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  • V

    Your article has very good and valid points, however the crowd is not just upper class secular elites – its middle and some lower class too. It is a true public riot. From Old men with youngsters to Old women banging on their pots and pans, policemen disagreeing with the violence, even past AKP supporters who are starting to see AKP,s real face.
    Secondly, AKP has cheating the electronic voting system by causing power cuts and stealing and dumping ballots in distant fields.

  • Mubarak enjoyed and still enjoys popular backing.

    And Istanbul still doesn’t have drinkable water.

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  • I think this is an incredibly simplistic analysis based on an unproblematized notion of “secular elites.” It presumes that piousness is the normal state of being for people in Muslim countries, and that you must be a member of the “old elite” (whatever that means) if you are secular. My family background is anything but elite, I have many relatives who are blue color workers, many of them vote for CHP and some for BDP. I am sure several of them were out in the streets for the last two days protesting Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarianism. So where do they fit in this analysis? This kind of a binary opposition between the “secular elites” and the “pious masses” may possibly work for a county like Pakistan, but even there it is too much of a generalization. If you ask me, this is Orientalism recast.

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  • Mr. Ozdil’s article is very insightful and well written.

    While we agree that this particular “movement” does not – yet – represent a political reckoning a la Tunisia and Egypt, there are key factors that have been overlooked and are worth factoring.

    The description of an absence of Anatolian working class conservatives in this current theme is not quite so. Nor is there quite the sharp cleavage in society as many like to portray.

    Excepting fanatics, extremists, and those beholden to a party in power, religious Turks generally share the core values of secular democracy in Turkey.
    Religious Turks are not generally aiming for a homogeneously pious culture.
    Indeed, within Turkish families, and within neighborhoods one finds an easy respectful interaction of lifestyles ranging from conservative to liberal.
    Most religious Turks would not want to impose a strict conservative agenda upon their liberal families and friends. The party, cronies, and ignorant beneficiaries are driving change against political rivals – many who are also fanatic.

    Another ascpect is that a perceived silence from many religious Turks is caused by their percieved dependancy upon the “party in power”. People who work in government, or benefit from government contracts, wheter full fledged members or under the eyes of ideologues know that their actions and statements have impacts upon their livlihoods. SIlence on the part of many is more an indication of the pressure they experience to tote the line.

    It is telling that we are not seeking a chorus of counter-argument from apolitical religious citizens against this protest.

    What we are seeing is cooperation among secularists, Kurds, and Alevis, which seems to represent issues that transcend the political agendas that these groups have.

  • Good article overall, very important to make some critical notes on the constituency of the protests and the eagerness to jump on overly simplistic comparisons. That said, I am not sure if the nature of the argument itself is very valid:

    “Mass labor protests, like those that preceded and directly influenced the April 6th movement in Egypt, are largely absent from Gezi Park. Disenfranchised, jobless youth from the slums have generally stayed away from the demonstrations so far. Pious girls with headscarves who want more liberties are also absent.”

    First of all, I am not sure to what extent this statement is correct. It seems to me that there is actually quite a big grassroots labor mobilization going on in Turkey at the moment: just witness the violent clashes during May Day this year. Either way, regardless of whether these protests were preceded by any serious labor mobilization, even if this were just an uprising of the white urban elite (which I doubt), the author is wrong to pose that therefore any comparisons with Tahrir are misplaced.

    Remember that the jobless youth from the slums and the pious girls weren’t present during the first #25J protests in Cairo either. That day there were some 15,000 people on the streets as part of a protest during “national police day”, to protest state brutality and try to kick-start something similar as had happened in Tunisia. They were not the destitute (and largely religious) masses that the author of this piece seems to refer to: whether we like it or not, they were largely the upper-middle-class urbanites with socialist, anarchist and liberal convictions who subsequently managed to mobilize epic amounts of slum dwellers through genuine grassroots organizing.

    In fact, I remember very clearly the press reports from the first day of the Egyptian uprising, slanting anyone who made the Tunisia-Tahrir comparison, arguing that Egypt could never undergo the same type of revolutionary event because “the political economy there is radically different”. I remember exactly those reports stating that “Mubarak is not Ben Ali” and that “Mubarak remains extremely popular” among large segments of Egypt’s poor population. All these statements are true. The revolution was in fact driven by a few million people (on a population of 80 million) at most. The point is that revolutions are not ballot boxes. They can be successful even if a majority of the population remains under the ideological spell of the ruling elite: as long as they trigger a fundamental crisis *within* the ruling elite by splitting its coalitional base apart.

