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Thousands of images circulate on social media. This is one of the most widely spread.
Last updated: June 4, 2013
Mohamed Hemish: Turkey's democratic exercise

"This is not only about the government"

Banner Icon The protests underway in Istanbul do not represent a "Turkish Spring", but a call for better governance. Erdoğan should listen to the people while the opposition needs to be more proactive, writes Mohamed Hemish.

Turkey has been going through a historic protest in the last two days. It is historic because it is one of those protests that were not organized by a party or a movement but spontaneous. It is no surprise that people are angry at the political scene in Turkey considering the events that have unfolded across the country during the last month and the reactions they sparked.

It started out when police attacked the people who marched into Taksim Square in order to celebrate Labor Day on May 1, 2013, despite the municipality’s decision to ban celebrations this year. According to Reuters, 22 policemen and 3 civilians were wounded and 72 arrests were made.

This generated a lot of anger among Turkish people as well as the main CHP leader who condemned the ban on celebrations and the police crackdown on demonstrators. Yet the fact that the communist party organized it did not really trigger a nationwide outrage.

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This was followed by a deadlier, more serious incident. On May 11, The Reyhanli bombings at the Syrian-Turkish border took place, leaving 45 dead and hundreds injured. CHP and other opposition parties directly blamed the Turkish Prime Minister for the attack arguing that it was a result of this government’s policies towards Syria. Erdoğan was accused of training Syrian “terrorists.”

“You have no idea about Reyhanlı, you do not know their problems. You do not know the locals’ crafts issues. You are the man who trains members of terrorist organizations and sends them into Syria. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, you are the terrorist leader for Syria,” CHP leader, Kılıçdaroğlu, said May 26.

CHP leader also made a bold comment comparing Erdoğan to Assad:

“Between al-Assad and Erdoğan there is only a difference of shades. Both are oppressive, both have special courts and prosecutors. Media bosses call and ask which journalist is to be put (in jail). Instructions are given to media. What difference do they have in terms of democracy?” Kılıçdaroğlu asked.

The last strike against Erdoğan’s government was made after the recent new alcohol law, which has triggered a lot of criticism. Supporters of the opposition claimed that the government is trying to move Turkey toward a more “Islamic” lifestyle. Some argue that the government is not taking people’s liberties and freedom of choice into consideration.

The recent protest against the construction of a mall and the demolishing of Gezi Park was the tip of the iceberg. People who were protesting were peaceful and not an anti-government crowd. They staged a protest and an “occupation,” which has been going on since May 27, in order to prevent the bulldozers from cutting the trees. However, the police decided to force the occupiers out of the park in order for the work to carry on. It was the excessive use of force that motivated people to move toward Taksim Square and join the early protesters. Naturally, the police did what they had done in every other protest; they kept on the crackdown and refused to back down.

However, this is not only about the government. The fact that the protesters have been calling on the political parties not to interfere is a testament to the fact that it is nationwide frustration about both the growing power of the government and the lack of any opposition that could keep checks on the current government. The difference this time from earlier protests is the fact that the crowd is not associated with a party or an ideology; this protest doesn’t consist only of CHP or MHP or AKP or BDP affiliated people, it consists of young people from different backgrounds who are fed up with the actions of political leaders and parties over the last couple of weeks. People did not have the right stage to express their frustration up until the Gezi Park protests and the police force’s behavior.

On the other hand, foreign media and some Turkish protesters compare the protest to the Arab Spring or Tahrir square. Some protesters are even calling on the Prime Minister to resign. But this is not Egypt; Turkey is a democracy and has an elected government. The prime minister, in his speech today, rightfully enough stated that he is an elected leader, supported by the majority of the Turkish nation.

“All attempts to change the government other than through elections are anti-democratic and illegal.”

These protests are aimed at improving Turkey’s democracy. The demonstrations are people's way to make their voice heard, however, the police’s response to the protests is not in a mature democratic way. People need to understand that Turkey has a long way ahead for fulfilling the dream of a functioning democracy. Politics in Turkey is motivated by fear of Islam and the need to protect secularism. So both sides, the AKP and its opponents, are “traumatized” by events that took place in history and seem to have difficulty moving on and prove to each other that they are trustworthy.

One of the main advantages of these protests is the fact that they serve as a reminder and a wake up call to Erdoğan and his government that power has limits. It is also a reminder to the opposition parties that they need to be more present in the political scene and be proactive rather than defensive.

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