Erdogan revives controversial Gezi Park development plans

Erdogan revives controversial Gezi Park development plans
The 2013 Gezi Park protests were the biggest demonstrations since Erdogan came to power in 2002.
By bne IntelliNews June 20, 2016

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to revive controversial plans to redevelop Istanbul’s Gezi Park that triggered mass anti-government protests back in 2013. Several people were killed, hundreds of people injured during the protests that posed the biggest challenge to the government of the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) since coming to power in 2002.

The plans envisage rebuilding of the Ottoman-era military barracks and construction of a mosque. “If we want to preserve our history we must rebuild this historic structure, we will rebuild it,” Erdogan said on June 18.

Erdogan revisits the controversial plan at a time when he is aware that parliamentary and non-parliamentary opposition is weak and fragmented and a repeat of the Gezi protests is unlikely. The mood among anti-government people is hopelessness and deep sense of defeat since the November election, in which the AKP regained the parliamentary majority it lost in June’s snap polls.

Erdogan seems to be doing what is doing the best: he is consolidating his supporter base by polarising the country. He is aware that his statements on Gezi Park may agitate and provoke his opponents and may drive them back to the streets. Probably Erdogan wants to test the power of his opponents as he pushes for gaining absolute power. If his opponents take to the streets once again, probably there will be fewer protesting people compared to 2013 and he will easily crush them, sending the morale of his opponents to sub-zero level.

Showing the weakness of non-parliamentary opposition which constituted the backbone of the 2013 protests, only several hundreds of people gathered on June 18 in Istanbul’s Cihangir district to protest an attack on a record shop the previous night where the fans of British rock band Radiohead were celebrating the launch of the band’s last album.

Around 20 people armed with sticks stormed the shop, owned by a Korean citizen, on June 17, attacked the fans because they said there were reacting to the consumption of alcohol at the event during the holy month of Ramadan. Police used tear gas and water cannon, a regular practice by security forces since the Gezi events in 2013, to disperse the crowd on June 18.

Commenting on the Cihangir incident, Erdogan said both the organisers of the event and the attackers were wrong. The alleged attackers were briefly detained and later released.