Images from Istanbul by photojournalist John Wreford
© John Wreford
Images from Istanbul by photojournalist John Wreford
Last updated: June 12, 2013
Tan Tunali: Will this be a long summer for Turkey?

"The genie is out of the bottle and the political consciousness of a new generation flourishes"

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When on Monday Turkey’s PM Tayyip Erdogan announced to meet with Taksim Solidarity Platform, Istanbul’s governor Hüseyin Mutlu assured his Twitter-followers that Taksim Gezi Park would be left alone.

Yet, yesterday morning all were caught by surprise when hundreds of riot police took over Taksim square; according to the governor the aim was to dismantle banners and flags dubbed as illegal. During the intervention the promise to leave the park untouched was repeatedly announced by a sound truck. The people at the square were spectators of a well-staged theatre play in which a group of yet unknown people, personated as SDP supporters, threw Molotov cocktails at the police. The SDP, however, denied that these people belonged to their organization.

Bringing a new scapegoat to the scene perfectly suited the discourse Erdogan has been creating since the inception of the protests. By consistently labeling protesters looters and marginal groups who bring harm to public buildings, shops and hotels, he aims to drive a wedge between the various protest groups, thereby undermining the social fabric and solidarity of the demonstrators.

In the afternoon the promise to leave the park untouched was broken when police forces briefly intervened only to quickly withdraw. Publisher Can Oz, at that moment, was trying to attend the press conference of the Taksim Solidarity Platform where they reiterated their main demand not to cut any tree in the park. In The Guardian Oz expressed how he lost his last bit of trust for the Turkish state and police. The people cherry-picked for today’s negotiation session with Erdogan might very well have felt just the same, because by losing the square, their main bargaining chip vanished.

This tactic of dividing and marginalizing the protestors not only serves its main purpose, but also resonates with a considerable part of Turkey’s population. As a mother complained to her daughter on the phone: “You set a bus on fire.” Most conspicuous has been the role of Turkey’s mainstream TV stations. Initially they kept silent, screening penguin documentaries and cooking shows. This time they did their homework better and their cameras stood standby from the early morning onwards. The full adherence to the government’s discourse was striking.

Bringing a new scapegoat to the scene perfectly suited the discourse Erdogan has formed

On social media their coverage led to posts, hilariously noticing the difference between CNN International and its Turkish branch. Whereas the first stated that the police attacked the demonstrators, the latter showed a picture 180 degrees opposite and totally in line with the discourse drawn up by Erdogan: marginal groups threw stones at the police, showing a burning excavator for minutes.

Besides the subjective media coverage, the events in the Caglayan court house added up to a day in which human rights in Turkey hit rock bottom. During a protest, dozens of lawyers, who supported and defended the demonstrators were coarsely deported by the police, who transferred them from the courthouse straight to prison. A colleague of the arrested lawyers employed the understatement “that there is no justice in this country.”

While the police continued its excessive use of tear gas, Erdogan’s top-adviser Ibrahim Kalin spoke on CNN with Christian Amanpour. He too, framed certain parts of the protestors as marginal and violent groups. Amanpour’s final comment, “The show is over, Mr. Kalin”, made quite the buzz on social media.

The show in Turkey, on the contrary, is far from over. The tactic of repression, the rhetoric of confrontation and a night full of tear gas only seems to be counterproductive. People on the streets seem to be getting angrier and more defiant. The fact that it’s a working day in the middle of the week doesn’t seem to shy people away from taking to the streets. As protester Sinan said: “During daytime I go to my regular work and these days I have a side-job at night.” The genie is out of the bottle and the political consciousness of a new generation flourishes. It finds a tough opponent in Erdogan’s stubborn character and if both parties hold on to their positions, it promises to be a long and hot summer in Turkey.

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