Anti-government protests have been taking place in Turkey over plans to build a commercial space in an Istanbul park. Tens of thousands of people staged a 3-day protest, establishing barricades around the prime minister’s office. Police responded with force, using water and tear gas. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan believes that the opposition parties are to blame for inciting the demonstrations and he is calling them undemocratic. More than 1,700 people have been arrested in 67 cities. Although many have been released from custody, hundreds have been injured during the protests.
The building of a commercial space is a major concern for the people of Turkey, as Gezi Park is one of the few green spaces left in Istanbul. The park is on the brink of being demolished in order to build “ottoman era barracks” which will house a shopping center. Protesters in Turkey were upset over the use of public space for a commercial development. The number of people protesting has rapidly increased since the use of excessive force by police in Taksim Square (located next to the park). President Abdullah Gül urged restraint, however, protests have continued.
James Reynolds of the BBC thinks that the protests in Turkey are a reflection of a government that is becoming progressively more authoritarian. The fear is that Erdoğan is trying to impose conservative Muslim values on the secular country and infringe upon their personal freedoms.
Despite accusations of despotic tendencies, Erdoğan denies being a dictator. He declares that he is, “but a servant” to his people. Erdoğan states that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) is trying to undermine democracy and that the use of social media has played a negative role in the protests. For instance, he refers to Twitter as, “a curse” and “an extreme version of lying.”Apparently, an individual’s opinion is not very high on Erdogan’s list of important things but isn’t the right to free speech part of democracy?
If Erdogan truly did not have despotic tendencies I don’t think that people would be protesting as much as they are over a park. Perhaps the demolition of Gezi Park is the breaking point of the people where many said, “enough, we are not going to take the authoritarian undemocratic practices of the government in power anymore.”
While protests can be dangerous and many people get unnecessarily hurt and/or thrown into prison, they are essential to providing a wake-up call to a government who believes that they have absolute power. Protests reaffirm the democratic notion that the government was elected for the people and by the people. In this case, the resulting use of force by Erdoğan’s police indicates that he is not pleased with having his judgement questioned.
Under a democratic government, the rights and freedoms of citizens must be respected. In this case, the right to disagree with a government project which will destroy limited green space. It’s clear that Erdoğan is not “but a servant” to his people but rather a potential despot who will create more problems. The international community must caution Turkey and the people of Istanbul from falling under a potential dictatorship. The rights and freedoms of its people must be maintained, along with a democratic government.