Unrest and anti-governmental protests in Turkey are continuing. What started as a peaceful environmental protest became a controversial political challenge to Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The first protesters gathered to express their opposition to the plan of the Turkish government to demolish the GeziPark and build a huge mall instead of it. It was the peaceful gathering of the citizens but the unrest started when the police used tear gas and water cannons to end the protest. Some protesters suffered serious eye injuries. People started gathering in Taksim square and streets outraged by the brutality of the police and violation of civil rights and disappointed by the government of Erdogan which seems to be getting more authoritarian and pro-Islamist. The protests also started in Ankara and spread into other cities. More than 5000 people were injured and five deaths were reported.
It seems that the dissatisfaction with Erdogan’s government was increasing for some time now. The Turkish society is experiencing a so-called identity crisis at the moment which is typical for modern Turkey – the conflict between conservative Islam and secularism. The current government may be characterized as conservative and pro-Islamist. Therefore, some political decisions have received lots of criticism from secular youth residing in big cities. The decisions to control the public sphere more in particular are concerning young Turks. These young Turks, mostly students, constitute the largest part of protesters.
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Thousands of Turks have joined the protests which are getting more violent as the police continue to use tear gas and water cannons against the protesters. The protesters now demand more civil rights and responsibility for the police actions. Before going in the trip to North Africa Erdogan claimed that these protests are unfounded and organized by secular extremist groups and by saying so he made the protesters even more angry. Later Erdogan apologized to those who protested peacefully in the part and were attacked by police but said that those who are protesting in the streets do not deserve an apology.
It is interesting that there were no news about the protests in the Turkish media when the unrest started. All messages about the hurt protesters and police brutality were delivered using social media, mostly Twitter, which Erdogan called evil and threat to Turkish society.
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After one week of protests many have assumed that the worst is in the past and the peaceful demonstrations will take place and eventually come to an end. However, Erdogan warned the protesters in the park to vacate the park in 24 hours. The protesters (who decided they will keep a symbolic tent for symbolic resistance and take rest of the tents away) were already planning to and vacating the park when police attacked 3 hours after warning. Women, children and elderly were gassed indiscriminately alongside the protesters. Basically what was about to die out, was reborn and became even stronger.
There are different speculations about the results or possible end of these protests. Some argue that there is no real threat to Erdogan‘s government because there are no real political alternatives to him and his ruling party. Some compare these protests to the „Arab spring“ and hope for more democracy in Turkey. It was recently revealed that the Turkish court has ruled against a controversial construction project in Taksim Square and Gezi Park in Istanbul on June 8, however, it remains unclear why this decision was just made public only now. The protesters see this decision as victorious but the fight for more citizen’s right and democracy probably is not over in Turkey yet.