“Liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood.” — John Adams, A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law — 1765
Hundreds of Turkish riot police backed by armored vehicles stormed Istanbul's Taksim Square just after dawn today clashing with protesters. Police fired tear gas and water cannons, and groups of protesters threw stones and petrol bombs. Just hours afterward, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for demonstrators in the adjoining Gezi Park, where demonstrations first began about a week and a half ago, to disperse. Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu said police were working to clear "marginal groups" from Takism Square, but the government was not planning to intervene against peaceful and sensible demonstrators in Gezi Park. The move to clear Taksim came a day after Erdogan agreed to meet with protest leaders. The meeting is expected on Wednesday. Meanwhile, in possibly increasing tensions between the Islamist-backed ruling party and secular Turks, President Abdullah Gül approved a bill Monday tightening restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol. (Click on pictures for larger image(
According to the Wall Street Journal:
“Hundreds of Turkish riot police backed by armored vehicles stormed Istanbul's Taksim Square just after dawn on Tuesday clashing with protesters. Police fired tear gas and water cannons, and groups of protesters threw stones and petrol bombs. Just hours afterward, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for demonstrators in the adjoining Gezi Park, where demonstrations first began about a week and a half ago, to disperse. Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu said police were working to clear "marginal groups" from Takism Square, but the government was not planning to intervene against peaceful and sensible demonstrators in Gezi Park.
As clashes began to break out and scenes from the square broadcast live on television, Turkey's currency sank to fresh 2011 lows, prompting the central bank to intervene to stabilize the lira.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered a robust defense of the police incursion, saying that the protests were illegal and being spurred on by radical groups and shadowy foreign elements.
"This is an illegal uprising but some are trying to mask it," Mr. Erdogan said in Ankara. Delegates at the party headquarters chanted, "Turkey is proud of you," in a stronger sign of the polarization between party supporters and the demonstrators around Taksim.
"These protests were used on purpose and on a systematic basis. There is a huge game they want to play on Turkey," the prime minister said, telling his party base that democracy was thriving in the country in a way unimaginable a decade ago, when his party swept to power.
Mr. Erdogan spoke shortly after Istanbul Governor Huseyin Avni Mutlu convened a news conference to draw a distinction between violent protesters at Taksim who the government says are damaging the country's image, and peaceful demonstrators at the adjacent Gezi Park, a patch of grassland that activists are trying to save from a government rebuilding project. Protests there spawned wider demonstrations.”
"We have been waiting for this to happen," said protester Ugur Hacan, a 24-year-old artistic director for TV series and movies, who was sleeping at the park with friends when police entered the square.
"As long as the police don't interfere with Gezi Park, the protests will continue. I believe more people might come after this action," Mr. Hacan said. He and three other friends at the park said police didn't confront the protesters directly.
Taksim Square subway was still functioning on Tuesday, and some commuters emerging from the metro were caught in the melee. "We need to talk rather than fight each other. I hope this can be resolved quickly," said Can Ozdemir, a hotel waiter, as his eyes streamed from the tear gas.
Speaking after a weekly cabinet meeting in Ankara Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Mr. Erdogan would meet some demonstration representatives Wednesday and others at another time, without providing additional details.”
Fox News reported today that bulldozers were taking down the protester’s barricades in Istanbul as riot police clashed with demonstrators:
”Riot police firing tear gas and water cannons re-entered Istanbul's Taksim Square on Tuesday night after defiant protesters swarmed back in by the thousands.
It was the latest sign that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government may have run out of patience after 12 days of unrest in Turkey's largest city and beyond. Earlier in the day, he accused the protesters of sullying Turkey's image, raising the possibility that he had ordered police to show no restraint in clearing Taksim Square.
In the chaos of a confrontation that began about 8:45 p.m., several fires burned in the square and protesters exploded fireworks, threw stones and waved banners.
As a phalanx of helmeted officers moved forward, water cannons doused a man in a wheelchair carrying a Turkish flag. Plainclothes officers in gas masks yanked down banners.
For the police, the marching orders appeared to be: fire tear gas, advance, spray water cannons and peel back. Then, after the tear gas dissipated in the wind, the protesters again stepped into the void -- clanging fences, shooting fireworks, and erecting makeshift barricades.
At one point, they set alight a huge bonfire in the middle of the square.
Several people were being placed into ambulances during the clashes, which have trained an international spotlight on Turkey's democracy.
The protests have swelled from a peaceful demonstration first aimed to stop developers from cutting down trees in a park into nationwide disturbances.
Earlier Tuesday, many of the protesters in Istanbul had fled into the adjacent Gezi Park, where hundreds have been camping out to stop developers from cutting down trees in the park. As police moved in, bulldozers began demolishing the barricades and the makeshift shelters.
