Brutality in Turkey

Michael van der Galien is managing editor for the Dutch website De Dagelijkse Standaard (The Daily Standard) and lives in Izmir, Turkey.


taksim 2Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has created his own private army: the country’s police forces.

When the protest in Gezi Parki first started, many Turks and commentators thought it would soon go away. After all, it was organized by a couple of treehuggers, who refused to let some trees be demolished in order for a new mosque and mall to be built. It is difficult to take something like that all too seriously.

However, after only a day or two, the protests suddenly exploded. Tens of thousands of Istanbullians joined, protests were organized in as many as 79 other cities, and entire families took to the streets.

The reason “the resistance” suddenly became so popular was Prime Minister Erdogan’s and the police’s reaction to the protesters. Instead of trying argue with them and perhaps reaching a compromise, they were brutally attacked by the police and insulted by Erdogan, who called them “terrorists” and “looters.” Secularists and other opponents of the prime minister saw what happened and decided to step in. “Enough already,” they said, “it’s time to take action against this man who wants to Islamize the country and who refuses to accept any limits on his power.”

Next Erdogan set his own personal army – the police – loose on all his critics. The results are shocking: at least four people have been killed and as many as 5,000 have been wounded. Additionally, many others have been detained and interrogated – even people who didn’t participate in the protests themselves, but who simply reported about them on Twitter.

Only a few years ago, this scenario would have been considered impossible. Now, however, it sadly is Turkey’s new reality.

How is that possible?

In the years leading up to the protests, the AK Parti has increased the size of the country’s police forces significantly since 2003. Not suprisingly, many new officers are AKP-supporters. Those who didn’t already support the Islamists have been dragged into their camp by receiving significant pay raises and by receiving more powers and responsibilities than they could have dreamed of when the country was still ruled by its old secular elite.  At the same time, the army has been systematically overlooked (with soldiers now being seriously underpaid) and its power dismantled.

taksimThe result is that the police now know that they are in charge and have no one to fear … except the man to whom they own their money and influence: the prime minister. When he gives them an order, therefore, they will obey. Yes, even if that means that they have to use their weapons against their own countrymen, who are simply excercising their right to the freedom of speech.

In exchange for their unquestioned support, Erdogan has embarked on a grand publicity tour in which he tries to improve not only his own, but also the police’s image. This weekend he said for instance that the police have “succesfully passed the test of democracy” because of the way they handled the protests.

Read that sentence again and then watch the video below of a dozen police officers in Antalya giving “democratic treatment” to three protesters hiding in a parking garage:

Last weekend, police again had a go at protesters in Taksim (Istanbul), who wanted to commemmorate those who had died earlier this month. The protest was livestreamed on several websites, among which RussiaToday.com (an addmittely pro-Putin channel, but one has to make due with whatever one has). For hours and hours the protesters behaved perfectly. They were clearly there for a peaceful gathering. Even when they were surrounded by the police, they remained calm, singing some songs together.

Once darkness set in, however, the police attacked. First they used water cannons to blow everyone out of the way, journalists included:

Later they reverted to using teargas again; everything in an attempt to squash the protests and to convince the protesters to go home and stay there.

In a free and democratic society, police exist in order to protect citizens from those who mean them harm. In today’s Turkey, however, the Islamist AK Parti has purposefully reshaped the police in order to protect the state from its people.

The consequences of this change can be very dire indeed. Unless the protesters succeed in wrestling some of their freedoms back from their government, it will enable Erdogan to behave even more authoritarian and to push more Islamization down his people’s throats – with a little help from his personal army.

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  • Can Kuzu

    Thanks for the good overview.

    The bad news for Erdogan is that the protesters are not going to stay home. The police brutality is just forcing us to change tactics all the time.

    Yesterday evening there was a flash demonstration on the Asian side of Istanbul. A policeman who had shot a protester in Ankara, had been released on bail (unlike protesters who are held pending trial, accused of being terrorists). It was to protest this.

    Based on the photos I have seen, at least 10 thousand people took part, within a couple of hours of being publicised.

    We are aware that this could be our last chance to stop the Country’s slide away from democracy. We will not let go that easily.

    • Michael_van_der_Galien

      Can: I can only say that I greatly respect your courage and determination. The police have basically thrown everything they’ve got on you – except for live ammunition – but you refuse to step down. Those who aren’t in such a situation, who don’t know what it’s like to constantly live with the threat of being arrested (just an example), can’t understand what that means.

