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Why the Turkish protests matter to

the west
Secularism: what does it mean to the people of Turkey? Is it simply a question of whether we can buy
alcohol when we please, or whether the cabin crew of Turkish airlines are allowed to wear red lipstick?
It cannot simply be these eye-catching issues, beloved of the media, that havebrought people out on
to the streets in their tens of thousands. Let me draw a different picture of the current challenges to
secularism in Turkey, as protesters continue to express their frustration with a government that seems
to be defined by inflexible religiosity.
Education, for one thing, is in peril. Turkey's ruling Justice and Development (AK) party has given the
lion's share of the budget to mosques and religious schools, cutting schools that provide secular
education adrift. There are 67,000 schools and 85,000 mosques. Over the past few months, in Istanbul
alone, 98 primary schools have been converted into state-run religious Imam Hatip schools. A woman
complained to me in my capacity as an opposition MP that her daughter's school of 1,200 students
was turned into an Imam Hatip school with a capacity of only 320. Soon, only children of the well-to-do
will be able to receive a secular education. "What are we, the poor, supposed to do?" she asked me.
Freedom of speech is also threatened. It is well known that Turkey hasmore imprisoned
journalists than any other country, but as a result of the chilling effect of these prosecutions on the
press, many stories never make the news. The government is quick to clamp down on dissent.
The government has embarked on a process of reshaping Turkey. In our country today, politics and
many other aspects of social and economic life are increasingly differentiated on the basis of how
pious people are. It takes great courage to eat in public during the month of Ramadan fasting. Religion
classes in schools teach the protocols of worship instead of religious philosophy. Those, such as
the Alevis, who do not embrace the Sunni tradition, are considered adversaries by the government.
While the impeccable legal status that was previously accorded to women has not been challenged,
profound transformations in women's social status have taken place, and the prime minister, Recep
Tayyip Erdoan, urges them to stay at home and have more children.
Corruption is rampant. The government now employs public sector workers according to their religious
knowledge, rather than their scores in the civil service examinations. By securing privileged positions
for their adherents in education and the bureaucracy, the government has dealt a serious blow to the
already fragile democratic tradition in our country. We shook off the leaden hand of the military only to
find that pious politicians who claimed to be working for equality have placed an equally heavy burden
of autocracy and intolerance on us.
The same Turkey that today finds itself in this position was considered a beacon after its establishment
in 1923, an important laboratory where a modern and secular government was reconciled with a
Muslim society, however delicate that synthesis might have been. It was widely believed that Turkey's
transformation set a model for the rest of the Islamic world. The hope was that the reforms of the new
republic would be carried over to future generations.
I certainly do not support excluding faith from public life. But political Islam in our country does not
content itself with the role of moral guide. Rather it aspires to mould everyone to the same imagined
pious Sunni national character by wrapping society in restrictive rules, ostensibly for the public's own
welfare, and then policing citizens and punishing those who disagree.
What is worse is that our rising apprehension about the direction our government is taking finds no
audience among those in the west who would never tolerate such politics and restrictions in their own
countries. The discourse of the west and the attitudes of its leaders are important because they
influence public debate in Turkey. However, the west, understandably obsessed by its own security
concerns and strategies, looks the other way at the Turkish government's abuses. As a member of the

opposition, what I want is not for the west to intervene in our internal affairs, but for it to stop shielding
a government with such little regard for the values of freedom.
Who else will be able to reconcile Islam, secularism and democracy once Turkey fails? What are the
global consequences of this failure?
I urge those in the west who believe that Turkey and the globe benefit from a democracy whose fabric
is interwoven with religion to look again at what that fabric looks like today our society's rights
shredded in the name of yet another intolerant majority.
Bear in mind how valuable a secular Turkey is for the world. Do not forfeit the last secularists in the
Middle East to the purge that is taking place in the name of democracy, as if a lower level of rights is
somehow "good enough" for our region, when you would never accept such restrictions in yours just
as France used to stamp the university diplomas earned by its Arab colonial subjects "Bon pour
l'orient" (good enough for the Orient).

