A Turkey reading list

Aaron Stein in the Atlantic:

Despite having its genesis in the Gezi Park movement, the dynamics of the protests now reflect many of the fundamental antagonisms in Turkey’s imperfect democracy. Erdogan’s divisive rhetoric and his penchant for authoritarian rule have steadily eroded the party’s support from small constituencies that it could once count on. While the AKP’s voter base is often simplistically assumed to be religious conservatives, the truth of the matter is that AKP supporters include a small number of liberals eager to do away with the undemocratic constitution, a business sector happy with the party’s handling of the economy, nationalists who are pleased with what they perceive as Turkey’s re-emergence as a global power, Turkish Islamists obsessed with the proliferation of Ottomania (a growing desire among the Turkish population to reconnect and reacquaint themselves with the country’s imperial past), and some members of Turkey’s Kurdish minority who are pleased with AKP’s democratic reforms.

Of these interests, the only group to leave the party en mass during the AKP’s rule has been the handful liberals that bounce from party to party in search of greater freedoms. Turkey’s main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), ostensibly represents the secular segments of Turkish society but has failed to expand their political base beyond the country’s western coast.

Joe Parkinson in the WSJ:

But Turkey’s long-running narrative has been shaken by the emergence of a broad leaderless coalition of young, secular-leaning and middle-class Turks that has dominated the protests. It is also raising questions over Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bid to position Turkey as leader for emerging Islamist governments in the region […]

While secular-leaning Turks—encompassing a broad spectrum of opinion including leftists, liberals and nationalists—have dominated the protests, they have by no means been the only ones present.

In Istanbul over the weekend, bearded men and some women with headscarves marched alongside others heading for Taksim Square. On Monday, some residents in the conservative district of Fatih joined the now-nightly routine of banging pots and pans to protest Mr. Erdogan’s television appearances, ostensibly in solidarity with those on the streets. There are also factions with a more radical agenda.

Steven Cook and Michael Koplow in Foreign Policy:

[T]he whole affair represents the way in which the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has slowly strangled all opposition while making sure to remain within democratic lines. Turkey under the AKP has become the textbook case of a hollow democracy […] Turkey’s anti-democratic turn has all taken place without much notice from the outside world. It was not just coercive measures — arrests, investigations, tax fines, and imprisonments — that Washington willfully overlooked in favor of a sunnier narrative about the “Turkish miracle.” Perhaps it is not as clear, but over the last decade the AKP has built an informal, powerful, coalition of party-affiliated businessmen and media outlets whose livelihoods depend on the political order that Erdogan is constructing. Those who resist do so at their own risk […] In this the AKP has received help from Turkey’s insipid opposition, which wallows in Turkey’s lost insularity and mourns the passing of the hard-line Kemalist elite that had no particular commitment to democracy.

David Gardner in the FT:

The real drama of Mr Erdogan’s Turkey is not the secularists’ spectre of creeping theocracy but that the Kemalist opposition has proved unelectable, trapped in the past and reliant on generals and judges to win back what it keeps losing at the ballot box. Part of this drama is the paradox that Mr Erdogan and the AKP, politically paramount but paranoid about plots against them, behave as though they were still the opposition – with the difference that the feedback loop of this normally well-oiled political machine has been short-circuited by sycophants. Before first winning power in October 2002, the AKP spent 22 months interviewing in depth 41,000 people across the country. Now, even allies admit, Mr Erdogan listens mostly to himself.

Claire Berlinski in the City Journal:

Riot police blocked the roads leading to Taksim, the city’s central square, as well as those leading to Istanbul’s famous Istiklal Avenue. They fired gas bombs at everything that moved, including the city’s bewildered stray dogs. Helicopters circled the skies. Wi-Fi in the city center was jammed. The hospitals quickly filled with the injured. So far, reports of deaths have been hard to confirm, with some exceptions. Human-rights activist Ethem Sarısülük is now brain dead, having “come under fire” from police—what kind of fire, we don’t know. Mehmet Ayvalitas, reportedly a member of a banned group of left-wing hackers, is also dead. Human Rights Watch believes the casualty numbers are much higher than those claimed by the government. Reports of two other deaths, in particular, sound credible, but it’s impossible to be sure. I saw a video of a police vehicle crushing a woman under its wheels; I would be surprised if she survived […]

Almost as chillingly, the muzzled and gutless Turkish media downplayed the events. The main source of news here was Twitter. Precisely as BBC World was showing shocking scenes of the protests, Turkey’s TV24 was featuring a lecture from Erdoğan about the dangers of smoking. While Taksim burned, NTV aired a cooking show, and another channel featured an incisive documentary about liposuction […]

While no doubt some of the protesters committed vandalism, and some threw stones at the police, their social responsibility overall was impressive: as soon as the police pulled out of Taksim, they organized a cleanup of the square and its environs, even arranging makeshift first-aid stations for injured stray animals.

Jay Ulfelder at Dart-Throwing Chimp:

As Erdogan and his supporters keep pointing out, Turkey under the AKP seems to be doing fine on the most obvious version of broad and equal consultation, namely, elections. Where it’s plainly slipped is on the “protected and mutually binding consultation” part. The disturbingly frequent arrests of journalists and alleged coup plotters, and now the state’s overreaction to nonviolent protests on matters of routine public policy, give the lie to the claim the Turkish state gives all citizens equal treatment and due process. Instead, we see a regime in which (paraphrasing Tilly) state agents increasingly use their power to punish their perceived enemies and reward their friends […] What those remarks reveal is a state that is happy to appeal to the citizens who reliably support it but closes off consultation with, and even bullies, the ones who don’t. The resulting regime may still be recognizable as a variation on the theme of democracy, but the discordant notes of authoritarianism are plainly audible and keep growing louder.

Pablo Barberá and Megan Metzger at The Monkey Cage:

The social media response to and the role of social media in the protests has been phenomenal. Since 4pm local time yesterday, at least 2 million tweets mentioning hashtags related to the protest, such as #direngeziparkı (950,000 tweets), #occupygezi (170,000 tweets) or #geziparki (50,000 tweets) have been sent. As we show in the plot below, the activity on Twitter was constant throughout the day (Friday, May 31). Even after midnight local time last night more than 3,000 tweets about the protest were published every minute […]

What is unique about this particular case is how Twitter is being used to spread information about the demonstrations from the ground. Unlike some other recent uprisings, around 90% of all geolocated tweets are coming from within Turkey, and 50% from within Istanbul (see map below). In comparison, Starbird (2012) estimated that only 30% of those tweeting during the Egyptian revolution were actually in the country. Additionally, approximately 88% of the tweets are in Turkish, which suggests the audience of the tweets is other Turkish citizens and not so much the international community.

Steven Cook at Foreign Affairs:

Still, Turkey is decidedly split. Erdogan governs one half the country — his supporters — and intimidates the other. His political lineage and personal background have instilled within him a certain amount of paranoia. Turkey’s Islamists, no matter how powerful they become, are always on the lookout for the next coup or round of repression. (In 1998, for example, Erdogan was jailed for reciting a poem that was allegedly a call to holy war against the Turkish state even though the author is one of the most important theorists in Turkish nationalist pantheon.) For the rising new political and business class that Erdogan represents, correcting the past wrongs of the Kemalist elite — which discriminated and repressed the two bogeymen of the Turkish politics, Kurds and Islamists — has been a priority. They have worked to accomplish it through both democratic and (more often recently) non-democratic means. The problem for Erdogan is that, despite his best efforts, the tram that he referred to when he was mayor of Istanbul stopped in Taksim Square, where a lot of Turks are signaling they will no longer tolerate his authoritarian turn.


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