Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Violently suppressed Taksim Square protests ; Turkey’s Tunisian Moment, Possibly!

Violently suppressed Taksim Square protests ; Turkey's Tunisian Moment, Possibly!
I am quite familiar with Taksim Square in Istanbul, a bit like Maidan Tahrir, Cairo, the continuing venue of protests in Egypt against Hosni Mubarak and now against the Muslim Brotherhood .The protests in Turkey's dozens of main cities and in sympathy in Europe and USA are the edge of the wedge against PM Recep Erdogan Islamising and polarizing policies in a secular republic in place since 1923.
The ruling AKP won on the basis of billions of US dollars provided in investments and gifts by Saudi Arabia etc as a front against rising power and influence of Shia Iran , Shia led Govt in Baghdad and Alawite ruled Sunni Syria and the battle tested Hezbollah in Lebanon .
Erdogan's AKP won almost 2/3 seats in the Parliament ( of 550) with about 50% of votes in June 2011 elections when he had expected to do better .If you are really interested in the back ground read my article hosted by over 40 websites .
Some notable extracts are
"In Turkey no PM can keep his reign for more than a decade "Adnan Menderes (prime minister from 1950 to 1960), who was hanged in 1961 by the junta after the first coup d'état.
Erdogan was tried for utterances "Minarets are our bayonets, domes are our helmets, mosques are our barracks, believers are our soldiers," convicted and jailed for 4 months. He had also said "Thank God, I am for Shariah," "For us, democracy is a means to an end." (Shades of Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria) and, "One cannot be a secularist and a Muslim at the same time." So his drive and passion makes people uneasy and scared .
Media in Turkey is highly suppressed .

I did not have a chance to meet with Erdogan, then a very successful mayor of Istanbul, who made his name for honesty .Of course unlike almost all non-Islamist parties, which had become mired in corruption, Erdogan did not need bribes. As early as August 2001, Rahmi Koç, chairman of Koç Holding, Turkey's largest and oldest conglomerate commented on CNN Türk that Erdoğan has a US$1 billion fortune and asked the source of his wealth. Erdogan has remained silent. 

According to WikiLeaks, Eric Edelman, the then U.S. ambassador to Turkey, wrote in a cable to Washington on Dec. 30, 2004. 

"We have heard from two contacts that Erdoğan has eight accounts in Swiss banks; his explanations that his wealth comes from the wedding presents guests gave his son and that a Turkish businessman is paying the educational expenses of all four Erdoğan children in the U.S. purely altruistically are lame."
Erdogan's hot headedness in trying to enforce Islamist policies in private and public domain have infuriated the secular and even modest Muslims .His love for applause as in Egypt ( later rebuffed ) and Libya has led to a disastrous policy on Syria , where Qatar is providing arms to Muslim brotherhood as in Egypt and the destructive obscurantist Saud Dynasts to extremely blood thirsty groups as in Libya .
Erdogan and his FM Davutoglu 's policies could lead to the break up of Turkey and emergence a Kurdish state in near future . By his ill advised policies Edogan has humiliated the proud Turkish armed Forces by jailing over hundred senior retired and active military Generals . Who will fight if Syrian fires comes into Turkey .
Or if the current volcano of protests bursts beyond the control of muscular police forces whose brutality has been noted and condemned all over the world .
Read my two articles on Kurds and Alevis of Turkey .
I am very familiar with Taksim Square , like Delhi's  Ram Leela Grounds and India gate .
I invariably stayed at Marmara hotel at Taksim Square (1992-98 and in 1969-73 at another one nearby) and could look down at the activities below and from the opposite window Marmara Sea and Bosphorus with the Golden Horn .I preferred this hotel since I could walk down to the adjoining old and colourful Istiqlal caddesi (Road) full of eating places, other shops and general public strolling around shopping or eating. I will later relate how an Indian Admiral I took out for a walk there got his pocket picked .I never saw a faster Admiral on land but alas he could not catch the pickpocket.
Some articles and notes below on the subject.
Take care .K Gajendra Singh 3 June 2013.

