DALLAS October 31, 2012 – During the Republic Day celebrations on October 29th, Turkish police used pepper spray and water cannons on peaceful protestors. Interior Minister Şahin, who watched the event from the safety of a helicopter, initially said that the march would not be allowed due to intelligence indicating it would be used as provocation.
The stand-off between police and a massive crowd (estimates are between 100K and 500K) was short-lived. An order to remove the barricades was promptly issued so that the people participating in the celebration could continue on to the Atatürk Mausoleum. This order was said to come from Prime Minsiter Erdogan himself. Later, however, the Prime Minister denied giving such an order. Now it is said to have come from President Abdullah Gül, who told the police, “Do not cause further tension.”
However, the following day, Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag, speaking on behalf of the government, put his own spin on the event. He claimed that the opposition party (CHP) was involved with nationalistic, marginal groups affiliated with the Ergenkon plot to overthrow the government. He said, “This is an ideological conflict.”
At least he got that part right.
The idea behind the march in the first place was that a significant number of Turkish citizens do not feel like the present AKP government represents or defends the ideals of the secular state established by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The fact that Bozdag labeled them ‘domestic terrorists’ (involved in the Ergenkon plot) was extremely inflammatory language. The Ergenkon trial is ongoing and includes many high profile individuals.
Secularists point to a number of developments during the almost ten years of AKP rule that suggest an attempted paradigm shift in Turkey.
Erdoğan’s government has arrested dozens of journalists, citizens, army generals and senior officers in a number of cases, namely Balyoz (Sledgehammer) and Ergenkon, on charges that a coup was being planned to overthrow the AKP. This has effectively decimated the military, which has traditionally viewed itself as the protector of the constitutional republic formed by Atatürk.
Meanwhile, the AKP has taken a number of steps viewed by secularists as an attempt to give Islamic values a greater voice in public affairs, including relaxing the ban on Islamic head coverings in universities and government offices.
In his statement, Bozdag said, “Everyone can celebrate Republic Day anyway they want.” Apparently, this was meant to be narrowly interpreted as “You can choose to have beef or chicken at your barbecue with ayran or Cola Turka, but you cannot march to Atatürk’s Mausoleum to honor your ‘founding fathers’.
Or, to put it another way, “You can celebrate Republic Day in any way you want as long as it does not imply that we are anything less than fully devoted to the secular state. You cannot impugn our motives or intentions.”
In reference to Prime Minister Erdogan’s suggestion that the opposition party and other groups participate only in the official celebrations, Bozdag said, “It is not right for these holidays to be celebrated separately. Attempts to turn religious and national holidays to political advantage are out of line and extremely objectionable.”
At the beginning of his statement, Bozdag clearly stated that this was an ‘ideological conflict.’ But just a few paragraphs later the entire notion of ‘ideological conflict’ seems to have slipped his mind. Or maybe he is simply implying that ideological diversity, i.e. ‘conflict’ is unacceptable. Whatever the case, freedom of speech and expression have not been high priorities for the Erdogan government.
Turkey has jailed more journalists than Iran, China or Eritrea. The Prime Minister himself has filed numerous lawsuits against caricaturists who have had the audacity to publish depictions he deems as insulting. Yet, President Obama calls him his best friend in the Middle East.
What makes this entire situation even more ominous though is the revelation yesterday that security forces across the country were given orders to prevent busloads of people travelling to the capital for the celebrations from reaching their destination.
A secret memo signed by Interior Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Mustafa Demirer and dated October 27th, two days prior to the national holiday, ordered police to turn back buses headed for the capital. The crowds in Ankara would have been much larger if law-abiding citizens had not been prevented from visiting their own capital city on a national holiday.
This latest proof that the government knowing violated the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of movement will, for many, be like the government rubbing salt into their wounds. Adding insult to injury is certainly no way to win friends or find a middle road for healing and restoration.
Maybe, the Turkish government’s intelligence was right. Maybe there is a storm brewing in the hearts and minds of the Turkish people, a storm they mean to avert. Maybe, just maybe, what they fear is a Turkish Spring, a renewed determination by the people to exercise their rights. Isn’t that what all governments fear?
Luke Montgomery, author of A Deceit To Die For, lived in the Middle East for over a decade. He holds an MA in Linguistics, speaks fluent Turkish and writes on foreign policy, religion and culture. You can follow his work at www.lukemontgomery.net, or find him on Twitter at @LookingFor_Luke and on Facebook.
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.