By Joshua Danton Boyd
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the 25th Prime Minister of Turkey and has been in power since 2003. In his time he has seen Turkey’s GDP rise, brought the unemployment rate down after it skyrocketed during the recession, and saw the country’s per capita income triple during his first six years in power.
He has managed to win three elections so far. His party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), won 34% of the vote in 2002, 46% in 2007, and 49% in 2011. On top of that, AKP won the latest local elections by attracting 42% of the vote.
There are many concerns about Erdoğan though. Some of his actions have led many to believe he is becoming more authoritarian and at ease with crushing dissent and freedom of speech.
The Battle of Taksim Gezi Park
Gezi Park is one of the remaining green spaces on the European side of Istanbul. In 2013 it was announced that the park would be removed as part of an urban removal scheme. The idea was to build a replica of an old barracks that once sat in the location along with a shopping mall and luxury apartments. Many people in the city were unhappy about losing the park and decided to take a stand.
At first the protesters were environmentalists, it was simply about saving a beautiful park against an encroaching sea of concrete. After a number of protests against the plans, they culminated on May 27 when activists occupied Gezi Park.
On May 29, the police had had enough. They decided to remove the protesters by force and moved into the park. They were heavy-handed and violent, which while not something new for Turkey, the use of it against entirely peaceful environmentalists angered the Turkish people.
Tear gas, batons and fire were used as weapons against the protesters, only serving to ignite anti-government feelings across the country. Word spread, the police failed, and the number of those occupying Gezi Park grew and grew.
Protesters died. Football supporters stole a bulldozer and destroyed police vehicles. Taksim Square became a focal point for the unrest. Numbers continued to grow, but they couldn’t hold out.
Eventually Gezi Park and Taksim Square were cleared and protests died down. The development of the park was called off, but a new sense of anger had spread across the country among activists after seeing their friends die in the street and the police brutality and lies used by Erdoğan.
Erdoğan Tries To Control The Internet
During the protests, Erdoğan had started to make noises about the negative influence of sites like Twitter. He blamed it for spreading lies about him and the government. For the time being there wasn’t much done about it, but it did foreshadow his actions in 2014.
In February of this year, recordings, supposedly of phone calls involving Erdoğan from December 2013, were leaked onto YouTube. The recordings suggest Erdoğan told his son to get rid of $1 billion during corruption investigations. He tells his son to put the money into various businesses in order to hide it from investigators.
Erdoğan put all the blame on social media again saying it was being used to spread lies. His solution to this was to pass a law allow the government to ban access to certain websites. In March he decided to go after Twitter and both failed and made himself an international laughing stock.
While normal access to the site did go down, it was long before ways to navigate the block spread around the country, even in a basic medium such as street graffiti. During the block, Turkish traffic to Twitter actually increased. #TwitterisblockedinTurkey was soon the top trending term globally. Erdoğan was seen by many as an out-of-touch character completely ignorant of the effort people will go to use the internet how they see fit.
The Twitter ban was soon overturned and a similar fate befell attempts to curtail the use of YouTube. Erdoğan had done him and his party no favours.
A Mine Collapses
On the morning of the 13 May, tragic news begun to trickle out from Soma, Turkey. A mine had collapsed with an initial death toll of 200 and 80 injured. In total, 787 people were inside at the time of the collapse. When all was said and done, 300 had perished.
Erdoğan’s response was this:
“Let me go back to the past in England. In a slide in 1862, 204 people died, in 1866, 361 people died, and in an explosion in England in 1894, 290 died. These things happen.”
During his visit to Soma to meet the grieving families of those killed, he was unsurprisingly mobbed by protesters. While escaping the throng, a video purports to show him hitting a protester, while photos clearly show his aide kicking another while under arrest. All in all, it was a disaster not only for the miners and their loved ones, but for Erdoğan and the AKP.
His approval ratings are not as high as they once were. At the end of 2012, he had an approval rate of 62.3%. That’s now down to 39.4%.
There is a general election in 2015 and it’s far from decided. It is not even set in stone that Erdoğan himself will run, but there is no denying his actions over the last few years will make some in his party question whether he is up for the task.
Were he to fail he would be remembered around the world as a fan of police brutality and the man who tried to block Twitter. History will unlikely think of him well.