BY NOW, everybody knows about the protests happening across Turkey, triggered by the police response to the original Gezi Park sit in. While the worst of the violence was unfurling in Istanbul I was in Diyarbakır, in Turkey’s southeast. It was absolutely peaceful there; if it hadn’t had my laptop with me I wouldn’t have known that anything untoward was happening in Istanbul.
The contrast between Istanbul and Diyarbakır over the last three weeks is notable, and curious, and ironic. Diyarbakır has long been the centre of Kurdish resistance, so it has known many a tear gas-infused night and many a pitched battle in its venerable streets. Now the tables have been turned, but Kurds I spoke to in Diyarbakır didn’t really empathise with their Istanbullu compatriots. That’s probably an interesting topic for further discussion.
For now, though, it would be remiss of me while being in Turkey to not post something about the whole Gezi Park business. Plenty has been written about the whole shebang, but these questions have occurred to me, and many don’t seem to have definitive answers yet.
Did it have to happen this way?
Is a police invasion, featuring lots of tear gas and water cannons, the best response to a peaceful protest?
Is Erdoğan playing only to his support base, in his unrelenting stance, and in repeating previously refuted claims that protesters were drinking in a mosque, seeking to play the religious card?
Do Erdoğan and his cronies truly believe what they are saying? That the public protests are an international conspiracy? That police have been acting appropriately and protecting citizens?
Are Erdoğan, Mutlu, Bağış and Çelik so surrounded by yes men that they don’t really know what has been happening? That they have only been told what they want to hear?
How can they, as professed, pious Muslims, who hold themselves to the highest moral codes, make the statements that they have made, obfuscating and distorting and stretching truths?
How will Erdoğan and his government be perceived in the West from hereon?
Has Turkey just removed a straitjacket to replace it with another? From a hardline, illiberal, nationalist political orthodoxy which regarded any divergence from commonly held dogma as suspect and treacherous, to one of enforced social conservatism which allows no questioning or calls to accountability of its decisions makers, where those who stand up for themselves and others are deemed reactionary and illegal (and in the words of Egemen Bağış “terrorists”)?
Has Erdoğan just always got his way? Is it time for him to grow up and learn the art of compromise and negotiation, and to understand that being prime minister doesn’t give you licence to do whatever you want?
Is Erdoğan’s, and his cohort’s, understanding of democracy that once elected to power one’s power is unrestricted and cannot be questioned?
What of Erdoğan’s earlier discussion of a ‘traders’ mentality’ and a model for political engagement, and his claim that his ultimate goal was democracy just so much window dressing?
Is he just another despot, albeit one who – until now, at least – enjoyed a parliamentary majority, but who uses that to entrench his own power and implement his own agenda without consultation?
Do they really believe that the press is free in Turkey?
Does Erdoğan believe that feralling up his admittedly significant supporter base will resolve the issue?
Can Erdoğan live with a polarised society, as long as he retains power? Is that all he cares about?
Why is there no viable, effective or vaguely electable political opposition?
Does any of this augur well for Turkey?