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Türkiye Nereye Gidiyor? (Where is Turkey Going?)

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June 09, 2013 9:52 PM

Türkiye Nereye Gidiyor? (Where is Turkey Going?): Some Reflections About The Recent Events in Turkey

 

The recent events in Turkey have been disquieting and worrisome. Turkey unfortunately now looks like a country in chaos. Turkey's image around the world going forward will be more about the "Lady in Red" than the glorious Dolmabahce and Topkapi Palaces.

 
The main question is: Where in Turkey Headed? (Türkiye Nereye Gidiyor?) 


Some major points (and questions):

1. Will the opposition unite into an effective coalition that can challenge the ruling AKP party? The opposition has been weak and not united, but the harsh crackdown on the protests has certainly provided the glue to keep the opposition parties and opposition elements together in the short run and possibly for a longer period. Will the opposition be able to compete effectively for political power? This will require cooperation among the opposition parties which is certainly not assured (based on past history). In any case, the outpouring of political expression in Turkey has been extraordinary, especially through the use of Twitter and other social media, circumventing the major broadcast networks (which preferred showing a program about penguins rather than informing the people about the protests which were raging in the streets).

 

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2. Will the clashes between protesters and supporters of the government spread beyond Rize and Adana? This would be catastrophic to say the least. Also what will the reaction of the police be to the protests in the future? Who in the government actually is (or will be) in control of the police?

3. What will happen to Gezi Park and what is the status of the redevelopment plans for Taksim? It is clear that these plans are controversial. The plans for “pedestrianizing” Taksim and moving traffic underground, together with plans for a shopping mall (since apparently dropped) and a rebuilt Ottoman Barracks, as well as a mosque – to be accomplished by removing Gezi Park, together with its trees – caused a volcanic eruption of protest.

 

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4. How will tourism, so crucial to the Turkish economy, be affected? The impact is likely to be very significant. The projections for 2013 are $25.4 billion in tourism revenues, an estimated 33 million visitors, with Turkey as the 6th most popular tourist destination in the world. In light of the recent events, it is likely that tourism revenues may decline. The US State Department has even issued a travel advisory that "US citizens travelling to or residing in Turkey should be alert to the potential for violence".

5. What will the impact be on the Turkish economy? The Turkish stock market has been in turmoil and there are fears that the recent events could affect the meteoric rise of the Turkish economy, including impacting foreign direct investment (including investment in real estate). Stability (istikrar) is essential to growing the Turkish economy.

 

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6. How will the events in Turkey affect the Turkish Diaspora which has been, and will continue to be, crucial to Turkey's interests around the world. Elements in the Diaspora have organized protests against the Turkish Government in response to the events in Turkey. This could be problematic for Turkey when it seeks the assistance and support of the Turkish Diaspora in the future; after all that has transpired, the Diaspora may not be enthusiastic about supporting the government. The Diaspora has always been there for Turkey in the past when the Turkish government needed backup on legislative and other issues. The Turkish government should listen carefully to the feedback from the Turkish Diaspora concerning the recent events.

 

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7. How will these events impact President Abdullah Gül's stature and influence? President Gül showed leadership by telling the protesters that their message was received, and also that democracy was more than just about elections. The immediate question now is whether President Gül will sign the alcohol ban (which was one of the precipitants of the protests). President Gül has indicated that he might not sign the bill restricting alcohol advertising and sales if he sees a contradiction with the Constitution.

 

8. How will all this affect the Prime Minister’s plans for constitutional reform and will these events cause a delay or cancellation of the Prime Minister’s planned trip to Gaza? It is clear that the protests will have a major impact on all aspects of Turkey's foreign and domestic policies. At present, there is a disastrous conflagration in Syria where the situation is deteriorating rapidly (and Turkey is heavily involved), as well as an ongoing peace process with the PKK. The continuation of Internal turmoil in Turkey will surely distract the Turkish government from dealing with these and other hot button foreign policy issues.

 

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Bottom line: it is absolutely incumbent upon the Turkish government to enter into a serious dialogue with the protesters. This means talking to one another, not at one another – and derisive descriptions of the protesters (such as calling them “çapulcu” or looters), will probably prove to be counterproductive. Also, the idea that Twitter is somehow responsible for the protests does not really seem viable. And there absolutely must not be any violence on either side. Both the protesters and the government must work together in earnest.

 

What is happening is not a Turkish Spring, Tahrir Square or even Occupy Wall Street - it is quintessentially Turkish - an awakening of Turks expressing themselves - which to the American view is very positive. Let 100 çiçekler (flowers) bloom - (to paraphrase Chairman Mao’s phrase!) - and let's have real dialogue and discussion of all of the issues. The protesters also need to articulate a clear plan and program if the protests are to have further political efficacy.

 

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It is hoped that the situation will calm down soon - but there doesn't seem to be much justification for optimism at least in the short term. The apology by Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arinç (saying that “the use of excessive force” against the protesters was “unfair”), was certainly helpful, but seeing what the government actually does down the road will be much more important. Somehow the Turkish people and the Turkish government will find a way to work towards a better future for all of the people of Turkey. It is absolutely essential for the future of Turkey that this occurs.

 

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Mark Meirowitz