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When Turkey was not Thriving

- June 4, 2013

Below is a guest post from Ceyda Erten, a former student of mine who just graduated with honors from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. She has been actively posting on social media about the protests for the past week.


On May 27th, one day before the Gezi Park protests began in Istanbul, Jeffrey Sachs wrote an article called “Why Turkey is Thriving” in Project Syndicate. Speaking of Turkey’s remarkable economic achievements, Sachs applauds the government for smart economics and smart diplomacy. He then concludes by suggesting that “other countries” learn from Turkey’s example.

The Turkish stock market collapsed by 10.5 per cent on Monday, June 3rd, bouncing back 4.4 per cent on Tuesday. One of the major news channels, NTV, did not report the first six days of the protests. Turks then closed their bank accounts and withdrew their money from Garanti Bank, owned by the same holding that owns NTV, causing the bank to lose 13% of its share price on Monday. NTV issued an apology to its employees following demonstrations outside its headquarters.

A petition asking CNN International to withdraw its name rights from CNN Turkey, because the latter broadcasted a series of documentaries on penguins during clashes between the police and the people, already has over 68,000 supporters. I, with several friends from the European Youth Parliament Turkey, drafted a petition to the High Representative of the European Union Catherine Ashton, which gathered around 2,000 signatures from the youth around Europe in less than 36 hours and will soon be reviewed by the High Representative.

Next time while reading a glamorous analysis about Turkey, please remember the Gezi Park protests, which already resulted in seven days of police terror. Young people peacefully protesting the destruction of a very central public park to build the 96th shopping mall in beautiful Istanbul were stripped off of their basic right to peaceful dissent. After the police excessively sprayed tear gas on unarmed young people for the fifth day in a row, the youth is still together at Taksim Square—and in over 20 cities across the country. The area is filled with people who stay behind values such as freedom of expression, access to fundamental human rights, freedom from violence, protecting the environment.

Targets of police attacks vary from a mosque treating the injured to private homes, to an ATM machine. One of the recent targets was a Bahcesehir University building, where volunteer medics and wounded protesters were subject to tear gas bombs.

Prime Minister Erdogan left the country on a business diplomacy trip to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. He blamed “drunks, extremists, Twitter” for the riots before he departed. Erdogan argued the protesters are “arm-in-arm with terrorism and even suggested foreign meddling”, and this could not be farther from the truth. For instance, protesters have been physically cleaning the mess created by empty canisters every day.

Humorous moments do exist, too. One demonstrator in Ankara showed up to the protest in a Darth Vader costume, while support from international celebrities include notes from Roger Waters. Despite efforts of trying to cope with the tragedies since last Thursday, the police continues.

As Jeffrey Sachs did, while evaluating the international status of a country, we might tend to stick to economic development alone and miss accurately weighing in social realities on the ground. We might then be shocked in the face of people’s reactions. However, the debate on freedoms in Turkey is not new. A Foreign Policy article by Steven A. Cook and Michael Koplow highlight some reasons that, in light of these protests, should have been brought into the equation when determining whether and how “Turkey is thriving.”

It is now up to the world to vocally stand behind fundamental human rights and join the call to the government of Turkey to recognize police violence, publicly apologize to the people and listen to their concerns.

Here are some websites created by independent citizens where you can find up-to-date information with photo/video evidence:

–          Comprehesive list of articles in the media with links http://occupyturkey2013.tumblr.com/

–          A blog where citizens send evidence of police violence http://delilimvar.tumblr.com/

–          Photos from Gezi protests http://occupygezipics.tumblr.com/

–          Citizen journalism on Twitter https://twitter.com/140journos

–          Turkey Not Alone photo collection project http://turkeynotalone.tumblr.com/