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Turks sharply split over protest movement

Al Jazeera speaks with 10 Turks about their views on the recent unrest and Prime Minister Erdogan's policies.

Last Modified: 13 Jun 2013 15:53
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Since late May, Turkey has been roiled by mass demonstrations after a protest in Istanbul's Gezi Park against an urban development project  grew into country-wide rallies against the government and its ruling AK Party.

The protesters' concerns go beyond the Gezi Park project to anger at the police crackdown on the demonstrators and dissatisfaction with the government's recent social policies, such as restrictions on the sale of alcohol and the introduction of optional religious studies courses at secondary schools.

Although the protests have spread to dozens of cities, the AK Party - which won elections for the third time in 2011 with 50 percent of the vote - still enjoys large public support, particularly among social conservatives.

Two weeks into the uprising, reports of excessive force by police continue to surface, and peaceful protests occasionally turn into acts of vandalism and violent street clashes.

Erdogan, meanwhile, refuses to alter his position regarding the development project, downplaying and rebuking the so-called "Gezi Park protests".

Below, read what 10 Turks - including five protesters and five AK Party supporters - have to say about the government's policies and the recent incidents:

Kerem Gencay, 28-year-old advertising employee from Istanbul
Kerem Gencay [Al Jazeera]

I joined the demonstrations on Friday after the police crackdown on people who were passively resisting the demolition of Gezi Park. I am happy with what it has evolved into because it is right; the government seeks to interfere with people's lifestyles.

The AK Party uses religion as a political tool and try to cover this up by talking about “democracy” and the “ballot box”. Prime Minister Erdogan's acts are getting more and more authoritarian. The police forces behave like they are at war while dealing with the protesters. They even attack medics helping wounded activists.

 

Nihan Dinc, 26-year-old publicist from Istanbul
Nihan Dinc [Al Jazeera]

I am worried about the direction of the country under the governing AK Party. People have taken to the streets for freedom, for a space to breathe. We are protesting against the government to be able to kiss in public, consume alcohol, read without any censorship. We are here for a life without any pressure from the state.

People are reacting to the government's dictating, authoritarian nature, defending their primary rights. The way the protesters are treated in the protests will be talked about by today's young generations for years. These people will hesitate to ask for help from the police.

 

Ertunc Efeoglu, 38-year-old IT employee from Istanbul
Ertunc Efeoglu [Al Jazeera]

The government is controlled by long-time Islamists and they are trying to widen the gap between the parts of the society, marginalising people who do not vote for them. The prime minister literally said that he wanted to raise a socially conservative generation, and I do not agree with that.

His party is formed of a somehow loose coalition of nationalist and religious groups, both of which are socially conservative in nature. To retain power, he enacts laws in favour of these groups. In the Gezi Park protests the police was what it has always been: violent. The media did not cover it. Erdogan has control over conventional media in both political and financial means.

 

Orhan Kavrakoglu, 29-year-old software developer from Istanbul
Orhan Kavrakoglu [Al Jazeera]

I am mainly discontent about the government becoming increasingly authoritarian. To name policies I oppose, I'd go with their take on freedom of speech and media. Erdogan is just fanning the flames in an already very tense country.

The police's attitude towards the protesters is brutal. They are told to disperse the crowd by any means whatsoever. On a good day, that means launching tear-gas canisters at protesters' heads and maiming those who get too close.

 

 

Cemre Akkartal, 31-year-old editor from Istanbul
Cemre Akkartal [Al Jazeera]

This government definitely does not represent me. The AK Party cloaks its rigid and self-opinionated way of governance by frequently talking about the percentage of the votes it got in the last elections. They act authoritarian under the pretext of democracy, and I find this tragicomical.

Erdogan loves creating chaos. Every time he talks, he makes his supporters and opponents more angry. He has no intention of reconciliation. Excessive use of force by the police is one of the primary reasons I have taken to the streets.

 

Sakir Dogan, 28-year-old master's student from the eastern province of Malatya
Sakir Dogan [Al Jazeera]

Conservatives were suppressed in this country since the republic's foundation, and the AK Party ended the system imposed from top to bottom. I believe all Turks can express themselves better today compared to the past.

In addition to its conservative identity, economic success and its firm stance against the army's involvement in politics provided the party with more support.

The police should not have been involved with Gezi Park. The use of force against protesters provided an environment for separatist forces to go out on the streets.

 

Esen Kose, 40-year-old housewife living in Istanbul
Esen Kose (left) [Al Jazeera]

The AK Party is the closest choice to me as a conservative Turk, but it does not mean that I agree with all policies of the government. Erdogan has managed to unite the conservatives of Turkey under one roof with his charismatic personality.

However, he should be using a moderate language when necessary. I am affiliated with the women's branch of the AK Party. Women wearing headscarves have chances of employment merely in the business circles close to the party as regulations prevent them getting jobs with the public sector. I have to be there for the future of my [16-year-old] daughter.

 

Gul Can, 36-year-old housewife from Istanbul
Gul Can [Al Jazeera]

I do not support the AK Party because it is conservative. I support the party because it took Turkey to a better position in many areas, from social policies to economic ones. I like Erdogan because he knows how to stand firm, particularly in foreign policy issues. He is a sincere politician.

The incidents that followed the Gezi Park protests aim at degrading the government. I think what they are doing is not fair. If what this is all about the environment, why are they vandalising public areas?

 

Muhsin Bilgic, 25-year-old business owner from the southern province of Hatay
Muhsin Bilgic [Al Jazeera]

The AK Party changed the country's image in terms of economy, social policies and foreign policy. The government policies to increase international trade have had a positive impact on me financially. We are commercially valued more, respected more, especially among Arabs. They finished the dominance of the army on politics and saved social conservatives from repression.

People are paranoid. When Erdogan takes a step, they think the worse of it. However, it is unnecessary. We will not have sharia, or Islamic rule, in Turkey in the 21st century.

 

Bilgehan Maras, 33-year-old engineer from Istanbul
Bilgehan Maras [Al Jazeera]

I support the AK Party because they have changed the rigid status quo the country was going through for decades. On top of that, they have opened the way for a more participatory society and pursued fairly liberal policies.

I also give great importance to the progress that they have made on the Kurdish issue. With all his positive and negative sides to him, Erdogan is the greatest leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk [the founder of the Republic of Turkey]. Regarding the Gezi Park protests, I believe the government was not able to analyse the situation correctly. A situation, which would have been resolved through very easy steps, has unnecessarily outgrown.

Seeking conspiracy theories about the protests, whether from within the country or abroad, is irrational. Excessive use of force by the police has been the foremost reason why the situation has come to this.

 

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Al Jazeera
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