Riot police pushed through barricades at Istanbul's Taksim Square, the epicenter of nearly two weeks of anti-government demos, on Tuesday, June 11, firing tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons at tens of thousands of non-violent protesters. Still, the Turkish people resiliently marched on in masses, demonstrating against Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, his Islamic-rooted government and their attempts at de-secularizing Turkey.
The police’s early morning return to the square raised the stakes in the nationwide turmoil, the fiercest challenge yet to Erdogan and the AKP party's decade-long rule. The move comes as the prime minister announced he would meet with demonstrators this week, his first major concession since the trouble began 12 days ago. But those who have lived under the prime minister’s iron throne for so long are unconvinced that Erdogan’s attempts at a resolution are sincere.
“Can you believe that? They attack Taksim, gas us in the morning just after proposing talks with us? What kind of leader is that?” said Yulmiz, 23, after waking up to the clashes in his tent in Gezi Park.
“We won't abandon Gezi, they can send thousands of policemen, he vowed. “I am not afraid of their water cannons, it'll be my first shower in three days.”
PM Tayyip Erdogan’s vision for Turkey is far different from the one Mustafa Kemal Atatürk--- the first president of Turkey--- envisioned for his secular, Muslim country. Since coming into power, he’s jailed reporters, enforced long detentions and trials for military officers arrested on suspicion of masterminding a coup d’état, ordered numerous students to prison for peacefully protesting his policies, banned the selling of alcohol after 10PM in areas within close vicinities to mosques, (17,000 new mosques have been built under Erdogan’s reign as Prime Minister), and lifted the ban on headscarves in Turkey’s parliament.
According to Haaretz, Erdogan also clarified his goal of changing the law in order to allow him to transfer new powers to the presidency, and then run for president himself, allowing him to continue to rule in one way or another until at least 2023, the 100th year anniversary of the Republic.
Despite the riots, Turkey’s PM remains defiant against the public outcries of his people. He maintains throughout Turkish media that the protesters are “naïve and participating (in demonstrations) by following information on social media,” which he calls a “menace to society.”
According to a report in VOA News, Erdogan delivered speeches on Sunday, June 9, in which he declared that demonstrators would “pay a price” for their activities. Though not explicitly detailing violent measures he planned to take, Erdogan did say that he would “speak the language” the protesting Turks would understand in order to undermine their efforts.
But Erdogan instructed his supporters, according to the aforementioned report, to refrain from using violence to deter protestors, and to rather employ political means—voting for Erdogan’s party in next March’s elections, for example—to “teach [them] a lesson.”
The anti-government demonstrations began when citizens grew furious with government plans to raze a public park in Istanbul to support a private enterprise. For protestors, this decision captured the economic inequality that increased following the latest boom, with the wealthy growing increasingly greedy with their newfound wealth.
But the economic protests transformed into a broader, ideologically-charged demonstration against Erdogan’s government, as some have grown upset with what they see as governmental efforts to turn Turkey from a secularist to an Islamist state.
Indeed, at rallies held by Erdogan Sunday, the government angst with the protestors was expressed in explicitly religious terms. According to Reuters, as thousands shouted “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest), Erdogan blamed the demonstrators for “attacking women wearing headscarves and desecrating mosques by taking beer into them.”
“Its getting crazy. I don’t know what to say anymore. Our prime minister lost his mind, he is calling us all terrorists. He is calling us the opposition, we are not. A friend of mine was killed by the police, the media reports only three deaths but I know of at least 30,” a Turkish resident, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the Jewish Voice.
“We couldn’t’ take it anymore,” our source adds. “Our civil liberties are in great risk. People from all backgrounds and religions in Turkey are now united for the same cause. We demand more democracy and freedom of speech. Erdogan pushed the boundaries too far out to the point of interfering with our lifestyles as well as demolishing the secular republic. Backed up by his supporters and police, he plans to crash us in a week or so. He is making a bloody mistake thinking we will back down. His threats only make us stronger.”
Meanwhile, as turmoil in Turkey continues, investors worldwide have taken note and raised concern for Turkey’s economy. Ratings agency Moody’s said the uncertainty concerning Turkey’s markets in light of the demonstrations could hurt tourism revenues and foreign investment in Turkish markets, according to Reuters, which would not bode well for the country’s economy. It would increase risks of a balance of payments deficit, as Turkey pegs its currency to the dollar. Less investment would depreciate Ankara’s currency—the lira—leading to either a depletion of bank reserves and a shock to the Turkish economy, or a forced devaluation of the currency, which would similarly spell doom for the Turkish economy due to the reliability of its peg for domestic investors.
The government’s apathy in light of these unsettling economic prospects has surprised some.
"This marks an abrupt about-turn for an administration that has always appeared to value foreign investment and has been very sensitive to markets," said Timothy Ash, head of emerging markets at Standard Bank, according to Reuters. "That era now seems to have ended and the administration appears set on a collision course with foreign investors and with markets."