Taksim Square Protests: Erdogan Agrees to Vote on Future Of Gezi Park, But is It Enough?


Recent clashes between Turkish protesters and police in Istanbul's Taksim Square have U.S. and European officials alarmed. On Thursday, the European Parliament passed a non-binding resolution condemning the reactions of Prime Minister Erdogan and the Turkish government to the protests. The White House issued a statement on Thursday stating that Turkish authorities should not punish individuals for exercising their rights. White House spokesman Jay Carney also said Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and that the U.S. and Turkey had been in communication about the protests.

The U.S. is worried about what happens in Turkey for a number of reasons. Turkey sits on one of the most strategic pieces of territory in the world, and houses significant U.S. and NATO military assets. Throughout history Turkey has been considered the crossroads between the East and the West, and the jumping off point in either direction.

Turkey borders eight countries, some of which are currently embroiled in violent internal conflicts that are destabilizing the greater Middle East. Turkey has acted as an ice pack, cooling off regional inflammation by welcoming Syrian refugees, seeking peace with its Kurdish population, attempting to curb sectarian violence in Iraq, and denouncing Iran's nuclear ambitions and support for Bashar Al-Assad.

Turkey is also the Middle East's only stable, Muslim-majority secular democracy, and a regional economic powerhouse. The Turkish bid for EU membership is seen as a potential symbol of successful economic and political partnership between a Muslim country and the West. With the EU reeling under fiscal and monetary strain, Turkey has been a model of how secular democracy can leverage a cosmopolitan Muslim population to drive economic dynamism.

It's clear why an unstable Turkey is unacceptable to all parties.

Erdogan met Thursday with members of Taksim Solidarity, the catchall group of protesters opposed to the redevelopment of Istanbul's Gezi Park.

The meeting came two days after intense clashes in Istanbul. Turkish police swept through Taksim Square, tearing down barricades and shooting at demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets. The protesters fired back with fireworks and other incendiary devices that damaged a number of police vehicles.

"Our patience is at an end," said Erdogan on Thursday. "I am making my warning for the last time. I say to the mothers and fathers please take your children in hand and bring them out [of Taksim Square]." In response, parents of protesters held hands and formed a protective circle around those camped in the square. 

The prime minister's warning is seen by many to be a well-manicured political signal to his growing opponents and Western allies alike that the government is trying hard to compromise with citizens. 

Erdogan has used the AKP's substantial majority victories in recent elections as an excuse to implement an oppressive domestic agenda. As Erdogan is finding out the hard way, democracy just doesn't work that way.

Tayfun Kahraman, a spokesman for Taksim Solidarity, announced that the government has agreed to hold a public vote to determine the fate of Gezi Park, calling the outcome "positive." It is not yet clear when the vote will take place.

The two-week long protests have claimed five lives and injured thousands.