Erdoğan’s needs list: Tolerance, compromise and apology

Erdoğan’s needs list: Tolerance, compromise and apology

With all due respect to all the experienced columnists and contributors who have been trying to analyze what has been happening for the last three weeks, I felt the need to compile a “younger” account of the Gezi Park phenomenon. The people who you have been watching on TV conducting peaceful protests, getting tear gassed, receiving rubber bullets and water cannons all belong to my generation.

What do I mean by that? We are talking about a group of young people who are under 30 years old, with almost no political affiliation and most of them are joining a protest for the first time. I had the chance to spend a considerable amount of time both at Gezi Park in Taksim and at Kuğulu Park in Ankara, talking to my friends and to people whom I don’t know. Let me start by saying that they all agree that the protests all over the country could have been avoided from the beginning with one single statement: “Gezi Park will continue to be preserved as a green area.” Instead, it became a national crisis and a personal vendetta of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Until now he somehow managed to accuse almost everything and everyone for staging and overdramatizing the protests, including the foreign media, Twitter, the opposition party and some vague foreign entities that are yet to undisclosed. Unfortunately, the rest of the AKP members decided to go along with the conspiracy theories, and lastly, Egemen Bagis, minister for EU affairs and chief negotiator, went as far as to claim that “whoever tries to reach Taksim Square will be treated as a terrorist.” How come a government that claims to have reached the highest level of understanding toward every segment of society in Turkey’s history manages to fail in dealing with a group of young people who just want their voice to be heard?

According to The Independent, it is estimated that five people have been killed so far and 5,000 injured during first 18 days of the protest. The numbers indicated here are prior to the police attack not only on Gezi Park but also Divan Hotel and Alman Hastanesi (German Hospital), where they tear gassed already injured people, including children. We are at a point where people don’t go out without “Gezi” bags, which include at least one gas mask, one sliced lemon, a liquid mixture spray for their eyes and write their blood types on their arms in case of an emergency. People are all aware by now that the police can attack you at anytime, might drag you along the streets and teargas you even when they know you are unarmed.

More than just a couple of trees

No one is denying that these protests are not only about Gezi Park anymore; everyone knows it is more than that. However, “more” does not always mean there is a plot against the government by some obscure forces and Erdoğan needs a good adviser to make him see things from an enhanced perspective.

It’s about Erdoğan’s uncompromising rhetoric. It’s about the journalists in prison, lack of freedom of press, Internet censorship, statements about making abortion illegal, ignorance about the increase in violence against women, telling people when to get married and how many children they should have, disrespect against arts and culture and lastly, restrictions on alcohol consumption. To sum up, it is about his insistence on demanding control over every single aspect of people’s daily lives. This is just a short and quick list of people’s grievances. Getting 50 percent of the votes at the ballot box surely does not mean that the prime minister gets to ignore the other half and call them names.

Interestingly enough, these people whom the authorities call vandals, marginals, separatists, provocateurs, alcoholics and finally as capulcu(s), are far better educated and informed than many of their critics. In contrast with Erdoğan’s divisive and polarizing speeches, the protestors, with a strong sense of community, succeeded in creating a unique atmosphere of unity. Let alone protecting the environment in Gezi Park, they created a market with free food, a field health clinic and even an open-air library in less than two weeks.

A new generation

The most powerful weapon that this young group of people has is their sense of humor. Against all odds, they keep on creating new ways to laugh together. Take a look at the graffiti on the walls, satirical placards, follow their social media accounts, hear their chants. When they swipe the teargas from their eyes, find the time to change their wet clothes and cover open wounds, they start to ridicule this Hobbesian state.

Protestors are evolving and they have learned how to survive remarkably fast. Don’t expect them to wither away with the extensive use of police force anymore. Most of them have been brutally beaten, tear gassed on numerous occasions already, and have been sleeping outside for almost a month now. If the government wants to reach a compromise Erdoğan is the one who has to mature this time.

All the protestors need from Erdoğan for now is a glimpse of self-criticism. One should not forget that being a true leader is not about dominance and fear but more about being respected. To regain his legitimacy in the eyes of “the other-half,” the first step is a sincere apology. Sometimes a step back in the right direction is better than a step forward in the wrong direction.