Erdo?an’s election strategy could set Turkey on fire

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Prime Minister Erdo?an seems to have chosen a policy of high tension. By escalating his Islamic discourse, he is targeting the next election. But he is also putting his own supporters on a collision course with urban and educated young Turks, writes Zeynep Gö?ü?.

Zeynep Gö?ü? is the founder of EURACTIV Turkey.

“The headlines on the front pages of seven of Turkey’s national daily newspapers on Friday June 7th 2013 were suspiciously the same. "For those who come to me with democratic demands, I'll sacrifice my life," they read, reporting on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an’s speech to a rally of his supporters the previous afternoon.

This unprecedented “coincidence”, surpassing even the announcement by Turkish newspapers of curfew times following the 1980 coup d’état, was seen by many as proof of the self-censorship that characterises Turkey’s privately owned media.

Since the start of the environmentalist demonstrations at Istanbul’s Gezi Park in Taksim which morphed into large nationwide rallies for democratic rights, the press in Turkey has been widely criticised for not being free. On the very first day of the demonstrations, when police heavily teargased the Taksim area, almost all news channels were reluctant to report the events. CNN Turk showed a documentary on penguins while Haberturk TV, whose offices are five minutes away from the park, did not report the events. These and other examples showed the heavy pressure from the government on Turkey’s media.

Social media, especially Twitter, which was used by the demonstrators to communicate with each other, bore its share of the government’s anger. In Izmir, 32 people were taken into custody for the tweets they had sent.

The intimidating language used by Prime Minister Erdo?an is perceived as very provocative by Turkey’s urban youth, especially by those born in the 1990’s who are seen as the main element of the anti-government demonstrations. This is a digital generation that hates to be pushed around. Its demands for democracy and freedom of speech go far beyond the environmentalists’ campaign to preserve a green park area in the middle of Istanbul’s metropolis.

I visited Gezi Park first on Thursday May 30th, when everything was still silent and peaceful. I could not understand the brutality of the police the following morning, when at around 5.30 a.m. they gassed the area and set the small tents of the protestors into fire. 

Parents of the 90’s generation in Istanbul, including myself, were surprised to see how our kids became politicised from one day to the next around a common cause.

But then I realised that this self-confident generation that is trying to create a different Turkey than ours grew up in a country supposedly on the way to EU accession.

Those who gave orders to fire tear gas at the occupiers of Gezi Park had forgotten that this is a country seeking EU membership, whose children take human rights lessons in school. I remember once trying to force my son, then aged 10, to do something by pulling his arm. He went out onto the terrace and shouted out for the police, saying that children’s rights were being threatened in our house. This same generation had lots of projects at school on how to protect nature and they are sensitive on human rights issues.

There are 12.7 million young Turks between the ages of 14 and 24, and they are the ones that are capable of steering this country into a global future marked by respect for democracy and human rights.

By contrast, Prime Minister Erdo?an seems to have chosen a policy of high tension. By escalating his Islamic discourse, he is targeting the next election. But he is also putting his own supporters on a collision course with urban and educated young Turks. 

Such a battle, if it leads to countrywide violence, will produce no winners. Instead, the entire country will be the loser.

Will the Western Powers allow such a consequence? As an EU expert and a veteran journalist campaigning for Turkey’s EU membership, I somehow feel that in the aftermath of the Gezi Park events Turkey  will be perceived differently in Europe. For the first time, many Europeans have had an opportunity to see the face of Young Turkey. It looks very different from the conception that many Europeans had of Turkey until now.”

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