The AKP party has attempted to reconcile capitalist aspirations with traditional values for so long, but Turkish citizens are now recognising the failures of such a government
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to crush resistance have continued with early morning police raids on Wednesday at the homes of 20 people accused of “terrorism” for participating in demonstrations in Ankara. These arrests occurred amid anger over the release of a policeman who shot and killed a young demonstrator at close range.
In Istanbul, protesters forcibly driven out of Gezi Park held night-time forums to discuss what to do in parks throughout the city. People have been stopping their usual routines at nine o’clock every evening to make noise for 15 minutes in solidarity with the movement. They have been leaning out of their apartment windows to bang on pots and pans, chanting and whistling. In many cafes and restaurants, customers have been symbolically tapping their tea glasses.
The movement that began with the defence of Gezi Park against redevelopment plans in late May has struck a deep chord among the youth and other groups in cities throughout Turkey, with women often in the front ranks. Now the main demand is for the resignation of Erdogan.
The situation took a turn on the night of 15 June when the authorities attempted to put an end to the protests by sheer force, thus revealing the nature of the state Erdogan leads. Tightly closed ranks of thousands of police from all over the country, with their shields tilted above their heads, lined up like phalanxes of ancient Roman soldiers moving through the park. The authorities changed the composition of the hi-tech sprays and gasses used against protesters. Not only do eyes sting horribly after contact, but people have been vomiting and flesh has sometimes been showing the marks of first degree chemical burns. Most people were not prepared for such an onslaught. Although they held their ground for more hours than seemed possible, eventually they were driven out.
Erdogan’s claims that the protesters in their multitudes were all “terrorists” or at least manipulated by “terrorism” had fallen flat. When he called for mothers to come to Gezi Park and collect their children, hundreds of mothers came to form a protective human chain around the park. The association of lawyers held a demonstration to demand the release of their colleagues jailed for defending protesters, and the doctors’ and dentists’ association did the same to defend the medical personnel targeted by the police, beaten and jailed for taking care of the wounded.
Erdogan called huge rallies in Ankara and Istanbul to prove that his support is still strong. He tried to set his social base on fire with religion and a sense of victimhood in the face of unnamed enemies, implicitly “the west” and westernised people in Turkey who want to prevent Turkey’s rise on the global platform.
For the past three decades giant changes have swept Turkey as part of the quickened pace of globalisation. The intensification of capitalist development has meant new capitalists want their share of the state power and the loot. This same process of development has also led to dislocation of millions of peasants and subsistence farmers, driven to bankruptcy and pushed into the shantytowns or migration abroad. This process of upheaval has been reflected in nostalgia for the traditional ideas, morals and culture.
The AKP party was propelled into power as an expression of these drives and contradictions toward, on the one hand, an increased modern capitalist development and, on the other hand, the promotion of traditional values and religious ideology – its “politics of piety”. The AKP represents the unashamed defence and practice of free market capitalism and exploitation, working hand in hand with imperialism. Yet their claim to power, their ideological cohesion and their appeal to a section of the people is increasingly rooted in religious ideology (Islam) and its yearning for a traditional way of life which, they would argue, is being undercut by the workings of the world capitalist system – but a system which the AKP is salivating over, no less.
In today’s world, especially in the Middle East and North Africa, these two conflicting but interdependent drives are shaping political events and posing reactionary alternatives, contending with each other, and fuelling reactionary violence and manipulation. Aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan, Somalia, the imperialist “war on terrorism”, and the ongoing confrontation with Islamic Republic of Iran, are all marked by this same dynamic. The so-called Turkish Model was touted as an example of mitigating and harmonising unbridled capitalist development with a reactionary Islamic political regime. Erdogan is caught between these two irreconcilable poles. His arrogance is caused by the conviction that he is the only one that can hold this explosive contradiction together, and ultimately western powers and Turkey’s ruling class as a whole will have to accept that.
The regime has made efforts to peel off some of the more established middle class citizens who make up an important base of support for the movement in the streets, both by making promises (such as the promise not to tear down Gezi Park without a court process and, possibly, a referendum) and brutality and arrests. His reign of terror has given some protesters pause, but is also an important factor in spreading disbelief in the regime’s legitimacy.
The core of this movement remains in a mood of resistance. Sometimes it is expressed in a solemn way, like the ”standing man” in Taksim Square and the mass pledges to uphold the honour of those killed by the police. Sometimes it is in defiant jokes, like the chanting of “bring on the pepper gas” as night falls. “This is just the beginning,” another chant goes, with an increasingly realistic assessment that the road ahead is going to be dangerous and difficult.
Most importantly, there is a questioning, not only about what to do but what to fight for, what kind of world we have and what kind we want.
This report drew on analysis in “A Spring Thunder Resonating Far And Wide” by Ishak Baran, Revolution, newspaper no. 308 (www.revcom.us).
Image from: http://en.rian.ru/world/20130601/181460842.html
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