Ahead of local elections, tonight Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan’s government is said to have blocked Twitter. The PM has been through a rough patch since he mishandled last summer’s Gezi Park protests. In the process he has grown steadily more intolerant and now he may have gone off the deep end.
He’s been under pressure.
Last summer the government’s scheme to replace a park with a shopping mall just off Taksim Square drew protesters to a sit-in at Gezi Park. It remained entirely peaceful until the Prime Minister’s developer/supporter crowd grew impatient and finally prevailed upon the PM to clear the protests with tear gas and water cannon, resulting in deaths.
Suddenly the squishy Gezi Park left was in unlikely alliance with the Besiktas Ultras, passionate supporters of the local Besiktas football club down on the Bosphorus. Together, all of them were clubbed by agents of the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party.
The protests and the violence put the regime way back on the back foot. Then starting about a month ago and continuing nearly every day since, tapes have been leaked showing the PM’s direct, personal and just stunning complicity in really astonishing corruption.
Last week Berkin Elvan died. He was 14 during the Gezi Park protests. His family says he was out to buy bread during the siege last summer, when he was struck in the head by a tear gas canister. Then he lay comatose for months before dying. Which brought more people to the streets. This photo of a protest in Istanbul following his death is dated 14 March, from the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet:
Decent people across Turkey expected something if not compassionate, at least conciliatory about the death of the child from the PM. Erdogan was silent for a few days, then declared that the boy was a terrorist:
“This kid with steel marbles in his pockets, with a slingshot in his hand, his face covered with a scarf, who had been taken up into terror organizations, was unfortunately subjected to pepper gas,” Erdogan told a crowd of supporters in a speech broadcast on state-run TRT-Haber news channel.
“How could the police determine how old that person was who had a scarf on his face and was hurling steel marbles with a slingshot in his hand?”
Exactly a year ago, a confident Erdogan meant to lead Turkey to solve its Kurdish problem. Once lauded and encouraged by the world, now the Turkish PM is in full, blooming denial.
He remains haughty on the campaign trail. In Bursa on 20 March he said, “We now have a court order. We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic.”
It’s the ham hand of the autocrat, gorged with power, out of touch, in charge too long, crazy.
Election day is ten days away.
I don’t know any nicer people on earth than Turks and I love my Istanbul. This isn’t an easy time for the good people of one of the world’s great and timeless cities. I wish them well.
Here are 384 photos from Turkey.