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.