K Gajendra Singh served as ambassador of India to Turkey and Azerbaijan from August 1992 to April 1996. Prior to that, he was ambassador to Jordan, Romania and Senegal. Apart from postings in Dakar, Paris, Bucharest , the author spent his diplomatic career in North Africa , Middle east and Turkic countries ( ten years in Turkey in two tenures ).He spent 1976 with National Defence college , New Delhi , established the Foreign Service Institute for training of diplomats ( 1987-89), was chairman / managing director of IDPL , India's largest Drugs and Pharmaceuticals company ( 1985  and 1986 ) and while posted at Amman( 1989-92) evacuated nearly 140,000 Indian nationals who had come from Kuwait. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies  

PS; I was called for discussions on this subject by Hindi NDTV today at 2030 hrs . 

Protesters prepare for the long haul in Istanbul

ATUL ANEJA 3 June 2013
The protests in Turkey showed no signs of abating on the fourth consecutive day on Monday as protesters in Istanbul and other major cities fought pitched battles with the police who, taking their cue from a combative government, have shown no interest in a dialogue.
Protesters torched offices of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the early hours on Monday.
Unfazed by clashes with the police, who have been criticised by human rights groups and ordinary citizens for using excessive force, protesters are preparing for the long haul. At an avenue close to the Bosporus — an international trade artery that divides the Asian and European parts of Istanbul — protesters pulled out slabs of concrete from pavements and street signs to set up barricades.
The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News has reported that young die-hard football fans — experienced in facing tear gas barrages from the police during post-match violence — seem to have steeled the protests, which began four days ago after security forces broke up a gathering at Istanbul's iconic Taksim Square with baton charges and tear gas.
The gathering was to oppose a plan to the convert the Gezi Park in the area into a shopping mall. Analysts say pro-democracy activists saw it as an attempt to eliminate green spaces where peaceful protests can be staged. The perception that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was enforcing an Islamist agenda also seems to have reignited deep-seated anger among many in a country well-known for its deep Islamist-secularist divide. The secularists' fears of political Islam's deepening hold were reinforced by the government's recent move to curb alcohol sales. The tussle between the two contesting ideologies was put in the spotlight when the Prime Minister proposed the construction of a mosque in place of a cultural centre dedicated to modern Turkey's founding father Kamal Ataturk, an icon of secularism, reports the Hurriyet Daily News.
Refusing to see any merit in the protests, Mr. Erdogan attributed the upsurge of violence to the machinations of "extremist groups".
Consecutive victories
Leaving for Morocco on Monday, Mr. Erdogan said in no way were the protests a manifestation of popular opinion, citing the victory of the AKP in three consecutive elections.
The Prime Minister also launched a tirade against social media, which swiftly internationalised the protests linking them to the Arab Spring revolts in West Asia. Mr. Erdogan flayed the micro-blogging site Twitter for spreading "unmitigated lies". "There is a trouble called Twitter," said Mr. Erdogan as quoted by the Turkish daily Radikal. "The thing that is called social media is a troublemaker in societies today."
Amnesty International, the human-rights group, sharpened the international focus on the unfolding protests. "The use of tear gas against peaceful protesters and in confined spaces where it may constitute a serious danger to health is unacceptable, breaches international human rights standards and must be stopped immediately," said Amnesty in a statement.
The nation-wide reach of the protests was brought into focus when around 1,000 people seeking the Prime Minister's resignation braved teargas in Ankara on Monday. According to a count by Turkish Doctors Association, around 1,000 people have been injured during clashes in Istanbul and another 700 in Ankara.
Tension has also gripped the western province of Izmir and the province of Adana in the south.
Turkish Spring?
A violent police raid on a sit-in protesting plans to build a mall at Taksim Square in Istanbul on May 31, 2013, became a rallying point for anger over the policies of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

Cengiz Candar, who has covered historic events such as the fall of the Berlin Wall, wrote that the protests most remind him of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in 1989.
Reporting from the streets of Istanbul, Candar commented: "What Tiananmen means for Beijing and Tahrir means for Cairo, Taksim means for Istanbul. That's why, although there have been no losses of lives so far, the incidents that erupted with brutal pepper gas attacks by police on a group of people who opposed the cutting of trees at Gezi Park, the incidents quickly lost relevance with the original grievance and shook the Erdogan government to the core like a massive earthquake."
( Full piece below)

