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It’s the Democracy, Stupid!!! (from Turkey)

Written by Zeynep Gulsah Capan (PhD student in Politics)

The #occupygezi movement has sparked a wave of protests that started in Istanbul but now has spread all over Turkey. It might seem puzzling at first why an essentially environmental issue was the spark when Turkey has been experiencing a series of crisis such as Reyhanli and the alcohol ban. Uncovering why #occupygezi was the spark will also reveal some of the important dynamics at play in the protests.

There has been a process of (dis)locating Turkey, Turkish foreign policy and its place in the international system. As these redefinitions of society, the state and its foreign policy has been undergoing, the attitude of the government has not been to include the citizens in a dialogue about the future of Turkey. The JDP party has proceeded with its scripting of Turkish identity through a monologue. Although this has been a visible attitude with the JDP government for some time, it has become more acute in the last couple of months. Then why was #occupygezi the moment that finally brought the citizens forward.

The reason I think can be found in the polarization of Turkish society. The polarization is not the reason the protests are happening today but rather the construction of polarization discourse was the reason the protests did not happen until today. As opposed to Reyhanli and the alcohol ban, the gentrification of Gezi Park was not and could not be so easily framed within the polarization discourse of ‘supporters of Esad’ vs ‘supporters of Islamic fundamentalism’ and ‘secular lifestyle vs religious imposition’. The #occupygezi movement was about the city of Istanbul, it was about how the people of Istanbul were left out of the deliberation process of deciding the future of its green areas, it was and could be about democracy. This is not to claim that in the cases of Reyhanli and the alcohol ban the democratic process functioned (it did not) but both issues from the start were constructed in such a way that situated them within the binary oppositions of ‘secular’ vs ‘islamist’. Even though there have been op-ed columnists and JDP and RPP officials trying to frame #occupygezi in such a similar manner, it had not been such an issue from its start and thus the attempts to frame it as such failed and is failing. The non-framing issue is related to #occupygezi movement being an environmental issue and not having been contextualized as part of an ongoing ‘identity’ issue like Reyhanli was with respect to Turkish foreign policy and the alcohol ban was with respect to Turkish identity and lifestyle discussions.

#Occupygezi became the spark because it was not part of the 52% vs 48% discourse that has been constantly reproduced by the JDP, RPP and popular media. The binary oppositions of ‘secular’ vs ‘islamists’ and the discourse of polarisation has been instrumental in silencing and marginalizing democracy concerns. The public sphere in the last couple of years had been replete with ‘naming and shaming’. Either you have a side within these binaries or are assigned into one. It had become impossible to criticize the state of democracy in Turkey without being ‘accused’ of supporting the RPP and military interventionism. Likewise it became impossible to criticize the RPP or the legacy of the military without being ‘accused’ of being a JDP sympathizer. The two ‘sides’ were reproduced in every issue and debate whether it be Reyhanli or the alcohol ban effectively silencing discussions on democratisation and limiting the discursive sphere to verbal battles between Kilicdaroglu and Erdogan.

The #occupygezi movement was the spark of the protests because it was not framed within these binary oppositions. The protests undergoing in Istanbul are a way to finally express discontent about the state of Turkish democracy that had been obscured within the constantly constructed discourse of polarization and binary oppositions in the public sphere. It is a way to reclaim a space within this sphere where discussion is possible without it being reduced to 52% vs 48%. It is finally about democracy!!!!

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