A Turkish Model of Democracy?

By Merve Tahiroglu | June 6, 2013

What began as a peaceful protest last week in Istanbul to save a park from being demolished has turned into a much larger, anti-government movement in a matter of days. Over the weekend, protests were held in 67 of the 81 Turkish provinces, in addition to international demonstrations in New York City, Chicago, Washington D.C., Montreal, Paris, London, Zurich, Berlin and Vienna.

At dawn on Friday, May 31, Turkish police conducted a violent raid against the protestors demonstrating in Taksim Gezi Park. The demonstration quickly grew into a massive protest with thousands of people gathering in Taksim Square. The police responded to protestors using water cannons, rubber bullets and gas bombs—thrown not on the ground, but at unarmed civilians. As demonstrations spread to the capital city of Ankara, gas bombs were reportedly thrown into crowds from helicopters. One protestor, Mehmet Ayvalitas, died of injuries on Sunday, while at least 3,000 people have been injured and more than 1,700 arrested since the protests began.

One of the most significant questions that has arisen from this crisis is why the Turkish media (with the exception of local news channel Halk TV) would not report on these developments during the first five days of the protests. Among the channels that chose to ignore the protests was CNN Turk, despite the fact that CNN International was one of the first foreign news organizations airing footage of the clashes. Over the weekend, pictures and videos of the violence have appeared across the Internet through foreign media companies and social media networks. Some Turkish news channels finally began reporting the events on Tuesday, after Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan left the country for a four-day tour of North Africa.

This total absence of the freedoms of press and expression does not come as a surprise to the Turkish people, who have been living with limited freedom under the government of Prime Minister Erdogan for many years now. Never before, however, have these denials of basic freedom been so apparent on an international scale.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, in 2012 Turkey had the largest number of journalists in jail worldwide, ahead of both Iran and China. The ruling Justice and Development Party, to which Prime Minister Erdogan belongs, has successfully won three elections in a row and has ruled Turkey for 10 years. This political stability has allowed the JDP to realize great achievements, including a strengthening economy. It has, however, also given the ruling party more power than any other political party in Turkey has had since the adoption of the multi-party system. Ambassador James F. Jeffrey and Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute, have said that, throughout its rule, the JDP has achieved “almost complete dominance of the Turkish political space through appointments to the high courts, the military and the bureaucracy, as well as growing influence over the media, NGOs and the business community.” The people of Turkey have witnessed the implications of this growing power over the past 10 years. And this past weekend, with the overt juxtaposition of silence in the Turkish media and front-page stories in the rest of the international media, the world has seen it too.

Today, this protest is no longer about a park. It’s about democracy. It’s about the freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly—both freedoms that were under attack in Turkey this weekend, if not before—and the consequences of the growing influence of the JDP on Turkish institutions. To think of democracy as merely a system of political elections would be the biggest mistake we could make today.

All of this comes at quite a pivotal time in history considering last year’s Arab Spring. During this movement, many posed Turkey as an example of democracy—a secular, democratic republic with a high majority Muslim population—to these Middle Eastern nations in revolution. Although none of these countries seemed interested in adopting the secularism of Turkey, these revolutionaries were eager to follow Turkey’s footsteps in their countries’ transitions to democracy. I witnessed such remarks in a number of speeches made during the World Political Forum in Istanbul last summer. Many questions troubled me the day I heard those speeches, but there was one in particular that I couldn’t shake off: “What democracy in Turkey?” Looking at Taksim Square today and the dismissal of this crisis by the Prime Minister Erdogan, I am now able to ask this question out loud with thousands of protestors on the streets asking it with me. Perhaps it is fair to say that we should think twice before setting Turkey as an example of democracy.

So, what now? We cannot know what sort of real change these protests will bring to Turkey in the short run. It would be highly presumptions to believe that Erdogan would resign over this, as many protestors have been demanding—and his doing so would not be good for Turkey in the long run. Nevertheless, those concerned about the increasingly powerful JDP regime and Turkey’s future should consider the events of the past week as a positive thing. This uprising has brought together people from all backgrounds, ages, classes, religions and political views. Considering the nearly 50 percent of votes the JDP won in the most recent elections, it’s fair to say that the scope of this movement has been unprecedented, and the mere fact that the movement occurred is a step forward for Turkey. More importantly, the pictures and videos of the police brutality, Erdogan’s dismissive response and derogatory remarks in regard to the protests and the Turkish media’s reluctance to cover these events have all been openly communicated to the rest of the world. As my mother’s wise friend Deniz put it, “Today we live in the age of globalization and information. Conventional, political solutions are not working anymore.” The mass communication of these events through news outlets and social media has provided tangible evidence to support the Turkish people’s concerns about the country’s future and diminishing democratic values. Even if not immediately, one day these protests could make a huge difference for Turkey.


Resistance spreads as government brutality grows in Turkey http://www.workers.org/2013/06/18/resistance-spreads-as-government-brutality-grows-in-turkey/

Turkish Police Arrest Twitter Users For Posting Photos Of Police Brutality http://www.businessinsider.com/turkish-police-arrest-twitter-users-2013-6

Turkish journalist association condemns police violence against press during Gezi protests

Turkey: A Weekend of Police Abuse | Human Rights Watch

Examples Of Police Brutality in Turkey - Business Insider  

Censorship and Police Brutality Mark Three Weeks of Turkish Protests

Turkish police beat Gezi protesters hiding in parking garage

        1. The results of Police Brutality and Violence in Turkey

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