On the anniversary of Gezi protests, PM Erdoğan braces for second round
In the early hours of May 28, 2013, police attacked a small group of environmentalists in Gezi Park, near Istanbul’s historic Taksim Square. Many demonstrators, who were protesting the plans to build a mall on the park area, were injured during the crackdown, their tents were burnt down and the police violence on the protesters sparked nationwide protests against the government and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose “I say what I want and I do what I want” approach to politics had already hit many nerves.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has since labeled the Gezi protests as “attempts to overthrow the government through street demonstrations.” Erdoğan based his strategy on “the supporters of the national will against those who do not respect it.”
This strategy worked for the AKP in the March 30 elections and Erdoğan seems to be determined to stick to it one year after the protests, and two months before the country’s first presidential election using the public vote. Despite the killing of 10 people due to police brutality since the protests first erupted, Erdoğan did not shy from expanding his criticism of the “plotters” to include the country’s Alevis.
“Legal and illegal organizations cooperated in spreading the [Gezi] protests, targeting the country’s economy and stability,” Erdoğan told his parliamentary group meeting on May 27, the anniversary of the May 27, 1960 military coup. He, of course, mentioned the coup that targeted Prime Minister Adnan Menderes – who was later hanged by the junta, together with his two ministers – arguing that the recent corruption allegations against his government were part of a plan “to do what they did to Menderes to do to me.”
The prime minister also informed his lawmakers of a new plot against the government, this time using Alevi citizens who live in Turkey and abroad. It was obvious that an Alevi-led protest held in Germany’s Cologne, where Erdoğan addressed his supporters at a meeting over the weekend, had its effect on Erdoğan.
“[The German government] allowed ‘Alevis without Ali’ to sabotage our meeting,” Erdoğan said, giving Angela Merkel’s Cabinet a partial role in the efforts to “undermine the Turks’ national will.”
“Alevis without Ali” is a term Erdoğan loves to use to define “some” Alevis. According to Erdoğan, Alevis are not much different than Sunni Muslims, other than their love for Caliph Ali. If you think that Alevism is more than that, it comes with a much different life style and approach to beliefs and religion, Erdoğan thinks that you are an “Alevi without Ali,” which makes you worse than an average atheist.
Erdoğan has not been a “friend” to the Alevis, despite his warm messages and a government-led Alevi initiative. Most of the people killed since the Gezi protests started have been Alevis, with the latest being killed in a cemevi. Two fundamental demands of the majority of Alevis in Turkey are the removal of compulsory religious courses and the recognition of cemevis as an official house of worship, neither of which have been brought to the table by the government. The prime minister in several rallies said “you know he is an Alevi,” referring to main opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, and pausing for a second to allow the crowds boo him.
By pushing the Alevis to confront him, Erdoğan plans to consolidate his constituency among Sunni Muslims. His vote among Alevis is insignificant, so Erdoğan will give up that small percentage for a bigger gain by trying to depict Alevis as part of the “conspiracies against the government led by foreign powers.” With the majority of Turks being skeptic against “the other,” this strategy will probably help Erdoğan get some more Sunni votes.
In addition, Taksim Solidarity has called on people to gather in Taksim on May 31 to mark the protests’ anniversary. Unfortunately, the police will resort to violence, people will get hurt, and Erdoğan will again use this to “prove” that street protests aim to overthrow the elected government and his absence would mean chaos in the country. His voters will buy it, as they bought earlier lies, such as “the protesters drank alcohol in the mosque” and “our headscarf-wearing sister was beaten by 50 men wearing leather and was pissed on.”
Erdoğan is ready for the second round of Gezi protests, and obviously has a strategy to use the situation to his advantage in the upcoming presidential elections.
And he seems to be the only party leader with a plan for this summer.