No compromise from Erdoğan
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan decided to give his new messages about the Taksim, or Gezi Park, protests before he actually returns to country from his North Africa trip but before he departs from Tunisia on the afternoon of June 6.
It is not clear whether this was something he calculated but there was still one and a half hours before the closure of Borsa Istanbul, the stock exchange, and it closed with a 5 percent fall; a 10 percent fall was experienced when he last spoke about the protests, when he was departing from Istanbul four days ago, when he had called the protestors “çapulcu,” or “marauders.”
In Tunisia, Erdoğan said – in an indirect manner – that he was “sorry if” there was “excessive use of gas” by the police against the protestors, but he was determined to turn Gezi (promenade in Turkish) Park into the former Artillery Barracks. The barracks were erected there in Ottoman times (in 1780), transferred to private enterprise (in 1913) and turned into a park in Republic times (in 1940). Erdoğan says erecting the barrack compound again, clearing the shanty fast food kiosks from around the Hagia Triada orthodox cathedral, and building a mosque and an opera house (after demolishing the existing concert hall there) will turn Taksim into a jewel of 14 million, modern Istanbul. Sounds good, but the modest park is the last remaining green spot in the neighborhood and environmentalists had a modest protest there on May 27 when the municipality started to remove the trees from the park grounds to elsewhere.
It is that protest that Erdoğan unwillingly says he was sorry about now, when the police used excessive, disproportionate force and gas against some 50 demonstrators, which in the end turned into nationwide unrest against the paternal attitude of Erdoğan on the lifestyles of modernist seculars, and not only they who have taken to the streets calling for his resignation. President Abdullah Gül, and then Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, as two other members of the triumvira that had started the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) in 2001, intervened to tone down the police talk with the opposition, talk with NGOs and the Taksim initiative in order to contain the political and social damage during Erdoğan’s travels.
Everybody was wondering what Erdoğan would say when he returned. And even before his return, he made his point clear that, yes there might be something wrong with police methods, but no, he is not taking any steps back. And that may even be only a prelude, since he is upset and even angry that the biggest and longest unrest in Turkey in decades has taken place during his time, against himself from time to time with rude slogans, when he was making Turkey a rising star in the world especially in economic terms. That is why he said yesterday that the Taksim protests have turned into a poll against the successes of AK Parti rule.
Erdoğan’s messages might encourage his followers to take an active stance against the protestors and if he endorses his stance further, unfortunately there might be an escalation of political tension and even street violence.