    Anyway, none of this is to say that the Turkish protests will lead to a “revolution” or a “Turkish Spring” (whatever that means). They may just end up being a ‘flash in the pan’, as happened to Occupy Wall Street — and while I don’t know nearly enough about Turkey, I’d say that it would indeed be difficult to build the kind of broad-based revolutionary coalition that animated Tahrir in those heady days in January-February 2011. As outsiders, I think we should be humble and listen to the Egyptian and Turkish people themselves. In fact, while the nature of government power was very different at the time of the revolt against the secular Mubarak, Egypt’s social cleavages do not appear to be ALL that different from those in Turkey: a large secular urban middle-class whose — like the urban poor — have been severely affected by neoliberal reforms, and a large rural/urban alliance of religious forces who prefer the establishment of an Islamist form of government, scaring the secular urban middle-classes. As one Dutch journalist put it in a comparison between Turkey and Egypt, in which she cited plenty of Egyptian revolutionaries who applauded the Turks for “repeating” their revolution, in Egypt the public sentiment is that it’s “either god or the revolution”.

    Source (in Dutch):

    So, rather than claiming one outcome or another before this thing has even run its course, we should keep open the possibility that the claims of these secular, urban, and highly-educated middle class youths who are taking the protests forward may eventually resonate with other segments of Turkish society, most importantly the social groups (including the more religious ones) that have been structurally marginalized as a result of the state’s authoritarian neoliberal development over the past 10-12 years (ever since the 2001 IMF bailout, basically). All I’m saying is that it’s a possibility — far from an inevitability.

    One obvious element that needs to be discussed in any comparison between Egypt and Turkey is the question of the army. Whose side are they on? In both Egypt and Turkey, the army controls an enormous segment of the domestic industrial base (up to 40 percent of GDP according to some counts). In both countries, the army is historically aligned with the secular and internationally-integrated upper class. In both countries, the army has in recent decades seen the defence of the secular state as its principal objective, although in both Turkey and post-revolutionary Egypt it has been forced more and more into an uncomfortable alliance with religious forces in order to preserve its hegemonic position.

    The bottomline is this: as long as Erdogan has the army he will have his power — and he will have the army as long as he can convince its leadership that their economic investments are safe. Mubarak and Ben Ali both lost power because they lost the army, and they lost the army because a broad-based popular uprising *including the workers* risked pushing the army’s industries and the country itself into serious financial trouble. In that respect the author is right to state that, as long as the working-class do not join these protests, these events are unlikely to have any serious impact on Erdogan’s power base as such (apart from the obvious ideological damage they will do by exposing the state’s abuse of authority and its inherently violent nature).

    That said, the conclusion that workers are wholly absent from the emerging “revolutionary” coalition seems premature. In fact, it seems that the most important developments still lie ahead of us: a metal workers’ strike had alraedy been called for June — if it manages to mobilize all workers (100,000+) this could paralyze Turkey’s single most important export industry, severely crippling the economy. Also, the Federation of Public Employees’ Unions has already declared a sector-wide strike for June 5. These strikes were originally declared independently of the popular protests, but may combine with them in an enormously explosive way — the outcomes of which cannot yet be foreseen. As Sungur Savran puts it, “The present moment witnesses a people’s revolt in the face of the arrogance and repressive practice of the government. Should this be combined with an insurgent working-class movement, Turkey would become open to all kinds of revolutionary change.”


    So I think this article provides important critical side-notes that we have to take into account, but I also believe its conclusions are too polemical, too simplistic, and too premature. For now, the most we can do as radicals outside of Turkey is to report on the ongoing events and the police brutality, and to continuously express our solidarity with those who are risking their lives on the ground to bring about a more democratic state of affairs. What happens next is in the hands of the Turkish people themselves.

  • Thank you all for your valuable comments. I’ll try to address them in one post.

    I most have trouble with the ‘Orientalism recast’ snub by Ayfer. I never claimed that all protesters were elites nor that all AKP supporters are pious. My analysis are based on the political economy of Turkey today. Roughly half the population, of which most (not all) are from both the urban and rural lower and middle class (bar a significant part of Kurds).

    When we look at the core driving force of the protests its mainly relatively privileged youth (including university students from a lower class background) which are fed up with Erdogans authoritarian and conservative policies.