At the same time, Erdogan made it clear in Ankara, the capital, that he had come to the end of his patience with the protesters.
"To those who are at Taksim and elsewhere taking part in the demonstrations with sincere feelings, I call on you to leave those places and to end these incidents, and I send you my love. But for those who want to continue with the incidents I say: `It's over.' As of now we have no tolerance for them," Erdogan said.
"Not only will we end the actions, we will be at the necks of the provocateurs and terrorists, and no one will get away with it," he added.
The unrest -- which has spread to 78 cities across Turkey -- has been inspired in part by what some see as Erdogan's increasingly authoritarian style of governing and his perceived attempts to impose a religious and conservative lifestyle in a country with secular laws.”
The protests that have been convulsing the center of Istanbul and other Turkish cities over the last several days are more than the comeuppance of its intolerably high-handed prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Both the diversity of the protesters and the nature of their grievances show that Turkey has become a much more liberal society over the decade the ruling AK Party (AKP) has been in power. Turkey has a democracy — now protestors are demanding a liberal democracy.
Turkey has witnessed big demonstrations before, of course but they've always been staged by a single group, defined by either ethnicity or ideology. This is the first time that people from all walks of life have joined forces to constrain the power of their country's leaders.
Whit Mason writes in Foreign Policy Magazine:
“The changes occurring in Turkey are evident in its new, up-and-coming middle class, whose members have formed the core of the protest movement. A friend of mine -- let's call him Mehmet -- works near Istanbul's Taksim Square, the center of the demonstrations. Mehmet had always been a pretty typical yuppie, more interested in wine-tasting than politics. But since the demonstrations erupted, he has been consumed by them and vows to carry on until Erdogan backs down. Another friend, who teaches at a private college in the coastal city of Izmir, says his best students, all from conservative, prosperous families, were exhausted from their nightly clashes with police. He tells me that taxi drivers and shopkeepers who hail from the Black Sea, like Erdogan's family, have told him they voted for the AKP but have been turned into the party's enemies by the brutality of the police and the prime minister's contemptuous rhetoric.”
Those who have opposed the AKP since it won power in 2000 have always believed that Erdogan and his cohorts are thinly disguised Islamists, intent on using the mechanisms of democracy to impose their values on the rest of the country. Their fears have been bolstered in recent days, as the government has seemingly tried to force them to conform to its religiously inspired conservatism — most notably through a new raft of laws regulating alcohol. However, the problem with the AKP has never been that it's Islamist -- but that, much like every other party that's ruled Turkey, it's illiberal.
Erdogan has become a caricature of this illiberal style. He has opined that if people want to drink, they should drink ayran, a traditional yogurt drink. He has spoken about building a canal through Istanbul to replace the Bosporus Strait as a shipping channel, which even he describes as his "crazy project," as if only to underscore that no scheme is beyond his power. According to my daughter-in-law who is Turkish and watches Turkish TV more ominously, a record number of journalists and military officers have been imprisoned under his watch. He has blamed the current protests on drunks, extremists, and foreign agents. Such behavior has helped the protesters to clarify what it is they actually want — which is for the power conferred by Erdogan's undeniable electoral mandate to be constrained, as it would be in a liberal democracy.
Turkish governments have always been happy to dictate how to behave in areas that liberal political cultures would regard as off-limits to state intrusion. The state's predilection for intruding into people's private affairs reflects the illiberalism of the wider society. Despite pockets of social liberty, until recently Turkey has remained what political anthropologists have called a "segmentary" society — individuals are expected to rigidly conform to the mores of their group, while other members of the group are happy to intrude into others' lives to enforce those norms.
When I first began working in Turkey in 1995, manifestations of this group-oriented conformism were ubiquitous. Though the state has licensed the production of alcoholic drinks since the founding of the Republic, 83 percent of all Turks today are still teetotalers — a vivid measure of Turkey's cultural distance from Europe. Before the economic growth of the past decade, both credit to buy an apartment or launch a business were in short supply. For almost all Turks, the only way to get access to either was through family connections or by supporting a powerful political party. This fact of life required people to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid offending their prospective patrons.
From my experience, many Turks manage inevitable differences of opinion with their elders through what might politely be termed prevarication. This tendency, beginning in childhood, has long retarded the competition of ideas at the heart of liberal political cultures.
The cumulative effect of such conflict avoidance is that many Turks have not experienced the constructive potential of conflict that plays out within civil bounds. In Turkey's political life, the lack of experience with constructive, civil conflict takes a number of reactionary forms: Party leaders assume a paternalistic posture toward their supporters, who reciprocate with a loyalty that survives even humiliating electoral defeats. Turks have traditionally displayed an easy tolerance of state restrictions on civil liberties, and share their leaders' inability to consider political compromise or admit misdeeds, such as the Armenian genocide.
