Istanbul: The Protests

A moderately Islamist government has been in power in Turkey for about 10 years now. Over the weekend it faced its first stern test. One brave Turkish blogger has decided to reach out to the rest of the world:

No newspaper, no television channel was there to report the protest. It was a complete media black out.

But the police arrived with water cannon vehicles and pepper spray.  They chased the crowds out of the park.

In the evening of May 31st the number of protesters multiplied. So did the number of police forces around the park. Meanwhile local government of Istanbul shut down all the ways leading up to Taksim square where the Gezi Park is located. The metro was shut down, ferries were cancelled, roads were blocked.

Yet more and more people made their way up to the center of the city by walking.

They came from all around Istanbul. They came from all different backgrounds, different ideologies, different religions. They all gathered to prevent the demolition of something bigger than the park:

The right to live as honorable citizens of this country.

Read the rest. Hurriyet, one of Turkey’s best media outlets, has been doing an excellent job covering events after the fact. Their English-language site is here, and I recommend reading the site on a daily basis (even after the violence is over).

Here is my two cents: the Erdogan government (the Islamist one) put one too many straws upon the camel’s back. Ankara simply took too many liberties when it came to regulating the cultural and material life of the Turkish people. Too many blasphemy laws and too many clothing restrictions, coupled with too poor an economic performance made these protests inevitable. The harsh crackdown on an otherwise free people ensured violence and larger protests.

By the way, Turkey’s first post-Ottoman government, headed by the ardent secularist and Europhile, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, also insisted on regulating the cultural and material lives of Turkish citizens, so Islam has nothing to do with this (check out our many discussions we’ve had here on the blog on this).

Rather, the “authoritarianism lite” of the Turkish state has more to do with its status as a post-colonial imperial state and a Cold War pawn than it does with any inherent cultural traits of the Turkish people or of the Islamic faith.