    A large part of anti-erdogan Kurds are not joining the protesting. Diyarbakir is largely calm. In fact most of Turkey is calm.

    Also, the Turkish labor movement, which gained some momentum during the TEKEL protests, when workers who mostly had voted AKP ‘woke up’ after privatization of TEKEL, a few years back.

    In my view we can only compare Taksim with Tahrir if broad segments of society were on the streets. In Egypt, Mubarak was loathed by most (again, not all) Egyptians, from the poor pious headscarf-girl to the elite intellectual . This is simply not the case yet in Turkey. I think it will eventually and explain why and how in my piece.

    The fact is that the overwhelming majority of Erdogan’s electorate still supports him firmly and is not on the streets protesting him. And I explain why.

    PS I apparently have to stress again and again that a fair analysis of who is protesting and why this is not a ‘spring’ or a mass, broad popular uprising is in no way a dismissal of the people who do protest. I mention several times their courage, how the government brutally tries to suppress them as well as the governments disregard for basic human rights in general. Which I have been writing about for several years.

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  • Zihni, nice report and a few additions.

    Elite is a broad term. it sounds like AKP represents the good guys whereas “the elite” are the repressers. I have been in Taksim for two days and I can tell you the tattooed, pirced peopled are not Turkey’s elite or their children. People are fed up as you say from any of the major parties, many of whom have been voted out, but also AKP failed to fulfill the hopes for a new era of rule of law and governance in Turkey. They have changed the bureacrats with their own people and embezzel funds. I think the prime minister in one of the richest public officals world wide according to some estimates. I dont have the source handy but it can quickly be researched.

    The 80% young people on the street are fed up of parties, exclusive economic development in expense to the environment, the cursing by a prime minister, a twisted electoral system that gives the AKP with 25% popular vote 60% of the parliament, a country that for 80 years not managed to get basic human rights established, due court processes, freedom of expression without fear of safety to ones life or imprisoment, humuliation by the EU for its backwardness, the right to live ones life like one wants, live their religion the way they want, a country without clashes between ethnicities and religions, but rather a country that wants peace, prosperity and its rightful potential realized as a country of Europe and Asia with beautiful landscapes and beautiful people, not another Islamic republic that is autocratically managed by some people who think they are closer to God or even play God, just like this prime minister is playing.

    Please let us continue the conversation.
    It is overdue, it is important, it is necessary for the future of Turkey and a crucially watch role model for the Islamic world and even beyond.

    Kind regards,


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  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    “These comments, however well intentioned, reflect a poor understanding of Turkey’s political economy under the AKP government, as well as the main driving force behind the Gezi Park protests”.

    I really don’t understand the author’s fixation on political economy, something they don’t even go into in detail.

    Still, some of the info in here might help those less familiar with Turkey’s tumultuous political past and highlight a few of the polarizing issues that contextualize these developments. I, again, have to take umbrage with the implicit message that secularism and Islam are somehow bound for conflict and the incredibly Orientalist image of Muslims presented here.

    “The secular state – far from holding to a stylized and invariable strategy of clashes with Islamic political activism – has historically negotiated, sought compromises, and even shifted its position to incorporate Islamic vocabulary into the official discourse ”

    -Ümit Cizre

    No labour protests? Interesting observation, and I’d like to find out how accurate that is because:

    Eight to ten thousand people marched in Istanbul on May first, international workers’ day, when public transport was shut down and demonstrations were banned. They were met with riot police and, for many, a visit to the hospital.

    Speaking of developments I wish we could stop talking about a construction project that was proposed and approved last year. The observation that “this is no longer about some trees” is an entirely unimaginative one and shows how few people are aware of recent indicators that something exactly like this was going to happen. This is something the author did make an effort to put across in the article and I applaud them for that.

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  • It is a good article and I totally agree on what you say about the ‘poor anatolian class’, previous secular elites didn’t care AT ALL about the poor, farmers in rural areas, etc. My family is also from a poor Anatolian background and their situation has improved massively. However, it is because of Erdogan’s accomplishments, that he is getting cocky.. Het thinks he can’t be wrong. But the alternatives are much worse. He knows that, so he’s not going to change his style or overly-proud behaviour. I also think there is possibly a powerstruggle going on between him and Abdullah Gül.