Most of the people I was associated while working in turkey were of that government class — including my daughter-in-law. They drank alcohol and dressed in western garb. They had disdain for those walking about in traditional Islamic dress. In fact a close friend of my daughter-in-law visited the United States in February. When we had them over for dinner they drank wine, beer and the Kagan, the husband, drank a fair amount of bourbon. In fact when he returned to Turkey he had a bottle of Jack Daniels and Makers Mark in his suitcase. It should be pointed out that he is a mid-level government bureaucrat involved with privatization.
My son, Kagan, and I sat around the fire pit drinking and smoking cigars while we talked about our Constitution — something he was extremely interested in. He asked many questions about our Founding Fathers and how the Constitution was developed and how it worked for our system of self-governance.
When I was working in Turkey I was involved with two United States Trade and Development grants to prepare feasibility studies for the implementation of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in the City of Bursa and the Southeast Anatolia Project (Güneydoğu Anadolu Projesi, GAP). The GAP’s headquarters, were we worked out of, were in Ankara. I found Ankara to much more liberal than Istanbul. The Turkish team I worked with was all western in nature and university educated. They had one thing in common — they were dedicated to the secular society established by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk — considered the father of the modern Turkish state. It should be noted that every government office and most homes — including my son’s in the United States has a portrait of Atatürk hanging on the wall.
During my tenure in Turkey I worked under two Prime Ministers — Tansu Çiller and Mesut Yılmaz. Çiller was educated in the United States while Yilmaz at the University of Ankara, but both spoke perfect English with an American accent. They were both dedicated to the development of Turkey into a power in the region and to the betterment of the population through public works such as the GAP for the farmers and growers in the southeast along with roads, water projects and bridges. They also had the full support of the military.
It was not until 2003 and our invasion of Iraq that relations between the United States and Turkey began to sour. We wanted to move military units across Turkey by rail to the Kurdish territories boarding Iraq on the north. The Turkish Military supported our request but the parliament responding to protests nixed the deal.
In 2003 Recep Tayyip Erdoğan became the Prime Minister and things began changing in Turkey. The former mayor of Istanbul and a devote Sunni Muslim Erdoğan began to institute a more Islamic form of rule. A member of the Justice and Development Party (AKP in Turkish) Founded in 2001 by members of a number of existing parties, the party won a landslide victory in the 2002 election, winning over two-thirds of parliamentary seats. Abdullah Gül became Prime Minister, but a constitutional amendment in 2003 allowed Erdoğan to take his place. In early general elections in 2007, the AKP increased its share of the vote to 47%; its number of seats fell to 341, but Erdoğan was returned as PM, while Gül was elected President. In the general elections held on June 12, 2011, the AKP further increased its share of the popular vote to 49.8% and secured 327 parliamentary seats to form a third-consecutive majority government.
Erdogan has been widely considered to be one of the most influential Turkish leaders of the Republican era since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Under his premiership, the country continued to grow economically and consolidate its position as a regional power with global ambitions. His foreign policy vision is claimed to rest on Neo-Ottomanism, the policy according to which, Turkey should maintain and increase its presence in the lands formerly ruled by the Ottoman Empire.
Turks like Kagan expect to be treated with respect — and that includes being consulted on matters that directly affect their daily lives. Such consultation has been entirely absent from the project to bulldoze Gezi Park outside Mehmet's office, and replace it with a faux-Ottoman shopping mall.
President Abdullah Gül — a gentler, more sophisticated man than Erdogan and the obvious alternative to lead the AKP — has said the government needs to listen to the people. "The message has been taken," Gül told the protesters, in a statement imploring them to return home. "Democracy is not only about the ballot box."
This is a hopeful moment for Turkey. All Turks have been raised to revere the father of the nation, Ataturk, who set Turkey on the path toward becoming a European-style state. Ataturk died in 1938 having made revolutionary changes to Turkish political life, but without having created a liberal political culture. A leader who manages to use the current crisis to help Turkey embrace the constraints on state power at the heart of liberalism would earn himself a place in the country's remarkably sparse pantheon of political heroes.
But if the events now taking place in Turkey come to be regarded as a landmark in its evolution as a liberal European society, as may well happen, their hero will not be a great leader but the thousands of Turks, Kagan, who refuse to be dictated to by anyone.
Turkey has a very young population. As of 2010, the population of Turkey was estimated to be 73.7 million with a growth rate of 1.21% per annum (2009 figure). The population is relatively young with 25.9% falling in the 0-14 age bracket. The 15-64 bracket consists of 67.8%. While this is good news for their social welfare programs it presents problems for the politicians with such a large percentage under 14-years old. These kids are coming of age in a world dominated by social media and TV. They are becoming aware of the world around them and this world will influence their thinking in the future —.especially women.