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The tragedy of Taksim square

12 June 2013

First he set the police on his own people, now ‘democratic’ Prime Minister Erdogan is refusing even to meet them. The peace talks he promised are being held not with protestors themselves but with a group of official mediators the protestors have never met.

In the days to come, Erdogan will try to persuade the world that he is battling extremists, but as Claire Berlinski points out in her heart-breaking piece in this week’s magazine — written from the centre of the riots in Istanbul last night — the demonstrators were until recently very ordinary citizens from all walks of life, brought together in peaceful protest. She describes the scene before the police arrived:

‘It was glorious — a huge innocent carnival, filled with improbable (I would have hitherto thought impossible) scenes of nationalist Turks mingling amiably with nationalist Kurds, the latter dancing to some strange ghastly species of techno-Halay, the former pumping their fists in the air and chanting their eternal allegiance to something very nationalist, I’m sure. Balloons lit with candles sailed over the sky; hawkers sold every species of Gezi souvenir, and the only smell of pepper in the air came from the grilled meatballs served in hunks of fresh bread and sprinkled with chilli powder.

‘Among the protesters’ grievances was the prime minister’s imperious effort to pass restrictive new laws on alcohol sales, so in a gesture of special defiance, entrepreneurial protesters — or maybe just entrepreneurial Turks — sold ice-cold beer from coolers. (I’ve never before seen anyone sell beer from coolers in the streets of Istanbul.)

‘There were commies and pinkos of every species sharing that beer with right-wing whackjobs of every stripe — groups that in the 1970s fought gun battles here, drenching the streets in blood and leading to the 1980 coup. The communists didn’t seem the sort to worry about — when people complained that the price of beer had risen in response to demand, they shrugged: ‘What can we do? If people want to sell it, we can’t stop them.’

‘There were trade unionists and doctors and ordinary yuppies and, mostly, college kids; there were gays, Alevis, Sufis and yogis; there were impromptu skits — all making fun of the government, and some of them very funny but untranslatable both linguistically and culturally; there was impromptu dancing (innocent and sexless by western standards), barkers enjoining the crowd to jump up and down for the liberation of the park (and everyone did), a stall that advertised itself as the park’s new free lending library, and vast crowds of people smiling in a silly, carefree way that grave Istanbullus, serious people, people who dress in dark colours and worry terribly about what the neighbours will think, rarely do.’

This happy picture was soon to be violently disrupted, on the Prime Minister’s orders. Find out the brutal, eye-witness, truth about what happened next in the latest Spectator, out tomorrow. Click here to subscribe from just £1 a week.

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  • Matthew

    Claire Berlinski’s description of the demonstrators in Taksim Square is confirmed in this blog by an Anglo-Turkish writer in Istanbul (I am proud to say that she is a relation)

  • JabbaTheCat

    Meanwhile, you can read this article about the Turkey situation by Claire Berlinski FOC over at City Journal…

  • Colin Forbes

    This is precisely why Turkey should and could never be part of the EU. (Oh, sorry – Brussels is full of petty autocrats such as Erdogan …)

    • John of Kent

      Don’t be so silly. If Turkey has had multiparty politics for 60 years that is because of the gravitational pull of Europe and America. The cold shoulder given to Turkey from the accession of Greece until the (supposed) start of Turkey’s own negotiation in 2005 deprived Turks of their vision of a European future and gave the Islamists the chance to capture power and then consolidate their hold on it. Till recently Europe has looked the other way as far as freedom and the rule of law in Turkey was concerned–and to judge from their silence this month, Cameron and Hague are still doing so. Enables us to see how sincere Hague’s affected concern for human rights in Syria really is.

  • Curnonsky

    Erdogan is the very model of a modern major autocrat: democratically elected (more or less), he then squeezes and fragments the opposition ,uses state resources to bribe the bureaucracy and regional power brokers (backed up with the threat of legal harassment and perhaps prison), uses sophisticated web monitoring to control internal dissent, and above all relies on popular torpor and cynicism to cruise to electoral victory after victory.

    This is the model that is increasingly displacing Western-style democracy worldwide – how long before it becomes the rule in Europe and the US (one could argue Obama is already practicing it)?

    • Shazza

      Reminiscent of New Labour during their 13 year Reign of Terror. Agenda to be completed should Labour ever be re-elected again. Just look what they achieved via postal votes, mass Labour supporting immigrants, politicising police, education, etc.; restricting freedom of speech, smear tactics, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

  • Abhay

    It will be a shame if the protests do not restart in Turkey.

    Erdogan doesn’t fears much censure from the West.

  • Alexsandr

    No mention that he is trying to make Turkey an islamist state, and that is the real issue. And his anti-democratic views. But no-one is saying that. Probably because they dont want to cause ‘offence’

    alexsandr boot says it all

    • Keith D

      A little hope that these islamist monsters wont get it all their own way.I enjoyed the article by aboot but disagree about the UK’s resistance to islamisation.the successive government enablers of Islam did it without our consent.Woolwich changed all that,permanently.

    • Baltaczar

      “But no-one is saying that. Probably because they dont want to cause ‘offence'”

      Or, heaven forbid, it’s a load rubbish. Which seems the best bet as the demonstrators aren’t saying it either.

  • In2minds

    “First he set the police on his own people…”

    It’s called kettling, the Met do it all the time!

  • Colonel Mustard

    Caroline Lucas could compare notes with Erdogan on the issue of scantily clad young ladies appearing in newspapers. He banned it. She wants to.

  • Radford_NG

    What about Judge Dread and his minions taking-down the carnival protesters against G8?And the tax funded show at Watford by the Bilderbergers.Erdogan just hasn’t learned the sophisticated way of doing it.

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