Is it a Turkish Spring?

Is it a Turkish Spring?

It all started with a handful of people launching a sit-in and erecting three small tents at Gezi Park, in the heart of Istanbul’s famous Taksim district. They were protesting against the government’s plans to carry out the “mass massacre” of some 600 trees to make way for a massive shopping mall, mosque and residence complex disguised as the restoration of an Ottoman-era military barracks. The barracks were demolished back in the 1940s and there was nothing to “restore.” For decades conservative Turkish governments kept on dreaming of building a gigantic mosque at the Taksim square but because of the secular opposition they could not achieve it. The “restoration” of the demolished barracks provided the alibi of not just building a mosque but at the same time a huge shopping mall and lush residence complex.

As arrogant as ever, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan refused to even hear the demands of the protestors and ignited the unprecedented wave of protests in the country by taking a set of wrong steps one after the other. First was the legislation of the law enforcing the existing alcohol consumption bans in the country. While that move of the government was producing anxiety in the secular sections of the society, came the statement of the premier that his government was trying to change liberal alcohol consumption law that was legislated by “two boozers.” That was an obvious reference to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the diehard secular founding father of the republic, and his comrade in arms and second president İsmet İnönü. The drop that spilled the glass came with the Gezi Park arrogance of the premier. When he declared that “They [opponents] may shout… They may make a hell of noise… We are decided, we shall not be deterred with the noise they make.” It was the first time ever in Turkey that protestors, using the social media, organized throughout the country and staged massive protests in at least 48 of the country’s 81 cities. According to the interior minister almost 1000 people were detained, several hundred were wounded in clashes between protestors and the police. Protests were so massive that the police have almost run out of gas stocks.

At the height of the “peaceful” Syrian protests, the Turkish prime minister was appealing to his “brother” Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to try to deliver the demands of the “peaceful crowds.” Now, European leaders are appealing to the Turkish prime minister to abandon his arrogant style, listen to demands of the protestors, and give up plans to build a shopping mall in the Gezi Park.

After days of spreading protests. In his weekend public appearances Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appeared to be as adamant as ever, stressing that his government was determined to go ahead with its plans. However, back on Friday a local court had halted the shopping mall project, pending a final ruling, and provided the government a perfect excuse to make a U-turn on the issue. The “spring” wave that in effect brought the end of the nation states in many Arab neighboring countries and now devastating nearby Syria, came in each and every country in small and rather modest moves, and then grew bigger with wrong or inappropriate responses of governments. It is hard to say what was the turning point that turned “peaceful protests” into hot and destructive “rebellions” in Libya, Egypt or in Syria. Is Turkey at the threshold of a “Turkish spring”? Or as some Western media outlets have already started to write, have the Gezi Park protests – and of course the protests in 47 other cities – indeed sown the seeds of the Turkish spring? Or, was the decision of the Istanbul governor to call police back and leave the Taksim square and the Gezi Park to protestors the right move to prevent the tumultuous situation from turning into a Turkish spring?

In any case, if Erdoğan maintains his adamancy and arrogant style, sooner or later the crowds that were cleaning Sunday the leftovers of the protests may take up the struggle once again.