People’s revolution has reached the cities of the old Ottoman Empire. Thousands of citizens have taken to the streets of Ankara, Istanbul, and in Turkish enclaves from Doha to New York City. Why have the people chosen now to rise? Because the “moderate” Islamic government of PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has decided it is now time to begin dismantling the secular foundations of the modern state of Turkey. After the collapse of the decrepit and corrupt Islamist Imperial Ottoman state in the 1920’s the Young Turk reformers and the secular leader Kamel Attaturk attempted to create a modern society built around the idea that all are equal within a non-religious state apparatus that supported the rights of workers, women, and religious minorities. Of course the reality of this utopian system did not live up to the promise it was founded upon, but one cannot deny that the modern Turkish state has been a outpost in West Asia against religious fanaticism and tyranny.
The Islamic party of Erdogan has decided to cater to the most extreme religious elements of the society and is using its elected authority to undermine the secular nature of society and government. A couple in a train station in the capital of Ankara were caught on CTV committing a terrible crime against Islamic morality: they were kissing in public. They were warned by the police and urged to leave the station. In response the people came to the station and staged a “kiss in” to protest this horrid criminalization of human love and affection. This incident was quickly followed by a restrictive anti-alcohol bill that would target those who use or sell alcohol all over the nation. As if that were not enough the government decided to bulldoze one of the last few green public spaces in the great city of Istanbul, Gezi Park, in order to make way for a corporate owned shopping center.
The people of Istanbul had decided they had had enough. They occupied the park and the area around it, like their comrades in New York City and Cairo before them, and told the government that they will not take any more abuse. The government responded with predictable brutality: they used bulldozers, tear gas, batons and live rounds in an attempt to remove the peaceful protesters from the space. The protesters fought back but many were forced to leave. Thousands joined in and the protests spread to the center of Istanbul and across the nation.
As I write thousands are standing in Taksim Square calling for the end of the Islamic government and the resignation of PM Erdogan. These are secularists, shopkeepers, mothers, fathers, workers, socialists, nationalists…almost every segment of secular Turkish society has come together in support of the ideals of the Young Turks, Attaturk, and secularism. They are setting up roadblocks and barricades and are creating a situation reminiscent of Tahrir Square in Cairo. The government has cracked down hard and have arrested nearly 1000 people, brutalized and injured thousands more and there are perhaps dozens of deaths due to police brutality. There are reports of members of the armed forces refusing to assist the police in their attack against the people and the secular foundations of society, dropping their weapons and even joining forces with the protesters and their cause. Protesters are even gathering in front of the EU headquarters in Brussels and chanting their support for their comrades in Turkey.
This is another victory for the people of the world and expands the protest against the religious, corporate and authoritarian forces that run the governments of the world. The people will not have their dignity taken from them, they will not stand for governments that sell their interests to the highest bidder, they will not stand for morality police and an imposition of religious authority in the place of the secular rule of law. I stand with the people of Turkey. I stand with people all over the world who are coming to the realization that it is they who have the power and it is they who can change and reshape the world. Today I am Turkish. Tomorrow perhaps we will all be citizens of a new world. Workers and People of the World Unite!
UPDATE: CNN is reporting that Riot Police in Istanbul are using Agent Orange canisters, banned by the UN, against peaceful protesters gathering in the center of Istanbul. Updates can be found on Al Jazeera http://blogs.aljazeera.com/liveblog/topic/turkey-protests-20176