      Last paragraph: I agree. I think that if the protesters lose this battle, it will have a very profound impact on Turkey. A very profound and troubling impact, that is.

  • crackerjack

    Erdogan has a comfortable democratic majority. The Turkish administration deals with occupy protesters and civil unrest no different than we have recently witnessed in similar situations in Spain, Greece, Britian, USA, Germany , and certainly far less violent that the current Brasilian paramilitary crackdown on protesters.

    Those now falling in love with the Turkish Occupy movement are the same who slammed the US Occupy movement and the same who spotlighted a few thousand students demonstrating in Venezuela while now remaining silent while millions take to the streets in Brasil.

    Is it ignorance or hipocrisy? I place my bets on the latter.

    • Michael_van_der_Galien

      No it isn’t, actually. They are fighting against two things:
      1. Authoritarianism
      2. Islamism

      They are very clear that they demand the separation of mosque and state, just like Mustafa Kemal Atatürk did. Erdogan is trying to do away with laicité, they are rightfully rejecting that.

      Furthermore, Erdogan does not have a “comfortable democratic majority.” In the last elections he got around 50 percent of the vote. Before that it was in the 40′s, before that in the 30′s. If current polls are correct, he’s now back to in the low 40′s and even in the high 30′s.

      Now, what does that mean? It means that the majority of voters do not support him (at this moment). He has a supreme majority in parliament because of Turkey’s ridiculous system which rewards the winner (by demanding parties win at least 10 percent of the vote). However, that is not a comfortable democratic majority, but a comfortable *artificial* majority.

    • OfficialPro

      US “Occupy” = FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS

      Turkey Occupy = actual protestation of you know, actual oppression.

      • Michael_van_der_Galien

        Exactly.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      Because the people of Berkeley and the People of Turkey have more or less the same legitimacy for their grievances.

      Is that your point? Because the “occupiers” tried and tried to get relief from American courts, but those rich people would not cough up their money trees to share (social justice IS a “human right”), and this clearly makes life here more or less equal to living under sharia.

      I see your point mr. cracker. Funny you should mention ignorance…

  • objectivefactsmatter

    Dear LooneyBird,

    I told you so.

  • Lionel Mandrake

    “Islamize the country”? The country was Islamized in 1453 and has the overwhelming support of its citizens in all surveys.

    About Erdogen’s use of water cannons on “journalists”, good. I hope he uses truncheons on them too next time.

    This disturbance is obviously serves the liberal lefts agenda in its wishes to bring millions of Moslems into Europe by granting EU status to Turkey. The idea is that we dummies are to believe the Moslems are really democratic minded and are resisting “Islamization” that this author forgets they have and want.

    The protests are about expansion into Europe fools.

    • defcon 4

      I agree. The “moderate” muslimes in Turkey had no problems when the muslime perpetrators of the double synagogue bombing that killed 26 people in Turkey only received a maximum sentence of SIX years. The “moderate” muslimes in Turkey have no problems w/the denial of the genocide of some 2.5 million Armenian and Assyrian Christians committed by Turkish muslimes over a century ago. The “moderate” muslimes in Turkey have no problem denying the Istanbul pogrom of the 1950′s or the invasion, annexation and ethnic cleansing of 40% of Cyprus.
      The “moderate” muslimes in Turkey have no problem w/the persecution of the VERY few Christians and Jews unfortunate enough to live in Turkey.

  • tordenfuglen

    Turkey has definitely excluded itself as a porspective member of the European Union. Although the European Union has many undemocratic traits, the member states are basically democratic. The time may also be ripe to question wether Turkey should remain a member of NATO. Evidence is piling up leading to the conclusion that Turkey should be thrown out.

  • DOYOULOVEAMERICA

    What is wrong with the police putting these rabid animals down….???

    • defcon 4

      Typical islamo-nazi response.

      • DOYOULOVEAMERICA

        Typical unamerican mindless liberal lemming response…..

  • http://twitter.com/KirkB1 Kirk B

    On the bright side I doubt Erdogan will ever get re-elected.

    • defcon 4

      He has been in power for TEN years.

  • Ellman48

    It appears that Mr. Erdogan has much in common with the Ayatollah in Iran and the Presidents in Syria and Egypt. Can it be more than coincidence that Islamist tyrants all abuse and punish the ordinary citizens who seek only to express their concerns in public, whether Sunni or Shia, with beards or without, with parliaments or not? Methinks Islamic fundamentalism and brutality go together like a hamburger and a hamburger roll.