Friday, 7 June 2013

So why Turkey, and why now?

Two articles by Kerem Öktem - the author of Turkey since 1989. Angry Nations

Contours of a New Republic and Signals from the Past: How to Understand Taksim Square for Jadaliyya

Much has been written about the protests in Istanbul and Turkey, which have unfolded since the initial occupation of Gezi Park by environmental activists on 28 May. In the attempt to make sense of the massive unrest which followed, several frames of explanation have emerged: The prism of the “Tahrir Republic” and the “Arab Spring” was fast at hand, so were the references to the “Indignados” of Spain the and the “Aganaktismenoi” of Greece, and increasingly also to the Occupy movement. The uprising in Turkey has many common features with these movements, above all a concern with the excesses of neoliberal restructuring and the dynamics of ad-hoc grassroots activism. Yet, none of these frames explain either why such large-scale protests could erupt under the conditions of rapid economic growth, decreasing unemployment and urban poverty rates, or the wide spectrum of the protesters. Nor do they help us understand why the well-off middle classes emerged and remained as the main driving force of the protests. As Taksim Square has been taken over by the demonstrators, and as battles rage on elsewhere in the country, it is a good time to take a step back and turn to Turkey’s tormented past and its history of social struggles and political symbolism for answers. This essay is based on perspectives I first presented in my book, Angry Nation: Turkey since 1989 (Zed Books, London 2011), as well as a series of articles published in OpenDemocracy (“From Tahrir to Taksim”, and “End of Islamism With a Human Face”) and MERIP (“Return of the Turkish State of Exception”).

Turkey, from Tahrir to Taksim for Open Democracy

The public demonstrations in Turkey are a challenge to the social destruction and political regression being pushed through by an autocratic prime minister. This is a moment for change, says Kerem Oktem in Istanbul. 
Hundreds of thousands of protesters in the streets of Istanbul. Tens of thousands of policemen attacking with teargas bombs and rubber-bullets. The Bosphorus bridge heaving with demonstrators. Solidarity meetings all over Turkey and beyond. A government that seems to have lost touch with events on the ground. An establishment media whose patrons have been bullied not to report what is in front of its eyes. A nation in turmoil. A prime minister, who in 2011 was lecturing Hosni Mubarak about democracy and divine justice - and who was re-elected then with a massive popular vote - who now looks awkwardly like the former Egyptian dictator. All this has thrown Turkey into its deepest crisis for more than a generation.

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