Turkey's political unrest

22 Jun 2013

Recently Turkey’s Prime Minister, Recap Tayyip Erdoğan, has been criticised heavily for his anti-democratic method of governing. Various articles describe his descent from democratic to authoritarian, some even go far as describing him as a dictator, fishing out 20 year old quotes about how “democracy is a train” and it is a “means to an end and not an end itself”. Though there is certainly compelling evidence to suggest the prior, many of the facts used as justification for such bold statements are superficial and double sided.


For example, a criticism of what seems to only be economic success in Turkey is private external debt, which is at 51% of GDP- the first issue with this statistic being used as criticism is that it is not. As much as there is hysteria, a stigma almost, around borrowing; borrowing is really good for an economy. For example the US with a GDP of $16.2 trillion has a total foreign debt of 106% of the prior sum, but you don’t see every person, organisation, state in depression. The other big contradictor to the statement that Turkey is financially not so sound is the fact that the country cleared its $412 million debt to the IMF as of May 2013. Just in case you have any doubts, Turkey’s GDP per capita is $17,110 as of 2012 in comparison with $8865 in 2003, what can be seen is a dramatic increase in GDP during Erdoğan’s term in power. From a financial perspective there really isn’t much to complain about for most Turkish people.

What started out as a demonstration against the building on Gezi Park soon spiralled into little but an anti-government protest with no direction. I say this because two weeks ago similar protests took place in London regarding the G8 summit. The reasoning for the protest was immensely valid. Why should we get a lower NMW than those two years older than us whilst doing the same job? Unfortunately, however, attempting to throw yourself off of a rooftop is not the best way to get your message across. It’s damning to the cause, the media has something they can maul over for the next day and anyone looking at the day’s news will get the wrong impression. If the protestors in Turkey want to get their message across, I believe it will have to be done through a more systematic means.

You may think that this sort of protest was the very thing that started the Arab spring, and you wouldn’t be wrong. What is important to note is that these countries are all developing countries nowhere near as wealthy or as democratic as Turkey, secondly, these countries have been under a dictatorship for over 30 years. Unlike these countries, Turkey has a democratic system where the PM is voted in, need I remind you Erdoğan won more than half of the votes in the last general election, which is more than can be said for our government. As Churchill said “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise”, we only have the power to vote for a select few, then when they are in power they don’t really have to listen to us since we technically “voted them in”. It almost feels like we are just electing a dictator every 4 years. Therefore, I believe the Turkish protestors are more upset with the system they live under rather than the reigning authority.

That said, there is one other thing that may be upsetting protestors, it has something to do with the probation of the sale of alcohol between 10pm and 6am anywhere (there’s more), at any time near Mosques or educational centres, and is much tougher on drink driving. I believe these requests are reasonable; would you want a drunken person near a school? Would you want your students to be getting drunk ahead of their exams? I think the answer is obvious.  I personally feel that the ban of alcohol sale during this period will have a dramatic effect on e.g. anti-social behaviour. I would like to take this sentence to emphasise the fact that 83% of the population do not consume alcohol at all. In my eyes this seems very democratic since only 1% of the population consume alcohol every day. Yet the media is presenting this, yes like Syria, as a balanced fight when it is anything but.

Perhaps it is the fact that we live in a western society and cannot fully relate to the culture that exists in Turkey that we see such laws as outrageous. But seriously, how can we report on Turkey when human beings are being treated as if they were insects in Syria.

(If you are prone to being disturbed from reading some of the atrocities happening in Syria, then I strongly advise you stop reading now).

The reason I say this is because, well just last week in my youth council, people were saying that the rebel army are the ones using chemical warfare, that the majority consisted of Al Qaeda terrorists wanting to spread havoc, that if we armed the rebels it will only lead to more slaughter, the most ridiculous statement was even that the rebel army is the minority. Well since we know they are under armed and 80,000 people have died as of yet, I think it is fair to say if the rebels were a minority they would have been stomped out by Assad’s Regime in the first two weeks of the unrest, not in two years. But the key and devastating fact is that the youngest human being tortured in Syria is a baby girl, 4 months of age, not her parents.

It’s time to stop looking at Parkland being built on in Turkey, or the restriction in consumption of a developed world luxury and get real.

By Yassine Benlamkadem

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