Erdoğan shoots himself in the foot

Erdoğan shoots himself in the foot

If you are looking for a country where the police use their batons, water cannons and pepper spray to disperse crowds gathered – not to start a revolt against the government – but to celebrate the Republic Day of the country, I am sorry to say it is Turkey.

If the governor of the capital, Ankara, had not denied permission to several associations that wanted to celebrate the 89th anniversary of the republic with a rally instead of joining the official ceremonies, probably a few thousand would have gathered in front of the historical Parliament building, now a museum. The media would have shown marginal interest, since the associations are not mainstream ones. The main opposition party probably would not have joined them in protest of this ban on freedom of assembly and turned it into a demonstration of tens of thousands, despite all police efforts to try to stop tens of thousands more from coming to Ankara.

But no, it happened. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan said the governor had issued the ban in light of intelligence that the real intent of the demonstrators was not to celebrate the anniversary but to change it into a protest, as if that was a crime. Interior Minister İdris Naim Şahin said he was not the type to take any steps back and that the rally would be dispersed.

Şahin did his best. His colleagues protected Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), from being personally targeted by police tear gas, but his colleagues were not that lucky. Gülsün Bilgehan, a CHP deputy and member of the Turkish Delegation for the Council of Europe Parliamentarians Assembly, ironically said that the tear gas was a “first-time experience” in her life. Media and demonstrators had their ample share too.

Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) sources later leaked to the media that Erdoğan, who was attending the official ceremony at that time, told Şahin to stop the police and allow the rally. Everything calmed down after that. Crowds rallied from the old Parliament to the mausoleum of Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, some two kilometers away.

Meanwhile in Ankara, President Abdullah Gül gave a reception meant to be important had it not been overshadowed by the ban on the celebration rally. The reception was boycotted by both the CHP and the Kurdish problem-focused Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

The BDP is leading a conceptual protest today in Diyarbakır; they are calling the whole city to a boycott and rally to Diyarbakır Prison where dozens of prisoners are on hunger strike for the release of Abdullah Öcalan, the founding leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), imprisoned for life.

If Şahin will handle the situation as he handled it in Ankara, the outcome might be worse, since the people in Ankara did not have an armed group to support them, whereas the BDP proclaim that they “share the same grassroots with the PKK.”