Meanwhile, Turkey Is Still Broiling

Tonight in Istanbul, police made good on Erdogan’s “final warning” this week and stormed Gezi Park, clearing out all demonstrators with more tear gas, water canons, and rubber bullets. Then came the demolition:

Bulldozers moved in afterward, scooping up debris as crews of workmen in hard hats and fluorescent yellow vests tore down the tents. Protesters put up little physical resistance, even as plain-clothes police shoved many of them to drive them from the park. White smoke billowed skyward as a phalanx of riot police marched inside the park on Saturday. They tore down protesters’ banners, toppled a communal food stall, and sprayed tear gas over the tents and urging those inside to get out.

The civilians under fire fled to nearby cafes and hotels to rest and tend to each other’s injuries. Before long, police entered the Divan Hotel and filled the lobby with tear gas (seen in the above video):

[P]olice stormed the hotel beating protesters, while a later assault left the lobby of the luxury hotel thick with gas. The Observer saw two elderly women who had passed out, being carried out on stretchers to an ambulance.

Recent Dish on Turkey’s unrest here.

Turkey Is Still Broiling, Ctd

Protestors in Istanbul’s Gezi Park have appropriated a song from the Le Mis soundtrack:

Meanwhile, the prime minister issued a “final warning” to the protestors earlier today. Ben Judah argues that Erdogan “doesn’t get it because he is still fighting his last battle – the secretive civil war within the Turkish elite”:

[J]ust as Erdogan seemed to have finally defeated the “Deep State,” these protestors have appeared across Turkey attacking his leadership and calling for his removal. He must have felt blind-sided by the spontaneous demonstrations because the last time there were similar mass protests in Turkey, back in 2007, they were organized by the military in alliance with the opposition Republican People’s Party. Those protests brought hundreds of thousands out onto the streets in an effort to block Erdogan from winning the election. Gigantic crowds in Ankara and Izmir numbered more than 350,000 Turkish flag-waving secularists.

Erdogan smells conspiracy because, until 2011, Turkish politics has been nothing but conspiracy.

Koplow adds:

[Erdogan] is quite clearly trying to mobilize his supporters by acting as if his opponents are attempting to carry out a civilian coup, and by repeatedly refusing to stand down and instead upping the ante with tear gas, truncheons, water cannons, and endless tone deaf insults, he is beginning to tear the country apart. There are numerous cleavages in Turkish society that run along fault lines of religious-secular, rural-urban, conservative-liberal, rich-poor, and Sunni-Alevi-Kurdish, to name just a few. Some of these have been more under wraps than others, but this brings them all to the surface in a way that will be difficult to undo.

Recent Dish on the unrest in Turkey here and here.

Turkey Is Still Broiling


This morning (NYT), one day after Erdogan scheduled a meeting with the demonstrators, riot police rushed into Taksim Square and subdued the lingering protestors with tear gas and water canons. By all accounts so far, police were provoked by a few people throwing rocks and molotov cocktails:

Amid Tuesday’s clashes, Erdogan made it more than clear that he had come to the end of his tolerance. “To those who … are at Taksim and elsewhere taking part in the demonstrations with sincere feelings: I call on you to leave those places and to end these incidents and I send you my love. But for those who want to continue with the incidents I say: ‘It’s over.’ As of now we have no tolerance for them,” Erdogan said, speaking in the capital, Ankara.

Can Oz, “the owner of the biggest literary publishing house in the country,” was there and fled the scene:

Some say the protesters’ firebomb attack was staged, and while I don’t have certain proof that this was the case, it wouldn’t surprise me: over the past few days I have witnessed so many lies from the police and government that I don’t think I can ever trust them again.

I have spent days with the protesters – withstanding another gas attack, cheering, singing chants and sharing food in the park – and I haven’t encountered any signs of weapons or violence on their behalf. These people made me feel like I’m living a dream.

