Have the Arab uprisings made their way to Turkey? It seems the Turkish people
took a page out of the Arab peoples’ playbook, with large numbers demonstrating
in the streets in order to bring about political change. The protesters seem to
be made up of more secular Turks affiliated with the opposition Republican
People’s Party (CHP), founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1924.
Minister Tayyip Erdogan of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is
acting according to character, defying the pressure and promising to plow ahead
with his plans to build at the Istanbul Park. He painted the protesters as
criminals: “They are burning, damaging the shops. Is this democracy?” he
However, Erdogan seemed to give in a little, saying that there
would not be a mall, but a mosque, to replace Taksim Square.
It is hard
to see how the prime minister would give in to the opposition or even quit if
the pressure keeps up.
Efrat Aviv, a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center
for Strategic Studies and a lecturer in the department of Middle East studies at
Bar-Ilan University, who closely follows the Turkish media, told The Jerusalem
that it is difficult to find out what is going on because Turkey does not
have a freedom of the press and its media are not broadcasting much about the
In addition, she said, one of her contacts inside the country
said that on Saturday, Facebook and Twitter were shut down for a few
Aviv sees the outburst as a result of a building tension that blew
up because of a number of factors that have been irritating a large segment of
the population, and not only secular Turks, but also some religious people and
The jailing of generals and political activists, the
limitations on alcohol and smoking, the failure to act in Syria, which has
created a major refugee problem in Turkey, police brutality, and upset over the
peace process with the Kurds were already on the minds of much of the public
when the police overreacted at the park, causing masses to turn out in protest,
after what might have been a non-event if not for the police
However, perhaps it was just a matter of time before an event
like this caused things to boil over.
“Erdogan is not Mubarak,” said
Aviv, adding that she does not see this like an Arab uprising. Perhaps the
protesters got some inspiration about the power of the people from the
uprisings, but Turkey is a democracy, not a perfect one, but definitely on a
completely different level than the Arab states, she said.
Burak Bekdil, a columnist for the Turkish daily Hurriyet
told the Post
that the reason there were less protesters on Sunday was "mostly due to a kind of 'victory feeling' on the part of the protesters, not because Erdogan stepped back."
"I expect protests to resume at every opportunity from now on. It may be a long, hot summer... But this is certainly not going to be a Turkish Spring, with Erdogan, by all indications, maintaining his popularity around 50 percent," said Bekdil.
He does not see the protest as a "game changer," because the economy is doing well and he sees Erdogan as someone who will try not to create too much of a crisis situation as he does not want to be compared to those such as Assad.
with Taner Aydin, the bureau chief in Israel of the Anadolu Agency, the official
government news agency in Turkey. He articulated and defended Erdogan’s
positions as though he were a Turkish diplomat, saying that the protest was
illegal to begin with, sparked over a non-issue – moving some
Aydin complained that the Western media was not fairly portraying
First, he said, Turkey is a democracy and like in any
democracy, if protesters or anarchists start to burn shops and create problems,
the police intervene. This is true in the US and Israel, he said, adding that
the only legitimate way to get rid of the government is to “win
When asked about reports that Turkey has arrested many
journalists and generals, he echoed the AKP government’s line that “anywhere in
the world, if the military is involved in a coup,” they are arrested. He added
that many of the journalists that have been arrested were really activists who
were supporting the planned coup.
Michael Rubin, a scholar at the
American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official who was just in
Turkey, told the Post
, “We can certainly call this the start of the ‘Turkish
“Just as in Egypt and Bahrain, the government managed to ignite sparks
of discontent into a full-scale uprising because of excessive use of force and
general arrogance,” he said.
He said the protests are a reaction by
Turkish liberals who have been upset with “Erdogan’s increasing desire to
steamroll over anyone who disagrees with his agenda, by any means
The Post asked Aydin about Rubin’s assessment, and he laughed
it off as “ridiculous.”
“The Turkish economy is doing great,” Aydin said,
arguing that there is no deep divide in his homeland, but a simple case of a
“small minority that wants to rule the country” but did not win an
And how can the government be against the press? It allows
criticism of the government every day, he said, mentioning the
opposition affiliated Hurriyet newspaper, which is “100 percent against
Aydin went on to play down the protests, noting that the
turnout on Sunday was down, saying that “in a few weeks, nobody may remember
But clearly, something seems to have changed, and the chances that
Turkey would be named to host the 2020 Summer Olympics seem to be much less
today than a few weeks ago when it was a favorite to be awarded the
Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow at the US think tank the
Heritage Foundation, who is also traveling in the region, concurred with Rubin
that the protests could not be easily brushed under the rug.
“This is a
serious blow for the Erdogan government. The appearance of social stability in
Turkey was shattered.
The main square in its main city was enveloped in
tear gas,” said Cohen.
Cohen believes that the polarization between the
secular and the Islamists will only grow, and “more violence is likely to
reignite in the future.”