Gezi lessons to the Turkish opposition

Gezi lessons to the Turkish opposition

We all know how Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan considered the Gezi wave of protests that shook Turkey for three weeks a year ago.

He said on state television TRT over the weekend that Turkey had returned from the brink last year thanks to his Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government’s strong stance. He suspects it was a plot to overthrow his government by international forces (including an unnamed “interest rate lobby”) that did not want Turkey to prosper under his leadership. Later on, he used a similar rhetoric against his erstwhile ally, the Gülenists, following the corruption cases opened on Dec. 17 and 25, 2013, against individuals close to him.

Over the weekend, everyone observed the incredible security build-up in Istanbul, Ankara and other big cities in order to permit no more demonstrations marking Gezi and the eight people who lost their lives as a result of Erdoğan’s strong stance.

Little has been said by the opposition so far.

The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has been criticizing the government because of the excessive use of police force against demonstrators and its plans to convert Gezi Park into a shopping mall, but did not get too involved, knowing that it is not their neighborhood.

The Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), now transforming into the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), showed great interest in the beginning, but later on focused on its Kurdish agenda, knowing that without a strong AK Parti in the government, negotiations with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), with which it shares the same grassroots, could be at risk.

The social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has been showing close interest in Gezi from day one. Gezi had caught the CHP as unprepared as others, but realizing that it was actually their neighborhood, the one they had failed to reach out to so far, the CHP responded rather quickly.

As a 72-page report titled “The Gezi Movement” released on May 30 reveals that the CHP did not try to hijack the protests, did not pretend to lead them, but with its MPs and local organizations gave political, legal and even (organized) medical support for the demonstrators and often formed a buffer zone between them and the police squads.

The report was written by a team of researchers lead by Dr. Sencer Ayata, a deputy chairman of the CHP and a renowned sociologist, with a short preface by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the chairman of the party.

From the reasons why people had joined the Gezi protests (some 2.5 million in total, according to Interior Ministry figures), to the profile of an average Gezi protester, the report gives a detailed analysis of what happened in Turkey a year ago.

For those who do not want to bother to read the report, an average Gezi protester is between 25-30-years-old, highly educated professional who wanted to say “enough” to conservative (and Islamic values) interference with his or her (urban, secular, modernist) lifestyle under the AK Party government and Alevis, the report says, who have additional problems, like believing that they have been discriminated against because of their faith and denied jobs in public offices, perhaps with the exception of municipalities held by CHP mayors (click here for the full report).

If it is not a coincidence that all but one who died during and after Gezi (due to wounds) were Alevis, it can be explained that young Alevis were active during the protests to raise their voices.

Another interesting find from the report is that Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, was the most popular personality at Gezi, but quite different than what had been imposed by the military and establishment for decades; not as a divine figure, but as a leader of Western-style modern life in Turkey.

The report says it is possible for the CHP to reach out to at least two-thirds of the Gezi protesters, who can actually update and upgrade the CHP as well.

It is the CHP’s business of how to make use of this report for the next parliamentary elections, but the report is an indication that at least there is a political party that has started looking into major social developments in the country.