Claire Berlinski explains the causes of the Turkish protests.
As I began to write this, at 4:00 am on May 31, protests against Turkish policeâ€”prompted by their crackdown on demonstrators opposing the demolition of Taksim Squareâ€™s Gezi Parkâ€”were spreading from the heart of Istanbul to the entire country. As of today, the headline on Drudge readsâ€”not inaccuratelyâ€”TURK BERSERK.
The story began when the government in Ankara decided that Gezi Park, in the center of Istanbul, should be demolished and replaced by a shopping mall. Now, Gezi Park is hardly the Jardins de Luxembourg. Itâ€™s a shabby rat trap that you wouldnâ€™t walk through alone at night, and youâ€™re more apt to find used condoms on its lawns than daisies and cowslips. But it is, all the same, one of the last remaining spaces with trees in the neighborhood. …
Of late, almost every sector of the electorate has felt unease about one part or another of ErdoÄŸanâ€™s agenda. Restrictive new alcohol legislation, rammed through parliament, as usual, with contempt for the minority opposition, has prompted outrage; the so-called peace process with the PKK, which no one understands, has caused great unease. Anxiety is growing as well, not only about press censorship, but also about the prosecution of those who insult government officials or â€œIslamic valuesâ€ on social media. …
ErdoÄŸan, it seems, severely underestimated the degree of his subjectsâ€™ displeasure, confident that God, a strong economy, and a weak opposition were all he needed to ensure his hegemony. He brusquely dismissed the tree protestersâ€™ concerns: â€œWeâ€™ve made our decision, and we will do as we have decided.â€ An AKP parliamentarian then unwisely announced that some young people â€œare in need of gas.â€
So the Robocops once again used pepper spray and water cannon against the protesters. A photographer captured them spraying tear gas directly into the face of a vulnerable, middle-aged woman in a pretty red dress. The photo went viral and enraged the public: she was clearly no hooligan. As one conservative journalist noted, she looked â€œdecent.â€
Rather than dispersing for good, the protesters returnedâ€”and more gathered to support them. This wasnâ€™t supposed to happen. The police panicked. At dawn, they attacked with pronounced violence, injuring not only students, but also journalists and opposition members of parliament who had come to show their support.
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Jason Goodwin gives us a history lesson which explains the form taken by Turkish protests.
One lesson that can be drawn from Ottoman history is that if the people require tribunes, so do their rulers. For many centuries the janissaries, despite their growing licentiousness and arrogance, performed that function: soldiers, who dominated civic society, could now and then express the popular mood. Their method was to overturn their great regimental cauldrons, and beat on them with spoons: the terrible sound of the janissaries in mutiny drifted from the barracks to the palace, and the sultan took note. Then in 1826 Sultan Mahmud II destroyed them, to a man.
Today, housewives in Beyoglu bang their pots and pans together at their windows. But Erdogan doesnâ€™t seem to be listening.
Once the janissaries were eradicated, Mahmud and his successors were less beholden to the people. They furiously modernised the Ottoman Empire, running roughshod over popular disquiet, and collapsed unlamented in a puff of smoke at the end of World War I.
The Janissaries had their own tree, and their own traditions â€“ and they, like the empire they served, are gone. Erdogan â€“ like Mahmud II â€“ still wants his mall.
TENCERE TAVA HAVASI (Sound of Pots and Pans) / KardeÅŸ TÃ¼rkÃ¼ler