  • Thank you all for your comments. A brief reply to some of them:

    When I write that ‘labor was largely absent from Gezi Park’ I mean precisely that. Not that there is no labor protest at all in Turkey. See my first reply above where I give the TEKEL example.

    Today, KESK announced a ‘watning strike’, which in my view is good news. Any broadet appeal the Gezi Park gets among working and lower classes is again.

    The question is, however, whether the ‘Anatolian’ masses in Turkey’s cities and towns, who support Erdogan, will join. I may be wrong but I do not think so at this stage, for the reasoms I give in my piece.

    Moreover, it is crucial what Turkey’s anti-AKP Lirdish masses will do. So far, all reports drom Diyarbakir – the hotbed of Kurdish activism and protets for human rights – is calm. The general attitude is: ‘this is not pur struggle’.

    This may change and lets hope so. But again, based on objective conditions it is mu estimation thay a Turkish Spring (as in a mass populat uprising) is not at hand.

    Meanwhile it is of course important to support and share the struggle of the courageous protest of the youth who are on the streets now. This is also a great opportunity to penetrate the neoliberal mantra that has been plaguing global public opinion that this givernment is somehow a step forward in terms of himan rights or economy.

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  • Mr Ozdil has made his points clearly, and I join its majority. These events, however, cannot be evaluated independent of what had happened in Turkey. If you select a typical “activist” (I hardly call a person as – activist – pulling off stones on the road and blockading roads, or tearing down public and private property), and ask what is good in Turkey, they will say nothing. However, no one can deny what Turkey has achieved in recent years. I’d like to emphasize a couple more points

    First, I have seen these guys and girls, back in 80s: Turkish Communist Party (TKP), Revolutionist Youth (Dev-Genc), etc. Evidences with Ergenekon proved that they had been established by deep-state to take over the government in Sept 1980. The same game is being played now. But, it is too late. Now, the suppressed traditional Turk by “white elite” is now more educated and wants to take major role in governance.

    Second: Who is profiting from this? I watched two news yesterday Kanal D and S Haber. First gave as if revolution is happening in Kizilay Ankara. Second one, my opinion, gave more truth. You cannot make a revolution with 500 bandits attacking anyone anything. Kanal D is owned by one of the richest “white elite” and backed by TUSIAD, the Turkish riches club, and big holdings like Koc. It is not a matter of money, as they got much richer with AKP governance. It is about losing power; just look in how many of their events PM and ministers go. This elite, once they could remove a government with newspaper ads, is not listened anymore. They think, anything is good, as long as Erdogan gone. Once he is gone, they will continue their usual business, grabbing public wealth as before.

    Third, there are externals. Iran and Syria has stimulated their connections in the country, trying to show Erdogan lost the power and influence. They aim to create a sectarian conflict.

    Last, there should be a lesson to the government. The matter is not knowing and doing the best, but winning the hearts. If they had put a beautiful picture of what Taksim would like after the construction and what they are doing; they might have been prevented. Having said, would this stop these bandits? No. but at least it would distance the innocent people, who showed up with good intentions.

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  • This discussion is well representing how this movement is poorly and simplistically analysed by the Turkish Intellectuals such as the author of this article. I would like to thank Jerome Roos and John for pointing to the obvious intention to simplify and generalize the causes of recent events and reduce its significance because, as the author suggests, it was “lack of broad support from wide segments of the society” that took place in Taksim and spread all around Turkey most recently.

    Turkish intellectuals are apparently far from understanding this movement because they are trying to use old fashion patterns such as “class based analysis” or that as such any people based movement should be between the poor and the wealthy.

    There were women with scarves in Ankara protest helping those who were affected by tear gas. For the first time in Turkey’s history, people from all segments responded to a totalitarian way of intervention in the urban spaces without any static definition of the group. Some scholars are trying to label this movement as something between “elite” and the “moderately Islamic” government, based on their learned patterns, and on their historical experience. Yet this movement is none like they have seen before or that they have learned from their mainstream academic background. Therefore, they are unable to realize and “label” the movement as it is. Thus they are most eager to jump into conclusions as the one that the author of this article put forward… This movement has the characteristic of the so called “springs” that have started in the Middle East in the sense that it is against an increasingly authoritarian style of government and against the efforts of reducing pluralist democracy to an election ballot. In that regard,it could be called “Turkish” or “Turkey’s Spring” in all senses, while leaving a question mark of what happens next depending on the government’s attitude.

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