Yavuz Baydar, also reporting from Istanbul, observed that the protests are directed at the perceived intrusive and polarizing policies of Prime Minister Erdogan, adding that those "who filled the streets were predominantly the young — with a mixture of seculars, socialists, Marxists, Kemalists, anarchists, nationalists, Alevis and Kurds — who manifested high emotions and resolve against what they saw as an insufferably authoritarian way of managing affairs." 
Erdogan, writes Tulin Daloglu from Ankara, "does not seem to be getting the message. While this protest may now turn ideological, it all started as a small gathering of about 500 people on Monday [May 27]. The reason it got out of control with massive protests in 10 other cities around the country — Adana, Konya, Tunceli, Mersin, Mugla, Marmaris, Izmit, Adana, Izmir, Van and Sivas — is that Erdogan has shown no culture of consensus-building with those who disagree with him."
Amberin Zaman wrote from Taksim Square: "Be it through restrictions on alcohol or disregard for the environment, people who do not share Erdogan's worldview are being made to feel like second-class citizens. The sentiment is especially strong among the country's large Muslim Alevi minority whose long-running demands for recognition continue to be spurned much as they were by past governments."
Mustafa Akyol,  leading a lively Twitter exchange on @AlMonitor on May 31 as events were exploding at Taksim, wrote: "For those who think in a simple democracy vs. dictatorship dichotomy, Turkey is a surprise: A democracy with many illiberal traits."
Zaman concludes on a similar note:  "Turkey is not on the brink of a revolution. A Turkish Spring is not afoot. Erdogan is no dictator. He is a democratically elected leader who has been acting in an increasingly undemocratic way."
Candar mostly agrees, but responds, "We can't anymore be sure of validity of any observations from now on. After Istanbul 31 May-1 June 2013 many things — including even the fate of Erdogan — will be unpredictable."
Regular readers of Turkey Pulse  are familiar with the diversity and depth of debate over Erdogan's perceived Islamic nanny-state policies and statements, government curbs on press freedoms and worries by some democracy advocates about the pending constitutional referendum.
And there is of course Syria, where Turkey's failed policies to bring down Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are unpopular and another source of friction.
In sum, whether we are witnessing a Turkish Spring or not, Erdogan is under pressure for his Islamism and perceived authoritarianism at home, and his sectarianism abroad.  His policies and rhetoric are promoting division rather than unity; this is especially dangerous given the troubles both on and within his borders.
Turkey's Velvet Revolution
ISTANBUL — I have been living in Istanbul for 40 years. I have never seen days like the last two in my city. I never thought I would be living through times like these.

