At the beginning, the main issue was simple: Municipal authority prepared a grand architectural project for Taksim Square and wanted to turn it into a pedestrian-only place, which is good. As part of this project, a 200-year-old military barrack, which was demolished some 60 years ago just on the place that is supposed to be rebuilt over Gezi Park. Those who oppose seeing a shopping mall in place of trees started a peaceful protest. Everything was alright up to this point.
Then police overreacted to the protesters and used excessive force against them. They used gallons of teargas and water cannons against innocent protesters. This escalated tension and created a new wave of hatred among people. More people gathered in Taksim, and police reacted even harsher. There were women, kids, elders and MPs among the hundreds of protesters in the field, and they were all exposed to teargas.
Silence of the Media
Meanwhile none of the TV channels, even the most critical or objective ones, spoke a word of the incident the whole day. Instead they aired penguin documentaries, which in an instant became a repulsive TT (Trend Topic) in the social media. Only one small TV channel broadcasted the protests live and the social media did live streaming from the place. News channels only broadcasted officials giving speeches about protests. Eventually, newspapers brought the issue to the headlines, but the silence in the first two days has created an enormous reaction against media and the government. Commentators and columnists were poor in their comments; news gathering from the field fell short of what was expected. On the other hand, there was splashy news in the social media, the new source of information for many. Despite many provocative posts, and as being open to misinformation and manipulation, people righteously relied on social media in absence of regular news channels. Social media took over the responsibility, and the credibility as well, from news channels and newspapers.
Protests were going on both in the field at Gezi Park and in cyberspace with hash tags and trending topics. There was a message that masses wanted government to hear: This protest has nothing to do with the trees from then on. Gezi Park turned into a symbol of the discontent of people for government's late actions and for interrupting people's private lives. But the government was not wise enough to hear it and reduce the tension in the first days. So the show went on at Gezi Park, and moreover, it spread all across Turkey. Displeased masses started to bang pots and pans in the streets everywhere.
Who Is Hijacking the Show?
In the course of last 10 days the ideological landscape has changed dramatically in Taksim. Today, there was an innocent environmentalist group who initiated the protests, but there are also marginal groups like the DHKP-C, or Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, trying to hijack the show. DHKP-C is an armed group and recognized as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and the EU, whose members attacked the U.S. Embassy in Ankara in February. Besides, as banners they carry reveal, there are also some other terrorist groups who want to turn the protests into an uprising against Turkey's elected government.
Besides the terrorist groups infiltrated among peaceful protesters, there are also vandals and outrageous people who attack non-protesting by-passers. Yesterday, we all learned that a young mother wearing a headscarf with her six-months-old baby was attacked by protesters in Kabatas, a neighborhood close to center of the protests. In fact the danger is even bigger. This would lead to high polarization, threatening the solidarity in a country where many different world views lived together for centuries. The complex social tissue composed of different ethnic and religious groups living in harmony is seen as richness in Turkey, but it is also considered as the Achilles' heel of the society which is subject to manipulation in sensitive times. Turkey has experienced tough times when this social diversity has been abused so as to create a social unrest.
Yesterday Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the first time talked to representatives of Gezi Park protesters in person, what he failed to do in the very first days, and called for a referendum for the architectural projects there. This shows that the government seems to get the message at last and now it is time for protesters to differentiate themselves from illegal terrorist groups and vandals. Despite the entire polarized image shown so far, I know Turkish people are wise enough to reunite around a common sense and get rid of these dark days.
Alparslan Akkus is the Foreign News Editor and columnist at Sabah, leading Turkish Daily