A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, May 31, 2013

Istanbul Park Clashes: Symbolic but Important

UPDATE: A court has now ordered the suspension of the development project in the park, which could either defuse or escalate tensions depending on the government's response.

UPDATE II: An English-language live blog from the protests here.

Clashes between police and demonstrators in an Istanbul park mark the latest conflict between the ruling AKP's party's ambitious plans for Turkish expansion and those who oppose those policies. The demonstrators are trying to preserve Gezi Park in Taksim from government development plans. The demonstrators are fighting to preserve the green space where the government wants to reconstruct a former Ottoman-era barracks complex as a potential tourist draw. Dispersing the protesters, police announced arrests and some injuries.

The history of the site and pictures of the planned development can be found here. (Hat tip to Managing Editor Jacob Passel for this and other links.)

The AKP, capitalizing on Turkey's recent prosperity, has been engaged in a broad range of development schemes, from building projects such as a new airport and a third bridge at Istanbul, dedicated on the anniversary of the fall of Constantinople and named for the Ottoman Sultan Selim the Grim. Critics of the AKP see the projects as a sign of creeping Islamization and the "Neo-Ottoman" policies of Prime Minister Erdogan. This article addresses some of the controversies. There is also a critique of the new construction projects here. And a photo gallery of the police raid here.

The development projects, along with such social issues as the recent restrictions on alcohol,
reflect the growing culture clashes between traditional and Islamic elements tapped by the AKP and the secular urban elites which have dominated Turkey in the past. The head of the Republican People's Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the secularist opposition, visited the demonstrators at the park earlier in the week.

Taksim is also a traditional area for public protest, and the protesters see development of the park as  a government effort to reduce protest space.

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