The governor's office banned the rally -- organized by over 30 civil society groups, led by the Youth Union of Turkey (TGB) -- citing security reasons, on the grounds that “some groups may seek to incite anarchy in the country.” But organizing groups and left-wing opposition parties have reiterated their decision to ignore the ban.
Noting that Republic Day, which marks the foundation of the Turkish Republic, of which Turkey is set to observe the 89th anniversary, is a festival to be celebrated by the people, Gökhan Günaydın, deputy chairman of the CHP, told Today's Zaman that “banning the planned rally is, in the strictest sense of the term, the result of an antidemocratic and authoritarian mindset.”
Organizers say the rally is a reaction to the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) playing down the importance of national holidays and not respecting the values of the republic.
The Ankara Governor's Office announced last week that it had banned the Oct. 29 rally following intelligence that some radical groups would try to use the occasion to provoke a chaotic situation in the country. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed support for the ban, saying just days ago, “The Governor's Office did its duty following intelligence gathered by its own means,” implying that the intelligence the governor's office had obtained indicated some provocations may take place during the rally.
The official celebrations in Ankara for Republic Day will take place in the hippodrome. The prime minister has called on everybody to join the official celebrations, saying, “We should celebrate national holidays all together, in national feeling.”
But left-wing opposition parties, the CHP, the Democratic Left Party (DSP) and the Workers' Party reacted strongly against the ban, saying they would attend the rally to be held in front of the first parliament building in Ulus, which served as the base for Parliament during the Turkish Republic's struggle for independence.
“As the rally is banned, I'll be among the people [in the rally], and not at the official Oct. 29 celebrations,” Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, CHP leader, said in response to Erdoğan's statement. Noting that it is absurd to be required to obtain permission for the celebration of national holidays, and Republic Day in particular, he accused the government of acting out of an outdated mindset. “When the government says, ‘We have intelligence reports, so let's give up celebrating Republic Day,' it's something we can't accept,” Kılıçdaroğlu said, adding, “If you want to be a respected society, you need to put freedoms into democracy.”
Masum Türker, leader of the DSP, also announced on Saturday that his party would support the rally. Remarking that he finds it hard to understand how a national holiday could be banned, Türker made clear he did not take the “threat” and “provocations” Prime Minister Erdoğan talked about seriously. “It's just something to be laughed at,” he said, remarking, “Police should be on the spot to take security measures, and not to prevent the rally.”
Despite its being banned by the Ankara Governor's Office, police are not expected to stop people from gathering in front of the first parliament building in Ulus at 11 o'clock in the morning. From that point on, the crowd, which is anticipated to be in the thousands, is to march to Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the Turkish Republic. It is at that stage the police may intervene, as it has been speculated that the police will not permit the crowd to march to Anıtkabir.
Around 3,500 policemen will be on duty as security for the rally. Buses carrying people to Ankara from other provinces to attend the rally will be stopped at security checkpoints around the city, and people will go through a security search.
Opinion leaders also consider it wrong under freedom of assembly that the rally be banned. “In a democratic society, the right of assembly should not be restricted,” former diplomat and columnist Akın Özçer told Today's Zaman, noting that restrictions would play into the hands of those who search for opportunities to criticize the government.
For Bekir Berat Özipek from İstanbul Commerce University, bans of this kind retard the democratic normalization process in Turkey. “The decision of the governor's office is wrong,” he told Today's Zaman, noting that the ban is against freedom of expression. According to Özipek, there are groups in Turkey ready to perceive such bans as “enmity against Atatürk,” and he finds these groups' reactions equally unhealthy. “Some groups are in a battle to protect the republic against imaginary enemies,” he commented, also criticizing the CHP for exploiting such groups in an effort to strengthen polarization of society.
In contrast to left-wing parties, right-wing parties such as the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Grand Unity Party (BBP) have condemned the rally initiative, maintaining that organizing a celebration alongside the official one would damage the unity of the people. Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the MHP, accused the organizers of the rally of trying to imitate protests in some Middle Eastern countries in an effort to spark public unrest. Noting that such an initiative may lead the country to a crisis, he stated, “It's not proper for some political parties to give support to the rally,” criticizing the CHP in particular.
BBP leader Mustafa Destici was even harsher in his criticism. Describing the Oct. 29 rally as “separatism and provocation,” he said, “Alternative celebration programs serve only dissociation [of society],” also criticizing the main opposition CHP for its collaboration in the rally.