Ironic isn’t it that on Thursday the people of Turkey woke up to a report from the European Parliament criticizing the Turkish government on how they handled the protests in Istanbul? And the response of Prime Minister Erdogan and Egemen Bağış, the country’s chief negotiator basically said “sorry you have the wrong number. There is no member nation here. Would you like us to patch you through to Greece?”
We know Turkey has been witnessing protests for the past two weeks centered in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. Police used tear gas and water cannons to break up the protests. In a resolution adopted in Strasbourg, the European Parliament expressed its deep concern at what it called “the disproportionate and excessive use of force by Turkish police to break up peaceful and legitimate protests.”
Firstly, Turkey is not a European Union country, and therefore is immune to any disciplinary condemnation from the Union’s Parliament. And secondly, the European Union, which urged the Turkish authorities to respect the rights of all citizens to freedom of expression, is known to use more harsh methods on their own protestors. Just last Wednesday, while I was discussing Turkish protests on BBC radio, I was amazed my host began his own analysis of our own situation in Turkey with a presupposition that “our police don’t use tear gas.”Technically he was right, because when a small group of peaceful G8 protestors in London disregarded police orders to disperse that very same day, they were beaten with batons, and were taken into custody, face down on the ground. Therefore, no, there was no need for tear gas.
Environmental or city planning issues have been pushed aside as the protests have been guided to a darker place and rebranded as a stage for Socialist advocacy to reemergeCeylan Ozbudak
What about March 2011, when the famous “March for the Alternative” broke out in Trafalgar Square? The protest included between a quarter to a half million British subjects who were protesting a political issue well within the realm of traditionally protected freedom of expression. When the affair crossed the line from peaceable speech to vandalism and violence, the British government deployed mounted police, who beat back the protestors and arrested 3,100. Between 2010-2012 the well-known Greek riots took place all across Greece, which led to an investigation about Greek police using expired and carcinogenic chemical substances, an investigation which is still under way. The same happened in other European countries such as Spain. I can’t recall any call from the European Parliament on the measures taken by the police in these countries against their peaceful protestors.
But are we really talking about peaceful protestors? Nationwide, 89 police vehicles, 42 private vehicles, 22 buses, 94 shops and 1 apartment were vandalized by these “peaceful” protestors. Rather than calling for the protestors to stop violently attacking public property, the European Parliament decided to call on the Turkish government to stop intervening in the protests. Admittedly, Western media coverage created a different public opinion. It appears that the same DHKP-C which the EU and the U.S. reckoned as a Marxist-Leninist terrorist organization after bombing the American Embassy on Feb. 2 this year, has suddenly been recast as “right-seeking protestors” when they started throwing petrol bombs and Molotov cocktails at Turkish police. I missed whatever happened in the interim. Of course, there has always been peaceful protestors in Taksim square right from the very beginning but it’s no secret that the protests were hijacked by communist factions, terror organizations, and opposition groups.
The romantic notion of ‘freedom’
I understand that especially in Europe and the U.S., groups of people protesting against the government saying they want “freedom” has been a very romantic subject for the last few years. Stories of tyrants being vanquished and their oppressed subjects having the opportunity to establish a democratic government have been a progressive step forward for the Arab world. This narrative doesn’t apply to Turkey. For the better part of the late 20th century, Turkey was a country of chaos and at times, significant oppression. However, since the dawn of the 21st century, under AK Party leadership, Turkey has been reborn as a nation of progress and prosperity, with aspirations toward the best ideals of democracy and freedom. Within the last decade, our “tyrant” has given Turkey a functioning, independent judiciary, 206 new dams, heavy investment in education with 35.000 new teachers, and a fiscal position which is the envy of the Eurasian continent. At the same time, his administration has transformed Turkey into a regional energy and air transport hub. Add to that 900,000 hectares of newly forested land. Since 2003, the Turkish economy has seen a three-fold increase, to three quarters of a trillion dollars in total GDP. I understand the eager hearts of our posh protestors and I like a party as much as they do, but I’m just not feeling this whole “man the barricades” thing this year. Not on this record.
Surely, economic progress is not the same as the protection of human rights. So let’s look at the stance the government has taken in reference to these protests.
What was the provocation of these protests? The protestors wanted reconstruction of the park to be stopped; they wanted to meet with the deputy prime minister, the prime minister, and with the governor. They got all they asked for. The AKP has recommended a referendum to decide whether the park stays or goes. It won’t be legally binding, but the prime minister has promised to respect the outcome. We all hold up Switzerland as a paragon of democracy because the Swiss hold referenda about every little decision they make. Somehow it’s not enough for the European Parliament this week when Turkey does exactly the same.
Understanding the situation
While it is certainly not wrong for a portion of the population to ask for their voices to be heard, it is important for both the world outside Turkey, as well as those within, to understand the ramifications of the current demonstrations if they are allowed to continue in this manner. What began as a peaceful protest has turned into a violent one, fuelled by communist parties and their like-minded entourage. Environmental or city planning issues have been pushed aside as the protests have been guided to a darker place and rebranded as a stage for Socialist advocacy to reemerge. Peaceful, legitimate, political activity has been co-opted by far left opportunists and transormed into a violent episode which threatens the stability of Turkey’s constituent social institutions. That is not anymore acceptable for Istanbul than for London, Athens, or Madrid.
Certainly the protesters did not understand the full ramifications of their actions when they took to the streets to petition for their demands. Perhaps if they had known their actions would trigger violent actions and reactions from the communist groups, would damage the economy in such a deep way at such an important juncture, and throw into doubt any role Turkey has in bringing about a resolution to the Syrian conflict, the Palestinian issue, and as a democracy model in the Middle East, perhaps they would have explored other avenues to air their demands. If they knew this would be instrumental in the Dublin Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy’s new crusade on Turkey, whose fathers were saved from starvation in Ireland by Turks when the Sultan Abdulmecid sent Drogheda Harbor three ships of food and 1000 Pounds. A letter in the Ottoman archives of Turkey, written by Irish notables explicitly thanks the Sultan for his help despite British administration trying to block the ships. Hindsight is a view no one has until it is of little use.
Few could have expected these events to have such a profound impact on so many political issues inside and outside Turkey and this can lead the European Parliament to look at the events with a biased perspective. The call to democracy is always welcomed in Turkey but double standards and threats never paid back in our politics. While the European media is eagerly waiting for the European Parliament report to arrive in Turkey to see the reaction in Turkish Parliament, I can give you a quick foresight to the response from Turkey: “Please return to sender.”
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