Taksim Square Protests: Open Door to Reforms and Erdogan Overthrow

The 10-day protests that took place across Turkey might finally inspire some reforms for the country as Prime Minister Erdogan agrees to meet with protest organizers. The protests which began 12 days ago have spread to more than 70 Turkish cities, including the capital Ankara, and have resulted in three people have dying, more than 4,000 injured, and 900 arrested.

Prime Minister Erdogan has been the designated target by protesters because he symbolizes the authoritarian, privileged, religious class of the Turkish society. Although Erdogan has been very popular amongst Turkish citizens, as his three consecutive electoral victories demonstrate, but many factors have resulted in his fall from grace. The protests were originally intended as an environmental demonstration meant to save Gezi Park, in the heart of Taksim Square, which the government intends to develop. They escalated when riot police officers used harsh methods to disperse participants in what even some government officials conceded were drastic. But even after the escalated protests Prime Minister Erdogan was defiant in accepting any demands of the opposition, even meeting with the organizers. He claimed there was no need to talk to “thugs” and addressed his supporters by saying, “We won't do what a handful of looters have done. They burn and destroy. ... They destroy the shops of civilians. They destroy the cars of civilians," to justify his rejection. But Erdogan’s stance suddenly changed when pro and anti-government demonstrators started to class, signaling the possibility of a civil war.

After inter-Turkish conflicts in the cities of Rize and Adana the Prime Minister agreed to a meeting with the protest leadership. Erdogan, an avid supporter of the Syrian rebels, must now negotiate to prevent his own civil war and overthrow. But how far will Erdogan and his ruling party, Justice and Development Party, be willing to bend. The protesters have demanded the resignation of governors and security chiefs in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, the punishment of abusive police officers and the release of people detained in the protests, and some have even called for Erdogan to resign. But these demands are unlikely to be met as the Prime Minister’s party, supported by religious conservatives Turks, still hold to my power and support amongst the masses to be fully handicapped into resignations. The more realistic reforms that could be agreed on consist of the more recent policies of incumbent regime. If these reforms are made I believe that Erdogan and his party could possible escape political suicide.

The first move would be to revoke the new alcohol ban that was controversy signed by Turkish President Abdullah Gul. Among its main features are a complete ban on retail alcohol sales between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., an almost complete ban on the advertising of alcoholic beverages, a restriction that requires establishments selling alcohol to be 100 meters away from "religious and educational" facilities and a ban on screening images in films and on television that show (or even "glorify") the consumption of alcohol. Considering that the Turkish founding father, Ataturk, formed the republic on the model of a secular state any sort of further agenda invented to gain support from the conservative factions will only back fire in a country overwhelmingly consisting of secular middle-class community. Next the Prime Minister needs to stop vocally supporting the Syrian rebels and allowing them to cross the Turkish border.

Putting Turkish civilians in harm’s way is not a good policy when you already have internal tensions. Intermittent shelling across the border from Syria, which has killed five civilians, and the shooting down of a Turkish warplane in Syrian airspace in June 2012, killing the two crew, along with the mid-May a bombing at Reyhanli , blamed by Ankara on Syrian agents, killed about 50 people have all caused a public outcry in Turkey. The Turkish people are not willing to spill blood for a war that they are not interested in being involved in and have called for Erdogan to make domestic policy his priority rather than international concerns. Finally the Turkish government must make accommodations to the environmental protestors that currently have full control over Gezi Park.

In reality, this controversial event has led to the eruption of protest across Turkey and has been fully backed by opposition parties. Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party Chairman, Devlet Bahceli called for early elections in order to overcome the current turmoil which could very much put Erdogan’s position in jeopardy if he does not negotiate with the protesters and find a middle-ground on necessary reforms.

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Almir Hodzic

Currently studying at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs with a focus on security and intelligence studies. Received his undergraduate degrees in International Relations and in History from the Pennsylvania State University. Interests include security threats, minority rights, transitional justice, and democratic progress in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Native speaker of the Serbo-Croatian language and studying Russian in college.

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