A comment from İsmail Doğa Karate and Axel Gehring
An occupy style protest against the demolition of a relatively small park under the guise of urban renewal sparks a series of demonstrations all over the Turkey. The demonstrators do object not only to the planned shopping mall construction on to the park. But also slogans against the anti-democratic and economically liberal policies are shouted very often. The Development and Justice Party (AKP) which is in office for more than a decade and its leader, prime minister Tayyip Erdogan have been seen as the responsible actors of such policies and concomitantly there is wider anger against Tayyip Erdogan and prominent figures of AKP during the protests.
The police violence to the demonstrators and long-lasting resistance against police forces especially around Taksim square in Istanbul resembles for many Tahir in Egypt. Some authors even started to talk about a “Turkish spring”. We cannot foresee whether these demonstrations will advance to spark a “spring”. The future is unscripted. Nevertheless, we can say that the seed for a spring has been already sowed, but not only yesterday when a day-long clash between protestors and police occurred. A potential for a spring has been already present and deeply rooted.
Exactly two years ago, in a far smaller town in the black sea region, a peaceful demonstration against AKP and its policies ended up in police attacks on protestors. The protest against hydroelectric plants which already brought about environmental destruction for that environmentally splendid region was dispersed at expense of a 54-year old teacher life. Metin Lokumcu died from heart attack during the clash because of excessive usage of tear gas by police. Speaking about Metin Lokumcu, Erdoğan said: “They are saying one died because of a heart attack; I don’t know who he is.” He blamed the demonstration itself, not the use of excessive force by the police.
Similar violent crackdowns have been occurring in many demonstrations taking place not only in the Wast where the Kurdish population are primarily concentrated but also in the West of Turkey. Especially after the last referendum for the constitutional amendments which took place in the year 2010, AKP rule tends to utilise coercive means against its opponents more frequently. Overall the amendments were enabling the government to improve its power within the existing power bloc by strengthening its position within the state apparatus through extending its control over the judicial system. This exacerbated the democracy deficit in Turkey. Several journalists, Kurdish politicians, trade unionists, dissent students etc. are still in prison. The police forces dare to break up every demonstration including the one against uprooting trees in Taksim Gezipark.
Speaking about Turkey, many social scientists have been highlighting the subsequent AKP governments’ “successes” in terms of its ability to gain the consent of others. What is clear by the events now, the oppressive side of Neoliberal-Islamist hegemony becomes increasingly visible, particularly for people outside of Turkey. Thanks to media which have their attention to the contemporary clashes in Turkey. The party obviously gained support among important segments of Turkish society. That led to two successive reelections of AKP in 2007 and in 2011. But that support was never free of contradictions and it never included all segments of society.
Currently people suffering from devastations of Neoliberal-Islamist (communal) politics are finding themselves together in their resistance against a project of urban renewal which tries to convert a public park into a shopping-center. The latter is planned to be placed in Ottoman barracks which have to rebuild for that aim. As such it symbolizes both: The ruthless commodification and rationalization of urban spaces and AKP‘s politics of (Neo-Ottoman) Islamization. Wide segments of Turkish bourgeoisie supported throughout the recent decade AKP for its commitment to Neoliberalism, meanwhile some of them among with other segments of Turkish elites saw in the ideological and social practices of Islamist politics a glue fixing the social devastations left by Neoliberalisation. Economic insecurity never disappeared in Turkish society – although its high growth rates during the 2000s. Finally that should not led us to trivialize Islamization as a tool subordinated to manage social unrest – therefore the process of Islamization is done with too much passion by the ruing party and many other actors affiliated with her.