Field Guide to the Protests in Turkey

The world is really big – so big that it’s hard to keep track of it all. There’s a lot going on at any given moment. How can you be expected to have a constant understanding of the political tumultuisms of every nation on Earth?

You’ve probably heard that something’s going on in Turkey right now, but maybe you’re not sure of the details. Let’s talk about them.

First, an explanation of the general political climate in Turkey prior to the event: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in power for 10 years, has been accused of being an authoritarian, strongly religious Islamist conservative. Modern Turkey is not as strongly religious as it once was; the younger generation has followed in the footsteps of (some of its) neighboring nations and become more secular and understanding of the reason in limiting religious control of government. Erdoğan is not a literal dictator – Turkey is a parliamentary republic – but he’s been accused of overstepping his power.

Where’d all this come from?

It all started with plans to demolish Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park, supposedly one of the “last remaining green areas” in Istanbul. Environmentalists, and you know, people that like to not be totally surrounded by buildings, took issue with this. Further issue was taken with the cartoonishly evil plans for replacing the park: building a replica of old military barracks that would house a shopping mall. Yes, they wanted to destroy a park, then replace it with a symbol of war containing a Mecca (poor choice of words?) of consumerism. 

This didn’t fly.

Protesters began to occupy the park in late May.

Sounds like a peaceful protest to me?

It was. Until day five of the protest when hundreds of police officers descended on the unarmed protesters and attacked them with tear gas, blunt weapons and highly-pressurized water canons. Hundreds were injured and jailed. There are tons of photos of the brutality, but at risk of sounding like I’m ‘mansplaining,’ HelloGiggles isn’t the place for images of protesters being brutally beaten.

This also didn’t fly.

And then it escalated?

Yup. Protests sprung up around Turkey: unarmed nonviolent protests met with the same violent police action. Much of the country fell into turmoil. Some claimed that police even targeted an infirmary with tear gas.

Whoa whoa whoa. All this over a park?

No. The park is one of a series of planned development projects that the government unilaterally decided to create: Istanbul’s oldest movie theater was destroyed to make way for a different mall, and a planned bridge was to be named after a “Sultan famous for slaughtering the religious minority Alevi Muslims.’ Prime minister Erdoğan is also unpopular for his bringing of religion into a secular government, making unnecessary laws banning alcohol and public displays of affection. Istanbul became tired of a government overstepping its bounds.

So what’s going on now?

The protests are continuing. The Deputy Prime minster “apologised for ‘excessive violence’” after two protesters were killed, but PM Erdoğan said, “There is now a menace, which is called Twitter. The best examples of lies can be found there. To me, social media is the worst menace to society,” which isn’t a great thing to say if you’re trying to prove you’re not a dictator.

Why does all this matter?

First, Turkey is a nation with important strategic and cultural borders in its area: that could affect your life. Second, they’re human beings and this movement is likely to alter hundreds of thousands of lives.

What have you heard about the situation? Did I miss anything? How does this compare to movements, protests, and revolutions we’ve seen in the past? Have a chat in the comments!

Images via Wikimedia Foundation