Sunday, June 16, 2013

Turkey’s Turmoil

June 16, 2013
By Saeed Qureshi

Turkey in seized by unrelenting countrywide protests and rallies against the government of incumbent Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. These unprecedented sit-ins, rallies and demonstrations were set off on May 28, against the government’s plan to demolish the historic Gezi Park in the Taksim Square for creating more shopping venues, besides rebuilding the Ottoman era Taksim military barracks. 

These mammoth protest meetings and rallies were initiated by a group of 50 environmentalists against this decision which swelled in due course after the riot police went on the rampage and brutal punitive measures to dislodge and evict the protesters from the camping sites. The protests in Turkey can be exemplified like a spark that ignites the prairie fire.

The paramount question is that what went wrong, all of a sudden, in Turkey that a segment of population has turned against a thus far very popular prime minister whose momentous services to rebuild a modern state have been overlooked? 

If Kamal Ataturk was the father and founder of a modern Turkey, Erdoğan can be termed as the architect of a new Turkey, that merely in a matter of a decade, has shaped up as an advanced country by way of spectacular social uplift and economic miracle.

In various opinion columns and news analyses there is a general consensus that the demolition of the park and the government’s brutal reprisal have given a feel to the people that the Erdoğan government was turning oppressive. That it was out to curb or curtail the right of freedom of assembly, freedom of expression besides, encroaching upon secularism.

The incumbent Prime Minister Erdoğan has been laudably looked upon as the builder of a modern turkey as well as being a revivalist of the Islamist ideology. He has tried to blend the secularism of Kamal Ataturk with the traditions of Islam. Thus he wanted to please the Islamists and the secularists simultaneously. 

However, the Islamist have gained the impression that he was pushing Turkey too much towards secularism. On the contrary the secular and libertarians feel that he was trying to promote neo-Ottomansim or a kind caliphate.

During his ten years in office, there is a long litany of sparkling accomplishments to his credit. He revived and strengthened Turkey’s ailing economy. He crafted a model of government that is worth emulation for other Muslim states. In his tenure in office, there has been a vertical boost of Turkey in socio-economic fields. He has tried to maintain a respectable relationship with Europe and the United State.

Making peace with Kurds and perennially hostile Armenians are the landmark achievements that have normalized relations with these die-hard belligerents after decades of mutual hostilities and bloodshed.
Prime Minister Erdogan’s government has built up strong economic and political relations with Arab countries. 

One such example is the signing of 48 trade agreements alone with Iraq in sectors ranging from defense to education. Evidently “Under his premiership, the country continued to grow economically and consolidate its position as a regional power with global ambitions”.

The flurry of far-reaching reforms that Erdoğan launched in an economically impoverished and socially backward Turkey has been dazzling. The awesome and amazing economic upturn can be gauged from the fact that in 2002, the Turkish Central Bank had $26.5 billion in reserves. 

This amount soared to $92.2 billion in 2011. Erdoğan inherited a debt of $23.5 billion to the IMF, which will be completely paid off in 2013.

The statistics given in various search sites such as Wikipedia tell us about the economic stability and modicum of prosperity that have set in Turkey during Erdogan’s decade in power.  The inflation dropped from 34.9% to 5.7%: the lowest in 39 years. 

The public debt in relation to GDP dropped from 74% in 2002 to 39% in 2009. By 2012 Turkey had a lower ratio of public debt to GDP than 21 of 27 members of the European Union and a lower budget deficit to GDP ratio than 23 of them.

He increased the number of universities from 96 in 2002 to 186 by October 2012.The budget on education was enhanced from 7.5 billion lira in 2002 to 34 billion lira in 2011, which is more than the Turkey’s defense budget. 

The number of airports was increased from 26 to 50. In 2002 there existed in Turkey only 6000 km long  dual carriageway  which has presently gone up to 19500 km. In 8 years, 1076 km of high speed railway was built and 5449 km of railway was renewed.

As the Mayor of Istanbul (1994-2002) Erdoğan effectively tackled such chronic civic problems as the water, shortage,pollution, and traffic chaos. “The water shortage problem was solved with the laying of hundreds of kilometers of new pipelines. 

The garbage problem was overcome with the establishment of state-of-the-art recycling facilities; air pollution was reduced through a plan by switching to the  natural gas. He changed the public buses with environmentally friendly buses. The city's traffic and transportation jams were ameliorated by creating more than fifty bridges, viaducts, and highways”.

