Monday, 27 May 2013

What the Columnists Say

Published in Roundup of Columnists


The violent dispersal by the police of workers and leftist groups that attempted to march to the Taksim square in Istanbul on 1 May has been severely criticized as a manifestation of state authoritarianism. Columnists who are critical of the AKP government wrote that the government wanted to set an example, demonstrating that the very act of defying the decisions of the state is intolerable and will be violently suppressed. Leading liberal commentator Hasan Cemal made the pessimistic observation that the Turkish state never changes, while pro-government commentator Mustafa Akyol wrote that the problem is the fanaticism of the left. Akyol held that it is unreasonable to blame the government, and argued that those responsible for the violence were the trade unions and the left who deliberately and fanatically picked a fight with the police.

GÜRSEL: THE GOVERNMENT’S INTOLERANCE ON DISPLAY ON 1 MAY Kadri Gürsel in Milliyet elaborates on why the government went through so much trouble, shutting off communications in Istanbul, and choosing to beat up and attack with tear-gas the demonstrators who attempted to stage a May 1 rally on Taksim square in Istanbul. Supposedly, this was done as the construction site on Taksim constitutes a danger. But if the intention had indeed been to ensure the safety of the demonstrating workers and leftist groups, then the government could have secured the building site, fencing it off, and that would have cost much less then what it cost to hinder the protesters from reaching the square; and this could have been coordinated with the trade unions. The government did not do this, instead violently dispersing the demonstrators when they were far away from the hole on the building site on Taksim square. The question is why? The hole on the square was used as a pretext to hinder the 1 May celebration, after it had been peacefully celebrated in 2010, 2011 and 2012. The purpose was simply to once again close off the Taksim square to 1 May celebrations. What had initially prompted the government to allow the celebration to take place again on the square (which had been closed off since the end of the 1970s), was that it in 2010, the year of the referendum on the amendments to the constitution that was bequeathed by the military regime of the 1980s, had wanted to demonstrate that it was settling accounts with the legacy of the military. It would obviously have lacked credibility to promise that the generals who staged the 1980 coup were going to be brought before justice, and at the same time refuse to let those who suffered the most from the military rule celebrate the day of the workers. But much has changed since 2010. The AKP has consolidated its power after the referendum and it has set about to redesign Turkey. Meanwhile, the demonstrators on Taksim have on every 1 May occasion since 2010 chanted slogans that have annoyed the AKP. Unfortunately, this has proved intolerable for the government.

MERT: AN AUTHORITARIAN REGIME SHOWS ITS TRUE FACE Nuray Mert in Birgün writes that what happened on 1 May was very telling. Wake up! This is the kind of country that Turkey has become! This is the democracy of the conservatives. This is not a democracy where the state, the government, the official ideology and injustices can be challenged and criticized; it is a country where power belongs uniquely to the conservatives. But let us at the same time not forget how we got to this point; when leftist liberals gave went to their concern that a civilian authoritarianism was looming they were accused of calling for a coup, which served to de-legitimize dissent. What has become intolerable in Turkey, and what was on display on 1 May, was the very act of insisting on doing something that the government has declared should not be done. What the government wanted to demonstrate was that those who dare to defy it will invariably be punished. All authoritarian regimes do this. That’s crux of the matter. And that is what we need to oppose, instead of criticizing, as many have done, the trade unions for insisting on rallying on Taksim square.

AKYOL: THE FANATICISM OF THE LEFT WAS ON DISPLAY ON 1 MAY Mustafa Akyol in Star writes that those who were responsible for what happened in Istanbul on 1 May was, without any doubt, solely the trade unions and the leftist groups who attempted to occupy Taksim square. Because the government had allowed celebrations on Taksim square for the last three years; this year the square was closed, and that decision was taken on very reasonable grounds: the construction work on the building site would have impaired security. What was unreasonable was to fanatically insist on demonstrating on Taksim square and to provoke a clash with the police to serve this fanaticism. And the lefts’ fixation with the “bloody 1 May” that they have turned into a fetisch, is also a product of this fanaticism. The left still holds that the massacre on Taksim square on 1 May 1977 was the work of the “deep state”, while as Halil Berktay has shown, it was in fact the result of intra-leftist fighting. And look, as it happened only one person lost his life on 1 May this year, and he was a worker who suffered a heart attack after receiving beats in a fight between different factions in the parade. So as you see, the problem is still intra-leftist fighting.

CEMAL: THE TURKISH STATE NEVER CHANGES After the events in Istanbul on 1 May, and especially after seeing the governor of Istanbul on television coldly defending the violent dispersal of the demonstrators – one of whom, a seventeen year old girl, suffered serious injuries – Hasan Cemal in T24, a web-daily, reflects on the enduring difficulty to reform and democratize the state in Turkey.  Rolling back military tutelage, subordinating the military to civilian authority, all of this does not in itself automatically make the state democratic; it does not necessarily introduce the rule of law to the state. Unfortunately, the state never changes in this geography. The millennium-old attitude of our state to civil liberties is basically the same as always. How far have been able to make progress in bringing democracy to the state? The answer is unfortunately not encouraging.

DAĞI: THE PRESIDENT IS NOT GOING TO BE KING, SAYS ERDOĞAN, AND REFERS TO THE OTTOMANS AS AN EXAMPLE TO EMULATE İhsan Dağı in Zaman writes that it seems that Turkey is going to be paying more attention to the issue of the “presidential” system than to how the Kurdish peace process is going to be pursued. Perhaps these two issues are going to merge, and perhaps both will be solved as a result of the synergy resulting of their merger. But let us not forget a third alternative -- that mixing those two issues is going to render the realization of both aims impossible. Will the (pro-Kurdish) Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) accept a constitutional deal (with the Justice and Development Party, AK Party)? Demirtaş, the co-chairman of the party has said “no”, but they might nonetheless still change their minds. For instance, they (the Kurds) might not object to a model that allows for the president to remain involved in party politics. However, it is difficult to predict how a constitutional amendment that goes through parliament supported with the votes of the AK Party and BDP will be received in the ensuing referendum. The latest survey of Metropoll puts the support to a joint AK Party-BDP constitutional amendment at 28 percent, with 62 percent saying no. So there are risks with such a plan. Meanwhile, support for a presidential system still lingers below 40 percent. Yesterday, the Prime Minister complained that the public is being misinformed, saying that “The president would not be a king in a presidential system, but our ignorants are lying, saying that would be the case.” But the Prime Minister then went on to say that “if we look at our ancestors, at the history, we see that the Ottomans experienced this.” That creates confusion in the minds, as people are bound to ask, “wasn’t what the Ottomans had a kingdom, precisely?”

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The Turkey Analyst is a publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center, designed to bring authoritative analysis and news on the rapidly developing domestic and foreign policy issues in Turkey. It includes topical analysis, as well as a summary of the Turkish media debate.


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