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September 29, 2023

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Protests in Turkey met with police brutality

Civil unrest in Turkey has caught international attention in past weeks as the latest instance of revolution among Middle Eastern nations. What began as a peaceful sit-in against government demolition of a park quickly escalated after demonstrators were met with tear gas, water cannons and police batons.

After the initial weekend protest subsided, a larger force of activists returned with pent-up frustration over the increasingly authoritative regime of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan’s administration most recently curbed the sale of alcohol by placing restrictions on its sale and banning all advertisements, but has also pushed to prohibit public displays of affection on public transport, or even applying red lipstick at Turkish Airlines.

Many dissidents believe that these moves are steps away from the founding principles of secularism in Turkish politics and the ruling party’s growingly prominent Islamist agenda.

Erdogan, who has democratically remained in power for ten years, is seeking a constitutional referendum that would transform Turkey into a presidential system. If successful, Erdogan may maintain control for another decade after his term as Prime Minister expires. It is this sort of power grab that has added to the numerous grievances.

Erdogan responded to the initial sit-ins by reiterating, “I am not going to seek the permission of the [the opposition] or a handful of looters.”

The Prime Minister’s comments echo his reputation as a stern and sometimes arrogant leader. The comments also are typical of the administration’s intimidation of the media.

The Committee to Protect Journalists recently reported that, in 2012, Turkey jailed more journalists than any other country, including Iran and China. Erdogan and the Justice Development Party (JDP) have continuously received international criticisms for their implementation of moral sanctions.

Following in the footsteps of other international revolts and revolutions, news of the protests quickly spread around the globe through social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr and others.

The worldwide coverage of the events prompted Erdogan’s condemnations: “There is now a menace which is called Twitter,” Erdogan said. “To me, social media is the worst menace to society.”

It should come as no surprise that while social media remains out of reach, the current administration maintains a firm grasp on mainstream Turkish media outlets. One protester, quoted by, noted that “while the whole world was broadcasting from Taksim Square, Turkish television stations were showing cooking shows.”

Now, over a week and a half after protests began, Al Jazeera reports that thousands of people have sustained injuries while three have been left dead. While police presence in Istanbul has declined, skirmishes have extended to various suburbs, where police and protesters continue to exchange tear gas and fireworks.

Erdogan has since drawn down police presence in Istanbul, citing that it was the heavy-handed response that ignited the flame of the protests. The Prime Minister has also expressed that he welcomes anyone with “democratic demands,” but continues his resolve to bulldoze the park.

The conflict in Turkey ought to remind Erdogan and similar regimes that a majority vote does not grant absolute power. A democracy is more than mere elections.

Contrary to the Prime Minister’s statements, simply achieving a popular vote in national polls does not permit the use of tear gas, water cannons, and police batons against minority opinions.

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