What's Happening in Turkey?

by Burak Kahraman
Starting from May 28, 2013, over 200 demonstrations took place in 67 cities of Turkey.  Five people died, tens lost their eye-sight, and thousands were injured after the disproportionate response of the police.  While this abuse of police force was not something new in Turkey, the number of supporters and participants in the recent demonstrations reached a record-level. So why did millions pour into the streets? The answer is that the last drop of patience regarding Prime Minister R. T. Erdogan and the AKP rule, dried out. Next, I will briefly explain the reasons for the uprising by referring to some of the policies that generated it.

First of all, in the past eleven years, PM Erdogan  has deconstructed all the institutions that could stand against him, such as justice, military, education, business world and mainstream media by introducing new laws, reassigning his supporters into high state positions, by arresting journalists, generals and activists. He has built an AKP empire where businessmen standing close to him have become richer and penalties of criminals standing close to him have been eased. On the other hand, life became increasingly difficult for the opponents. Journalists have been arrested, businessmen have been threatened, media have been silenced.

Secondly, Erdogan is a religious leader and his Islamist renovations started to bother non-religious populations who view the newly introduced laws as intrusive for their life styles. Restriction of alcohol sale, banning of many websites (including the pornographic ones), as well as public statements regarding expected fertility (that the PM would like each family to have at least three children) and youth values (that he aspires to a more conservative young generation) were seen as constraining individual freedoms.

Another policy of the Prime Minister that annoyed a large segment of the population was his denigration of Kemal Ataturk and his revolutions. Ataturk established the secular Turkish Republic by replacing Ottoman sultanate, which was ruled by Islamic laws. Erdogan  stated: “why shouldn’t parts of Quran influence the constitution while constitution that some drunken guys wrote years ago is considered as appropriate?“, referring to Ataturk and his ministers, thus reasonably enraging the secularist part of the Turkish society. 

After being elected in democratic ways, the Prime Minister has ruled as the ultimate leader of the country and has neglected his opponents’ criticism and demands.. PM Erdogan has indicated that he took permission of whatever he does from the nation in the elections. This mentality, neglecting the half of the population, gradually frustrated and radicalized non-AKP supporters 

The final pretext that made people start the recent uprising was the decision to destroy the only central park of Istanbul, Gezipark. The government’s plan was to rebuild ‘Topcu Barrack” which was torn down by Ataturk’s government. It was a symbol of Ottoman’s Islamist regime. He also wanted to build a mall and a mosque there. He stated “I don’t need to ask permission from the opponent parties and some looters for this”. In that way, he referred to protestors (mostly coming from the Turkish middle class) as looters and vandals.

In the morning of the 29th of May, about a hundred protestors in the effort to protect Gezipark were faced with a brutal police attack. In the next days, police kept attacking, Erdogan kept his neglecting manner and mainstream media kept hiding the events. Because of these reasons the number of protestors increased from a hundred to millions in just a couple of days throughout Turkey.

Erdogan’s policy against the Gezipark Resistance may have been the most formidable one. Instead of trying to appease people, he tried to polarize the country, stating: “I can hardly hold my own 50% at their homes”. This sounded to opponents almost like a call for a civil war. The basic reason for this stance was to protect his electoral power. Turkey’s societal structure is not suitable for Erdogan to collect more/new votes given the unyieldingly secular background of the opponent part of the electorate. So, the Prime Minister tried to protect what he already has, by pointing out the protesters as traitors.

The PM largely succeeded in that. This resulted in an unpleasant atmosphere in Turkey where, for the first time in the republic’s history, polarization of the society is quite obvious; a polarization between the AKP supporters and the non-AKP ones. However, at the same time, the Gezipark events unintentionally created a new social unity.  This unity formed by non-AKP supporters consists of very different groups that one could never imagine together. For the first time in the history of the republic, “left-wingers”, “right-wingers”, Turkish nationalists, Kurdish nationalists, anti-capitalist Muslims stood together against this threat towards freedom.

Burak Kahraman is a musician & film maker and holds an MA in Composing for Film and TV Programme from Kingston University


  1. In the beginning, Erdogan was a promising leader, making reforms and strengthening the Turkish economy, showing the European side of Turkey. In the latest years though, he turned to be more interventionist, aiming to consolidate the power and the position of his party. As a result, people became disappointed from his policies and break out on the occasion of Gezipark. It is reasonable that people protest against the authoritarian practices used by the AKP, because people in Turkey are demanding the democratization of their country, and the islamization Erdogan is promoting now, is obviously a setback.
    As Mr. Kahraman mentioned, we can easily see how a protest against the creation of a mall in a central park, has united people from different political and ideological groups, and made them to work together and collaborate against the government. This reaction of the turkish people could also be an example to the western societies, which sometimes need to react to their governments decisions.

  2. The question is, can the protesters turn their disagreement into a movement with proposals?
    Because in my opinion, if they don't manage to do so, when the spontaneity of the movement is out of steam, its lack of organization will lead to dissolution.

  3. Elli Hliou8.8.13

    i always wonder, why the army always supports the state, nomatter whether it is wrong-bad-tyranic etc???? is their revenues that big and their brains that small???????

  4. Elli Hliou8.8.13

    I am curious whether the EU will treat Turqey with the sanctions that it should, as Democratic Union against a tyranic one, OR if EU will continue to take advantage of the turquish economy, which will assertify my belief that EU is mostly an economic Union rather than anything more profond and human..

  5. Regarding the former, in Turkey throughout the past decade there are increasing tensions between the army and the political elite (e.g. Ergenekon case). Regarding the latter, isn't it so that if the EU would interfere we would again complain about it as an undue intervention in a third country??