Will protests in Turkey continue?

Read few comments.

Questions:

1. How would you say that the situation may evolve in Turkey in your opinion? Do you expect that the protesters will stay defiant and what about the response of the government?

2. Slovak PM Fico will visit Turkey on Friday and he will also meet PM Erdogan. Would you that the small country like Slovakia, but the EU country, should open the discussion on what is going on Turkey?

Answers:

Onur Sazak, Research Coordinator, Istanbul Policy Center

Please let me state that I answer your questions in my own capacity and my opinions cannot be attributed to my institution. My answers do not represent the position of IPC.

1. I expect the mass-protests to continue for a number of reasons. However, it is difficult to assess their nature. As you know, what started as a peaceful expression of civil disobedience has escalated into a violent clash between the police and demonstrators in certain parts of Istanbul and in vital cities like Ankara (the capital), Izmir and Antakya.

As for the reasons, first, the government has yet to issue a formal apology for the police’s disproportionate use of force. Second, Prime Minister Erdogan insists on his government’s arbitrary decisions on the fate of Taksim Gezi Park. His decision to remove the park and to build a replica of an Ottoman barracks, which in it is modern interpretation would host a shopping mall, was the primary cause of the peaceful demonstrations that started in the middle of last week. As long as he insists on this project, and on other arbitrary policies, people will continue to occupy the Gezi Park and attract support in the form of in-kind protests in other towns. Third, now the country-wide protest is not only about Taksim, but it is also a vote of no confidence against the authoritarian leanings of the prime minister and his government. The Erdogan administration’s policies are increasingly interfering with private lives of Turkish citizens. It single-handedly passed a law overhauling the Turkish education system and replacing it with a system called 4+4+4, which allows families not to enroll their kids in a higher education institution after the first 4 years, and rather either home school them or send them off to religious schools. The AKP administration also unilaterally passed a law regulating abortion and banning c-section operation. And under the recent alcohol regulation law, passed by the government and awaiting the prime minister’s signature, consumption of alcohol in public is curtailed dramatically. Prime Minister Erdogan’s and his party’s unilateral policy decisions also include construction of Turkey’s first nuclear reactor in spite of people’s opposition, criminalizing organized strikes, and putting the police in charge of campus security at universities, rather than private security companies.

All of this amounts to the accumulating discontent of the general Turkish public with the authoritarian tendencies of the Erdogan administration. Erdogan, on the other hand, claims that the demonstrators do not represent the majority and calls them “vagabonds.” He counters that he has been restraining the 50 percent who voted for him and are eager to clash with the demonstrators.

2. I don’t see anything wrong with the premier of an EU country reiterating the vitality of a candidate country’s compliance with the fundamental freedoms and principles championed by the European Union.

 Serhat Güvenç, Associate Professor of International Relations, Kadir Has University

1.The situation remains in limbo still. However, President and Deputy PM have made statements to calm it down. A lot depends on what PM Erdogan will say when he returns from Magrep. Nevertheless, market forces may play a restraining role in moderating the government’s and PM’s hitherto uncompromising stand. Stock exchange already suffered significant drop, Turkish currency has depreciated nearly 10% and interests rates have increased by some % 1. Not all good signs for the economy

This is not comparable to the Arab Spring. Turkey is a democracy despite its obvious flows and President and deputy PM have already proved that even the remaining checks and balances worked to calm down the public anger. The only association that can be made between the Arab Spring and the current situation is this: the people of this country have raised the bar for those in the middle east who look to Turkey for inspiration to reform their polities and economies.

2. I cannot give advise to the Slovak PM, but if I were in his shoes I would not make any statements until asked during the press conference. In that case, I would suggest that he praise the level of democratic maturity of the Turkish people as recent demonstrations proved and that he link this maturity to the process of Turkey’s Europeanization as a candidate country. That he hopes to see accelerated progress in Turkey’s accession negotiations so that the EU could play a positive role in helping Turkey’s efforts to consolidate its democracy and become an open society.

Ziya MeralAnalyst,  Writer and a PhD candidate in Politics , University of Cambridge

1. The government has backed down on plans for the disputed Gezi Park, and Deputy PM met with the protestors to hear their demands. The protesters will continue until they feel that the government acted on their requests and heard them. However, there are worrying protests in other sensitive areas such as in Dersim and Antakya, those towns have unique contexts due to on going tensions with Syria and Kurdish and Alevi issues.

2. Turkey needs friends in the EU to encourage a healthier democratic growth but also support all the positive developments in the country over the last ten years. In this process, Slovak support for more EU negotiation chapters to be opened would be key.

Johanna Nykänen, Doctoral Researcher, Politics and International Studies (PAIS), University of Warwick

1. The government has already taken a more conciliatory stance towards the protesters with the deputy PM offering a partial apology for the heavy-handed response. I believe that the situation will calm down eventually, granted that the government listens to the key demands of the protesters: releasing the protesters arrested last week, halting the Gezi park development project, and investigating the conduct of those officials who have been giving orders to the police force in the past days.

