Are we seeing a ‘Turkish Spring’ on the streets of Istanbul?

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On Sunday, October 30, 1938, thousands of radio listeners were shocked when radio news alerts announced the arrival of Martians and attacking New Jersey. They panicked when they learned of the Martians' ferocious and seemingly unstoppable attack on Earth. Many ran out of their homes screaming while others packed up their cars and fled.

Though what the radio listeners heard was a portion of Orson Welles' adaptation of the well-known book, War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells, most of the audience believed what they heard on the radio was real.

This incident of delusion in 1938 America supplies perhaps the most appropriate analogy to the prevalent western interpretation of the ongoing riots in Turkey. These riots arose from a simple misunderstanding over thirteen trees in Gezi Park, which turned into a huge protest in Istanbul. This was followed by smaller protests in other cities across western Turkey. Over the next 48 hours, it has become a free for all of sorts for old hippies and political opportunists to air grievances towards the Erdogan administration and stir up chaos in our beautiful streets.

The Arab Spring and the Turkish protests - a link?

If our analysis is as simple as: “I have 2 feet, I can sing. Birds have 2 feet, birds can sing. Therefore I should be able to fly too”, then yes. Otherwise, it is simply the latest fallacy perpetrated by the always-eager Western media. The Arab Spring started as an uprising against the tyrants of Baathist regimes who had been oppressing the people under juntas or dictatorships for decades. Turkey is not a dictatorship, nor is it a junta regime.

No one in Turkey is upset either at the protestors or their right to protest. These are, contrary to popular belief, cherished rights in Turkey which the citizens are free to exercise as they please.

Turkey is run by a 3-time elected democratic government, which runs the country according to secular laws, comparable with the European countries. If Turkish people are not content with the government, they can hold a referendum and change the government with early elections. We do not see any sign of such a desire. On the contrary, the demand from people to the Prime Minister is to amend the party rules and run for a fourth term.

Some analysts, which were following the provocations on Twitter didn’t hesitate to stereotype the protests and compare them to those of the Arab Spring and labeled the protests as the Turkish Spring, not knowing many of the images and notes they receive over twitter were actually fraudulent. If we really want to talk about a Turkish Spring, it happened in 2002 when the AK Party was first elected to a majority. They are not the problem, they were the solution. Most coverage of the protests so far has been provided by analysts with little insight into Turkish politics. One cannot possibly analyze the situation in Turkey by staring out their hotel window in Istanbul. I went to Disneyland once. That doesn’t make me Tinkerbell.

What is the Nature of the Protest?

Turkey is a country of 75 million people. Those who were rioting are only a few thousand people from left leaning and/or extreme secular circles. The last time our left wing main opposition party CHP was in power alone was 1964. What does this tell you? This tells you they cannot prevail in the marketplace of ideas.

And so what are they doing? They are doing what ideologically bankrupt, Marxists always do. They are contriving reasons to tear up shops and burn buildings over thirteen trees. This is the old, tired, typical methodology of systematized, manufactured hysteria of the left, which cannot win seats in parliament by democratic means. They therefore are resigned to vandalism and hysterical demonstrations of grandiose self-pity. As Marx claimed that societies evolve only through conflict, the flag bearers of his ideology are still pursuing his discredited vision on the streets of Istanbul today. Lenin says: “Even without arms, the groups can play a most important part: by leading the mass; by attacking policemen, whenever a favorable opportunity presents itself, and showering stones or pouring boiling water on the troops, etc.” (Lenin, Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1972, Moscow, Vol. 9, pp. 420-424)

Turkey protests in pictures

Damaged car is seen in Taksim where police and anti-government protesters clashed in central Istanbul June 2, 2013. (Reuters)

Is it Favorable to Give Protestors What They Want?

Absolutely not. We are talking about a party, which changed the entire face of Turkey in 11 years. While GDP per capita was $3,500 in 2002, it hit $10.000 by this year. Exports rose to $114 billion from $36 billion in 2002 and are expected to exceed $500 billion in 2023. 206 new dams were built, every city has it’s universities and tourists visiting Turkey are in record numbers. And even though the protests started over 13 trees in a park, AK Party government created 900 thousand hectare new forest in Turkey. I understand many young people are encouraged by the statements such as: “let the revolutionary spirit take over the country”, “let’s run down the mountains like light to the darkness”, etc.

