The Republic of Turkey: a Troubled Path from Gezi Park to the Security Council

Photo Credits: IB Times
Photo Credits: IB Times

It was the 28th of May in Istanbul, Turkey, when protests and sit-ins started to protect Gezi Park near the then-famous Taksim Square. Over the night between the 27th and the 28th the dismantlement of the park began as the basis of a plan that would eventually lead to the eradication of about 600 trees in order to build a shopping centre and rebuild the Ottoman Taksim Military Barracks. The new local strategic plan also envisioned the construction of a cultural centre, but this did not reassure the citizens who saw the destruction of one of the symbols of the European side of Istanbul as a despotic and unjustified act.

Photo Credits: Dado Ruvic/Reuters
Photo Credits: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

What initially started as an underestimated environmental protest rapidly opened the Pandora’s box of an authoritarian administration and riots expanded to Ankara, Izmir, Bodrum and many other cities all around Turkey. All attempts made by the government to downplay the situation clearly failed, defying the facts 33 journalists that were imprisoned in the first 10 days of protests and more than 15 thousand websites were banned. Also, CNN-Turk was criticised for broadcasting a documentary on penguins on Saturday 1st June instead of covering the protests in Taksim Square, so as to avoid any hard consequences. Despite all of that, information about the series of events happening in Istanbul reached every corner of the world. Supporting protests spread in important cities like London and New York, where thousands of protesters demonstrated respectively in Hyde Park and in Zuccotti Park on the 1st June, just three days after the first rallies in Gezi Park. The protests were then covered by the mainstream media until the situation seemed to finally cool down. However, in reality, the protests never ended. Western media showed us how riots stood against the corruption scandal in December 2013, but they failed to cover the harsh demonstrations organised last March for the death of Berkin Elvan, a 15 year old boy who passed away after 269 days of being in a coma for getting hit on the head by a tear gas canister during the Gezi Park protests in June 2013.

Photo Credits: Osman Orsal/Reuters
Photo Credits: Osman Orsal/Reuters

Now, Turkey finds itself once again under the scrutiny of the public eye due to the ISIS occupation of the Syrian city of Kobani, located right at the border with Turkey. The raising of black flags in the city has had two main effects on the internal scenario of the Republic of Turkey: it gave a pivotal role to the country in the management of the crisis in Syria while also reopening the Kurdish issue, as Kobani is populated mainly by Kurds.

This comes at the wrong time for Turkey since the country is one of the three candidates for the two non-permanent seats assigned to the Western European and Others Group (WEOG) in the UN Security Council.

The candidacy, announced with the press release n°129 in 2011 when Gezi Park was not yet an issue, presents Turkey as “an ardent defender of the principles and goals enshrined in the U.N. Charter, supporting resolution of international disputes through multilateral cooperation” which put all its efforts “towards strengthening of fundamental principles and values such as human rights, democracy and the rule of law” and decided to present its candidacy believing that “Turkey will provide significant added value to global peace and security in an era of critical and rapid change in international affairs”. The characteristics listed are better explained in the website created ad hoc to support the candidacy (www.turkey4unsc.org) in which everyone can see a country involved in peaceful initiatives and strenuously working for a better world. Yet, going through all the pictures you see a country very different from the Gezi Park one.

Not willing to accuse Turkey of misleading people and truly believing in the sincere commitment of the country (for instance, Turkey is one of the two co-sponsors of the UN Alliance of Civilizations, together with the Kingdom of Spain) it seems that the country is currently under an administration that is no longer able of communicating with its citizens.

Will this affect the oncoming elections?

It will all depend on the latest developments, as the new non-permanent members of the SC will be voted on on the 16th of October. The three countries running for the seats are New Zealand, Spain and, obviously, Turkey. They will substitute Australia and Luxembourg starting from January 2015 for the 2015-2016 term.

Turkey definitely stands out in this group for the strong position expressed in relation to the Kobani crisis and as well as its delicate relationship with the US. The position of President Erdogan is a strong one: he defied President Obama by affirming that Turkey would not get further involved in the Kobani crisis unless the US was willing to give strong support to Syrian rebels. Even though the US has been one of the first countries to officially recognize the Syrian National Council (SNC) as a legitimate representative of Syrian citizens, it now seems more keen to collaborate with Bashar al-Assad in the name of the fight against the common new enemy: ISIS.

On the other hand, Turkey also has to face the problem of the Kurds and Kurdistan. In fact, since the early stages of the Syrian Civil War in 2012, the whole Kurdish region has been controlled by the main Kurdish political power, the People’s Protection Units (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, YPG), making the idea of an independent state of Kurdistan more feasible. Meanwhile the situation in Kobani is unbearable as the UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is strongly underlining that “The international community cannot sustain another city falling under ISIS”.

This situation could easily become another forgotten tragedy of the international community, as we saw many others become forgotten over the years.

If Turkey were to be elected as one of the two WEOG countries in the SC, this would probably lead to a solution for the question of Kobani and Syria. But on the other hand, this would also mean offering a seat in the main decisional body of the UN to a country that is currently violating human rights such as the freedom of speech and is unable to democratically dialogue with its citizens. This would raise the same concerns that surrounded Rwanda, which is currently serving the term of 2013-2014 in the SC. At the time, the protests made by many Member States in regards to the Rwandan support to the M23 movement in DR Congo, did not have any effect on the final elections and Rwanda won the seat. But it must be said that Rwanda was the only candidate to the SC elections in 2012 while, in the case of Turkey, there are two other countries that have presented their candidacy for the upcoming SC elections. To make things more difficult for Turkey, one of those is an EU member.

What will happen tomorrow is unpredictable but either way, the position of the

Republic of Turkey currently remains one of the most interesting within the international arena.

Agnese Cigliano.

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