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Turkey’s Protest Becoming More Violent

Posted by Steve Markowitz on June 20, 2013

Turkey has been an unusual example of stability in a Muslim majority country in the Middle East.  It owes this stability mainly to the actions of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in the 1920s who after seeing the decline of his Ottoman Empire verses the West, made Turkey a secularist country.  This mandate was backed by the military who intervened on various occasions when Islamists attempted to gain governmental powers.

In 2003 Turkey’s current Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was elected.  His party has pursued a more Islamist oriented government.  One early manifestations of this bent was a fraying of Turkey’s relations with Israel, who for many years was a close ally of Turkey.

In recent weeks there have been ominous signs of growing tensions between Turkeys’ Islamists and secularists.  It began innocently enough when a few hundred Turks protested the government’s decision to close an Istanbul park.  Instead of allowing the protests to run their course Prime Minister Erdogan sent in riot police to aggressively disperse protestors.  This act angered secularists who see Erdogan taking powers not allowed under Turkish law.  The protests grew to include tens of thousands and became violent.

On Sunday Turkish riot police ejected all protesters.  In addition, the New York Times reported that the government increased its crackdown on anti-government protestors in other parts of Turkey.  This includes threatening medics who treated injured protestors and blaming the foreign media for causing protests and improperly portraying them.  Erdogan’s aggressive comments this week included:

“We know very well the ones that sheltered in their hotels those who cooperated with terror. Will they not be held accountable? If we do not hold them accountable, then the nation will hold us accountable.”

“You portrayed Turkey differently to the world.  You are left alone with your lies.  This nation is not the one that you misrepresented to the world,” specifically referring to BBC, CNN and Reuters.

More chilling, the Times reports that Erdogan has started counter rallies of Islamists supporters, bussing hundreds of thousands to them.  At one rally Erdogan supporters chanted: “Go gas them, Captain! Break their hands!

It remains to be seen how effective in quelling antigovernment protests Erdogan’s aggressive tactics will be.  Clearly Turkish stability has taken a step backwards.  This is troubling given the instability throughout the Islamic Middle East as exhibited in Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Syria.  It is unrealistic to expect long-term stability in this region until there is a broader awakening throughout Muslim society that includes tolerance for opposing religions and views.

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