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June 02, 2013, Sunday

What happened in Taksim?

The violent events that started with the cutting down of trees in İstanbul's Gezi Park led to police brutality.

The police used tear gas and pressurized water against the groups that gathered in the park area before moving on to Taksim. At the time of this writing, there were no confirmed deaths, but one demonstrator was in critical condition. The local administration's decision to brutally suppress this demonstration caused fury and anger among the protesters. Friday night, it was relatively wealthy people who took to the streets in the affected districts. People who chanted “the government [should] resign; we are the soldiers of Mustafa Kemal” stayed in the streets for a long time.

Above all, we really do not know how to manage a crisis. This incident once again shows how a peaceful demonstration is criminalized. We go back to the logic of the authoritarian state every time we encounter trouble. This is mostly because despite all of our painful experiences, our democratic culture has not improved adequately to address these situations. If the governor and local administrators had taken proper measures beforehand, the incidents would not have become so grave. It is a pity that so many people were wounded and the image of the country damaged. But, like I said, although the government has taken many constructive steps over the last 11 years, in cases such as this, it acts like the old state.

I have underlined this frequently in my recent columns. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) has established its identity as a founding party with the reforms it introduced over the last 11 years. There are weak and pro-status quo opposition parties that oppose the AK Party. And because this is the case, the AK Party conducts politics in a domain where it is not challenged at all. However, the other half of the people, those who did not vote for the AK Party, feel as though they have been abandoned. Additionally, the government has pursued improper policies with regards to the environment. The government is also acting improperly in the implementation of these policies. The processes involved in making huge decisions concerning the future of the country are not handled properly. The government fails to ensure the participation of the people in these endeavors.

However, if the government were to consider the opinion of the people on huge projects like the third bridge as heard in referendums, this would improve our democratic culture and win the confidence and trust of the people who did not vote for it. Such a democratic attitude would strengthen the hand of the government in macro issues like the settlement process.

On the other hand, ignoring peaceful objections is an improper attitude and a style that raises concerns. The AK Party is an isolated political movement that has been harassed continually; despite that, it enjoys the support of the people. Still, the remnants of the old regime are influential. The self-confidence associated with successful governance and the isolation felt in connection with this harassment are disrupting the balance. However, in any case, the government is responsible for its actions. In other words, the government does not have the luxury to do wrong.

On the other hand, there is a danger that the street movement may stray from its democratic course. The protest “a minute of darkness for everlasting light,” initiated against the deep state in the aftermath of the Susurluk accident, has become widespread in Turkey. However, the media and guardianship forces used this popular protest to topple the government in the Feb. 28, 1997 coup. I should say that I am worried by the slogans that the radical groups that took to the streets used in the protests. An environmental protest should not come to the point of toppling the elected government in a democratic country. There will be general elections in a very short time. The people will have the opportunity to change the government they do not like. A peaceful protest should not serve anti-democratic ends.

I hope the government learns some lessons from this incident.

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