Erdoğan’s Taksim challenge
Something rare happened on June 7.
Erdoğan was to address the “Turkey-EU relations: Expectations for future” symposium in Istanbul, which was going to be his first planned public address on the Taksim protests after returning Turkey from his four-day North Africa trip; well if you do not count the early morning speech at the airport in which he was welcomed by more than 10,000 supporters and called for an end to the protests. Stefan Füle, the European Commission’s enlargement commissioner, was going to be there, who had already talked to the representatives of the Taksim protestors by then and observed the iconic square by then.
Füle was also going to report the situation to Brussels for the EU foreign ministers’ meeting next week.
And Erdoğan, who was criticized by the opposition leader for not bothering himself with listening to them even in budget talks in Parliament and usually not listening to any other speakers and leaving the hall after delivering his own speech, waited patiently until the end of Füle’s speech in the conference. That gesture was interpreted as his will to tone down the tension from the Taksim protests, which has been shaking Turkey for the last 10 days, but that was about it. There was little in Erdoğan’s rather long speech that can be interpreted as a compromise, other than shelving his plans to build a shopping mall within the replica of the Artillery Barracks to be reconstructed there from Ottoman times, which had been put down to be turned into the only green spot in Taksim, the heart of Istanbul. He only promised that there would be more trees in number in the courtyard of the barracks than in Taksim Gezi (promenade) Park now.
Füle, who had said in his speech that there was no place for excessive use of force, sent a Twitter message to his followers after meeting with Erdoğan that he was “disappointed” with Erdoğan’s refusal to get in a dialogue with the protestors. Erdoğan had already said in his speech that the government had no counterpart to talk to with, even though his deputy, Bülent Arınç, had a start up meeting with them in Ankara two days ago. Then the U.S. Embassy in Ankara released another Twitter message saying Erdoğan was “wrong” when he said in his speech that 17 people had been killed during the Occupy Wall Street protests; raising questions of from where or which of his advisers he got those figures. And the fact that both EU and U.S. officials had responded to Erdoğan in Twitter messages could be a message itself, since Erdoğan has denounced the Taksim protests, which are also called the Occupy Taksim movement, “a social media plot,” also calling on the international media to turn down advertisements voicing the demands of the protestors.
In the domestic front, the Taksim protestors are in a cautious mood, because of the uncertainties about what Erdoğan might do next, since he demonstrated his uncompromising stance regarding Gezi Park; but he already sees the situation as targeting to overthrow himself with “methods out of the ballot box.” Taksim protestors are at an impasse actually; they do not want to give up, they do not want to associate themselves with any of the opposition parties, but they do not want to be held responsible by Erdoğan for any other act of vandalism performed by fringe groups taking the advantage of the crowds gathering in Taksim or elsewhere in Turkey.
And the whole situation is a challenge for Erdoğan, since it is all about the degree of democratic tolerance for democratic demands from society, the voters themselves.