Tuesday, June 4, 2013

All You Need to Know About Gezi Park -- Christiane Amanpour's interview with the AKP

The proposed reconstruction of the Topcu Barracks*
While the Gezi Park protests may have started over some trees, they have grown to encompass a wide-range of issues, mostly stemming from concerns that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's AKP government has grown increasingly autocratic. There have been a number of laws and rules passed recently that suggest the government is trying to push a more religious lifestyle, while at the same time, a number of large city projects have begun (or continue) seemingly without public input. In short, the secular citizens of Turkey feel that they their country is changing and they have no say in the matter.

I could link to a thousand things to support various points and arguments, but if you want to understand the basic situation in Istanbul right now, and how the two sides do not see eye-to-eye, here's what you need to watch: Christiane Amanpour's 8-minute interview with Mevlut Cavusoglu, an AKP guy from Antalya who is currently with the prime minister in Morocco. I'll even provide a guide to go along with his statements.

Minute 0:37: Cavusoglu says, "Well, first of all, I have to correct the fake information, that building a shopping mall has never been considered here in Taksim Square. What is considered is the pedestrian way and the putting the car traffic under the tunnel, and enlarging the Taksim Square. Only old military barrack is considered to rebuilt, the old military barrack." The grammar isn't perfect, but he's referring to the defense recently put forth that the trees were only cut down to widen the sidewalk, and that the only construction that will happen in Taksim Square will be the reconstruction of former military barracks on the site. While I won't call his statement an outright lie -- although according to multiple local newspapers, Erdogan himself confirmed that the reconstructed barracks "are to be converted into a shopping mall and might serve as a residence with social facilities" in a speech on April 29 -- Cavusoglu is certainly obfuscating the issue. First of all, the mall (or whatever else) was going to be in the barracks -- it's not a questions of the barracks vs the mall. But let's give him the benefit of the doubt and say they never intended to build a mall in the barracks. Fine, no mall. Maybe they intend to create a hotel. The fact is, IT DOESN'T MATTER. It's the barracks that are the issue because no matter what the barracks are used for, their construction destroys the park -- and the park is the point, not the mall.

Minute 1:14: Cavusoglu says,"And this project was actually supported by all the political parties in the city council, and it was adopted unanimously by the city council." This is an absolute simplification of a much more complicated approval process, one that was met with controversy. The project was first approved by the municipality, but the decision was later nullified by another board over concerns about the park. Then that decision was overruled by High Council for Protection of Cultural and Natural Assets in February or March (depending on your source). "Professor Betul Tanbay from the [Taksim] platform told Sunday's Zaman that many people feel betrayed by the lack of consultation and the secrecy with which the plans were passed through official channels," according to an article published in February.

Minute 4:04: Cavusoglu says, "We have been elected by the people, and in last election, more than 50 percent of the population supported us." Nitpicky perhaps, but in the 2011 elections, the AKP won 49.83 percent of the popular vote. But I mention this because I think his statement is meant to suggest that a vast majority of the Turkish people support the AKP and their policies, and it simply isn't true. Half the country supports their general policies and half don't.

Minute 5:45: Starting at minute 5, you can start to hear Christiane Amanpour's frustration with Mevlut Cavusoglu as he continues to talk and won't let her speak. Finally, Amanpour says, "Sir...Sir, please, this is an interview, sir. I need to ask you some questions...I need to ask you some questions, this is an interview, sir, not a speech. It involves me asking you some questions." Along with "Do whatever you want to do, but we've made our decision," Erdogan's statement last Wednesday, Cavusoglu's attitude during this interview is, for me, the personification of the government's attitude to both the people and the recent protests. Imagine how they must listen to their citizens!

Min 6:58: Cavusoglu says, "Regarding the second group [the radical and marginal groups], we cannot negotiate with the terrorists and the marginals." This actually made me laugh out loud since the government did, in fact, negotiate with the Kurdistan Workers' Party [PKK] this spring, allowing the members of the terrorist group to lay down their arms and leave Turkey without any sort of punishment. During the PKK's 30-year clash with the Turkish government, some 40,000 people were killed.

*The rendering of the proposed reconstruction of the Topcu Barracks comes from a local newspaper's website. The barracks surround what is now Gezi Park. A version of this image was used during an interview  Prime Minister Erdogan gave over the weekend; in the video, it appears just after 1:25:24.

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