultraorthodox Jews and for that matter, so could the Branch Davidians.

    Under Professor Meads preferred approach how long would it be before religious controversies in the United States would look a lot like the controversies now taking place in Turkey?

    Why exactly does he think that would be a good thing?

    • Nick Bidler

      Would you rather it be state-approved thoroughly agnostic schools? Too bad, that also falls under the protection of the first amendment. If you want to be able to speak freely, so must the neonazis and scientologists.

      Also, if you think agnostic public schools mitigate the furies of ‘religious controversies,’ I imagine you believe atheists don’t have holy wars in the name of Cause X, Theory Y or Program Z.

  • The Maldito Roedor

    Still remain unclear the real numbers of injured and arrested during the more than 90 demonstrations that took place yesterday in dozens of cities in Turkey.Amnesty International said following reports of more than 1,000 injuries and at least two deaths of protesters in Istanbul.

  • ljgude

    I am very glad to see the reaction of secular Turkey to the Islamist government. I understand that the countryside is more conservative and less secular and so have elected the Islamists. Still in a region were there needs to be a counter balance to religious totalitarianism Turkey is sorely missed.

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