Let’s give space to Turkey



“Turkish spring”, “the Turkish revolution”, “the new Turkish resistance”, “the Turkish struggle for democracy” how many times have you heard and read recently these titles on TV and on newspapers’ headlines? Probably one time too many.

The on going riot in Turkey, as any big event, has its origin in something very snall. The government had planned to build a shopping mall in Taksim Square but a group of environmentalists protested against what they perceived as a capitalistic approach of the government, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This was the event that provoked the strikes we are all hearing about. However, our newspapers and media lack of a good understanding of what Turkey was, and is today.

In my opinion, we are not witnessing a Turkish spring. Turkey is a very particular country; it has many historical ties with Western Europe but also has ties with the Middle East and the Arab culture, having been in the past the cradle of the Ottoman Empire.  This country embodies two different stories, the liberal West and the centralised East. Since it became a Republic, back in 1923, Turkey has been a secular country, way before the Christian Europe Empires of those times.


An example of this is the headscarf that was banned since that time. Every religious dress was restricted , and this event must be taken into consideration, as 95% Turkish are Muslims. It’s not a coincidence that I mention this. Headscarves are an important issue because many people want to lift the ban that has raised many interesting and controversial lawsuits. For instance, there was a case of a woman called Hatice Babacan who, in 1968, refused to remove her headscarf in university. More recently and one very recently, a Turkish female student, Nuray Bezirgan, was sentenced to six months of jail for wearing a headscarf during her final exams at university. Turkey’s Constitutional Court rejected the amendment that lifted the ban (not imposing the headscarf on Turkish people but just lifting the ban on it), ruling that the amendment undermines the founding principles of the Constitution.


The country faces continuous challenges with its secular and religious identity. Today’s Turkey is very different from the one that is broadcasted in Western media. We have an insane desire to see others becoming like us to the point that we are used to seeing the history of every civilisation on Earth as a development towards our level, or better, one ladder below us. We are obsessed with considering world matters on our schemes rather than reasoning on what is going on in a place far away from us. Our judgement is even more severe if we are talking of Muslims.


Police forces are well-known for their violence but the violence of the protesters is also quite underestimated- not just in Turkey but everywhere. For instance, there was a strike in Italy in 2001, Genoa, nearby where the G8 Summit was held. It was very extremely violent and Amnesty International defined it as ‘the most serious suspension of civil rights in a western country since the end of World War II”. Thousands of people were arrested, tonnes of them were injured for the fights and a city was partially destroyed, but no government in the world looked down upon the Italian one for restraining the police or labelling it as a fascist dictatorship. Not to mention the strikes in New York City. I see similarities between what is happening in Gezi Park and what happened in Zuccotti Park of Occupy Wall Street. Not to mention the London riots that broke up two summers ago and ended up with 3,100 arrests.


I could go on because social unrest is a problem for every government on this Earth and the answer is always the same, police forces; but I wonder why we always give time to our governments to tackle protests but at the same time neglect others the opportunity of doing the same.


The difference between what happened in Europe and what is happening right now in Turkey is that we are not giving enough space to the government of the Prime Minister Erdogan to move, to address the issue once the protest has calmed down- on the contrary we are attacking an inferno with a water pistol squirting fuel instead of water. Turkey has made significant progress in the last ten years, moving from the backwater of Europe to becoming one of the most interesting players in the world economy. The Turks have the only country with economic growth in the Mediterranean region, businesses are thriving and the country is culturally vital. Furthermore, it is important for governments to create jobs, otherwise protesters could have gone on strike for other reasons.


In my vision, it cannot be ruled out that this action as directed to destabilise the Turkish government. The country is performing well and protesters benefit from the system they are rioting against. Far be it from me to defend positions the government has undertaken and that do not satisfy their citizens but I want to point out the exaggerated fashion our news agencies have been broadcasting the news. Perhpas the protesters themselves are in good faith but the misinterpretation they encouraged could have had a bad effect to the country as whole, compromising the sovereignty and, although they don’t appreciate the current policies, the government led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan is legitimated and well supported, this being this third time in office.


In conclusion, this is a Turkish people’s matter. I do not think we are in the moral position to dictate to a sovereign state what it should do or not. Turkey is a democracy. A credible example of a Muslim democracy, an ally of the United States of America and in peace with Israel. We are not talking of a regime because it is not, but of a democracy and a democratically elected government. Any comparison with an Arab dictatorship is unjustified. The strikes I have seen recently are no different from other strikes in Western Europe I mentioned above. When I knew the news I was astonished of the riots but time will prove if something giant is happening or not. Let’s give space to Turkey.


Ian Ssali


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