A year after Taksim, Turkey is in flux

Published: May 22, 2014
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The writer is an international lawyer who has worked on human rights and humanitarian law projects in the US, Europe, Asia and Africa

The writer is an international lawyer who has worked on human rights and humanitarian law projects in the US, Europe, Asia and Africa

Next week will mark the one-year anniversary of the Taksim Square protests in Turkey. Demonstrators were originally upset over plans to further urbanise one of Istanbul’s cherished green spaces, but as with other protests that have swept through the Muslim world since 2011, the initial spark soon transformed into a wider referendum on middle-class dissatisfaction with their government.

In Turkey, the ‘government,’ for all intents and purposes, means the strongman Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Rightly credited with bringing a decade of stability and rapidly rising living standards to this gateway country between the West and the rest, Erdogan’s latest antics are making the Istanbul intelligentsia long for meaningful and strictly enforced term limits. While he has pledged to make his third term as prime minister his last — for now — Erdogan is widely expected to stand for Turkey’s first-ever popular elections for the post of president in August 2014. In his apparent desire for political longevity, he is not expected to fade quietly from the spotlight.

However, the Turkish people would be better served if he took a nice, long vacation. Over the past six months, Erdogan’s tenure has been rocked by a series of upheavals that would have felled a lesser politician. In December 2013, corruption allegations were made against several of his inner circle in regards to the awarding of illegal construction permits. January 2014 saw a fistfight break out in Parliament, as MPs from Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party sponsored a bill to tighten government control over the judiciary. February 2014 brought the dissemination of wiretapped conversations allegedly featuring the prime minister and his son, regarding the best way to dispose of large amounts of illicit cash. In March 2014, Erdogan instituted a ban on Twitter, supposedly due to the company’s non-compliance with court orders regarding privacy concerns. Turkey’s constitutional court later overturned it, but commentators noted the suspicious timing of the ban, coming a week before important local elections. Since many mainstream media outlets are owned by conglomerates with ties to the ruling party, Twitter is a uniquely independent source of information for Turkish voters.

However, this month may prove the worst yet for Erdogan. First, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) handed down a €90 million judgement against Turkey for its invasion of Cyprus in 1974. Erdogan’s Administration has indicated they do not intend to comply with the ruling, although ECHR decisions are binding and there is no appeal, something the Turkish government undoubtedly knows. Nevertheless, the government’s antagonistic response to the ruling was not unexpected, and the received wisdom is that since Turkey is not a member of the European Union and is unlikely to become one any time soon, it is politically expedient for Erdogan to adopt a tough stance.

More challenging by far, though, is the prime minister’s tone deaf response to the Soma mine disaster, in which nearly 300 miners died of carbon monoxide poisoning, the worst industrial accident in Turkey’s history. In a poorly orchestrated visit to meet relatives of the victims, Erdogan cavalierly asserted that mining accidents are “ordinary things” that happen in many industries. Later, one of his aides was filmed kicking an unarmed man who was being held on the ground by security forces, and the prime minister had to seek refuge from angry crowds inside a nearby store.

One year on from the Taksim Square protests, Turkey is in flux, and its citizens are growing weary of their belligerent leader. The urban elite has long lamented his grip on power, but the Soma mine disaster may be the tipping point that turns his conservative working-class base against him as well. Erdogan would best serve Turkey by bowing out of politics gracefully, and letting someone with newer, fresher ideas rule instead. However, should he choose to ignore the writing on the wall, recent examples from Egypt, Ukraine and Thailand demonstrate that leaders who are seen as out-of-touch often have a limited shelf life. Change is coming to Turkey, one way or another.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2014.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Potter
    May 22, 2014 - 3:15AM

    Couch Club!

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  • Omer Dogan
    May 22, 2014 - 3:34AM

    The writer conveniently forgot to mention that there was an election during the period she talks about and Erdogan’s party won it with a large margin.

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  • blue
    May 22, 2014 - 5:17AM

    It seems Hilary has joined the bash Erdogan bandwagon. She tried to be even handed by first pointing out that Erdogan was rightly credited with bringing a decade of stability and rapidly rising living standards. Then she goes on to compare Turkey to the likes of Egypt, Thailand & Ukraine? 2 coups and an attempted coup. Are you trying to suggest that the Turkish people should want a coup? If you know about Turkey’s history you should also know that Turkey has very bad memories of coups and will under no circumstance want that again. There are many western journalist advocating that something should happen whilst also claiming people should respect democracy. What exactly are you trying to entice? Unless I am misinformed the leaders of these countries are not even close to same level as Erdogan. Did they enjoy the same level as success as he did in the last decade? Did they give the people more freedoms and rights like he did? the answer is surely no.
    These days any bad news about Turkey tries to get warped into a bad news story on Erdogan. The people just months ago gave all of you the news that you didnt want to hear. Erdogan is still the peoples choice by a mile.

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  • lahori pakistan
    May 22, 2014 - 2:22PM

    Turks are a great and honorable people and as a Pakistani , I wish them the best of luck in whatever issues they have
    Long live Turkey!

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  • Mehmet
    May 23, 2014 - 8:34AM

    Why has the writer of this article left out a very important part of the equation in this story? It’s called the shadowy state or The Gulen Movement, the feud between Erdogan vs. Gulen is widening everyday.
    Gulen enjoys the backing of the CIA Gladio B program, part of the quest to control Central Asia and Caucaus areas oil interest away from Russia, China and Iran.
    Gulencis played an important part of Turkey’s politics, and inner government controls. Additionally the 1 year anniversary of Taksim Square will be the 12 Annual Turkish Olympiads in Turkey whereas 2,000 children that attend Gulen operated Turkish schools from 130 countries will be showing their Turkish skills.
    Things are going to get interesting in the next 2 weeks in Turkey. Erdogan sealed his fate when he botched up Syria and allowed terrorists, Wahabbi Takfiris from over 30 countries enter Syria from Turkey’s border to loot, destroy and harm Syrian people.
    Not to mention NATO is anger at Erdogan for snubbing the Military Industrial Complex by purchasing weapons from China.

    Anything can happen in Turkey, and guarantee that it will be dramatic. America can have Gulen and his Hizmet they are thieves and will bribe their way all over America with Politicians, Academia and more. They already receive over $500 million in American Tax money intended to educate American Children for their network of Charter schools.Recommend

  • porus pakistani
    May 23, 2014 - 1:17PM

    @Mehmet:

    Your comments are truly enlightening. In countries with big and influential militaries, there’s always these ‘state within a state’ scenarios. You should post more about this with regards to Turkey

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