Turkish riot police have cleared protesters from Istanbul’s central square, following a night of clashes between the two sides. The police operation follows nearly two weeks of demonstrations in Taksim Square and locations in several other Turkish cities. Several people have died since the protests began. About 5,000 people are reported to have been hurt and thousands of others arrested.
Erdag Goknar (Erdağ Göknar), an assistant professor of Turkish and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University in the eastern U.S. state of North Carolina, is following the situation. VOA’s Susan Yackee spoke to him about the underlying reasons for the protests and countermeasures the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan could take to address them.
Featured below are transcribed highlights of the interview. To listen to the full version, check the audio player at the bottom of this post.
Yackee: Why has the unrest flared?
Goknar: …There is a lot of discontent with recent policies that the government has made, and this includes the arena of foreign policy – for example, Turkey’s involvement in Syria – it does not play very well to the home audience; in addition, the ruling party, the government – has begun a peace process with the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, which also is not very popular among many Turks; and, in addition to foreign policy, there are some aspects with [the government] trying to impose a conservative agenda with respect to domestic issues. For example, women’s rights have been affected recently; especially with the prime minister making statements that he would want women to have three [children], and that he must raise a more religious generation. These are the kind of provocative statements the prime minister is known for making; he has a brash style in that respect….
Yackee: What does the Turkish government need to do to turn this all around, to quell the unrest?
Goknar: It seems that the message that they have adopted is “good cop-bad cop.” So one of the things that they’ve relied on early on – which backfired – was the use of riot police… This just galvanizes the resisters, the protesters, and more people end up coming into the streets. So, in addition to that, figures from the government have made overtures to talk, to begin a dialogue with the protesters but those efforts seem insincere when they are followed immediately by police action. So one thing that the government could do is to stop relying on riot police… The other thing is those images of riot police and the excessive use of force, which has been documented by numerous news outlets, does not play well in the international arena.
Yackee: Can an analyst like yourself say that this is part of the Arab Spring?
Goknar: No, I don’t think so. And people have clearly come out and said that this is not at all like the Arab Spring. And the reason they have said so is that primarily the ruling AK party, the AKP, and Erdogan, are a very popular party; they’ve been elected three times, most recently with a 50 percent vote – and that’s pretty high in Turkish politics. So they do have a strong base. However, the issue here is that the other 50 percent are not being heard or being listened to, and they have not yet come up with a mechanism for dealing with that. So, what becomes clear is that we don’t have a clear, pro-active mechanism for [dealing with] dissent and that solution has yet to be found.
Listen to our full interview with Erdag Goknar:
Susan Yackee is anchor of VOA's International Edition radio show. She has been a reporter in the Washington area for more than 35 years and regularly interviews newsmakers and analysts in DC and around the world. Susan works in television, radio and social media.