The purpose of my visit to Taksim Square was to listen to the press conference the Taksim Solidarity movement had prepared; and I was confident that I could trust the chief of police and Istanbul mayor’s assurance that the park would not be attacked. Then, right before the press conference was about to start, gas rained down over our heads once again. It was a moment of crushing disappointment. Coughing, wiping tears out of my eyes, practically blind, I realised that our government would never understand the meaning of the passive resistance that Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi were famous for. That’s when I ran out of the park.

At this point it seems the government is more concerned with economic blowback than the unrest itself. The Turkish stock market has taken a dive while the lira “has dropped to an 18-month low”:

Citing the “excessive volatility” caused by “the international and domestic developments during the last month,” the Turkish Central Bank announced today that it would take steps to stabilize the lira. The announcement triggered a rebound for the currency, but it came as police unexpectedly reentered Taksim Square, igniting clashes with demonstrators.

The Turkish government’s inability so far to bring the protests to a peaceful end is likely to have more far-reaching impacts on the economy than new bank policies. Stability has long been one of Turkey’s most attractive features to investors. Without it, the nation’s economy could face growing challenges. These economic shortfalls may also erode support for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).

Michael Koplow looks ahead:

It is tough to see which side is going to give here. Erdoğan does not want to back down, but my instincts tell me that as he is reminded of just how much his popularity depends on the economy and as he faces the prospect of losing the bid for the 2020 Turkish Olympics, he will try to come up with some sort of solution to end the chaos in the streets without having to go so far as to issue a formal full-blown apology. The fact that there is no opposition party poised to take advantage of the situation makes backing down slightly easier for him to do, and even Erdoğan understands just how crucial it is for his and his party’s longterm political future to make sure the Turkish economy keeps humming along.

(Photo: A protestor wearing a gas mask walks in front of a burning car on Taksim square on June 11, 2013. Turkish police fired massive volleys of tear gas and jets of water to disperse thousands of anti-government demonstrators in Istanbul’s Taksim Square on June 11, after earlier apparently retreating. The gas sent the crowd scrambling, raising tensions on a 12th day of violence after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned he had ‘no more tolerance’ for the mass demonstrations. By Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

Face Of The Day

Unrest Continues In Turkey With Anti Government Protests

Thousands of demonstrators attend the demonstration in Taksim Square on the ninth day of the nationwide protests on June 8, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey. Istanbul has seen protests rage on for more than a week, with two protesters and one police officer killed. Initially a protest over the fate of Taksim Gezi Park it has broadened into anger over what has been seen as a heavy-handed response of the police and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government’s increasingly authoritarian agenda. By Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images.

“A Menace That Is Called Twitter” Ctd

Brian Merchant shares some troubling news out of Turkey:

[Tuesday] night, police raided 38 homes where citizens who had tweeted messages sympathetic to the protests lived—16 were arrested.

Many of them are apparently teenagers. The local police apparently honed in on tweets they deemed to be propagandic, and traced them back to protesters’ IP addresses at home. Their purported crime? Using social media to “instigate public hatred and animosity.” In reality, that means tweeting out supportive words or encouraging fellow citizens to join upcoming demonstrations. …

This is the paranoid behavior of an autocratic regime; though it is unfortunately unsurprising, given the rampant police brutality that has wracked the nation over the last few days. It also demonstrates a terribly poor understanding of how social media works, as did Erdogan’s now-infamous ‘menace to society’ comment. The move is likely only to further incense protesters, generate more sympathy for them, and inspire the tech-savvy to block their IPs. Meanwhile, a social media post left by one of the protesters killed in action has helped transform him into a hero to the movement.

Previous Dish on Twitter and the Turkish protests here.

What’s Erdogan’s Next Move?

Mustafa Akyol and HA Hellyer ponder the way forward for the Turkish government, noting a few encouraging signs:

The events of the past few days do not mean Erdogan has to resign – but it does suggest he ought to try to be a force for reconciliation. A good step was taken on Tuesday, when Bulent Arinc, Erdogan’s deputy, gave a press conference in which he promised police restraint, dialogue with the opposition, and “self-criticism” within the cabinet. Erdogan will do a great service, to himself and his country, if he uses similarly calming language on return from north Africa. His visit to that region ought to remind him that the best governments listen seriously to the demands of all citizens, not just those who voted them in. Erdogan’s accomplishments are so significant that the alternative route – of further confrontation and crisis – would be a great pity.

