The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has issued what the Guardian newspaper calls a “chilling warning”: he says “these protests will be over in 24 hours”. After calling nonviolent protesters “destroyers” and “enemies”, Erdogan declared “this episode is over”. He now has effectively declared his absolute, unilateral authority to accept or reject any and all attempts at democratic speech.
Observers across democratic nations allied with Turkey have expressed dismay and alarm at the unnecessarily counterproductive, violent and authoritarian reaction to what began as a sit-in protesting the destruction of a public park for commercial development. The extreme nature of Erdogan’s reaction has raised questions about whether his government somehow has existential ties to the commercial development plan.
As if to exhibit expertise in precisely that kind of irrational authoritarian self-contradiction, the prime minister went as far as to suggest that heavily armed military forces will move in to occupy Gezi Park and Taksim Square, to eject the people from these public spaces, because, in his words, “Gezi Park does not belong to occupying forces, but to the people.” It is the first suggestion that Erdogan is prepared to actually commit crimes against humanity to extinguish democratic protest in Turkey.
Rights activists around the world have now begun to call for diplomatic pressure to prevent Erdogan from using any further violence against civilians in Turkey, and to initiate an independent human rights investigation into what sort of official crimes may have been committed during recent attacks by security forces which allegedly have led to more than 5,000 civilians injured across Turkey.
What has unfolded in Turkey since the launch of the Taksim-Gezi movement is deeply disturbing, to the conscience of any free person and to the security of the region and the wider world. Turkey is too strategic a nation to start lurching toward dictatorship in the 21st century. And even though many of Turkey’s basic democratic protections still need to be edified and secured in practice as in law, Erdogan is openly threatening the use of extreme violence equal to the actions of individuals he calls “destroyers” of his nation.
That is the kind of language, planning and public rhetoric, that caused top military officers to flee Libya and abandon Muammar Qadhafi’s cult of personality. That Erdogan seems to have lost contact as much with his moderate Islamic values as with his oath to govern as a secular elected official now suggests to many in Turkey that he is giving into that most lascivious temptation of politics—to view his own reign as coextensive with the security of the state.
With no apology for the security actions that have killed several protesters, Erdogan warned family members of protesters to come and retrieve their relatives from the line of fire, saying “Please attend your children, pull them back, otherwise we would not be able to wait any longer.” The warning is clear: extreme force, and possibly lethal violence, is coming.
The European Parliament has issued a resolution denouncing the reaction of the Turkish government and specifically of Prime Minister Erdogan, finding that these reactions have divided Turkey and led to a deadly and dangerous escalation of tensions. Erdogan has flatly rejected the criticism and said he recognizes no right of the European Parliament to comment on his actions or the actions of his government. This will complicated Turkey’s negotiations about trade and political openness with the EU.