Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Brilliant Balanced Piece On What's Happening In Turkey Today

IT BEGAN with a grove of sycamores. For months environmentalists had been protesting against a
government-backed plan to chop the trees down to make room for a shopping and residential complex in Istanbul's Taksim Square. They organised a peaceful sit-in with tents, singing and dancing. On May 31st riot police staged a pre-dawn raid, dousing the protesters with jets of water and tear gas and setting fire to their encampment. Images of the brutality - showing some protesters bloodied, others blinded by plastic bullets - spread like wildfire across social media.

Within hours thousands of outraged citizens were streaming towards Taksim. Police with armoured personnel carriers and water cannon retaliated with even more brutish force. Blasts of pepper spray sent people reeling and gasping for air. Hundreds were arrested and scores injured in the clashes that ensued. Copycat demonstrations soon erupted in Ankara and elsewhere. By June 3rd most of Turkey's 81 provinces had seen protests. A "tree revolution" had begun.

In fact these protests are not just about trees. Nor is Turkey really on the brink of a revolution. The convulsions are rather an outpouring of the long-stifled resentment felt by those - nearly half of the electorate - who did not vote for the moderately Islamist Justice and Development (AK) party in the election of June 2011 that swept Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's combative prime minister, to a third term. The most popular slogan on the streets was "Tayyip Resign". Millions of housewives joined in, clanging their pans in solidarity and belying government claims that the protests had been pre-planned rather than spontaneous.

Rainbow nation
It took 24 hours for Mr Erdogan to respond - whereupon he called the protesters "louts" who were acting under orders from "foreign powers". The wave of unrest evidently caught his government off guard. "The limits of its power have now been drawn," said Kadri Gursel, a columnist for the daily Milliyet. By June 5th at least three people had died and thousands of others had been hurt; students referred to their bruises as "Erdogan's kiss". The Istanbul Stock Exchange fell by as much as 12% on June 3rd, before recovering slightly the next day. Barack Obama's administration expressed "serious concerns".

Who are the protesters who have created the biggest political crisis in a decade of Mr Erdogan's rule? Many are critics of Turkey's huge urban-development projects, favoured by a government that wants to pep up the slowing economy with infrastructure spending. The schemes include a third bridge over the Bosporus that will entail felling thousands of trees (and was to have been named after an Ottoman sultan who slaughtered thousands of Alevis); a huge new airport for Istanbul; and a canal joining the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara. Environmentalists are appalled. {Read on}