Monday, June 3, 2013

Turkish Environmentalists Spark National Protests

A brutal police crackdown against a peaceful environmental protest in Turkey has sparked the biggest anti-government demonstrations in years. The May 31st protest in Istanbul has spread to dozens of Turkish cities and involves a broad spectrum of support from students to professionals, trade unionists, Kurdish activists. The mass protests began with a demonstration to halt construction of a shopping center in a park in Istanbul's Taksim Square, a huge new Mosque planned for the banks of the Bosphorus river and a replica of an Ottoman-era barracks.

On Monday June 3, protests continued as people gathered in Taksim Square and erected barricades of rubble. Hundreds have been injured since the outbreak of the riots. Of the thousands who protested in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, as many as one thousand people were have been detained by Turkish police.

Protests which started around environmental concerns have now garnered the support of those who resist Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's Islamist agenda. Others oppose the government's authoritarianism, still others have economic grievances and decry the costs associated with Erdogan's support of rebels in neighboring Syria's civil war.

While Erdogan does not appear ready to make concessions, we have seen that the failure to embrace the public mood can cause regimes to fall. We have seen how the Arab Spring has led to environmental and other changes throughout the Middle East and North Africa. These movements are not be so easily mollified by force.

However, even if the Turkish government succeeds in quelling the protests, the unrest has unstoppable economic implications. In response to the violence, Turkish financial markets have fallen by more than six percent and the lira fell to 16-month lows.

"Whatever happens, there is no going back." read one of the messages scrawled on banners brandished by the protestors. These demonstrations are more than impassioned protest, this is the voice of a people who are increasingly vocal about the need for change. While this augers the potential for dangerous instability, it also speaks to the power of environmental protest to spark national activism.

This is about far more than resistance to urban development projects, this is about the Turkish democracy and the power of popular movements to augur environmental reforms and social justice.

© 2013, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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