I’ve been absent for a few days as my girlfriend prepares to return to Canada for the summer and one of my dogs slowly dies of kidney disease. Fortunately, there’s always lots of news to read, and in this instance too much for one post. So here’s the news roundup from Turkey in the past few days, with one for the rest of the Levant to follow.
The past few nights have seen renewed energy behind continuing Taksim protests, though they remain for the most part prohibitively suppressed by the continuing police presence in the heart of the city.
Tuesday night, thousands of protesters reoccupied Taksim Square in a brief and tightly controlled protest against the release of a police officer accused of killing a demonstrator at the beginning of the occupation of Gezi Park.
The officer, identified as Ahmet S., was released pending trial on the grounds that his actions resulting in the death of protester Ehmet Sarısülük could’ve fallen within the bounds of reasonable self-defense.
Having seen video of the moment Sarısülük was allegedly killed, it looks to me like “Constable S.” was beating the shit out of Sarısülük for whatever reason (and police here often don’t need one), found himself far away from his buddies and under concentrated attack from stone-throwers, panicked, and made a stupid decision to shoot an unarmed man in the face.
In these sorts of instances, and looking at a lengthy history of police abuses that left four other demonstrators dead in the past month alone, it is hard to sympathize with police, and even harder to excuse this ending without a single officer convicted, despite numerous human rights violations.
The protest saw incredibly tight police controls, including extensive checks and searches on all present members of the media, indicating that police and the regime have no intention of allowing momentum to build off of new protests.
Earlier this week, a commemorative march to Taksim for protesters killed by police resulted in clashes with police. Using water cannons, tear gas, and rubber bullets, police dispersed the large crowd leaving a minority of protesters throwing stones and bottles. Some great photos emerged as angry protesters, armed only with commemorative carnations, pushed back against riot police — flowers against firepower.
Another memorial gathering, this time for the 1993 massacre of Alevis in the Sivas Hotel, was also declared to be in solidarity with Taksim. Alevis, as a generally oppressed sect of Shia Islam, don’t like Erdogan, for his generally pro-Sunni, anti-Shia politics, as in his support for Sunni rebels over the Shia Iran-Hezbollah-Assad alliance in Syria. His choice of name for the controversial third bridge over the Bosphorus, which will be named for the Alevi-slaughtering Sultan Selim “the Grim”, also didn’t impress.
The European Union has backed down on its earlier threat to suspend EU accession talks in light of abuses of power during the Gezi protests, now saying they will reopen negotiations in October.
Some EU members, particularly Sweden, argued that continuing talks would encourage the government to improve human rights and media freedoms. This seems pretty hopeful, given that EU members Greece, Hungary, and Italy are all experiencing a frightening slide towards fascism.
More importantly, Turkish EU Minister Egemen Bagis has already shown he is ready to draw a line in the sand over EU interference in domestic politics, denying the parliament’s legitimacy to criticize the government and taking a generally hard line with EU negotiators.
If this is the starting point for Erdogan’s government, I’m with MEP Andrew Duff, who said in an interview with Hurriyet, “I don’t think [Erdogan] really understands what the EU is. He sees it as a club that he would quite like to be a member off. But he does not understand it is in fact a system of government that is federal, pluralistic, secular, and far reaching.”
As is to be expected, Erdogan and his Freedom and Development (AK) party has continued attacking his opposition and increasing the state’s power to clamp down on criticism.
Monday night, Erdogan warned that the opposition is nuturing sectarian tensions while simultaneously defaming protesters for allegedly drinking and wearing shoes in a mosque, a crime abhorred by his conservative Islamic base and repeatedly denied by the imam of the mosque in question.
In a fiery speech yesterday, he has defended the actions of police as a “heroic saga”, including even the storming of the Divan Hotel, where a pregnant woman lost her baby in clashes and children and elderly were gassed as they fled from police violence.
He stood behind Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek, who has received widespread mockery for accusing BBC reporter Selin Girit of being an English spy, saying the BBC is just another part of the “planned operations” to undermine the AKP and Turkey’s march towards progress.
I’ve only had the privilege of going to one of Erdogan’s speeches thus far, but surely even his supporters are getting tired of the international plot theories.
As always with Erdogan, it’s worth reading the full summary of his speech for the full effect.
They may be trying to undermine the AKP as part of an international conspiracy, but at least one social media company is willing to narc — and to no one’s surprise, it’s Facebook.
That’s not strictly fair, since Facebook categorically denied having responded “positively” to government requests for information (in the words of Binali Yıldırım, communications minister).
But following on revelations about their buddy-buddy relationship with the NSA’s invasive PRISM program, it hardly inspires faith in the company that holds all your best protest photos that they have allegedly “been working in coordination with the Turkish authorities for a long time.”
On the other side of things, I fell in love with Twitter a little more this week after hearing their categorical rejection of cooperation with Turkey to censor tweets.
Egypt looks due for another revolution, Lebanon looks due for another civil war, and Palestine and Syria look… well, like Palestine and Syria. Up tomorrow.