İstanbul’s ‘one minute!’ to Erdoğan

If there are messages sent out by the days-long “cultural revolt” starting from İstanbul and spilling over to other cities, their address is exclusively Turkey’s prime minister.

Whether or not Erdoğan will have the will and time to sit back, analyze and digest these messages will also define the course of politics of the country he has led for a dozen years.

In essence, it is about making everything too personal and pushing that too far. If you pull the rubber band once or twice, nothing may happen, but it may end up hurting your hands if you force it. It seems, by the objective judgment of what has been taking place, like that is what happened with the diverse social fabric of İstanbul and other cosmopolitan cities.

As a result of an emotional build-up in the minds of people, mainly young, but of even sharply opposing political views, the revolt, with the pretext of a park project, is a social chorus of “one minute” to Turkey’s powerful leader — a yellow card, if you will, for his rhetoric and policies that have to do with urban life.

It is a loud, public outcry of “hold it!” for an imposing display of a swelling, perhaps poisoned ego.

It did not have to come this far, but several elements have overlapped, and the tipping point has been reached.

The first and most important point was about the rapidly surfacing pattern of unconditional obedience around him. Despite a series of friendly warnings from outside the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the party’s remaining bulk of “wise people” — the founding clique — feel too intimidated to negotiate, question and stand up to the willful chairman.

As is well known from the history of politics, such a top-down method of managing politics invites only flunkeyism, nothing else.

Given the zigzags of conduct since the 2011 elections, it certainly looks like these elements have caused Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to lose touch with reality, to become distracted and misled and to act erratically at times.

This has only fed delusions of grandeur, which may help explain his rejection of reflecting over the real causes of the urban revolt.

The developing events prove that it is about him and not much about the movement that he leads.

So, the first issue is whether or not he will lend an ear to benevolent dissent in his party and from outside in order to regain his touch with reality.

The second point has to do with the mandate he has been given since 2002 and why he is still so popular. If the AKP is still, after a decade, so popular with the masses, it is because it is seen as the vehicle to reach the destination of full democracy. The voters — extending way beyond a pious mass — have renewed their support each time they went to the ballot boxes because they believe that Erdoğan should be the driver to complete that journey with success. The votes since 2002 have been all about a mission — not only for a powerful economy — but also for rule of law, justice, freedom, equality and peaceful coexistence. And most of all, human dignity and respect for one another. The people of Turkey are fed up with being treated like cattle and want to decide their own destiny in social serenity, without fear.

Erdoğan, however, has since 2011 adopted an approach of “laissez moi faire tout” (let me do all) and has gotten engaged in a frustrating micromanagement of lifestyles, while dictating cultural patterns. He is widely perceived as giving priority to moral majority values, to the cost of others, causing fear and alienation. In spite of warnings and signs, he has escalated his paternalism, as we have witnessed, to the point of scolding and humiliating social segments, saying, “Go home and drink your alcohol there!” or referring to “drunkard youngsters.” Polarization, already here, reached a peak, backfiring.

The crucial question is whether he will return to humility and digest his errors. I am not very optimistic, unless he changes his close circles. If he remains defiant or threatening, it is his party that should be afraid as well: Chances of winning the municipality of İstanbul are weaker, the Kurdish peace process is more vulnerable to sabotage and a new presidential system would be a pipe-dream.




About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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