After Gezi Park: Where is Erdogan’s Turkey heading? An activist speaks out
Umuth Turk interviewed by Alexander Damiano Ricci 26 August 2013

What is the main goal you think you have achieved so far?

There is one important thing that these protests in all over Turkey have achieved: from now on, people will react! They’ve realized the political power a mass movement can put into action. People have tasted the pleasure of using a relatively new democratic instrument: oppositions from outside institutions, down in the streets and in the squares.

What are the principal associations and parties involved in the protest?

Football fans, socialist groups, political parties, workers’ unions, LGBT movements, students associations from universities as well as the main opposition party in parliament.

What is the average age of protesters?

Actually this is the main subject of research in these days. Generally speaking, protesters have been called generation “Y” born between 1989-1999.

What is the conceptual core of the protest? The defense of public goods, or individual freedom?

Both of these two reasons and more. The ecological sensitivity triggered the protests in the first place but the force which actually drove thousands to streets was people’s disapproval to government’s actions during the last ten years. The political mobilization dealt with principles such as individual freedom, freedom of speech and press, conservation of public goods… However it is difficult to observe a unique address of the protests. People involved in the mobilization come from different social and economical backgrounds. My personal opinion is that part of the movement and the political opposition are struggling against government’s neo-liberal policies, but I can’t point out a clear tendency which holds for the whole protest. The majority of the people down in the streets were autonomous and they are simply reacting to everyday events, for example: new policies on alcohol consumption and production, issues of free press and speech (in this case there are several cases of journalists which are still held in prison), governments arbitrary decisions about how to change the education system, or the tendency to destroy socially and historically significant places (Cinema EMEK).

Why do you think it can be stated as a protest against neo-liberalism?

Because the government applies neo liberal policies to whatever domain. Concretely it means the exploitation of human and natural resources in order to create or maintain the market: Taksim Gezi Parki is the best example, not the only one. In this sense, the protest can be compared to the protests showing up during G8 meetings and the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Can the events in Turkey be comprehended in the so called “Arab Spring” phenomenon?

The comparison between the events in Turkey and the Arab Spring may deserve attention, but it is too early nowadays to clearly state their relation.

How did the Turkish television behave towards the protest?

In the first days Turkish media have been totally mute towards the incidents in Taksim Gezi Parki. To give an idea, Cnn-turk broadcasted a documentary about Penguins the whole night. People could hear about police violence and injured people through social media principally. Thus, especially in the first days, social media were the only source of good information. The government had to face thousands of individual broadcasters and reporters working thanks to their phones, computers: protesters became journalists themselves.

Did you have the chance to monitor how the mass media system of the Western world monitored the protest in Turkey?

Yes. In the first days international media were the healthiest source of information. For example, CNN broadcasted hours of news about Turkey. Similarly Italian media made a good job following closely the protest.

Do you think that the concerns of the protest were reported in a transparent way by western media?

Reports have been transparent and did support the aims of the people occupying Taksim Gezi Parki. Most importantly they also criticized Turkish media. Their support was particularly significant for the success of the manifestations. Indeed their work triggered a certain tension between western world governments and Erdogan.

A tension which was not there before …

Yes. Indeed, it must be said that western media, intellectuals as well as governments ever supported Erdogan since he took office as president. It was only when Erdogan’s aggressive attitude toward the mobilization became evident, when he deployed police power against thousands of citizens in all over Turkey, that they had to reconsider they relationship with the Turkish government.

What is the ideal model of society you would like to see realized in Turkey?

No single person involved in the protest can answer this question with one conclusive statement since it is not a movement against the system itself. I think it is important to say that nowadays, in Turkey, everybody feels individually or collectively considered as part of “the others” by the government: on the one hand there is the tendency to discriminate because of sexual orientation and more generally because of any personal life style choice which is not conformist. On the other hand, there is also a class-conflict dynamic at work in Turkish society where equality of opportunities is at stake. So in a very general sense we ask for real democracy which entails freedom at large and equal opportunities as well.