I am writing these lines as a veteran of revolutionary situations and extraordinary days. Which one should I recall?  I am someone who was in East Berlin in November 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down and stayed on for days to live those momentous days; after Berlin, I was in beautiful Prague to experience the Velvet Revolution; in 1987 and 1988, I witnessed the Palestinian intifada in Jerusalem, and in other towns of the West Bank and Gaza; I was there during those memorable days of August 1991 when Boris Yeltsin stood up on a tank but the military coup collapsed, Gorbachev returned to the capital and the Soviet Union disintegrated. And, finally, in I was in Beirut during the week of March 2005 when the Syrians evacuated Lebanon.
I can easily double the list of events I've observed. If I add the events of May 31 and June 1 in Istanbul to my list, which category should I put it in?
It reminded me most Prague's Velvet Revolution. For those who have some idea of Istanbul, let me tell you my meanderings: I approached the Taksim Square, the epicenter of Istanbul, from different directions. I approached the Taksim Gezi Park, the focal point of the protests, first via Istanbul Technical University's historical Taskisla School of Architecture. Then I went down toward the sea and came up to Taksim via Gumussuyu. I went to the Dolmabahce sea shore, walked to now a booming avant-garde art scene of Tophane and climbed up the famed Italian Hill and reached Cihangir. That was the neighborhood among the key centers of popular resistance. This is where Turkey's famous movie and soap opera stars, writers and bohemians live. I went down back to the seaside and climbed up to Galatasaray, Turkey's historical Francophone lycee, and from there to the heart of old Istanbul, the Istiklal Caddesi [avenue], the renown Rue de Pera of Ottoman centuries, now in the hands of the protesters.
In this area groups of three, five or 20, men and women, were walking in all directions, sometimes quietly sometimes chanting slogans; some were heading to Taksim and some coming from there.
The most noticeable feature of these people: their youth. Generally they were men and women in their late 20s or early 30s. Their common accessory of their age group as everywhere else in the world was their backpacks; dressed in shorts, T-shirts and sneakers on their feet.
Another amazing sight were fans of Turkey's top three most powerful and popular sports clubs — Fenerbahce, Galatasaray and Besiktas — who for a long time have not been allowed to watch football together because of stadium violence; this time they walked together, arm in arm, all wearing their team colors.
On the Asian side of Istanbul, they were not just watching what was happening on the other side. On the morning of June 1, thousands of them marched 20 km of Bagdad caddesi, considered to be the Champs Elysees of the Asian side, crossed the 1,700-meter suspension bridge that links the two continents and two parts of the city and began climbing towards Taksim. The ferryboats between two parts of the city were filled with people trying to get to Taksim.
All the roads leading to the Gezi Park at Taksim Square, where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ambition is to build a shopping mall, were under the police control. Erdogan's obstinacy surely gave the impression that he wasn't all that concerned with environmental issues.
Protesters, led particularly by artists, seem intent on not allowing the government to decide Gezi Park's fate a matter of honor. Future owners of the city, the youth of Istanbul were flowing to Taksim.
The sights of Istanbul resembled those of the Velvet Revolution when I lived at Prague — and of Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Because of suffocating smells of  pepper gas clouds over Taksim, I couldn't help to recall the 1989 June Fourth Incidents. I am wondering if the Taksim events will similarly be recorded in history.
Then I remembered Cairo's Tahrir Square of January 2011. What Tiananmen means for Beijing and Tahrir means for Cairo, Taksim means for Istanbul. That's why, although there have been no losses of lives so far, the incidents that erupted with  brutal pepper gas attacks by police on a group of people who opposed the cutting of trees at Gezi Park, the incidents quickly lost relevance with the original grievance and shook the Erdogan government to the core like a massive earthquake.
So much so that, the previous two nights' incidents of Istanbul spread to 48 cities of Turkey where there were at least 90 separate protests. In London, Turks marched from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square to express solidarity. All the Turks at Venice Biennale gathered at San Marco plaza to support Istanbul. We even heard from Toronto.
A very rarely seen solidarity of cities, country and even abroad was born. Certainly this couldn't anymore be classified as  a protest action to save a few trees in Gezi Park. Such a widespread and energetic reaction was the manifestation of the accumulating anger against Erdogan.
It's not difficult diagnose why. Leave aside Erdogan's charisma and his popularity that went beyond Turkish borders, his increasing conceit and arrogance especially over the past two years and his assault on democracy with pepper gas brought about a major popular explosion that started from Istanbul and spread nationwide.
In the first hours of July 2, the government had lost control of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, three big cities. We are now facing a unique sight of unguided popular masses, rather than a controlled popular movement, taking over the daily life of cities. In that sense, Istanbul is not Prague's Velvet Revolution, not 1989 Tiananmen, not Beirut 2005 or 2011 Cairo. It's a situation without precedent and nobody knows how it will end.
My Al-Monitor colleague Amberin Zaman wrote: "Turkey is not on the brink of a revolution. A Turkish Spring is not afoot. Erdogan is no dictator. He is a democratically elected leader who has been acting in an increasingly undemocratic way. And as Erdogan himself acknowledged, his fate will be decided at the ballot box, not in the streets."
Clearly, we can't be sure of validity of any observations anymore. After these events, nothing — including even the fate of Erdogan — can be predictable.
Cengiz Candar is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. A journalist since 1976, he is the author of seven books in the Turkish language, mainly on Middle East issues, including the best-seller Mesopotamia Express: A Journey in History.