Recep Tayyip Erdoan dismisses

Turkey protesters as vandals
turkey's prime minister has climbed on top of a bus to give a fiery speech to thousands of his
supporters, challenging increasingly angry anti-government protesters to beat his party at the ballot
box after they flooded the streets for a 10th day of demonstrations.
On Sunday Recep Tayyip Erdoan visited two cities where unrest has occurred and again condemned
his detractors as a handful of looters and vandals.
In the southern city of Adana, where pro- and anti-government protesters clashed on Saturday night,
Erdoan greeted supporters before lashing out at his opponents in the polarised country.
"We won't do what a handful of looters have done. They burn and destroy They destroy the shops of
civilians. They destroy the cars of civilians," Erdoan told supporters who had greeted him at the local
airport. "They are low enough to insult the prime minister of this country."
He urged his supporters to avoid violence and predicted that his Islamic-rooted party would defeat his
opponents during local elections in March. "I want you to give them the first lesson through democratic
means in the ballot box," he said.
The nationwide anti-government protests were sparked by outrage over police use of force against an
environmental protest in Istanbul on 31 May, and have grown into a display of discontent toward
Erdoan's government.
Many accuse the prime minister of becoming increasingly authoritarian after 10 years in power and of
trying to impose his conservative, religious mores in the country, which is governed by secular laws.
Erdoan has rejected the accusations, insisting he respects all lifestyles and is the servant of his
He has repeatedly branded the protests as illegal efforts to discredit his government before local
elections next year. He frequently refers to the 50% majority he received in the 2011 elections to
dismiss the protest as attempts by a minority group to dominate a majority of his supporters.
"As long as you walk with us, the Justice and Development party administration will stand strong,"
Erdoan said. "As long as there is life in my body, your prime minister and your party chairman, God
willing, will not be deterred by anything."

Link to video: Istanbul protesters continue Gezi park occupation

He then travelled to the city of Mersin, where anti-protests have been held, to make a similar speech
and to open new sports facilities, where he defended his government's democratic credentials, and
criticised protesters for not taking to the streets to defend the rights of female students who were
barred from studying at Turkish universities because of bans enforced by previous governments on
Islamic-style headscarves. "What did you do for the freedom of those who couldn't go to universities?"
he said.
Erdoan was also scheduled to travel to the capital, where thousands of supporters were preparing to
greet him in a show of force. The prime minister's refusal to moderate his tone caused dismay in
Ankara, where thousands of protesters again gathered in a central square close to government offices,
a day after police used tear gas and water cannons to oust them from the area.
"As the prime minister continues (with) his harsh style, the resistance also continues and is getting
bigger," said ada Ersoy a 23-year-old student who joined the protests in Kizilay square. "He is
making the resistance bigger without realizing it."
on protesters in Kizilay square. Photograph: Zuma /Rex

Another protester, Cihan Akburun, said: "Erdoan should not provoke the people. We invite everyone
to common sense."
Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Taksim Square, Istanbul, where a violent police
crackdown on a sit-in to prevent the demolition of its Gezi park triggered the unrest. The government
has vowed to proceed with plans to redevelop Taksim, replacing the park with a replica Ottoman
barracks. It has since reconsidered plans to build a shopping mall.
In Adana on Saturday night, a pro-government group hurled stones at marching anti-government
demonstrators, the state-run Anadolu agency said. Police evacuated women and children, but the
protesters continued to clash with stones and batons.
It was the second time in the past 10 days of protests that pro- and anti-government protesters had
fought with one another. On Thursday, party supporters attacked about 30 protesters in the city of
Rize, on the Black Sea coast.
Three people have been killed in the protests, including a police officer in Adana who fell into an
underpass that was under construction while chasing demonstrators. Thousands have been injured.
Erdoan said the demonstrators had martyred the police officer, and defended the law-enforcement
officers, dismissing calls by some protesters that officers engaged in abuse be sacked. "We won't
sacrifice our police to their wishes," he said. "We cannot leave the streets for anarchists and terrorists
to roam." The government had previously apologised for the excessive force used to roust the
environmental protesters.
Erdoan blamed the protests on forces that were trying to prevent Turkey's rise. "There are those who
cannot stomach Turkey becoming greater and stronger," Erdoan said. "They don't want any
investments in Turkey."

