Is it a victory for Erdoğan?
A day before his big demonstration in Istanbul in response to the three-week-long Taksim wave of protests, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan gave an ultimatum at his Ankara demonstration, saying that if Taksim was not evacuated by the next day, the police would do what was necessary.
The police could only wait two hours to make its final move on the protestors in Taksim’s Gezi Park, who were actually in the middle of a debate about whether to leave only a symbolic tent in the park until their demands, as promised by Erdoğan, were be meet.
The amount of tear gas and water jet used was among the highest yet throughout the protests. British Consul General Leigh Turner wrote later on his Twitter account that the gas affected his eyes in the consulate building, which is nearly a kilometer from the Park. Meanwhile, among those who were terribly affected and had to seek refuge in the nearby Divan Hotel was Claudia Roth, the co-chairwoman of German Green Party. In addition to tear gas, the police added a tear gas solution to the water jet, which led to skin burns.
Tens of thousands more protestors then started to push to get into Taksim. Despite a decision by the municipality to stop ferry traffic across the Bosphorus, thousands more took to the road to walk for more than 15 kilometers from the Asian to European side of the city over the bridge to reach to Taksim in support of the people there. It took nearly five hours overall, as they also had to face gas and tear gas water along the way.
However, they couldn’t. Istanbul Governor Hüseyin Avni Mutlu was acting on orders from above and was quite determined to lock Taksim down before dawn, so the city would be ready for the following day’s rally of Prime Minister Erdoğan.
He even asked for para-military support; as gendarmerie forces were seen patrolling and water jetting the crowd in the heart of the city for the first time in many years. That was interesting to see for Erdoğan’s government, which is proud of getting rid of the military’s shadow over politics. The clashes between the protestors and the security forces went on until sunrise on June 15. As the municipality workers cleaned Taksim Square of all debris and even planted flowers around the Republic monument there, Mutlu appeared in front of the cameras together with the police and gendarmerie chiefs of the city. He said they were in full control of the situation and would not allow any demonstrations in Taksim, referring to the calls by protestors that they would meet there again.
So, when Erdoğan later took the stage in the demonstration area in Kazlıçeşme district of Istanbul to address hundreds of thousands of his supporters, he had the stance of a victor.
But is this really a victory for the Turkish Prime Minister? The are doubts about this, as the Taksim protests - not limited to Istanbul - have been the biggest and longest social unrest in Turkish history. To be frank, nothing is totally settled yet. Secondly, it was directly aimed at his decision, his will, to demolish a park. So, his almighty image has been damaged publicly for the first time during his 11 year rule. Thirdly, the picture that Erdoğan has been drawing abroad regarding the level of democratization and tolerance in Turkey was harmed, too.
So, the answer is no, it is not true to talk about a leader’ victory over a section of his fellow people. It is true that he would like to speculate on this for the coming three elections over the next two years, but there are now more reasons to be careful in handling issues regarding the secular way of life, and especially on Kurdish issue, about which a dialogue process is ongoing. There’s also the deepening crisis in Syria to consider, as well as uncertainties in Iraq and Iran.