Riots in Turkey are not about just a few trees in a park. The reconstruction of Gezi Park, at the heart of Istanbul, as a shopping mall was the last drop to cause the overflow. This is how we say in Turkish.
For a decade, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been keeping the country under firm control. Even though the economy has been developing, his authoritative and oppressive speeches and deeds disturb many groups in the country. In the last elections, Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the 47% of the votes. It meant that almost one person out of two voted for Erdogan. This was the third time AKP was democratically elected since 2002. Until the last few days, different political groups could not get united. AKP passed new laws about restricting personal freedom. From mandatory religious education to practical prohibition of alcohol, from warnings for kissing in public to media censure, Erdogan's government has been using a number of social control measures.
It all started with a few peaceful protesters occupying Gezi Park at the end of May. The Police attacked citizens with disproportional force. Excessive amounts of tear gas and sound bombs are being used against demonstrators, who did not even defend themselves for hours. Although the gas capsules were manufactured to be fired in the air, the police aimed at the demonstrators, with the intention of injury. People knocked down by water cannons were almost run over by police trucks. Plastic bullets were fired at casually dressed people that ended up with injuring hundreds. Many lost their vision, got paralyzed and crippled for life. Four citizens died due to different causes in the riots.
The protests spread to the Anatolian side of Istanbul and thousands of people marched through the Bosphorus Bridge to join the resistance in Taksim Square. Not only citizens in Istanbul but across Turkey and other countries joined the riots since Friday night. Police was extraordinarily harmless in some cities of Turkey and in foreign countries.
Erdogan is viewed as a dictator in Turkey, and throughout the world today. People protest him to resign, by calling “Tayyip istifa!” He answered by calling the protesters “çapulcu” meaning a bunch of “marauders” and “marginals” while they were only ordinary citizens.
Turkish media is under oppression and it doesn’t show anything about the riots. The only alternative channel is Halk TV, meaning the television of the “public”. Other than this particular channel, citizens use social media to communicate with each other, like during the Arab Spring. They show what is happening on the streets via Facebook and Twitter. Riots in Turkey make people think if this could be the Turkish Spring or “Tree Revolution” but Erdogan seems not to change his view at all when it comes to personal freedoms. Although he is determined, citizens in the streets are more determined than ever. The resistance of Turkish youth is interpreted as the ’68 spirit reawakening.
In addition to the oppressed position of the media, Turkey has the highest number of jailed journalists in the world: 49 in Turkey, 45 in Iran and 32 in China, according to a 2012 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists. Freedom of the press is the first step towards an honest democratic social environment. But Turkey is ranked 159th out of 179 countries in world press freedom index. Mainstream media has strong political and business connections with the government and opposition press is routinely attacked by taxing investigations and court orders. While the biggest demonstration of all time was going on outside, all major TV channels were broadcasting programs like beauty contests and a documentary on penguins, in order to hinder public awareness. The citizens protested a renowned media organization, NTV, in front of its headquarters, for not showing what is going on in the streets.
The police brutality continues and it shows there will be a long discussion about the Gezi Park protests causing the country to go through a state of emergency. #occupygezi movement is a civil disobedience caused by psychological unrest of the Turkish citizens due to human rights and dignity being under attack for a decade. Erdogan is seen not to represent and recognize public opinion. His authoritarian policies disturb the people. And this is why the people use their right to protest for their freedom even though they face brutal police force.