MUSTAFA AKYOL > A park, a bridge, and our kulturkampf

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These days, two hot topics are on the top of the agenda of Turkey’s age-old kulturkampf, or culture war: The demolition of the Gezi Park near Istanbul’s Taksim Square, and the building of the third colossal bridge over Istanbul’s Bosphorus strait. And in both issues, several layers of tension are added on top of each of other.

One of those layers is the traditional aversion of the Turkish left to any new sign of economic development. Condemning every new project in Turkey as a heinous plunder of “capitalism,” this mindset has traditionally opposed many things that has made Turkey a more livable place. The very first Bosphorus Bridge, for example, was condemned by the CHP (Republican People’s Party) of the 1970s, whose Marxist tone was then more visible than today’s. The same CHP, and the likeminded, have also protested the construction of hydroelectric damns and big highways. More recently, they have been condemning the buildings of TOKİ, a public housing project of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government. They, apparently, were happier when Istanbul was surrounded by not TOKİ towers but shantytowns.

The other layer is the recklessness of the AKP. The ruling party, in line with its center-right predecessors, in fact deserves my praise as the real (technical) modernizer of Turkey. Unlike the Kemalists, who obsessed with importing “Western lifestyles,” the Turkish center-right focused on building a vibrant economy and better infrastructure. (Hence Demirel built the first Bosphorus Bridge, Özal built the second one, and the AKP is now building the third.)

However, the AKP is doing all this with little, if any, sensitivity to opposing views and urban aesthetics. The criticism that while Istanbul has been filled with drones of shopping malls, no new public parks have been established is valid, for example. It is also true that some of the new towers in Istanbul have harmed the city’s historic skyline. (Luckily, a court recently decided on the demolition of two of those towers in the Zeytinburnu district.)

All this creates a vicious cycle: the left opposes whatever the AKP does, while the AKP dismisses all criticism, including legitimate criticism, as ideologically motivated. Moreover, the AKP moves forward with its decisions, forcefully and defiantly, only creating more reaction.

One recent result is the clashes in Taksim Gezi Park between the protestors who resist the demolition of the park for the New Taksim Project, and the police who have tried to disperse them aggressively. Although I do not share the outlook of most the protestors, I do condemn the police violence that they have been subjected to.

The other controversy of this week is the name of the Third Bridge on the Bosporus: Yavuz Sultan Selim, the ninth Ottoman Sultan. The problem is that while Selim is widely respected in Turkey among Sunnis, Alevis see him as an “Alevi-slayer.” The AKP would certainly prove much more sensitive and responsible had it chosen a less controversial name.

At the end of the day, what all these prove is that Turkey needs a much more “participatory” democracy, in which major public decisions will be given by active participation of the people. Had the New Taksim Project and the name of the bridge been voted on the internet, for example, there probably would be less tension. But perhaps tension is what we Turks, from the government to opposition, enjoy, and that is the real problem.


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mara mcglothin

6/11/2013 6:25:06 PM

BLUE While you are very correct regarding the games, I can personally say that the Olympics represent the dreams of many young people the World over and foster understanding between nationalities. This would also be the best advertisement Turkey and would only further serve to bring full democracy to the masses. It would be a win win no matter how you look at it.

adam adel

6/7/2013 12:54:28 AM

Here we go again kemalists attacking, twisting and turning every things mr. Akyols says. It’s a very good description of why the demonstrations started in the first place. Yes they have some how turned into something else but mr. Akyols description is very correct and he’s certainly not taking any sides. He's criticizing the AKP and have done so on many other occasions, I for one think it’s a great article, thank you.

Blue Dotterel

6/4/2013 11:11:49 PM

@Mara, "Some things are more important than the bottom line", like universal health care, free education at all levels, the right to social security, freedom to join trade unions, the right to an adequate standard of living, and other rights that the corporate sponsored Olympic games do not represent.

Blue Dotterel

6/4/2013 8:54:52 PM

MAkyol, here is an interesting comment from a Guardian reader for you to ponder: "It is not Islam they (the protesters) are against, many of them are muslims. They are against an authoritarion neo-liberal agenda, If the muslim population knew of its governments cosy relationship with the userers they would not support it. Kemal Ataturk was a better muslim." I am not sure if he means Israel by "userers" or the global financiers. Both would probably apply.

Blue Dotterel

6/4/2013 5:51:29 PM

Why are the police being so brutal? We know that Gulen is hand in glove with the US intelligence community that backed him in Central Asia. We know that the Turkish police are heavily infiltrated by Gulenists. Could the police be using this extreme violence for the purpose of provoking violence and destabilizing Turkey? It is a fact that Turkey is targeted for division by the imperialist West. The NATO map for remaking the ME is clear evidence of it. Turks need to be wary of imperialist games.


6/4/2013 3:13:37 PM

Recent upheaval in Turkey has proved that our Prime Minister has turned more autocrat then democrat and eliminated freedom of the press. He has chosen not to listen us, not to embrace us. He chosen to label us as enemy. He suppresses us. But it seems the tide turns again...

mara mcglothin

6/4/2013 6:01:35 AM

BLUE Some things are more important than the bottom line as is the case with the Olympics.

Blue Dotterel

6/3/2013 6:55:46 PM

@Mara, no one gives a damn about the Olympic games except some corporate thieves. They are traditionally money losing events, and will be more so in the future. Read Cem Ertür's article and tell me what you think?, if you think.

mara mcglothin

6/3/2013 5:29:40 PM

So once again MR AKYOL your opinion falls on the side of "hating the sin, and not the sinner"? How very convenient. Wake up and smell the hot tea before it is too late!

mara mcglothin

6/3/2013 4:36:11 PM

BLUE Perhaps you would like to point fingers at Spain and Japan instead of the USA because it is these countries who will gain some benefit from the unrest. You think the IOC will give the games to a city with such unrest? hmmmmm
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