For days now we’ve seen gruesome pictures of people being gassed, shot at, chased, injured and killed all over Turkey. A mess that started from a peaceful gathering in Istanbul’s Taksim Square has spread throughout the country and at least one person has been killed while thousands injured, some more, some less.
I today read an eyewitness account from Ankara. It was written by an Estonian lady who resides and works there, and her article was published in Estonian, hence it won’t do much good here. But here are some excerpts, translated by me:
A day earlier I was entrapped in my office because by five o’clock in the evening, all streets were filled with clouds of tear gas and we heard shots. The police were shooting gas loads from special weapons to hold back thousands of people who tried to enter the square from four directions.
As the gas rose up to us and we couldn’t breathe any more in our 5th floor office, I decided to try my luck on the streets. So I ran, covering my mouth and nose, through the gas clouds away from Kizilay. I heard bangs and saw, in the midst of all that, shocked elderly and crying children. All shops and cafés were closed, … subway is closed and buses are not running.
I tried to go to the pedestrian bridge, but the youths there are shouting at me to duck. The police will shoot you in the head, they say. Bang, bang, bang, I hear several shots. … A few yards ahead I see a water cannon and about ten people who are waving at it, running from the water or throwing stones at an armoured car.
I try to put myself in the middle of all that and I find it troublesome. Although I’ve only been to Istanbul, I had the impression of Turkey as a nice, peaceful, democratic country with its normal, everyday problems—like any other European nation. Never in a million years could I imagine something so… un-European happening in Turkey. However, it is happening and it’s not a pretty sight.
Of course, there have been riots and chaos all across Europe in recent years. But this has always been initiated by the rioters themselves, not by the governments and the law enforcement authorities in these countries. I’m completely in favour of taking immediate and efficient action against people who threaten the public order, who loot and riot for the sake of it. However, it seems the situation is different in Turkey.
The mess in Turkey started with a peaceful protest against building another mosque at the Taksim Square in Istanbul, and the further Islamisation of the country. I emphasise, it was a peaceful protest and the protesters hurt nobody. In a democratic country, the right to gather, protest and demonstrate should always be guaranteed by the constitution and other relevant laws. In Turkey, however, that peaceful protest was dispersed by police using tear gas, water cannons and other punitive measures normally reserved for… well, violent and offensive riots. The government, lead by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, decided to act in the most undemocratic way and almost waged a war against its own citizens. To everybody’s shock and astonishment, this happened in a country that has been trying to join the European Union for over a decade. If someone had any doubts about Turkey’s EU membership before, I’m sure now we can all be sure its place is not among a union of free nations.
It’s sad to see the Turkish government behave as so many of its neighbours in the regions have in the past—and more so because it’s over such a trivial issue. While trying to disperse a crowd of people protesting against remodelling the Taksim Square, the Turkish government took up measures that have so widely been used against the people in Egypt, Syria, Iran and elsewhere.
But the paradox here is, all aforementioned countries where events similar to Turkey’s happened, were or are ruled by undemocratic despotic pariah regimes—fear societies that cannot function without the iron fist and suppressing their own citizenry. Turkey has so far been a beacon of freedom in all Islamic world in terms of the system of government. What the hell happened now?
Daniel Hannan MEP tweeted today that “Turkey is not Syria. People have every right to protest, but they are not up against an undemocratic regime.” I usually agree with him on quite a lot, but I must say to this point that history has shown us many, many times that democratically elected leaders can at some point start acting like dictators. And in many cases they don’t even have to have dictatorial, autocratic or totalitarian tendencies before and when they get elected. For some peculiar reason—may it be that power corrupts people even though I don’t think that’s always entirely true—some democratically elected leaders turn into totalitarian arseholes after quite a few years of being in power and governing the country… well, normally.
I think this is the very thing that has happened in Turkey. Perhaps Erdogan has been in power for too long. Perhaps he always had those tendencies and only now he’s started expressing them. I have no idea. But I do see the typical metamorphosis from an elected leader into an autocratic despot—a Sultan, if you will. Admitted, he has not yet started to change laws to ensure his rule, but he has already started creating a fear society where even the media are afraid to show a truthful picture of what’s happening. Here’s another excerpt from the article I quoted before:
When all this was happening, the largest TV channels in Turkey showed cooking and talent shows and entertainment. The journalists, who could have said something, are imprisoned. CNN Türk showed a three-hour documentary about penguins.
While I do like penguins, I find it incomprehensible that in an open, democratic society, the media is afraid to report the daily events as they are. Imagine, if anything like this were happening in the UK, in Germany, in the US, all TV channels would be full of 24/7 coverage. How can it be possible that in Turkey they’re showing a programme about penguins?
Erdogan’s entire being is a similar story. As Hürriyet Daily News said, Erdogan “added that he did not have to take permission from the main opposition leader or a ‘few marauders’ for the projects, noting that the authority had already been given by people who voted for the AKP”, the Erdogan’s home party. As the Middle-East analyst, Daniel Pipes, puts it: “Erdoğan is saying, in other words, that having voted the AKP into office, Turks have given him authority to do anything he wants. He is the elected, unaccountable padishah.”
This is a real danger. This is showing clearly that Erdogan these days has trouble understanding his real role, or he’s just simply ignoring it and trying to become, as Pipes said, an “unaccountable padishah”. Moreover, as the New York Times reported today, “After days of demonstrations that have presented Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan with his worst political crisis in more than a decade of power, the Turkish leader responded on Monday with a supremely confident flourish: he simply turned his back and left, boarding a plane to start a four-day good-will tour of Northern Africa.” This is something I’ve seen now and again in many autocratic regimes all over the world—a complete ignorance of the issues in hand and giving the impression everything is in complete order.
It would be extremely sad if Turkey fell into the same horrid spider’s nest of dictatorship as many countries have throughout history. The world would lose a valuable member of its free society, the Turkish people would lose their freedom and the Free World would have yet another pariah nation in their hands to deal with. I don’t think many people—except for Erdogan himself—would want that to happen. Turkey with its rich history and culture has always been a role model for many other countries in the Islamic world and most of us would rather other countries in the region followed Turkey’s footsteps, not vice versa.
It seems to me that the only viable solution for Turkey at its present stage is for Erdogan to immediately and voluntarily resign and call for new elections. President Abdullah Gül should see to this—even though he is a fellow member of Erdogan’s AKP party. If that won’t happen, my only hope is that the Turkish people will not succumb to the government’s pressure and continue fighting for their God-given liberty.
Because nobody has the right to take that away from them.