He subdued the military power that was always intrusive in the political affairs of Turkey. At one point of time in Turkey’s checkered history an enlightened Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was hanged by the then military junta. He was a great deal similar to Erdoğan. In the modern times the people had a deep urge to get rid of the general’s influence and that feat was meritorious accomplished by Tayyab Erdoğan.

Israel could have never forgotten the stout and unflinching response from Erdoğan to the "Gaza Freedom Flotilla” incident of May 31, 2010 when six ships carrying humanitarian aid and construction materials to the beleaguered inhabitants of Gaza were attacked by Israel army, killing 8 Turkish citizens and one American Turkish American.

For the first time, it was a demonstration of exceptional courage by Erdoğan that not only exposed Israel’s brutality but mounted a defiance to break the stifling blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza. 

Prime Minister Erdoğan called it “Israeli state terrorism”. Not forgetting that under Erdoğan Israel would always be on the receiving end, Israeli government might have clandestinely added fuel to the fire.

Yet despite all these historic achievements he stands at the crossroad of history where Turkish people seem to be disgruntled with him for his perceived authoritarianism. The sit in at Taksim Square has given them an excuse to profess their disaffection for their once popular prime minister. Losing such a lofty leader would be an irreparable loss for Turkey its people and the Islamic world as well

But somehow the celebrated and popular rulers at some stage start taking the things for granted. The arrogance of power captivates their minds and they start believing that their position was unassailable. Of late this kind of syndrome was witnessed in Erdoğan who self-assuredly believed that whatever he does would be welcomed and accepted by the people of Turkey.

Understandably the people hold divergent views and different perceptions. At a certain point people get restive or saturated even with the best of leaders if they try to overstep the mandate given to them by the people. But perhaps like most of the successful and failed leaders, Erdoğan too has a self-satisfying perception of being invincibly popular. 

Erdogan’s first reaction to the protesters’ sit-in at Taksim Square has been indifferent, bitter and deriding. His plan to remodel Taksim Square apparently looked like rezoning a congested place. He might have not had the slightest idea that the erasing Gezi Park and building a huge building here would assume volcanic eruptions against his government.

Perhaps he also forgot in a trance of immense confidence that the forces inimical to Turkey’s emerging as a gubernatorial economic and military power could conspire to dislodge him. The Taksim Square provided them a rare opportunity to whip a turmoil that he did not face thus far.

He should  also have  known that the army that has been ruling the roost for seven decades would retaliate on an opportune time and could foment a popular upsurge against him. After all despite being sidetracked, the army’s former and serving cadres have influence in various elitist and aristocratic circles that cannot be quashed.

Also in a bid to build a bridge between the conflicting ideologies of Islamism and secularism, he has annoyed both the sides. The transition of Islamic societies from a radical Islam to an enlightened one by blending best of both Islam and secularism has always remained elusive. Hence the doctrinal and sectarian feuding in most of the Islamic countries!

Turkey has been in perpetual conflict with Arabs led by Saudi Arabia that have been historically averse to a non-Arab Ottoman rulers to don the mantle of Khilafat, which Turkey did for four centuries( 1517-1909). As a spillover from the past, Turkey’s image as a model Islamic country and in a way assuming the leadership of the Islamic world could be irksome to the Arabs. 

Saudi Arabia for one would not like a non-Arab Erdoğan spreading its tentacles and influence in Arab lands. Saudi Arabia would rather swing in favor of Israel against Turkey if such a choice is placed before the Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

History is a witness that Turkish defeat in the WWII was due also to Amir of Mecca Sharif Hussein decision to support the British in the WWII against Turkey. That opposition to Turkey by Saudi Arabia proved to be a roller coaster not only for Turkey but for also for other Islamic countries that went into the colonial lap one after another.

The youth all over the globe are becoming one strong fraternity in spearheading such sublime goals as civil liberties, humanitarian causes, freedom of expression and assembly. They are becoming the vanguards for human emancipation from the oppressive regimes, stifling ideologies, brutal authoritarianism, enslavement of societies and family dynasties. 

The social media, Internet and communication channels like twitter are the weapons that come handy for advancement of these noble objectives. It surmises that the path to a promised “Kingdom of God” on earth would be paved by the world youth and media.

Of late, Erdoğan has toned down his inflexible and derisive rhetoric for the protesters whose number is bulging by the day and the entire country is coming under the sway of protest rallies and demonstrations. 

His offer to hold referendum is a saner approach to elicit the people’s opinion either for or against remodeling the Taksim Square. Hopefully the Erdoğan government rides out of this fierce storm that if prolonged could erode his influence as a redeemer and architect of a new glorious Turkey. 

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