By Charlie Parke
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
Gentrification. Some say it pushes the poor out of neighborhoods, others see it as cleaning up crime and revitalizing cities. Around the world it’s a common practice and Turkey is no exception. However the violence that has resulted from the gentrification program in Turkey appears to threaten the government and large corporate interests. The riots, rallies and the people taking to the streets of Turkey have brought international attention. Some see this as the next phase of the Arab Spring and Occupy movement and others view it as a series of misunderstandings.
Many of the areas in Turkey that are rebuilding have long histories and careful efforts are preserving the architecture. The neighborhoods also have a history and sense of family which the process of redevelopment seems to endanger. Large companies get the government construction contracts and large corporations purchase the buildings which skyrocket in price. Small businesses and locals are often driven out by construction and real estate prices.
One area of controversy comes as awareness spreads that the son in-law of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan runs one of the construction companies given large contracts, GAP Insaat. Other issues exist due to reports that some of the historical structures may not be maintained as originally promised and laws that are deemed harsh but seem to be part of the new program.
In late May Turkey banned many forms of alcohol advertising as well as late night alcohol sales. This program was originally intended to decrease minors using alcohol but many feel it has become a religious attempt to control people’s private lives.
In 2011 Turkey abolished its Ministry for Women and Family and replaced it with the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. Many feel this leaves the issues of women’s rights without a voice in government. Women’s groups protested in 2012, as the government harshly criticized abortion and discussed banning the practice. The same year saw international attention on a woman who was raped multiple times, but denied the right to abort the fetus. Recently, in 2013, an award called “Freedom to Write” highlighted the political imprisonment under anti-terror laws of a writer and women’s rights advocate Ayşe Berktay in Turkey. Other protests included calling for an end to state run brothels by women’s rights groups in Turkey.
Many see the attempt to rebuild the structure of the city as part of an attempt to rebuild the culture in a religious vision. Amid these concerns the last straw seems to have come as the Turkish government attempted to demolish a Gezi park as part of the gentrification efforts. Protest at the parks by environmentalists and those who consider the park an important part of the city of Istanbul led to a violent crackdown by uniformed police and undercover officers. These clashes led to outrage. Protesters have now been joined by women’s groups, students, labor unions and many concerned with the course the government is following.
Global support for the Turkish people has come from anti-war groups, Occupy Wall Street and those with friends and family in the region. Locally, Arizona has now seen over 12 days of rallies in Tempe. The group is protesting the undemocratic government of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, the police brutality against peaceful protesters, the censorship of Turkish media and the disrespectful and ignorant treatment of minorities, women, and different-minded citizens. Arizona Code Pink’s Lizzy Arizona said “the solidarity in Turkey is inspiring!!!”
Some members of the government have called for peace, saying the police crackdown on the protest was a mistake, while others see this as the beginning of the next Arab spring likely to topple the power structure in favor of change.
Arizona Alliance for Peace and Justice member, Edwina Vogan, had this to say about the recent events in Turkey and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, “It took what was an environmental issue to illuminate how the Turkish government could totally overreact and turn the people against his position of power. His refusal to listen or negotiate, plus he allowed the Turkish police to abuse their power in dealing with the demonstrators. All added up to strategic mistakes. However the people in the streets took the power in themselves and demonstrated they would not be stopped from exercising their right to free speech and a more democratic process. Despite all the violence rained on them, for the most part non-violence triumphed over the repression by the police. Many of us across the globe marveled at the strength of the Turkish people in the streets.”