The occupation of Gezi Park inIstanbul on 28th May has blossomed into the largest civil uprising in modern Turkish history.
The immediate catalyst for the protest was the planned demolition of Gezi Park, one of the last public spaces in increasingly gentrified Istanbul. The movement grew rapidly after an unprovoked attack by police killed three and injured thousands. Protests and occupations have since erupted in over 50 Turkish towns and cities.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Edroğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), in power since 2002, built its initial support base by drawing together marginalised rural Muslims,a new Islamic bourgeoisie and urban Islamic community networks. Those networks had developed as a response to the social welfare failures of the secular Kemalist regime, which emulated Western capitalist economics. The AKP was meant to reclaim Turkey from Western interests.
But following a split from the Islamic party, the AKP abandoned its anti-imperialist principles, as well as any opposition to neoliberalism, and clamoured to join the EU. It delivered the boom it had promised: construction, tourism, exportindustries and ‘Islamic finance’ all flourished. On the very day protests began, Jeffrey Sachs was praising Turkey’s economic success. Like they praised Egypt and Tunisia, before popular uprisings set the record straight.
As with every neoliberal ‘miracle’, it was paid for by breaking the backs of the poor. The Turkish boom represented the extension of work hours, an growing informal sector, wage repression and soaring inequality. Instead of representing the poor, the Erdogan administration demonised and alienated them.
The official demands of the movement are restricted to the protection of public spaces and civil rights, the resignation of those who ordered the violence and the release of political prisoners. But the root causes of inequality and exploitation stretch far deeper. The Taksim movement is broad, featuring LGBT, socialist, environmentalist, religious and secular as well as numerous ethnic groups. It has the potential to generalise its aims and mount a meaningful challenge to the state. Noam Chomsky has called it “a beacon of hope and opportunity which deserves the strongest possible support one can offer.”
The Turkish uprising takes place in the context of growing international resistance to neoliberal policies which are now being rammed home in the wake of the global economic crisis. Resistance must continue until the state bends to the will of the people or is broken by it. In the meantime we should offer our solidarity to, and take inspiration from, the occupiers in Gezi Park.
- Marienna Pope-Weidemann