Taksim Square Protests: Another Arab Spring, Or a Road Bump to Turkey's Growth?
Depending on who you ask, it looks as though Turkey may be undergoing something akin to the Arab Spring. But the term "Turkish Spring" neglects to take into account Turkey's unique relationship to Europe, the Middle East, and democracy, something that distinguishes the current wave of protests from former uprisings. "Those who make news and call these events the Turkish Spring do not know Turkey," Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement.
The nation already underwent a massive political change of power in 2002, when citizens democratically elected the current majority party (The Justice and Development Party). Now, some see this diverse array of protesters as a check to the increasingly authoritarian government, while others blame the oppositional party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), for playing a role in inciting violence.
The protests resulted from plans to build a shopping center, just another of the government's ambitious and controversial plans to expand economic growth within the country. The demonstration drew a large, heterogeneous crowd of students, environmentalists, secularists, and extremists all over the country. Incidents of violence quickly erupted, with police using tear gas and protesters using mechanical diggers to break police lines. Over 1,700 people have been detained in the nationwide outcry, and mosques and universities are quickly being converted into make-shift hospitals.
While the violence in Taksim square has immediate and chilling effects, it could also affect Turkey's long-term prospects to become a member of the European Union and undermine recent promising economic growth. The protests came just days after the 51st meeting of the EU-Turkey Association Council. Despite the Ankara agreement which was signed 40 years ago, Turkey is still not fully recognized as a member of the EU, largely because of Greek opposition. A week ago, the EU issued statements that while Turkey was closer to accession into the EU, it had failed to meet certain criteria, specifically in regards to Cyprus. Turkey was hoping to make a final push to be included in the US-EU free trade deals. Now, any mishandling of protests by the government could further hinder Turkey's progress. Prime Minister Erdogan is also busy trying to manage fears of destabilization affecting the country's stock exchange, which plunged 6.43% today.
Various members of the international community have responded to the violence. Both the EU and the United States have issued statements calling for restraint by both protesters and police. Bulgaria's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it was "closely monitoring the events of recent days in Turkey, our neighboring country and a friend." It is sure that all eyes will be watching in the days to come to see if the protesters and the government can come to a reasonable agreement.