Turkeys protests just a slice of a polarized

By Michael Birnbaum,June 07, 2013

Supporters of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wave their national (Uriel Sinai/GETTY IMAGES )

ISTANBUL At a bustling coffee shop in a religiously conservative neighborhood of

Istanbul, Ali Ermis looked at the anti-government protests sweeping Turkey and
wondered why people were complaining.
The economy is improving, he said. His wife, who wears a head scarf, is freer to take
part in public life than before Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan came to power 10
years ago. And no one likes public drunkenness, he said of efforts to restrict alcohol
In refusing to back down to protesters who have turned out across Turkey in the tens
of thousands for the past eight days, Erdogan has boasted that he has the power of
half the countrys voters behind him, far more than any rival.
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For now, the mostly young, mostly middle-class, mostly secular protesters appear to
represent just a small portion of the tapestry of Turkeys diverse society, and they
have as many interests as there is space for banners in the trees of the park where
they have encamped in this city.
Still, some who supported Erdogan as a stabilizing figure may abandon him if he
becomes a divisive one, analysts say, and the Turkish leader may be forced to soften
his hard-edged governing style.
Many of the protesters say they had never before taken part in Turkish political life.
Some are so young that they barely remember a time before Erdogan was in office.
Few expect to push him out of power, and streets remain quiet in conservative areas,
even those close to Taksim Square, the heart of the protests.
With weak opposition leaders and a democratically elected majority for Erdogans
Justice and Development Party, there is little clear political alternative in this nation
of 74 million. In the conservative Istanbul quarter of Kasimpasa, Erdogans political
home base, there is little desire for one.
Ten years ago we couldnt find water to wash ourselves, said Ermis, 55, a driver, as
he watched friends play a clacking tile game called Okey. Protesters dont want this
country to develop, they want to bring it backward.
Still, Ermis said, he disliked the tear gas and water cannons that police had used on
peaceful protesters. There is a failure of the state on that issue, he said. Erdogan
is very stressed. He is not such a person.
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Erdogans party captured 50 percent of the vote in a 2011 general election, a
commanding victory that topped his two previous elections. The results left him with
few rivals, further cementing his power after he successfully removed the military
from political life. The army staged four coups in the second half of the 20th century
at times when its leaders believed the stability of the secular Turkish republic
established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 was threatened. Many who disagreed
with Erdogan on social issues supported his efforts to banish the military to its
Economic issues have also drawn support from businesspeople and investors. New
skyscrapers stud Istanbul. Public transportation has greatly improved. Unemployment

stands at 8.3 percent the envy of many European countries and the economy
grew by 8.5 percent last year, compared with 2.2 percent in the United States.
Changes enabled protests
To some extent, Erdogan created the open conditions in which a protest movement
could flourish, analysts say. Many say that if similar protests had arisen when the
military was more powerful, it would have intervened. Still, critics say, his leadership
style has not evolved, even as he reshaped the country.
You cant rule this country the way you used to rule. You may have the mandate, but
you may not rule as you wish, said Cengiz Candar, a columnist at the daily Radikal
newspaper. Still, Candar said, in a polarized country, he still has the support of one
For the time being, that pole is holding firm, with conservative Muslims particularly
grateful to Erdogan for loosening restrictions on practicing their faith in public
places. Those restrictions were a tenet of Ataturks secular state but chafed at those
who wanted religious freedom.
They are trying to disturb Turkey with this, Veysel Muslihan, 45, said at the
cellphone shop he opened six months ago in the conservative neighborhood of
Carsamba. People only vote for you if there is something you can offer them. Theres
no opposition to Tayyip Erdogan right now.
Muslihan said that his wife wears a head scarf but that neither of his two daughters
does. All four of his children, he said, will benefit from Turkeys booming economy as
they grow up.

