‘If thousands of people injured is no political crisis in Turkey, what it is?’
RT: We've just heard from a Turkish MP, she denies this
is a political crisis. So what is it then?
Afshin Rattansi: Well, if thousands of people injured, people dead on the streets of Taskim Square, running that square, isn’t a political crisis, I’m not sure what is. Turkey has form on this, and now we have a 24-hour deadline from Mr. Erdogan. Gosh, his leadership started so well, and the whole world was with him; now, you know, even the German foreign minister is cautiously telling him, “Don’t start killing people in the streets of Istanbul.” Remember, it’s like 78 out of 81 cities, not just Istanbul and Ankara. These demonstrations are going right across the country.
RT: What’s the nub of these demonstrations? Why are they taking to the streets?
AR: Erdogan’s policies have been consistent with all the kinds of Chicago School economics: the use of Lehman Brothers collapse to clamp down, the OECD saying Turkey has the second-highest rate of inequality of any OECD country, but it’s now biding them because the Turkish Central Bank intervened to support its currency.
As for the masses that are demonstrating, it is so far the middle class, and because of the way the Turkish society is split, Erdogan’s AK Party has half of the population on his side, but how long can it last as he continues with the austerity campaigns? Previously, Turkey was a CIA-backed coup in 1980, and there was a massacre in Taskim Square in 1977. So we’ll have to see whether all these people, all these myriad interests, can actually do damage to the Erdogan’s government.
RT: How deep do cultural and ethnic divisions run in Turkey?
AR: I wouldn’t say so much it’s ethnic, although I’d say that Western media loves to portray it as mainly ethnic. There are masses of inequality, and it’s out of that inequality and the people that benefit will support the AK Party. But of course, there is this latent Islamism. The thing about the Erdogan government is that it is obviously censoring Twitter and arresting people. Fifty-one people were killed in a Turkish town just a month ago or so. And that could well have been Sunni forces. But Erdogan is trying to stop anyone from finding out more about that.
It’s the spillover of course of the Syrian intervention. Those ethnic dimensions to what’s happening in Turkey are also going to be particularly worrying for the Erdogan government and for the protesters in Taskim Square.
RT: Are we seeing the Islamization of Turkey?
AR: I think the most important tool one can use to understand the Turkish society is the liberal track. I mean think of the Occupy movements right across the West, but in the case of Turkey, because of its peculiar history, I mean, it ran most of Europe for half a millennium, under Ottoman times. It would be wrong to go too much on the Islamization path.
What we see here is the country basically is like Chile, except for that there are powers that remain long after Allende left. This is the CIA-backed country, and the army that run Turkey could swing it, and the army have been so far relatively quiet, and there are people in the AK Party themselves that are starting to criticize it.
RT: Erdogan's agreed to meet the protesters again - is that a sign he's wavering?
AR: Apparently, what I’m hearing is that the group that he is purportedly meeting have nothing to do with the main movement of the demonstrators in Taskim Square, so it’s actually more Erdogan propaganda. We mustn’t forget that he is ordering the police to beat people up. The number of head wounds, I mean, just the idea of 3,000 people injured, and yet here’s this country trying to get into the European Union and trying to talk about the human rights in Syria.
The absurdity of any idea that Turkey is some modern democracy as it tries to destroy the aspirations of half its population! Of course, we’re hearing nothing from the Obama administration whatsoever – that’s interesting in itself.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.