June 3, 2013

What's going on in Turkey?

From this distance it is difficult to know what is going on in Turkey. International liberal media have drawn important, if insufficient, parallels between the recent events in Istanbul and Occupy Wall Street while ignoring the uprising which seems to spreading across the country. Only today did this change. One media outlet admitted that the movement has outstripped Occupy and posed the question of what will happen if the working class joins the protests en masse. This has not happened yet, but the potential is there.

Another account of the movement in Turkey sees the Istanbul protests as beginning in the fight to preserve green space in Istanbul. This view ignores the recent repression directed at the trade unions (the cancellation by the government of Istanbul's May Day protests, the repression of trade unions and strikes) and the recent repression directed at some progressive intellectuals and students and radical cultural figures (such as Grup Yorum) and the effective criminalization of radical slogans used to unite youth against the educational system. To be fair, some media do use these events as setting context for what is occurring in Turkey, but they then fall short in likening the Turkish movement to the Arab Spring.

The Communist Party of Turkey (TKP) has created a multi-language Facebook page to help keep people in other countries informed. Please access that here. The TKP maintains offices near the main site of the protests and has been attacked by police recently. Bianet English is also carrying great coverage, including some live video.

Here are some news items from Turkey set in no particular order that will help us to grasp what is going on in there. The items come from combined sources. Please check the TKP Facebook page and Bianet for updates.

1. One death in Istanbul and one in Hatay. Mehmet Ayvalıtaş, a twenty-year-old Socialist Solidarity Platform (SODAP) member, was hit and killed after a car driver ignored warnings to stop for protesters organizing an Istanbul Gezi Park solidarity demonstration in Ümraniye’s 1 Mayıs neighborhood. RedHack has also announced that Mehmet was a member of their group as well. It is possible that the driver can be linked to ultra-right forces. Over 1,400 people have so far been wounded in Istanbul, with five people in intensive care and two more in critical condition. An unidentified protester has also been shot and killed in Hatay

2. The movement spreads. Police forces in Ankara, Turkey's capital, have forcefully intervened against protests showing solidarity with the Taksim Gezi Park protesters. Barricades were built by protesters there with two municipality buses and a construction truck in order to resist a possible police intervention. Demonstrators in Ankara were also attacked by a group of about 30 thugs chanting slogans in favor of the police. Several hundred students in Ankara have engaged in street fights with the police. There have been many arrests there.

3. Universities respond to the movement. Several universities have announced the postponement of university finals amid the ongoing protests. The government has spun this as encouraging students to join in the protests. Istanbul uuniversities such as Özyeğin University, Boğazici, Istanbul Technical University, Mimar Sinan University and many others had all previously released statements condemning police violence in Taksim, but cancellations and postponements came soon after. Universities nationwide responded to the ongoing events, with hundreds of protesters staging demonstrations in cities like Erzurum, Eskişehir, Kırıkkale, Aydın and Gaziantep.

4. Anonymous steps up. The global hacking collective Anonymous is promising to launch attacks against the Turkish government in response days of police violence against protesters at Taksim Gezi Park and around the country in a video on YouTube. The group has also managed to take down access to the Official Gazette and other sites with a hacking attempt yesterday. The website of private channel NTV, which has come in for stiff criticism for failing to adequately cover the events, was also subjected to an apparent Anonymous attack earlier today. The group also announced today on Twitter that they had taken down websites of President Abdullah Gül, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Istanbul Governor's Office and the Istanbul Police Department.

5. KESK steps forward. The Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (KESK) debated issuing an early strike call today. This could bring thousands of public workers into the streets. The public sector strike was initially set to protest against the upcoming changes in the public sector workers’ law may be moved ahead to tomorrow in solidarity with the protests. KESK has called for solidarity from all other unions and is framing the strike as a demand for a “democratic Turkey” instead of raising concerns over legal changes, according to a statement made by KESK General Secretary İsmail Hakkı Tombul. Public workers are being encouraged to dress in black and sport black ribbons at work before striking. Solidarity consultations between KESK and the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK), the Turkish Medical Association, the Turkish Engineers Association and the Turkish Architects Associations are on-going.

6. Prominent cultural figures show solidarity. The cast and crew of the hit show The Magnificent Century (Muhteşem Yüzyıl), Turkish singer Tarkan and actors and actresses Zeki Demirkubuz, Selma Ergenç, Demet Evgar, Devrim Evin, Nedim Saban, Tardu Flordun, Özgü Namal, Azra Akın and Can Bonomo have all shown solidarity with the movement.

7. Reaction is swift, violent and threatening. Prime Minister Erdogan has claimed he is “barely holding back the 50 percent” of the country that voted for him from coming onto the street. Turkish intelligence forces are also reportedly looking into possible links between the incidents in Istanbul and unnamed "foreign powers." Erdoğan has also claimed 160 police officers and 60 citizens were injured on Sunday, saying that this is proof that police forces were acting with restraint.

8. The markets react negatively. The Borsa Istanbul (BIST), Istanbul's stock exchange, fell sharply today in reaction to the protests and government policy. The Borsa Istanbul National 100 Index fell by 6.43 percent today, the worst fall since March of 2003. The Turkish Lira also weakened to 1.889 against the dollar, a decline from 1.87 on Friday and near a 16 month low against the dollar. The sharpest fall was mainly visible in the tourism index, at more than 13 percent. It was followed by the banking index, which fell by around 9 percent. The protests are taking place as the tourism season gets off the ground and the Istanbul protests are being held in an area frequented bby tourists. Many tourists have been caught between the protests and the police and have helped injured protesters.

9. The Kurdish question reemerges. The armed militants of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) have been withdrawing from Turkey for several weeks now as part of a deal reached between Abdullah Ocalan and the Turkish government. This takes place as particular repression is aimed at supporters of the PKK, the Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) and armed struggle groups. We have covered some of this on our blog. Today PKK armed forces engaged in a brief battle with the Turkish military near the Iraq border.

10. The movement draws international support. Demonstrations are being held in several European cities supporting the Turkish movement. In Greece a Kurdish group marched under a banner in Greek and Turkish supporting Turkish demonstrators. The TKP and allied European organizations are organizing rallies, as are Kurdish groups and SYRIZA in Greece.


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