The social Matrix

The social Matrix

Saturday, June 15, 2013

TAKSIM-the Unexpected Revolution

  In the last couple of weeks, Over 5,000 demonstrators have been injured as the world watched as Turks rang the clarion call for democratic reforms. What started as a few young Turks protesting the construction of a shopping mall at Taksim Gezi Park, quickly escalated to more than 90 demonstrations across the country.  There are more to the protests than a park. 

  According to Turkish expert, Jenny White, the crackdown on protesters is intensifying. Turkey's EU Minister, Egemen Bagis, declared that anyone who enters Taksim Square will be suspected of having a connection with terrorism. Furthermore, White notes that medical personal have been apprehended for helping the demonstrators. Police have even set a "Wishing Tree" on fire that protesters have used to symbolize their aspirations. 



  Some fear that these wide-spread protest will harm the economy.  The devaluation of the Turkish lira and the dip in the stock market indicate a weakening economy. Notwithstanding, Turkey has always had a strong economy,  ever since the former prime minister Turgut Ozal started his Neo-liberal economic policies in the 80s, Turkey has embraced pro-market reforms.  
  As a result, new business associations started to emerge such as TUSIAD, The Turkish Businessmen and Industrialists' Association (1971) whose members include CEO's of 300 Turkish corporations, and the pro-Islamic MUSIAD (Association of Independent Industrialists and Businessmen), which derives it's membership from the manufacture, textile, iron and steel and automotive parts industries. 

  Yesterday, Democracy NOW! reported that workers came to protest in solidarity with the rest of the demonstrators. 


  It is impossible to divorce the role of religion in these protests. Sometimes the dispute can be large such as what is currently taking place in Turkey or it can be minor such as over a television show.  Since 1923,  modern Turkey, birthed in secularism, has been vacillating between secularism and Islam. From 1923 until 1946, Ataturk’s vision of a secular state has eviscerated any attempt from Muslim groups to transform Turkey into an Islamic state.  It wasn't until Turkey developed a multi-party system (1946) and a new constitution (1961) that Islamic groups started to emerge on the political stage.

  Furthermore, in the 1980's political Islam was used as a tool to unite the country that was deeply divided ideologically, between the left and right. Political Islam has mutated into different political parties over the decades: the 1970 (National Order Party), 1983 (The Welfare Party), 1997 (Virtue Party.)

  In 2002, political Islam reincarnated again under current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as the Justice and Development Party (AKP)  and captured 35 percent of the vote and two-thirds of parliamentary seats. Since then, the AKP has faced little opposition until 2007 when it nominated Abdullah Gul, strongest Islamist,  as a presidential candidate.

 Still, although many of the protesters have criticized Erdogan for his Islamic-oriented policies, secularist are not the only Turks with grievances. The  Alevis, religious minority connected with Sufism, were upset at Erdogan for plans to name a bridge after a Turkish leader who massacred their ancestors.


  Erdagon's political career hasn't been exactly smooth. He was once temporarily banned from politics after he tacitly suggested that Turks had to choose between Ataturk and God.  In 1998, supporters of the Refah party, linked the criminal prosecution of Erdogan to part of a poem that he recited in 1996: 

"The minarets are our bayonets, the domes our helmets, and the mosques our barracks," 

  Today, the former mayor of Istanbul is facing increasing criticism from secularist who object to the encroachment of Islam into the public sphere. Critics of Erdogan feel that he is using his political capital to advance an Islamic agenda. One example of this concern is how the government has allocated more funds to mosque and religious schools than public schools. In fact, the Directorate of Religious Affairs, is the second largest public employer in the country (Ministry of Defense is the largest).

The Turkish Prime Minister's autocratic governance, isn't just a religious issue.  Turkey's record for imprisoning the most journalist, topping both Iran and China, doesn't exactly bode well as a beacon of democracy.  Turkey's weak media surfaced last week  when CNN Turkey decided to air a documentary on penguins rather than the protest in Taksim square.

Erdagon's attack on journalism is just as concerning as his campaign to curtail women's rights. Many women showed up to Gezi Park and Taksim Square to protest what they perceived as anti-women policies. Last week the Economist reported that Erdagon's statements regarding women having at least three children and abolish day care facilities, have been a rallying point for many Turkish women. According to the 2013 U.N. Human Development Report, only 26.7 percent of females had at least a secondary education compared with 42.2 percent of males. Moreover, while the economy overall is healthy, only 28 percent of the labor force is female, compared with 61.6 percent in Azerbaijan.  Moreover, only 14.2 percent of the Members of Parliament are female.

Erdagon's power grab isn't too shocking. The 2012, World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, ranked Turkey 13 out of  21 countries  in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, regarding the government's legal limitations.  


   It isn't just journalist who are feeling the brunt of Erdogan's power grab. according to the mid-east website, Al-Monitor, 102 retired military officers for the 1997 staged coupe. In 2003 and 2004 the AKP has made attempts to limit the military's power. Erdogan even went as far as to abolished the National Security Council MGK.

  This is surprising given the Turkish military's influential role in the political landscape. The military has orchestrated three coups 1960, 1971, and 1980 to preserve stability. The military's relationship with Islamic political parties has been tumultuous. In 1996 the Welfare Party agitated the military when it attempted to sign a defense cooperation agreement with Iran; in 1997 Turkey's Prime Minister, Necmettin Erbakan, was hesitant to endorse the National Security Council's efforts to curtail Islamists activities. Four years later tensions reemerged as the NSC banned the Virtue Party in an effort to reaffirm the military's commitment to Kemalism. 

  Moreover, The military didn't limit its power over Islamic groups to the political arena, it also extended to economic activity. The army targeted 100 Muslim-run companies such as Ulker biscuit company and the Kombassan Conglomerate. The goal of the military was to contain the spread of Islamic groups in all sectors of Turkish life. The military has used its power to ensure that the political pendulum doesn't swing completely on the side of the Islamic parties, however recent attempts to constrain the military has allowed the AKP to expand its religious agenda. 


  As more and more Turks migrate from the hinterlands to the cities, there is a concentrated effort from young people to limit commercial activity to preserve the environment.

  Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Turkey’s urban population has skyrocketed from 15 percent of the population to 70 percent in 2010. Notwithstanding, the massive influx of Turks to the cities, particularly in western Turkey, has created more job opportunities (unemployment has dropped), the demographic shift has also produced environmental problems including soil erosion, air pollution and deforestation.

  The Turkish protest are as much about preserving political freedoms as it is about environmental sustainability.  


  The unrest in Turkey has international implications. It has stalled membership into the EU, and it may limit the military's ability to absorb the violence from Syria on the border. Moreover, it will be interesting to see how these protest will effect Iranian and Israeli relations with Turkey. Especially, given the recent elections in Iran. 

  While it is too early to tell weather the protest will blossom into another Tahir Square or Occupy Wall Street, what is clear is that the protesters and demonstrators have legitimate grievances that need to be resolved if Turkey is to be a paradigm for democracy. Unless Erdagon finds a way to remedy these concerns diplomatically, then Turkey will transform from a beacon of stability into a boiling cauldron of anarchy.