A human tragedy has been averted when Premier Erdogan climbed off his high horse promising Gezi Parki demonstrators that their beloved park will not be razed before a final court ruling on the desirability of the reconstruction and afterwards a plebiscite. A costly clash between his police and peaceful protestors has been sidestepped, but greater punishment awaits those who dared to challenge his paternalistic and Islamist view of Turkey. Erdogan only repented because the USA and EU put massive pressure on him. Gezi Park is the birth of a liberal society organized from bottom to top, but it will not withstand the upcoming behind-the-scenes onslaught on its “perpetrators”. The West must now stand with the protestors and most importantly rethink Turkey.
Yes, a horrific punishment is in store for all those who dared to step out to the streets to defy Erdogan. The Spectator writes:
“Three hours later, protesters formed a human chain around the park to prevent the police from recapturing it, but the cops shot rubber bullets, beat up journalists, and detained not only countless protesters, but their lawyers — 79 lawyers, according to the Istanbul Bar Association. The government is now dropping hints about an ‘operation’ against ‘provocateurs’ on Twitter — not an idle threat, for many have already been detained for writing ‘misinformation’, which apparently encompasses, among other things, tweeting the phone numbers of physicians on duty. A Turkish journalist reports that prosecutors have obtained warrants to seize any mobile phone they require. I have not yet been able to confirm this, but it wouldn’t in the least surprise me.”
Indeed, the Minister of Health did start an investigation against medical professionals who helped the protestors. According to liberal daily Taraf, the national intelligence agency MIT, has kept files on businesspersons with CHP and MHP sympathies to deny them any government contracts. I will not be surprised if video recordings are used to identify demonstrators and to harass them in the schools, jobs or social life.
Erdogan, a lifelong oppressor knows very well that the best way to deal with opposition is to separate the group, isolate the leaders and make them pay when the media is not looking.
The West needs to help the flowering liberal society in Turkey, lest in withers in its vine by brutal methods. The best way to start doing so is to rethink everything you think you know about Turkey.
Firstly, do abandon the thought that Erdogan and AKP are forces for the good, gone errand temporarily.
Kadri Gursel writes in Al-Monitor:
“The dilemma Turkey now faces is this: Turkey will either continue on its way as a “secular democracy” and cope with needed political changes, or the Turkish regimes will undergo an authoritarian transformation.
In both cases, there is no way to defend the “Muslim democracy” nonsense. If Turkey is to be a democracy, after the popular opposition voices it views in the street, it will have to be a modern and secular democracy”.
Secondly, Erdogan will not and cannot solve the Kurdish problem. The reason is very simple; a man who so ruthlessly suppresses a couple of thousand innocent protestors is very unlikely to grant 15% of the population the rights they deserve, which would amount to him losing control over the society. He is even less likely to end the plight of Alevites, or women in Turkey. Erdogan is a dead end.
Instead, try to re-engage with CHP. Yes, I know CHP is not perfect. Its Syrian policy is severely misguided. But, remember Kemal Kilicdaroglu is not pro-Assad; he is anti-imperialist and pro-peace in a naive and romantic way. Do read CHP’s proposed solutions to the Kurdish problem. You will find they are light years ahead of AKP. Most importantly, CHP puts its money where its mouth is. It has already proposed in the parliament legislation to abolish the 10% barrier for a party to qualify for the parliament. CHP submitted amendments to the Anti-Terror Law and the Political Parties Laws, which Kurdish actors so justly complain about. All of these proposals have been defeated without debate by a simple show-hands by AKP.
Rethink Ataturk and Kemalists. The label of Ataturk has been slapped on everything that has been wrong with “old” Turkey: The slavish devotion to status quo, the cult of secularism, the false “one race, one nation” ideal. You name it. But Ataturk is a very complex creature. All his life he fought imperialism. He liberated women. He had an endless love for the ideals of the Western society. He was a revolutionary. Thanks to AKP, he is the hero of the Gezi Parki protestors. 55% identified him as their role model.
Rethink your information channels: The mainstream media demonstrated its uselessness in the coverage of Gezi Parki. Establish links to alternative outlets who still try to reflect a realistic view of Turkey. Provide financial aid, know-how; make sure they are not shut down by RTUK (Turkish Media Watchdog) or BIT action. Already, RTUK slapped Halk TV one those few cable channels that broadcast Gezi 7/27 with TL127K fine, which is a death sentence for the poorly financed company. Remember that AKP has created a “yellow” media and countless pseudo-NGOs to add noise to the information channel. These broadcasters have no legitimate commercial objective, and the NGOs do not have a popular backing. All they do is to scream louder than the genuine ones to drown their voices.
Finally, do not turn your back on Turkey. The best way to tame Erdogan and help the liberal society to flourish is to open talks on more chapters of the acquis, to sign more free-trade deals, and encourage the establishment of institution-to-institution contact between West and Turkey. But make rewards conditional on fulfillment of human rights criteria. After all, despite AKP, Turkey is a unique and viable model for all those Muslim nations wrestling with the task of balancing Islam, democracy, development and capitalism.