Erdogan’s Dilemma

JLH has translated an article about the Turkish uprising — which is no longer mentioned much in the media, but is still ongoing — from German-language site Infobrief Türkei.

The translator includes this brief note:

There hasn’t been a lot of news from the Taksim Square upset lately, so far as I know, but this commentary — which might be called “an anatomy of rebellion: — is only a week old, so it may still be of some interest,

Taksim Square, on the European side of the Bosphorus in Istanbul, was where the protests began, and is still their epicenter.

The translated article:

Erdogan’s Dilemma

July 13, 2013

A Commentary by Ismail Doga Kaatepe and Öyzgür Genc

There was a raid against environmentalists in Taksim Gezi Park on May 31, sparking nationwide protests in Turkey. Since then, Turkey has seen mass demonstrations across almost the entire country. On the day in question, an Occupy-like movement against the destruction of this relatively small park was suppressed. Hundreds of people were arrested or injured. Obviously, neither the commandant of the police nor the governor could have expected that this crackdown would mobilize hundreds of thousands of people across the country. This protest had already grown into a large rebellion by the night of May 31, apparently not only against the destruction of the park, but also — as indicated by the graffiti “Kahrolsun Bagzi Seyler” against “something.” As ever, it is not simple to coalesce the varying concerns of the protesters: the limitations of freedoms through actions of the government are their main concern.

What almost all the demonstrators have in common is dissatisfaction with the nearly 11-year rule of the Party for Justice and Development (AKP). A growing irritation with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and other prominent members of the AKP comes out during the protests. There is a striking range of variation among the protestors. The broad alliance of demonstrators consists, for one thing, of nationalistic-secular Kemalists — largely organized by the Republican Folk Party (CHP), of all the socialist parties and movements — large and small, and of those unions that identify themselves as progressive. For another thing, there are elements of the Kurdish movement, feminists, LBGT activists and many other individuals and organizations that are against “something.” At this time, the movement can be described as a broad coalition of “leftists”, or more exactly, as one that cannot be identified as rightist, Nonetheless, such a coalition has no common ideological basis; in fact, there are deep ideological differences or enmities, for instance, between Turkish nationalist Kemalists and Kurdish parties and organizations that are joining the demonstrations in the larger western cities.

The massive protests are perhaps the greatest challenge for the AKP since their victory in the parliamentary elections of 2002. Out of all the conceivable reactions to the demonstrations, the government and Prime Minister Erdogan seem to have decided upon repression — as do comparable governments in many states of the Middle East. Police and elements of the military were mobilized to suppress the demonstrations, along with pro-regime paramilitary forces. Thanks to the AKP’s ability to control the media, the MSM have been silent or given “pro-regime reports,” even though the protests against this practice were growing.

Since Erdogan is the most powerful figure in the party, his comments have been adopted quickly within the party and by his supporters. So the motto most widely current among the demonstrators has become “Tayyip, resign!”

To understand the present political confrontation, the prime minister’s comments since the beginning of the demonstrations are worth analyzing. Rather than an elaborate analysis , we choose to highlight two contradictory elements of his comments.

1.   Tayyip Erdogan is trying to profit from ideological differences among the protestors. To the nationalists, he has often emphasized the participation f the Kurdish movement. And the same in reverse to the Kurds. As for the socialist movements who have been a driving force of the demonstrations around Taksim Square, he has tried to separate them from the other demonstrators by criminalizing them, thus reducing the demands of the others.
2.   Since the demonstrations began, he has not only emphasized Islamic values, but has intensified emphasis on nationalist elements. His comments seem to aim at a consensus among those who see themselves as Muslims — Turkish Sunnis. The strong reference in his discourse to the Turkish-Islamic element is reminiscent of the discourse of prominent figures of the military junta in the ‘80s. At that time, the military profited from such an argument, which aimed to incorporate Islamic elements and nationalism. This was known as the Turkish-Islamic synthesis. Since the same approach was used in 1990 against the Kurdish opposition, it is not wrong to say that it constitutes a riposte to any kind of rampant dissident movements. As they try to amalgamate varied components of the traditional Right, the AKP and the prime minister are likewise attempting to present other elements of Islamist-nationalist politics as their own political line. This attempt to consolidate rightist politics against a broad alliance can have serious consequences. Instead of putting democratic mechanisms in motion, they are attempting to create a mechanism against the opposition which is capable of escalating the protests and leading to fighting in the streets. Four people have already been killed, thousands injured or arrested.

But the formation of such a block — as with police violence — contributes to the unification of differentiated groups and helps the movement to overcome ideological differences. The immediacy of common resistance to police violence may appear to be a transitory thing, and yet the possibility of a new commonality has already been internalized by the resisting groups. This cannot be undone. The AKP, especially Erdogan, are already using an idiom intended to bring their own followers and the protestors into conflict. As always, the language they use is echoed on the other side. So the regime is intensifying the existing polarization with its Islamist-nationalist speech, and methods which are armored with official force. It is likely that the resistance will gain in strength.

In solidarity.

3 thoughts on “Erdogan’s Dilemma

  1. Er, ‘Erdogan’ is not the ‘President’ !! He is the Prime Minister. The President is called ‘Gull’

    • Ivan —

      Thank you. That was a translation error; I should have caught it. I’ve fixed it.

  2. I have mixed feelings about Turkey. They seem to have a normal desire not to
    be restricted too much or to have the Islamic agenda shoved down their throats. But they also have a violent side which is what warns against allowing
    EU membership. There are nearly 80 million of them and apart from a few
    Armenian Christians, they are all Moslems. Erdogan is a crude and ambitious
    imperialist who sees himself as the Caliph of a great Turkish Empire. They need to modernise and to start by ditching this troublemaker.

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