Police Brutality in Turkey! Oust Erdogan

June 16, 2013 at 4:14 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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What began as a peaceful sit-in against government plans to turn Gezi Park, one of the last remaining green spaces in Istanbul, into a shopping mall has been met with perhaps the most violent police attacks on peaceful protesters in recent history.

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Initially, trotting out clichéd Western tropes about the Middle East, international media had painted the clash between protesters and the government as a conflict between secular and Islamist Turks. The claim that this is a secular revolt against an Islamic identity is based on prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) winning 50 percent of the vote in the last elections. But the AKP’s support came not only from the Islamists. AKP’s successes at the ballot box has to do with the government diluting the dominance of the industrial family clans of Istanbul and steering benefits to the rural poor in Anatolia and elsewhere.

 

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Faced with a disorganized opposition, the AKP government has become increasingly authoritarian. Last month, the Turkish parliament passed a law severely restricting the sale of alcohol, and the Ankara metro made an announcement asking passengers “to act in accordance with moral rules” after a couple was caught kissing on security cameras–an announcement that was met by dozens of couples locking lips in front of the capital’s metro stations!

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Today, the protests stem from the government’s increasingly authoritarian policies and its majoritarian conception of power. Zeyno Üstun, one of the first 50 demonstrators to occupy Gezi Park on May 27 says

Sure, there are hardcore secularists in the crowds. But there are also feminists, LGBT activists, anarchists, socialists of various stripes, Kurdish movements leaders, unionized workers, architects and urban planners, soccer hooligans, environmentalists, and people who are protesting for the first time! Someone wearing an Atatürk [the founder of the Turkish Republic as a secular, ethnically Turkish nation-state] T-shirt walks alongside another waving a flag of [imprisoned Kurdish leader] Abdullah Öcalan.

What unites these very diverse constituencies of interests is the sheer brutality of the police and now the paramilitary forces against peaceful protesters, lobbing many rounds of teargas including teargas laced with pepper spray and volleys from water canons, without regard to the presence of young children and the elderly. The police brutalities are characteristic of the increasingly authoritarian nature of the regime.
 
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Over the last few years, the AKP government has moved to muzzle the press, despite its pretensions to democracy. In December 2011, when military pilots mistook smugglers for Kurdish militants and killed 34 villagers, the Turkish media sat on the story for several hours till it was reported by the overseas press. Last month a media clampdown was imposed on the reporting of 52 people killed in a ‘terrorist” bombing in a village on the Syrian border. And now according to Reporters Without Borders, 67 journalists are imprisoned in Turkey, making it the world leader in arresting reporters. So cowed was the media that when massive street protests erupted in cities all over the country, CNN Turk, a leading broadcaster ran documentaries on dolphins and penguins rather than on the protests–transforming penguins into all that is wrong with the press in Turkey!
 
International political leaders have also been deafening in their silence over the police atrocities against peaceful demonstrators. Tear gas in enclosed spaces can be lethal and the Turkish police and paramilitary forces have tear gassed a hotel lobby where protesters had taken refuge. It is ironic that tear gas cannot be used in warfare because of the ban on chemical weapons but it can be used domestically against workers, students, and a regime’s opponents. President Barack Obama has authorized military aid to the rebels in Syria claiming that the Assad regime crossed a ‘red line’ by using chemical weapons, but says nary a word against Erdogan, his NATO ally.
 
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What is so invigorating about the joyful protests in Gezi Park and elsewhere in Turkey before they were broken up so brutally was the strong affirmation by the youth in democracy, in the right of assembly, and political dissent; the way in which police brutalities mobilized peoples across the lines of ideology, age, and gender.
 
It is too early to tell how the events will unfold. But even if Erdogan manages to crush this movement, it has given rise to new political possibilities. And if Erdogan’s popularity comes from Turkey’s economic successes, those successes are under threat. The severe cut in wages in southern Europe makes them competitive with Turkey and the unrest makes Turkey a risky place to invest.
 
The Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc have appealed for calm and Arinc even apologized earlier this month for the “excessive use of force” against the protesters. It is time for them to oust Erdogan, protect the people and rescue Turkish democracy!
 

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