Taksim heralds a better Turkey
Have you heard of Performance Theatre? It is one of those global gatherings where opinion leaders, power brokers and intellectuals debate future trends. Performance Theatre convened in Istanbul on June 14, when Turkey woke up to a critical day with the hope that the biggest and longest social unrest of the country would finally come to an end without further antagonism.
Following a meeting with the representatives of the three-week-long demonstrations, which at one point spread to more than 78 of 81 city centers in Turkey, for more than four hours in Ankara, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan decided to freeze a controversial project until the result of a court case. The project was to demolish Gezi (promenade) Park, the last remaining green spot in the touristic Taksim area to build a replica of an Ottoman-era Artillery Barracks there, which will contain a shopping mall. When the police reacted harshly, with pepper gas and water cannons against – literally – some 50 protestors in the area, and when Erdoğan rejected their demands categorically by denouncing them a handful of marauders, everything got out of control, as President Abdullah Gül had to admit later on.
Erdoğan’s first step back, without any moderation in his tone was to shelve the shopping mall part, saying that perhaps there would be a “city museum.” But as police used more tear gas, water cannons and plastic bullets and as a rain of statements started to come from the U.S. and the EU calling Erdoğan to a dialogue, he had to agree. The first contact did not produce much of a result, since many of them were handpicked by himself, but the protestors still poured into Taksim in Istanbul, Kuğulu (Swan) Park in Ankara and elsewhere, despite the police stance. On June 13, Erdoğan agreed to talk to a group of representatives.
Now he agreed that the demolition of Gezi Park would wait until the appeal court decides whether a previous court decision barring any building instead is valid.
This is a clear win for the demonstrations, since for the first time in Erdoğan’s 11-year Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) rule, his almighty image is scratched.
Parliamentary Speaker Cemil Çiçek told the press on June 12 that the Taksim protests have greatly damaged Turkey’s image.
But Turkish EU Minister Egemen Bağış thinks that rhetoric is valid only for the short term. In the long run, Bağış told Performance Theatre guests in his luncheon speech on June 14 that Taksim could be an opportunity to increase Turkey’s strength, if proper lessons are learned by government and everyone involved.
Perhaps I disagree with Bağış on some other points he said about the Taksim wave of protests; I do not believe that this has been a political movement for a start, more of a social cry saying that “We are here and do not want to be ignored with our opinions and lifestyles anymore.”
But I agree with him on the point that Taksim could be taken as the beginning of a better Turkey; a more pluralistic Turkey with more social self confidence that manages to solve its crises within a democratic system, how harsh it may get from time to time. The way for a more mature democracy in Turkey is being paved with the pepper gas fuses fired upon the Taksim demonstrators across the country.