The fact that there are several elections coming up in Turkey in the next two years – municipal, parliamentary and presidential – will certainly play a significant role in normalising the situation. It is well-known that Erdogan has presidential ambitions in the elections next year, which until now have seemed like a realistic option. Despite his continuing popularity in some sections of the Turkish society, he must work hard to repair his tarnished image both home and abroad. This is something that the protesters are also aware of, and gives them a good bargaining position and a sense of power also outside the street demonstrations.

It must be also remembered that Turks are no strangers to demonstrations, and what distinguishes the events during the past few days from the earlier ones is the number of people who actually turned up to the streets and the government’s particularly fierce response, which provoked an angry backlash. But for anyone living in Istanbul, demonstrations – of a smaller scale of course – are an everyday sight on Taksim Square and the main Istiklal street. As such, Turkish people are much more familiar and comfortable with different forms of civic engagement than Egyptians were when they first took to the Tahrir Square or Syrians in Damascus and other big cities back in 2011. Although many who have now been demonstrating in Turkey were engaging in this way for the first time, the situation cannot be compared to the Arab Spring. With the government now finally coming forward and attempting to forge a more appeasing strategy, I don’t think that the situation will escalate further. But the demonstrators will certainly demand a prompt follow-up to the situation, and Erdogan cannot afford to continue his arrogant and provocative attitude.

Finally, for outside followers it can be difficult to understand that the question of city planning in Istanbul is actually a very strong and emotional topic for most Istanbulites, and Erdogan plays a key role in the question – not only as PM but also as the former mayor of Istanbul. So to say that the events were not about the park is slightly misleading – they were indeed about the Gezi Park and Istanbul’s future, but those questions are closely connected to questions about Turkey and its governance, identity, and future.

2. I certainly think that Slovakia as an EU member should address questions about democracy and human rights in Turkey during his visit, but can understand that his position can be uncomfortable given the current situation within the EU (Hungary’s human rights situation, Sweden’s riots, Greece’s demonstrations, etc) and the EU’s diminished soft power towards Turkey. Nevertheless, with all eyes currently set on Turkey, Fico should not remain in complete silence about the acute situation. For small EU countries like Slovakia or my native Finland these occasions are always diplomatic challenges and require good diplomatic and political skills.

Einar WigenKULTRANS Fellow, Centre for Islam and Middle East Studies, University of Oslo

1. The situation will definitely evolve, but it is impossible to see what way. The demonstrations have a political force. However, it is purely a protest movement. The protesters have little in common except their hatred for Erdogan and the AKP. They have explicitly distanced themselves from the whole idea of a common political platform, or having their opinions expressed by a formal party or leader. Nor could all their complaints be successfully voiced by a single organisation. They are too fragmented for that. I would say that this may potentially hinder Erdogan’s ambition to become the President of a presidential republic next year.

It is more likely to lead to political instability and economic stagnation than to a new leadership. It has already put a dent in Turkey’s international reputation. But with Syria in flames and the rest of the Middle East hanging in the balance, Nato and the United States are unlikely to do anything that may destabilise their most important ally in the region. I therefor do not foresee a great social transformation. Erdogan is still the most popular political leader in Turkey, despite the fact that approximately half the population positively hate him.

2. I would say that Turkey needs to hear from as many quarters as possible that democracy is not only about majority rule, but also protection of universal rights and respect for the minority view. The rest of the world should not turn a blind eye to police brutality and oppression of minority views.

Brent SasleyAssistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Texas at Arlington

1. It’s hard to say at this point. The government won’t fall, nor will Erdogan be replaced as PM; there’s nobody to replace either. It’s also not clear whether the protests will have the momentum to keep going; lots of Turks aren’t out protesting, and although it’s primarily the middle class that is, without further economic (strikes) or political action, it’s hard to imagine major change.

We are likely to see some protestors remain mobilized, but judging from similar experiences in other countries, mass mobilization fades after awhile unless: a) the goal is to overthrow the entire system or government; b) the military starts killing demonstrators indiscriminately. Neither is the case here. What’s more likely is that we’ll see some changes in governmental policymaking, and a sharpening of tensions within the AKP/government. Already the President, Abdullah Gul, seen as a soft rival of Erdogan, has indicated he might not sign the bill limiting the sale of alcohol into law.

2. If the goal is to encourage democracy and limit police brutality, Erdogan should hear such things from everyone. The more friendly pressure that can be brought to bear, and the more Erdogan is reminded that human rights and public participation in politics is a positive thing for Turkey’s development as well, the more likely the message will sink in. So yes, Prime Minister Fico should raise the issue–though also be prepared to hear criticism back from Erdogan. It’s how he handles critiques from others.

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