It is pleasant to see the young people looking for a cause and not be nonchalant about their surroundings. But let me remind you these are not the mountains of Sierra Leone, these are the streets of Istanbul. In case government resigns, or there is an unrest it can not take under control, there are only two options to fill the space. Main opposition CHP or a military junta. Our main opposition is a party, which has not been favorable to the majority of the Turkish public for decades for a reason. And this made the party develop a tradition of opposition without any ground most of the time, and going to extremes with it like supporting Assad in Syria. If we consider a junta to take control of the situation, we can safely say according to our experience from the past, the protestors themselves would be the first on the line to be hanged. After hanging hundreds of protestors and governmental officials, the Marxist nature of a junta suffocates the dynamism of growth and dims the light of the people of Turkey.

And of course we should not forget that the case about the Alleged Ergenekon Terror Organization is coming to an end and there is still a hope to annul the case by a change in the government, which means Turkey going back to the dark ages when everything was controlled by this shadow government.

Is There a Point Where the Government Went Wrong?

One of the main problems of AK Party government has always been the lack of PR both internally and externally. Unfortunately, Erdogan has the belief of representing the end product to the public rather than promoting the plan. So far, majority of the decisions of AK Party has been extremely pleasant but we cannot expect all public to trust their decisions beforehand. As in the example of Gezi Park construction, the tension started with the lack of municipality’s presentation of the renewed park plan. Speaking at the Bursa Provincial AK Party headquarters on Saturday, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç wisely said: “If people could have been informed further of what the plans were, instead of manhandling them and subjecting them to this and that, then the situation may not have escalated to this level”.

Since the party came to power, we did not see any change in the liberal lifestyles of the Turkish people. No one is forced to adopt a certain lifestyle or a certain type of clothing. As a Muslim woman in Istanbul, I can safely say I have the same rights with an atheist or a Jewish man. But is this enough? Can we expect people to observe and come up with a conclusion? I sincerely hope the party learns to say openly “The fact that we are Muslims will never change our attitude towards atheists or members of other faiths. We are all the same in the eyes of Turkish laws. Atheist, Muslim or Christian; all people of Turkey are the same for us. We will never restrict your lifestyles according to our belief structure”. In short, the party needs a new system to promote their message more effectively.

What Happens Next?

Will AK Party lose public support now? No. Like the Cumhuriyet rallys before the elections in 2007, which were designed to demonize AK Party actually increased their votes in the elections, this will increase AK Party votes even more. Left wing protests always unite center right in Turkey and this example is no exception. Both center right opposition parties BBP and MHP denounced the protests and asked their followers to step back and especially Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the Nationalist front MHP said “such an action would look like brothers in a fight”. Especially for the nationalist front, what we call the “ülkücü” or “idealists” in English, a left wing protest brings them to the support of center right, which, in this case will bring in more public support to Erdogan.

No one in Turkey is upset either at the protestors or their right to protest. These are, contrary to popular belief, cherished rights in Turkey which the citizens are free to exercise as they please. The frustration arises when the protestors seem to have no idea what it is they are actually protesting. Do they not want a beautiful new, modern park which will not only enhance the beauty of Istanbul but also draw more tourists and the financials benefits which come with them? Do they sincerely seek the return of a system of government which left the country in ruin and the population in despair? The vast majority of Turkish citizens want no part of a return to those dark days, despite the cries of an angry and uninformed minority.

The AK Party is right not to cave to these demands. They have done so much good for Turkey in their decade in power. On this occasion, they deserve the respect and trust of the people, even if their plan for the park in this case was not clearly articulated from the start. The new park will be beautiful and a great success. The new laws concerning alcohol sales, which some presume to be protesting as well, will enhance public safety and save lives on our highways. And for those seeking a return to the dark days of Marxist-influenced left wing government disasters? Those tired ideas may be a part of our history, but certainly not our future. These are better, brighter days, and the nation has moved on. I would suggest these protestors do the same.


Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak

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