Claire Berlinski feels more pessimistic:

Erdogan may believe that he can outlast the protesters, and he may be right, particularly if the protesters succumb to the temptations of violence and vandalism. So far, they have been reasonably constrained. But the Robocops are exhausted—photos are circulating of them falling asleep on the street—and if there is one thing a prime minister best known for “taming the military” can’t do, it is to call in the army to settle things down. If the protests keep escalating and the crackdown intensifies, it’s hard to see how this can end well. Best case: the protests will spook the prime minister and give him a much-needed dose of humility. Worst case: The protests will spook the prime minister and leave him even more paranoid and vengeful.

Jenny White looks at how Erdogan has treated the protestors thus far:

[L]ike a rubber band after several years of liberal opening, the [ruling] AKP [party] has snapped back to what has long been the status quo of strongman autocracy, authoritarianism, patriarchy, and intolerance. These are characteristics that polls show are reflected by the population and characterize the still highly valued traditional family structure. But even an authoritarian father is expected to keep the welfare of his children foremost in mind. And that is where Erdogan has crossed the line. He dismissed the tens of thousands of citizens in the streets initially as purveyors of terror instigated by outsiders, then as “marginals,” as alcoholics, and finally, in perhaps the most revealing statement, as people who have an ideological gripe and who don’t like him personally.

It is the grandiosity of power and the increasingly punitive state that has pushed people onto the streets and keeps them hanging from the windows of their homes every day, banging pots into the night. Even the revered father of the traditional family is expected to care about all this. But Prime Minister Erdogan, after insulting the protesters and refusing to acknowledge that there was any problem whatsoever, instead left for Morocco to attend a trade meeting.

Face Of The Day

Tensions Grow As Demonstrations Against The Government Continue In Istanbul

A protestor wears a mask at the Gezi Park in Taksim Square on June 4, 2013 in Istanbul, Turkey. The protests began initially over the fate of Taksim Gezi Park, one of the last significant green spaces in the center of the city. The heavy-handed viewed response of the police, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government’s increasingly authoritarian agenda has broadened the rage of the clashes. By Uriel Sinai/Getty Images.

“A Menace That Is Called Twitter”


Pablo Barberá and Megan Metzger examine how social media is being used during the current protests:

What is unique about this particular case is how Twitter is being used to spread information about the demonstrations from the ground. Unlike some other recent uprisings, around 90% of all geolocated tweets are coming from within Turkey, and 50% from within Istanbul (see map below). In comparison, Starbird (2012) estimated that only 30% of those tweeting during the Egyptian revolution were actually in the country. Additionally, approximately 88% of the tweets are in Turkish, which suggests the audience of the tweets is other Turkish citizens and not so much the international community.

Oray Egin highlights how, more and more, the country is turning to the tweets:

According to March 2011 data from comScore Media Metrix, which monitors internet traffic, 16.6 percent of internet users over the age of 15 use Twitter in Turkey, and the country ranked eighth in internet penetration for Twitter. … [During the current protests , m]any Twitter users tagged posts about the protests with the #direngaziparki hashtag, while journalists and academics #OccupyGezi to inform world media of the protests. Along with photos and videos, wi-fi passwords were distributed by Twitter. Calls for food and water and contact information for lawyers and doctors were also spread on the social media site.

It should therefore come as no surprise that the Turkish government isn’t a fan of social media. How Erdogan described it on Sunday:

Now we have a menace that is called Twitter. The best example of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society.

