Erdogan talks, tensions ratchet higher


Thousands of police on high alert rolled into Istanbul on May 1. All roads leading to Taksim Square were closed down. Armored vehicles patrolled the streets. Thousands of teargas canisters had been prepared for possible use. Life in Istanbul was at a standstill, with a vague sense of martial law settling over the city.

In the end, the city’s police did put on quite a show thousands of people, some protesters — others just along for the ride — tried to make their way to Taksim, only to encounter pepper gas and police truncheons.

According to the country’s central police headquarters, 339 people were arrested on May 1 throughout Turkey. Of these, 235 were arrested in Istanbul. We still don’t know how many of these people were released. Apparently, around 25 members of the police force and 25 protesters were injured during the incidents. One strange aspect of the events was that, reportedly, some civilians attacked protesters in Beiiktai with sticks and knives. No arrests were made in these cases and some journalists on the scene were told by attackers that the police had thanked them for their actions.

So, that’s Turkey for you these days. You’d think we’d be up in arms about this turn of events, but the truth is, we’re used to it. In fact, we’re thrilled that no one was killed during the protests. If the police had pulled out tear gas and guns, and if people had died, there wouldn’t even have been an investigation, due to the recently legislated domestic security bill. Of course, tension in Turkey has not been restricted to the date of May 1. We also have the anniversary of the nationwide Gezi Park protests of 2013 coming up, and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has already made clear that some sort of extraordinary state will be in effect throughout the country, prohibiting any explicit commemoration of those who lost their lives. Gezi Park remains, for the AKP, a “sensitive area.” There, even a small gathering of people is still a trigger for police intervention. Yes, the AKP is tense the fear of a possible fall from power casts a long shadow over the upcoming June 7 elections. At the same time, though, neither is the tension limited to the elections. The fact is, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been tense for a long time this tension is projected back onto society in the form of polarization and turmoil. In the meantime, the groundwork is being laid for provocations of all types.

It is vital that the upcoming elections take place in an atmosphere that doesn’t trigger anger and events that spiral out of control. But of course, it is the ruling party itself that wants to see this type of atmosphere emerge, which is why it makes more sense right now to expect the opposition parties to behave more responsibly. It is particularly important that the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which may or may not meet the 10 percent election threshold, behave sensitively and responsibly. Erdogan’s recent shelving of the peace process and his almost daily comments targeting the pro-Kurdish HDP are not merely rooted in the fear that the HDP may surpass the election threshold this behavior also aims to provoke the Kurds in general. The president’s announcements seem aimed to provoke the Kurdish population to pour into the streets.

Yes, we got through May 1 without getting too hurt, but the fear, the worry and the tension continue to grow daily, because Erdogan continues talking, all the time, every day.