“With no clear leadership organising the Gezi occupation, it was unclear who the prime minister would be meeting” – from the Guardian News article “Turkey’s prime minister to meet Gezi Park occupiers as protests begin to ebb“.
This intention of Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan to meet with the “leaders” of the protests in Turkey is the first concession by the Turkish government that there might even be the possibility that the people protesting might have some legitimate grievances. That said, the official statement of Erdogan’s deputy, Arinc, about the meeting don’t exactly give the impression that the government believes any of its citizens have anything legitimate to protest about. Arinc was quoted in BBC News as saying this:
The prime minister gave an appointment to representatives of some of the groups that have been organising these protests – he will meet some of them on Wednesday upon their request and he will meet other groups in the coming days….
They will be briefed on the facts and our prime minister will listen to their thoughts.
Does this statement about “people organising protests” imply that this wave of protests only occurred because they were organised by certain people? While I don’t doubt that some people and/or groups may have started stepping into an organisational role after the protests were already well underway in order to try and overcome resistance to protest, my understanding is that the protest itself emerged and grew spontaneously, without any organisation required. This is consonant with many other protest movements over the last few years.
Iran’s Green Movement, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria (at least at first): whatever else those protests may or may not have been, they were not hatched out of some group’s pre-meditated intent to organise a protest movement, no matter how much the targets of those protest movements tried to claim otherwise. I find the innocent-sounding statement that the prime minister intends to meet with “representatives of the groups organising these protests” troubling, as places the responsibility for the existence of the protests with those organising groups, not with any problematic actions by the government.
And it does seem to me that the Turkish government is denying that there is anything legitimate to protest about. While the deputy’s comments note that the protesters (or rather, the “representatives of groups organising the protests”) will get a hearing from the Prime Minister, the deputy’s main point above seems to be that the protesto….sorry, the “representatives of the groups organising the protests” are going to get “briefed on the facts”. What “facts” are they going to be told that they don’t already know?
So, while some media outlets around the world are reporting this move by Prime Minister Erdogan to meet “the protestors” as holding out an olive branch, my interpretation is that what’s really being offered up is a fig leaf. The Turkish government is now striving to give the impression of being democratically responsive to the existence of the protests, but is doing so in a way that delegitimises the reasons why people are protesting. At some point I expect we may start hearing about how the people still protesting are being “misled” by unnamed persons or groups.
Just as I finish writing this, riot police are entering Taksim Square. Hurriyet Daily News reports that the official reason for the police presence is to, quote, “clear the banners and flags on the Ataturk statue and the AKM cultural center”. BBC News reports that tear gas and water cannons have been used in this “banner clearing” operation. The BBC correspondent on the scene, Mark Lowen, is describing this as a deliberate show of force.
It does seem to me that at this point, the Turkish government’s main concern is about achieving a maximum of protest elimination with a minimum of damage to their own national and international image as respectful of freedom of speech and assembly.