Motivation behind Turkish demonstrations is more complicated than protection of public green space. Spotty media coverage blurs underlying causes; a real-life case of not seeing the forest for the trees.
Weeklong protests allegedly started over demolition of a popular Istanbul park – an issue we covered months ago here. Taksim Gezi Park site is earmarked for a new shopping mall. Urban development sparks protests the world over, so what blew this one to epic proportions?
A peaceful protest began in response to government actions viewed as favoring profit over people and nature. But, similar to “Occupy” movements and the Arab uprisings, the Taksim demonstrators embrace many distinct causes, there is no singular focus.
Sure, there are environmental mandates. There are demands for free speech and entitlement to nonviolent demonstration. There are pleas to maintain separation between secular government and majority religion. There are calls for greater protections for Turkish democracy and human rights.
And the elephant in the Square may be Turkey’s muzzled media, which is unable to report on it all. There are more journalists in jail in Turkey today than in any other country, and penalties are steep for broadcasting state-sensitive stories. Most of the news concerning the protests has come from social media which is fascinating but unreliable, beholden to the writer’s point of view.
When branded organizations join the fray, resultant media attention and self-promotion further skew the story.
Greenpeace sent Green Prophet an update saying that is has declared solidarity with the park protestors, demanding the right to peaceful protest and urging that people and planet come before private profit. They opened their offices, adjacent to the park, offering protesters first aid and a place to rest.
Police are using tear gas, water cannon and pepper spray to disperse crowds. Dozens of protesters and onlookers have been arrested and injured; figures vary over persons killed. On the international level, Greenpeace is calling for an immediate end to police violence.
Decrying police brutality and embracing open space preservation are necessary and noble actions, but they only tell part of the Taksim story.
The nation is bi-polar. Turkey sits on two continents, but also straddles two worlds. The NATO darling is positioning itself for EU membership, and aggressively seeking to expand tourism – a cornerstone of its economy with $25 billion in 2012 revenue. It’s investing in improved infrastructure for national transportation and growing the world’s largest airport.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Erdogan and his Islamist party are accused of extending their power over the government at the expense of constitutional checks and balances, replacing democracy with authoritarian leadership. Small erosions of personal freedoms (evolving bans on alcohol, smoking, and western dress) are viewed by secular Turks as further proof of the government’s Islamic agenda. How’s that going to work in the new tourism brochures? Will it combine with current events to spin new Visit Turkey slogans? Come visit, all you Germans, Russians and Brits – this place is a gas!
A court ordered temporary suspension of park demolition, but the action may be too little too late; protests are reported to have spread across Istanbul and have erupted in Ankara too. Watch this place. Or at least watch what little is being reported.
Read more background on Taksim Square here:
Turkey’s Environment Protest Swings to General Protest Against PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Controversial Renovation on Istanbul’s Taksim Square has Begun
Istanbul’s Taksim Square To Become Lifeless And Isolated In New Urban Plan, Opponents Warn
Read more about the ecology of urban planning in Turkey:
Turkey’s Most Sustainable Cities Share A Spotlight
Ecological Conference In Istanbul Questions Wisdom Of Rapid Economic Growth
Turkish Environmentalists, Architects Critical Of Proposed Canal
Major Turkish Cities Fail Sustainability Survey