27th Oct 2016


The future of European Turkey

  • 'No friend of Turkey wants to see the country descending into violence' (Photo: svenwerk)

On Saturday night (15 June), central Istanbul descended into apocalyptic scenes of unfettered violence. The police targeted tear gas, water cannons and plastic bullets at protestors, and stormed a hotel near the park, which had set up a makeshift clinic to treat children and adults caught up in the events.

Among those trapped in the hotel was the co-chair of Germany’s Green Party, Claudia Roth, who is an avid follower of Turkey’s politics, a witness to the decade of violence in the 1990s in the country’s Kurdish provinces, and politician who supported the Turkish government’s democratic reform process.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Shaken and affected by the teargas fired into the hotel lobby, she described her escape from Gezi Park, which she had visited in a show of solidarity. "We tried to flee and the police pursued us. It was like war." She added the next day that it is the peaceful protestors in Gezi Park and elsewhere, braving police violence to stand up for the democratic right to speak out, who are providing the strongest argument for advocates of the future European integration of Turkey.

Only a few hours before Roth’s initial statement on Saturday, the protestors in the Gezi Park and Taksim Square were discussing the results of a meeting of their representatives with the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan seemed to have made some concessions and accepted part of the requests of the protestors to reconsider the construction scheme on Taksim and wait for a pending court decision.

The Taksim Platform, the closest there is to a representative body of the protestors, had decided to take down the different tents of trade unions and political organisations and only leave one symbolic tent. Most protestors were getting ready for a final weekend in the park, before returning to their lives as usual. True, the prime minister had delivered a warning for the park to be cleared, but such warnings had been made before and passed without decisive action. The mood among the people in the park was to wind down the protests and consider new ways of political mobilisation. So hopeful was the spirit on Saturday that families took their children to the park to plant trees and flowers and get a sense of what has arguably been Turkey’s largest and most peaceful civil society movement ever. No one was expecting a major crackdown. They have been proven terribly wrong.

Turkey's EU minister

Should they have listened to Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s EU minister and chief negotiator? On Saturday, well before the evening raid, he not only scolded international news channels like CNN and BBC for having made a “big mistake” by reporting the protests live and accused them for having been financed by a lobby intent on “doing everything to disturb the calm in our country.” He also declared that “from now on the state will unfortunately have to consider everyone who remains there [i.e. the Gezi Park] a supporter or member of a terror organisation.”

In the last three weeks of the Turkey protests, we have already witnessed the prime minister turning to progressively belligerent rhetoric for reasons of his power-political calculus. Now it appears that the minister responsible Turkey’s European future has not only been aware of the massive police brutality that was to be unleashed on the peaceful protestors, but also that he fully endorsed it.

No European politician, no representative of any European institution will be able to meet Mr Bagis from now on, without taking into consideration his justification of the breakdown and his rhetoric confusing citizens pursuing their rights to free assembly with terrorists.

Within only a few hours, the government of Prime Minister Erdogan destroyed all hopes for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, which is now spreading all over the country. Yet no friend of Turkey would want to see the country descending into violence. So what remains as a possible way out of ever deepening polarisation?

In recent weeks some members of the Justice and Development Party have publicly expressed their dismay at the unfolding events and the polarising rhetoric of Erdogan. President Abdullah Gul has voiced concern too. But he has stopped short of condemning the police violence and criticizing the prime minister openly. Gul is a respected politician and enjoys considerable public sympathy. Many have praised the president’s conciliatory style of politics. The time has come for him to show statesmanship and to speak out clearly and forcefully against the abuse of power.

In particular the president should oppose the witch hunt against protestors and against the doctors and lawyers who have supported them. Such action may yet avert the country’s deterioration into further violence and polarisation. The president would also do a great service for those - Turkey’s citizens and many European friends alike - who continue to believe in a common European future.

Gerald Knaus is a chair of European Stability Initiative, Berlin. Kerem Oktem is a scholar at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford.


Europe ready to tackle Greek debt relief

The Greek government has built and broadened alliances in EU institutions and member-states that acknowledge the need to restructure the debt and deliver another economic model for the eurozone.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU-China ForumDebating the Future of the EU-China Relations on 28 November in Prague
  2. COMECEMigrants: From Fear to Compassion
  3. Birdlife EuropeBusiness as Usual - Juncker Snubs Environment and Protects Broken CAP
  4. EFADraft Bill for a 2nd Scottish Independence Referendum
  5. UNICEFCalls on European Council to Address Plight of Refugee and Migrant Children
  6. ECTAJoin us on 9-10 November in Brussels and Discover the new EU Digital Landscape
  7. Access NowCan you Hear me now? Verizon’s Opportunity to Stand for Global Users
  8. Belgrade Security ForumMeaningful Dialogue Missing Not Only in the Balkans, but Throughout Europe
  9. EuropecheEU Fishing Sector Celebrates Sustainably Sourced Seafood in EU Parliament
  10. World VisionWomen and Girls Urge EU Leadership to Help end Gender-based Violence
  11. Belgrade Security ForumGet the Latest News and Updates on the Belgrade Security Forum @BelSecForum
  12. Crowdsourcing Week EuropeMaster Crowdsourcing, Crowdfunding and Innovation! Conference 21 November - 10% Discount Code CSWEU16

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EJCEU Parliament's Roadmap for Relations with Iran a Massive Missed Opportunity
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersFish Skin on Bare Skin: Turning Fish Waste into Sustainable Fashion
  3. CEDECOpportunities From the Creation of Synergies at Local Level in the Energy Transition
  4. ACCAFinTech Boom Needs Strong Guidance to Navigate Regulatory Hurdles
  5. Counter BalanceWhy the Investment Plan for Europe Does not Drive the Sustainable Energy Transition
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region Seeks to Make Its Voice Heard in the World
  7. Taipei EU OfficeCountries Voice Support for Taiwan's Participation in ICAO
  8. GoogleDid You Know Europe's Largest Dinosaur Gallery Is in Brussels? Check It Out Now
  9. IPHRHuman Rights in Uzbekistan After Karimov - Joint Statement
  10. CISPECloud Infrastructure Providers Unveil Data Protection Code of Conduct