The protests that started on May 31 in Istanbul after riot police attacked environmental activists, and which subsequently became a wider protest movement against what is deemed the authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have been hailed by commentators who are critical of the Turkish government. These commentators note that the protests amount to a rebellion against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which they hold has governed – especially since the 2011 election – without showing due respect for the other half of the population that did not vote for it. However, several leading pro-AKP commentators have also joined the chorus of critics by expressing criticism against the way Erdoğan has reacted to the protests. They implore the prime minister to moderate his stance and show empathy for those who are protesting.
The terrorist attack in the town of Reyhanlı on May 11, which left over fifty dead, making it the deadliest terror attack ever in Turkey, has generally been interpreted as being a consequence of Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian civil war, and the Syrian regime is assumed to have been responsible for it. However, there is nonetheless a divergence of views among the columnists in the Turkish press as to what Turkey’s response to Syria should be. While a “hawk” like Cengiz Candar advocates retaliation against Syria in order to deter it from repeating the attack in Reyhanlı, a more “dovish”, reasoned, attitude in fact dominates, with the government invited to recognize that things in Syrian are neither black nor white. Many columnists express concern that sectarian tensions will be inflamed in Turkey, and it is also pointed out that the old habits of engaging in a designation of “internal enemies” has returned, poisoning the societal atmosphere.
The violent dispersal by the police of workers and leftist groups that attempted to march to the Taksim square in Istanbul on 1 May has been severely criticized as a manifestation of state authoritarianism. Columnists who are critical of the AKP government wrote that the government wanted to set an example, demonstrating that the very act of defying the decisions of the state is intolerable and will be violently suppressed. Leading liberal commentator Hasan Cemal made the pessimistic observation that the Turkish state never changes, while pro-government commentator Mustafa Akyol wrote that the problem is the fanaticism of the left. Akyol held that it is unreasonable to blame the government, and argued that those responsible for the violence were the trade unions and the left who deliberately and fanatically picked a fight with the police.
The Turkey Analyst is a publication of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Joint Center, designed to bring authoritative analysis and news on the rapidly developing domestic and foreign policy issues in Turkey. It includes topical analysis, as well as a summary of the Turkish media debate.