What started as a small group opposed to an development project in Istanbul has become an outpouring of national anger over how the Islamist-rooted government treats its citizens, testing Ankara’s quest to be a model country in its neighbourhood.Turks are increasingly frustrated about what they see as restrictions on their freedom after a series of last-minute reforms were rushed through parliament by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which enjoys an overwhelming majority.”This is a movement which is a result of growing frustration and disappointment among secular segments of society who could not influence politics over the last decade,” said Sinan Ulgen, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe.
“This is an unprecedented, abrupt and unplanned public movement that has not been manipulated by any political party. It is a big surprise,” he told AFP.
A small park and its 600 trees at Istanbul’s iconic Taksim square was the spark for the protests that snowballed into one of the biggest nationwide campaigns against the ruling party’s ten-year rule.
Critics say that Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan’s rule has left Turkish society more polarised than ever, with opponents of the AKP government openly voicing concerns that Turkey is moving toward conservative Islam.
The ruling party has passed a series of reforms which have outraged many citizens who complain of a “fait accompli” and say it shows a slide toward an authoritarian and conservative agenda.
In 2004, the party attempted to submit a controversial amendment on banning adultery but had to back down amid criticism from opposition parties and women’s groups.
Last year, Erdogan provoked outrage when he likened abortion to murder, and his contentious education reform allowing clerical schools for the raising of what he described a “pious generation” was approved by the parliament in 2012, spreading fears among secularists.
More recently, Turkey’s parliament passed legislation curbing alcohol sales and advertising, which would be the toughest in the republic’s history if the president, a former AKP member, signs it into law.
In April, an Istanbul court ordered a retrial for world-renowned pianist Fazil Say, who was convicted earlier to 10 months in prison for blasphemy over a series of social media posts. The 43-year-old virtuoso has accused the AKP of being behind the case against him.
Critics accuse Erdogan’s government of using courts to silence dissenting voices.
Turkey is the leading jailer of journalists worldwide, imprisoning even more than China or Iran, according to rights groups.
Hundreds of military officers, academics and lawyers are also in detention — most of them accused of plotting against the government. Continue reading