Protests in Turkey: One Tree, One Country

People outside Turkey are probably trying to understand what’s going on with the protests. The bottom line is that Turkey is going through a civil revolution.

protests-turkeyThe initial protests started by people sensitive to environmental problems. They were opposing the replacement of Taksim Gezi Park with a reconstruction of the historic Taksim Military Barracks possibly housing a shopping mall. The group occupying the park was attacked with tear gas and water cannons by police late at night.

The protests have since broadened into wider anti-government demonstrations. The protests have also spread to other cities in Turkey, and protests have been seen in other countries with significant Turkish communities in Europe, the US and East Asia. Police arrested at least sixty people and injured hundreds. Police who used excessive force against protesters were hidden to avoid further investigation.

For those not familiar with Turkey’s current government, it is worth providing a short summary. The Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi or AKP) has ruled Turkey since 2003. The AKP came to the government with the promises of more democracy, freedom, prosperity, tolerance, openness, economic growth, human rights, and legal reform by advocating a liberal market economy. They also worked for Turkish membership in the European Union.

Even though many people were aware that AKP is a center-right conservative political party developed from the tradition of Islamism, people gave them a chance for the sake of democracy. There was hope for Turkey to become a more democratic country. I remember AKP authorities saying that although most of the time they are seen as “Islamist” because of their religious background, this characterization does not reflect the truth. They claim they have changed and that AKP’s conservatism is limited to moral issues.

It is sad how the perceptions and prejudices were indeed true and AKP was not only a “conservative democratic party.”

How did we realize this? We realized this when AKP followed an ideology against the republicans and ignored the vision of Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey. Hundreds of journalists, writers and soldiers have been sued and put in prison. Innocent people were arrested by alleging them as being part of a terrorist organization called Ergenekon.

Soldiers were also alleged for preparing a coup d’état under the Balyoz case. It was later proved that the documents submitted as assertion were false, but these fake proofs were still used to create a sham case. It is no coincidence that journalists and military officers are the most affected group as they are seen as significant obstacles to the AKP’s political and ideological agenda.

People then started to realize that AKP was after more than creating a democratic country with political and economic stability. They were trying to divide country and perhaps establish a new sharia governed system.

The Turkish people objected to these conditions by the AKP. Reactions and complaints are the accumulation of various events ranging from local environmental concerns to issues such as authoritarianism, bans on alcohol, pressure on having at least three children, income inequality, a recent controversy about kissing in public, attempts for the closure of theaters and operas, domestic violence against women, Reyhanlı bombings, the stance on the Syrian Civil War, an unfair judicial system, manipulative media, and interfering with personal freedoms of citizens.

Turkish protestors represent different ethnic, religious, socioeconomic and ideological identities

Protestors are united by their concern for Turkey’s future. They demand open democratic dialogue between citizens and those elected. They demand an end to fascist attitude of bureaucrats. They demand to use their constitutional rights freely. They demand free media.

They demand an end to the government’s abuse of power. The people on the street want Prime Minister Erdogan to resign. That is why people are on the streets. People in the streets are young, smart and brave people who love their country. These people have common-sense and conscience. These people believe in the vision and principles of Atatürk. These people just want to prevent Turkey from disaster.

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During the protests Erdogan has constantly trivialized his nation’s concerns. He said the redevelopment plans would go ahead despite the protests. He gave a number of speeches widely seen as dismissive of the protesters including leaving the country on a “planned” diplomatic trip which was criticized as irresponsible. Turkey’s media has remained silent.

The other AKP members are simply passive. Because AKP is Recep Tayyip Erdogan, others leaders are figure heads. But they are way too confident, arrogant and stubborn. After Erdogan’s return, he kept using an aggressive and separatist tone. Why is he so desperately trying to shut the people up?

Why is Erdogan not using one single word of empathy and self-critique?

The answer to that question is too complicated. One assumption is that if he resigns he is not able to account for his past actions. In other countries politicians commit suicide for even small-scale corruption allegations, because politics and politicians need to be transparent and clean. We want politicians who are brave enough to be accountable.

AKP and its supporters are trying to keep the people under control. The reason many people did not raise their voice until today was government pressure, fear and threats. People do not want to jeopardize losing their  jobs, families and lives – nor do they want to risk being jailed. But now people woke up. People should not be afraid of their governments and this fear is fading.

Protestors are not even afraid of death. That is why they are demonstrating despite risks of police attacks. That is why they resist no matter what. Although Erdogan keeps imposing his own truths, everybody should know that this young, smart and charismatic generation won’t allow uncontrolled power and despotic abuse of authority to continue.

We are not sheep. We are human beings who are able to think, to question, to challenge, to understand and to react. We do not want to be ignored; we want to be governed as we deserve it to be. We, the people of the Republic of Turkey, won’t allow the individual freedoms to be taken away from us.

We won’t allow this Republic  to become an Islamic sharia government. We won’t allow anyone splitting Turkey into pieces. We wont allow the mentality of the conclusion that “If you are one of them, you can do whatever you want and get away with it.” “Them” is the people who are simply not seeing or not wanting to see the wrong.

Instead of attacking its opponents, the AKP should implement positive legal and institutional reforms. Which is better for a leader at the end? To be feared or loved? Right now, Erdogan is not loved and he is losing power. This is why he is becoming more and more aggressive. If you see what we see, if you feel as we feel, and if you would seek as we seek, then I kindly ask you to stand beside us. Support our resistance and be there for my dear beautiful country… because if you go through the same, I will be there with you.

Pınar Yıldız is a lawyer working in Istanbul, Turkey. She focuses mainly on M&A and corporate law, banking, energy and real estate. She provides a range of legal consultancy services to local and foreign clients. She received her LL.M degree from Queen Mary College, University of London. She speaks Turkish, English and French.