Talking Turkey

By | July 31, 2013 at 9:26 am | No comments | Blog | Tags: , , ,

Souad Sharabani interviews two Turkish-canadians to get an inside look on the core of the unrest in Turkey and its origins.

In the wake of Turkey’s antigovernment protests, freedom of expression has been increasingly restricted. On July 23 the New York Times reported that dozens of reporters had been fired for their coverage of the recent unrest, many others remain in jail. Souad Sharabani asked two Turkish-Canadians to share their thoughts on the origins of the current crisis.



Talking Turkey

Souad Sharabani: Massive demonstrations against the present government of Turkey are taking place particularly in Ankara and Istanbul. Some call the unrest the beginning of the Turkish version of the Arab Spring. So the question is: why is this unrest taking place now?

… My name is Zehra Suer. I think we need to revisit the 1920s. There was an independence war in Turkey and Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, declared that this country will be a republic. There should be democracy, there should be free elections, there should be freedom, and the country was accepting it.

In 1960 there was a military coup in Turkey. There were a lot of chaotic years from 1960-1980; the economy went to extreme liberalism. The gap between the poor and rich increased.

What’s so crucial to understand is that Erdoğan  himself and AKP party themselves claim they are a social democratic party; they are not Islamists

Then we started seeing a religious party. [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan was one of the members of that party.

Elif Genc: He was supposed to be a representation of the poor; he was supposed to be the change from the traditional elite in Turkey which is the Kemalists, essentially.

… My name Elif Genc and I just recently finished my Master’s at York University. I think what’s so crucial to understand is that Erdoğan himself and AKP party themselves claim they are a social democratic party; they are not Islamists. That was never their platform. Actually, when they came into power their platform was very much tied to the European Union. They were interested in European accession …

ZS: and this party— Recep Tayyip’s  party—was kind of accepted, even by the urban [population] these yuppies . . .

EG: This rise of the AKP party represents an entire shift of the Turkish elite from the traditional elite in Turkey, which were the Kemalists and the army. There is now a rural population — they used to be rural and piousthese people benefitted from neoliberalism coming into Turkey, and they themselves became university graduates and now they are an elite themselves. These people are the ones that are his support base.

Erdogan feels like he has the majority and most importantly there is no opposition. AKP is acting like the only party

SS:  He maintained the economic plan for more privatization and a more open liberal economy. On the social issues, you’re talking about the scarf, is there anything else?

Surah: There were some religious schoolsLihat faculties [schools]. They started by lowering the education level to become a member of parliament and they accepted graduates of religious school to be members of parliament. This was very sudden, why? Because lately, he feels very secure. He feels like he has the majority and most importantly there is no opposition. AKP is acting like the only party

EG: What may be hard to understand is that the army and the government are almost completely separate entities. In the past, the army controlled the government. What Erdoğan did is that he really diminished the power of the army. The way he did this is by basically turning Turkey into a police state. I mean… Turkey has really become a police state. There are more journalists in jail in Turkey than in Iran and China.

ZS: The military is eliminated… the writers, whoever was opposing him are eliminated… [there is] no other party to give us a voice. And then he started feeling very powerful, and started his own agenda very openly, saying, “No abortion, no drinking in public places, you should have three kids at least.” And they were building malls everywhere.

Turkey has really become a police state. There are more journalists in jail in Turkey than in Iran and China

EG: Especially what’s happening in Istanbul, Erdoğan has been doing a mass kind of neoliberal urbanization. So he’s really been privatizing … I mean this might seem so irrelevant … but it’s actually very significant because they are beautiful historical spaces. What really lead to this uproar was mostly youth, with different agendas. Not even agendas but they’re just altogether fed up with Erdoğan , and for a number of reasons.

ZS: All the other people who had battled anger against the government went there to support them — that’s how it started.

SS: What’s the future? What do you think is going to happen next?

Surah: I’d personally like to see a new political party to give a voice to these people. We don’t have it at the moment. I don’t know why because at this point he’s right. He is democratically elected, and if we want this to stay a democratic state we should fight with him at the election. Whatever it takes, get the people behind you then take the government. Otherwise. It will be another blow to the democratic system.

Zehra Suer is a psychologıst who migrated from Turkey to Canada ın 1983. She has worked as a volunteer in Turkish-Canadian community and contributed to the formation of the Turkish Studies Program in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto

Elif Genc has an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies from York University in political science, history, and sociology. She will presently pursue a PhD focusing on Turkish politics and the Kurdish social movement, the subject of her MA thesis.

Souad Sharabani is an independent journalist based in Toronto. Her website Scents of Memory gathers memories from her childhood in Iran and Israel, life in Europe as an illegal domestic worker and 25 years as a successful international radio documentary producer. 

Photo credit: Bir Blog Sonra

 

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