Turkeys Erdogan holds firm against protests

By Michael Birnbaum,June 06, 2013

Waving Turkish flags, demonstrators shout slogans against Prime Minister (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty)

ISTANBUL Striking a defiant tone after a week of demonstrations that have roiled
Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday that he would not
abandon plans to raze a park in central Istanbul despite protesters objections.
At a news conference in Tunisia the birthplace of the Arab Spring revolutions the
Turkish leader blamed terrorists for spreadingthe protests that have swept to dozens
of cities, although he acknowledged that some of the tens of thousands who have
turned out were motivated by environmental concerns.
The hotly anticipated remarks Erdogans first about his domestic troubles since he
left Monday on a goodwill tour of North Africa did little to satisfy the thousands of
people who have taken over Istanbuls central Taksim Square, many of whom appear
to be digging in for an extended fight.
A state cannot be managed with a mentality of bargaining, Erdogan said, saying he
would give no ground in his plans to raze Gezi Park, the last large green space in
central Istanbul, in favor of a replica of an Ottoman-era military barracks that once
stood on the site. Demonstrations at the site mushroomed after police used tear gas
and water cannons against a peaceful and initially small group of protesters last
We said we are sorry for the tear gas used, but there is no country in the world that
does not use tear gas, Erdogan said.

He said that Turkey had evidence that the same left-wing Marxist group it blamed for
a February attack on the U.S. Embassy in Ankara was involved in the protests this
They have been caught on the streets and in social media, he said. What we are
doing now is just protecting the rights of the majority.
As Erdogan spoke at the joint conference with his Tunisian counterpart, Turkeys main
stock exchange dropped as much as 8 percent, a sign of the degree to which
investors have been rattled by the recent unrest. Even many protesters credit
Erdogan with rejuvenating Turkeys economy, but analysts said that the longer the
protests drag on, the larger their financial impact. Many streets around Istanbuls
center are shut to traffic by barricades built by protesters.
Protesters who took to the streets last Friday were initially motivated by
environmental concerns related to the parks demolition. But they quickly shifted to
broader complaints about what many say is a steady erosion of secular freedoms.
Erdogan announced plans last month to push for new restrictions on alcohol
consumption, a symbol, some here say, of his desire to impose an Islamic vision of
the country on what had long been a strictly secular state. Others complain about his
advice to newlyweds to have at least three children again seen as an inappropriate
religious-tinged push into the private lives of Turkish citizens.
Many protesters in the sycamore-filled park, which has been filled with tents and
venders selling kebabs and grilled fish, said that they felt that Erdogans policies
failed to take into account the half of the country that did not vote for his socially
conservative Justice and Development Party.
Erdogan is the legitimate representative of half of Turkey, said Nuray Mert, a
columnist at Istanbuls Hurriyet Daily. He doesnt get it.
Though most of the protesters in Istanbul appeared to come from Turkeys largely
secular, educated middle class, one former Erdogan supporter said Thursday that he
had been alienated by the violent reaction to the protests.
Before these protests, I loved Erdogan. I voted for him three times, said Murat
Avcioglu, 28, an arcade owner in the working-class Kasimpasa neighborhood of
Istanbul where Erdogan grew up and that is still a bastion of his support.
He developed this country, Avcioglu said, pointing to an economy that is the envy
of many of its European counterparts. But at some point, he started to say, Ill do
whatever I want.
I dont understand why the police are behaving in this way, Avcioglu said.
Also Thursday, Interior Minister Muammer Guler said that police had detained 117
people connected to the protests, seven of them foreign citizens, including one
American. Most of them had been released. Turkish officials said that a police officer
was killed Thursday after falling from an overpass while trying to restrain protesters.
Two protesters had already been reported killed.

Turkish protests grow as Erdogan calls counterdemonstrations

By Alex Lantier
10 June 2013
Protests against the Islamist government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip
Erdogan grew over the weekend, as Erdogan called counter-demonstrations by
his supporters next weekend and warned that his ability to tolerate the protests
has a limit.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters filled Taksim Square in Istanbul, a
week after police withdrew from the square after a failed attempt to crush
protests against Erdogans plans to remodel the historic area in downtown
Istanbul. Fans of the Besiktas and Fenerbahce football clubs had called on their
supporters to join the demonstration, one of the largest so far on Taksim Square.
Protesters chanted, Erdogan, resign!