(Photo: A protestor uses Twitter on a mobile phone to give latest news about the clashes near Taksim in Istanbul on June 3, 2013. By Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images)

Erdogan’s Turkey And Perry’s Texas

The strange parallels:

(a)  between Turkey’s AK Party and the Texas Republican Party—both of which combine a heavily pro-business unleash-the-market orientation (which helps explain why magazines like the Economist look so favorably on the AKP) and a fair amount of crony capitalism with often-intolerant cultural conservatism, moderately theocratic tendencies, uneasiness about the theory of evolution, and a culture-war mentality infused with deep resentment against the “elitism” of secular, cosmopolitan, big-city types who they think look down on them …

… and, specifically …

(b)  between Governor Rick Perry and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan—both of whom combine a bullying tough-guy macho style with a tendency to shoot their mouths off and blurt out embarrassing and offensive statements … that draw unfavorable comments from outsiders and sometimes complicate life for their political colleagues, but don’t seem to bother their core supporters?

Ask Fareed Zakaria Anything: What’s Up In Turkey?

In our first video from Fareed, he explains why he’s not worried about the ongoing protests:

Henri J. Barkey points out that the country’s only opposition party is a mess:

[T]he Republican People’s Party, [or CHP,] is a party in name only. It has proven incapable of appealing to voters, organizing itself to contest elections; and, most importantly, offering alternative policies to the AKP. Instead, it is in a state of constant turmoil as cadres fight for spoils that can at best be described as crumbs. The hapless state of the opposition propels the demonstrators: people have found out that they cannot count on the opposition to fight for their rights. Hence, the only outlet they have is the street.

He also notes Erdogan’s increasing insularity:

Having surrounded himself with yes-men (and yes, they are all men), he has become a victim of groupthink.

His advisors only reinforce what he has already decided to do. This is not to say that he is always wrong; some of his calls have been gutsy and courageous—and if he listened to his advisors, he would have never risked taking them. The attempt to end the Kurdish uprising is one such bold move.

… When he has found himself in a tight spot, his superb political instincts have always helped him escape or allow him to pivot. …  But the crisis-management skills he’s displayed [in response to these protests] have been abysmal. Rather than defusing the situation, his public pronouncements have further inflamed passions. By blaming foreigners—the most standard Turkish defense mechanism—he has diminished himself. What is particularly worrisome is that by any stretch of the imagination, this was not a major crisis that endangered the very existence of his party or rule or threatened the well being of the republic. It was all about a shopping mall. Erdogan has now suffered a deep and self-inflicted wound.

Steven A. Cook offers explanations for Erdogan’s appeal as well as his paranoia:

Even today, as the tear gas continues to fly, there is no question that Erdogan would win an election. It is hard to see how the moribund opposition can capitalize on Erdogan’s missteps, and although AKP supporters may be watching developments with consternation, they are not ditching their membership cards. This is because, consistent with Erdogan’s record as mayor of Istanbul, he has done many things as prime minister to make the lives of Turks appreciably better. Advances in transportation, health care, and economic opportunity are profoundly important to a growing middle class who returns the favor in the form of votes.

Still, Turkey is decidedly split. Erdogan governs one half the country — his supporters — and intimidates the other. His political lineage and personal background have instilled within him a certain amount of paranoia. Turkey’s Islamists, no matter how powerful they become, are always on the lookout for the next coup or round of repression. (In 1998, for example, Erdogan was jailed for reciting a poem that was allegedly a call to holy war against the Turkish state even though the author is one of the most important theorists in Turkish nationalist pantheon.) For the rising new political and business class that Erdogan represents, correcting the past wrongs of the Kemalist elite — which discriminated and repressed the two bogeymen of the Turkish politics, Kurds and Islamists — has been a priority. They have worked to accomplish it through both democratic and (more often recently) non-democratic means.

Fareed Zakaria GPS airs Sundays on CNN, as well as via podcast.  Zakaria is also an Editor-at-Large of TIME Magazine, a Washington Post columnist, and the author of The Post-American WorldThe Future of Freedom, and From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America’s World Role. Our Ask Anything archive is here. Our previous coverage of the protests in Turkey is here.