An Opinion Column by Percin Imrek
There are many examples of governments who put pressure on their citizens in various ways; some more brutally and some less. There are also many examples of situations (also in recent history) when citizens had enough and after a collection of many incidents, the smallest thing triggered a chain reaction, led to huge protests, and ended up changing the politics or the policies of the country.
In Turkey, Erdogan' government, who wants to demolish a park in the city center of Istanbul (Taksim) and build a shopping mall instead, has faced citizens' reactions. People held passive protests in the park against this action. This passive protest, however, was faced with a brutal police force, hence the riots.
One would be mistaken to think that this is only about a park. It can be compared to a last drop in a full glass. Limitations on alcohol consumption, on the freedom of speech, eroding historical and significant buildings to replace them with profitable ones, or even restrictions in fundamental rights and civil liberties… The reaction of the government on the peaceful, armless, harmless protest of people in Gezipark was the last drop, which turned into a massive riot, with all the emotional backlog from the past.
The families who have suffered a lot from the left-right conflicts in the 70s and 80s, witnessing so many murders, have brought their children up apolitically. They did not want them to share the same fate as their peers. They have always told them to stay away from protests, riots and any kind of reaction that might put them into prison, give them a criminal record or get hurt. However, even the ‘apolitically’ brought up generation has had enough. The Prime Minister's despotic way of ruling and the parochialistic decisions of the current government pushed people to their limits.
However, the Prime Minister is still making some unfortunate remarks, asserting that protesters are only a ‘small minority’ and do not represent the Turkish people. He also made this exact statement, saying ‘If they come a hundred thousand, we will send a million on them’. One hopes that the Prime minister does not forget that both the hundred thousand and the other million are all Turkish citizens, living in the same country. Turkey has had enough experience in the past with the consequences of separatist policies. Making such remarks is the last thing needed from a Prime minister right now.
The role of the social media cannot be underestimated in this reaction, which facilitated the mobilization and unity of people. On the other hand, most Turkish national media have avoided showing the riots in the news, broadcasting soap operas, documentaries and sport news instead. People who did not have access to international channels or to the internet remained unaware of what is going on out in the streets. The media channels are getting huge reactions from the citizens because of their censorship. There are many media vans out in the streets painted by the protesters, with writings such as ‘SELL OUT MEDIA’ on them.
It is obvious that people had enough, and it is certain that something should be done. Democratic and peaceful resolutions are the most constructive ones, even though the actions of the government are not. It is time for the people to be an example to the government.
As long as the two sides do not forget their roles, Turkey will again be a fully democratic country with the liberties its people deserve.
The same sensitivity as that shown by the government when it dealt with smoking or drinking should also be shown to civil liberties, fundamental rights and freedom of speech.
One does not have to love one's government to love one's country. But the government has to love all its citizens, regardless their ethnicities, religions, political parties and so on…
Then, we can make sure that these things do not happen anymore.
Author : Percin Imrek, a former student of College d'Europe, is currently in Istanbul
Source photo : Protestors clash with Turkish riot policemen on the way to Taksim Square in Istanbul on June 5, 2013 (wikimedia commons)