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Police and protesters clashed in the western Istanbul neighborhood of Gazi,
however, with police firing water cannon after protesters reportedly taunted
In the capital, Ankara, police attacked a group of approximately 5,000 protesters
Saturday night around 10:30 p.m. in Kizilay Square with barrages of tear gas and
water cannon. There were reports of at least two injuries yesterday, after clashes
continued in Ankara through the night and into early Sunday morning.
Turkeys national doctors union said the protests had left two protesters and one
policeman dead, and almost 4,800 people injured across the country. This figure
includes approximately 600 injured police officers.
Protesters held another major rally on Taksim Square yesterday afternoon, as
protests continued in cities throughout the country. They chanted, Erdogan,
resign! and organized songs and dances in various locations on the square.
The Taksim Square rally was called by the Taksim Solidarity Platforma group of
academics, architects, environmentalists, and members of the opposition CHP
(Republican Peoples Party), who have tried to lay out conditions for a deal with
Erdogan to wind down the protests.

The maneuvers of the Taksim Solidarity Platformand those of the union

bureaucracies, pseudo-left groups, and nationalist parties like the CHPpoint to
critical issues of political perspective confronting the protest movement.
The protests have become the focal point of broader hostility to Erdogans
policies, including attacks on democratic rights, rising social inequality, and
support for the reactionary US-led war in Syria. Numerous commentators have
compared the Taksim Square protests in Turkey to the 2011 Tahrir Square
protests in Cairo, which launched revolutionary struggles against Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak.
Stark differences exist between the two struggles, however. Above all, in
February 2011, the working class in Egypt intervened, launching a series of
powerful mass strikes that brought down Mubarak. These were directed against
Egypts state-controlled unions and escaped the control of its opposition parties.
The only way forward for opposition to austerity, war, and democratic rights in
Turkey is a fight to similarly mobilize the working class in struggle against the
Erdogan regime, independently of and against the unions and the bourgeois
opposition. To the extent that the Turkish protests have not advanced such a
perspective, they have remained under the political influence of reactionary
forces in the union bureaucracy and the CHP. They are seeking a deal with
Erdogan to avert a revolution and increase their weight in Erdogans maneuvers
with imperialism.
Erdogan is seeking to exploit this situation to rally supporters of his Islamist
Justice and Development Party (AKP) for a crackdown against the protests.
Yesterday the AKP called pro-government counter-demonstrations in Ankara and
Istanbul for next Saturday and next Sunday, respectively, as Erdogan went on a
three-city tour to Mersin, Adana, and Ankara.
In Adana, where a policemen allegedly fell to his death from a bridge while
chasing protesters, Erdogan denounced protesters for having martyred the
He also attacked calls for police involved in brutal repression of the protests to
resign, slandering protesters as terrorists: We wont sacrifice our police to their
wishes. We cannot leave the streets for anarchists and terrorists to roam.
Pro- and anti-Erdogan protesters had clashed the night before, the second such
clash after Erdogan supporters attacked a group of protesters in Erdogans home
city of Rize on Thursday.

