Gezi after 365 days: Turkey more divided

My take on the weekend’s event:

Nobody expected that the first anniversary of the Gezi protests would offer a pretty picture, but the overall scenery in İstanbul showed a much more deeply divided society, acrimonious and deaf to other’s ear, with the gaps widening into an abyss.

Three hundred and sixty-five days on, what is observed in more than 11 cities, with violence and ugliness, is somewhat proof of how successful Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been to prepare the ground to rule the country over its social cleavages, which he deliberately and obstinately bent, driven by a survival instinct.

There was not much to be added as a surprise element during the unrest. Children of 11 to 12 years of age were taken to police centers, a demonstrator apparently barely survived a lynching attempt in a street in Cihangir district by a “militia-like” mob and a deputy averted a strangling attempt by a police officers during a scuffle in Adana.

As a strong ingredient to declare to the world how “decisive” the Turkish government — or, rather, its prime minister — is, a colleague from CNN International, Ivan Watson, who has been based here a dozen years, was arrested during live reporting, which will be remembered as the moment of how May 31, 2014, was “experienced” by the media.

The element of concern was elsewhere. As the demonstrators and protesters attempted to enter Taksim Square during the afternoon, a large crowd assembled in the Old City, between Sultanahmet (Blue Mosque) and Hagia Sophia, commemorating the fourth anniversary of the Mavi Marmara incident, condemning Israel and demanding the opening of Hagia Sophia as a mosque, while marching in the direction of the sea.

No one intervened, and the difference in treating both crowds — one deeply pious, the other predominantly urban, secular and some Alevis — sent a strong signal of discrimination.

During that day, we noted that İstanbul was divided physically into two, thankful that the two groups did not encounter each other across the bridge of Golden Horn. The city’s young social scene as a tinder stick, a single provocation would be needed to spark a wave of clashes.

Three hundred and sixty-five days on, it is now for certain that Taksim Square, which by last year was a symbol and the ground memorial of Turkey’s left, has now become a location that the young generations will also “own,” in order to claim a response to their demands for self-respect, protection of ecology, handling corruption, pursuing freedom and individuation.

The folly of authorities has led to this: They — topped by Erdoğan — helped raise claims for Taksim through their “no pasaran” type of defiance; having learned nothing from history, and sadly or not,  they will let Taksim continue to be a place heavily guarded, explosive, avoided by tourists, a ground of all sorts of social expression.

Yet, questions remain on whether or not Gezi after 365 days will be able to have any influence over the upcoming two elections.

A clear point is, no oppositional party, neither the Republican People’s Party (CHP) nor any of those in the green-left periphery have been able draw lessons, conclusions and build bridges with the dismayed crowds, which are unhappy also with the narrow-mindedness of the anti-Justice and Development Party (AKP) stands.

Gezi in this sense still remains a “way out,” a torch for an exploration of passages in a dark tunnel, strictly controlled by Erdoğan. Time may be or may not be on the Gezi spirit’s side; it depends on more than one factor.

Gezi’s urban social base is an opaque one; it may go on rejecting conventional politics, but the social reality of Turkey is one that will inevitably force citizens to take a stand, sooner or later.

It is now rather clear that the Erdoğan-led AKP will pursue policies of non-inclusion. Even with the Kurds, or the Kurdish Political Movement, its “dazzle and delay” policies have become exposed and cause impatience. Alevis feel that they are already defined as de-facto third class citizens — humiliated and vilified.

Non-Muslims lack trust: the Greek Patriarchate is deeply worried about the fate of Hagia Sophia as a mosque, as Armenians are perplexed about the properties, given to them, and which are now demanded back by the AKP municipalities. This, and other sorts of unease, slowly prepare the ground for creating an alternative to Erdoğan.

The downside is Turkey lacks a culture of consensus.


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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