1) Some background on the Turkish regime. Although the Turkish government has cultivated the reputation for being pro-Western, the trend has in fact been one of dwindling freedom. For a decade now, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party—the country’s Islamist party—has been consolidating power. In the most recent national elections, the party garnered over 49% of the vote, the highest percentage any party has earned in more than three decades. Turkey’s GDP has tripled since Erdogan was first elected—and that certainly contributes to his degree of popularity—but the economic gains have been accompanied by an insidious assault on the liberty of Turkish citizens. As I mentioned on this blog earlier this year, Erdogan has been methodically incorporating his party’s Islamic philosophy into the erstwhile secular state. The results have not been pretty, with one of the most noticeable casualties being the freedom of the press, as documented here and here by Human Rights Watch. Considering the character of the regime and developments so far, the protesters against Erdogan’s regime have demonstrated real courage.
2) The myriad protesters in Istanbul, Ankara, and elsewhere in the country have disparate grievances and interests. While it’s encouraging to see the people of Turkey standing up to Erdogan and his Islamist partners, it isn’t at all clear that they have defined objectives. The proximate spark for this spate of protests was actually a dispute between local residents and the government over a construction project. And, to further muddy the waters, environmentalists and leftists have been among the most prominent protesters. Social media, which Erdogan has called a plague, has proven an effective mass communication tool for protesters and gives us a window into what is happening on the ground in Turkey. Due in large part to its rapid dissemination through social media, this story of one Turk’s silent protest has captured global attention. This video revealing the tactics of the Istanbul police force has as well.