Speaking in Ankara as police attacked protesters, Erdogan said: We remained

patient, we are still patient, but theres a limit to our patience. Those who do not
respect this nations party in power will pay a price.
Erdogan also made empty attacks on major banks or governments in North
America and Europe, in response to fears that they might place pressure on him
to compromise with the protesters, for instance by holding up lending and
threatening to increase interest rates on Turkish debt.
He said, The interest lobby should better behave itself. This lobby exploited my
people for years. We have shown patience for a long time. I am not saying this
only for one bank or two, but for all whoever is making this lobby. Those who
have started this fight against us, you will pay the price heavily. Those who tried
to let the stock exchange collapse: Tayyip Erdogan has no money there; if it
collapses you will also collapse with it. The moment we discover stock exchange
speculation, we will ram it down your throat.
This is, however, bluster from a government whose foreign policy is closely
aligned on Washingtons Middle East wars, above all in Syria, and which
depends on international banks to fund Turkeys current account deficit.
At the same time as Erdogan made these remarks, other Turkish officials
cynically sought to dampen down conflicts with the protesters, in line with
demands in the Western press.
Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu, under whose orders the police brutally
attacked protesters last week, issued absurd messages on Twitter to protesters
on Taksim Square and nearby Gezi Park: Young people, I hear you spent a
peaceful morning in Gezi Park with bird songs, the buzzing of bees, and the
smell of linden trees. I would like to be with you. Even if we cannot agree with
one another, it is obligatory for us to share our problems by looking into our eyes
humanely and with justice; every individual is worthy and special.
Turkish officials also criticized the New York Times decision to run a full-page ad
from the Gezi Democracy Movement criticizing Erdogan in its Friday edition. In a
letter responding to questions about the ad from the Turkish dailyHurriyet,
the Times wrote: We publish this type of advertising because we believe in the
First Amendment, which affords us the right to publish news and editorials, but
just as important, guarantees the publics right to be heard.
The Times invocation of constitutional rights and freedomsas it supports the
Obama administration, which is escalating domestic spying and building up the
apparatus of a police stateis empty and cynical. There can be no question that
the Times posted this ad in line with the calculations of sections of the US foreign

policy establishment, who hope to use pro-imperialist elements within the protest
movement for their own purposes.
As Turkeys EU Minister Egemen Bagis, a former lobbyist in the United States,
sarcastically noted: When I read the New York Times answer with a mention of
the First Amendment, I had tears in my eyes, I was really touched.
Bagis noted that when the Times was approached with plans to carry an ad
denying the Armenian genocide in Turkey, it declined to do so.
turkish TV stars Halit Ergenc and Berguzar Korel joined
Taksim Square protests
June 6, 2013
| BG Daily News
Halit Ergenc and Berguzar Korel

Hundreds of artists, musicians, star actors, athletes and businessmen have joined the mass protest rallies in
neighboring Turkey.
Familiar faces of Turkish television, including the cast and crew of the hit show The Magnificent Century
were spotted in Taksim Square in support of protesters, with mega star Halit Ergenc calling on officials to
end the violence, the Bulgarian 24 Chassa (24 Hours) daily reported, citing Turkish media.
Ergenc, who plays Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, led the entire cast of the internationally-famous TV
series, with other actors including Mehmet Gunsur, Ozan Guven, Serkan Altunorak, and Deniz Cakr, leaving
the set to join the protesters Wednesday.
Cakir is further known to Bulgarian viewers from her leading role in another hit TV series "The Fall of the
"The only way to solve this issue is to quit the attitude of 'I did so, so it is done,' and instead listen to what
these people want, and to form a democratic platform through which these wishes can be heard. Please end
this violence, and start to listen, and to understand," Ergenc has written on his Facebook page.
He arrived to the rally in the company of his wife, Berguzar Korel, who is also a mega star, known in Bulgaria
from the TV series "Scheherazade," where she partnered with Ergenc. The two met and fell in love on the
They were greeted by the demonstrators with thundering applause and shouts: "Sultan Suleiman is hours;
Erdogan go away!"
The famous Turkish prime time historical soap opera TV series "The Magnificent Century" is dedicated to
the rule of the longest-reigning Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, also known

as the Lawmaker and his love for Ukrainian (Slavic) concubine Hurrem (Roxelana, Roxolana), who
conquered his heart and soul and even became his wife and queen, something unprecedented in Ottoman
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has strongly criticized the series and even threatened to ban it
as he sees it as misrepresenting the image and the deeds of the Sultan.
Turkish singer Tarkan is among the many to postpone several tour dates in accordance with the ongoing
protests and voiced support for the demonstrators. Three of the most popular Turkish TV hosts have
suspended temporarily their shows in sign of protest against the information blackout.
Other reports of tremendous show of support keep coming from Turkey such as hospitals treating the injured
for free; hotels and hotel chains offering free shelter to them; people helping each other in any possible way;
restaurants providing free food, and pharmacies offering free masks to protect people from the teargas used
by police to disperse the rallies.