Currently the battle in the Country of the revolutionary statesman, Atatürk, is for saving one of the few open green areas left in central Istanbul, protecting democratic policies and ensuring a growing economy.
Taksim Gezi Park is a green island in the middle of concrete, which surrounds one of the major tourist and leisure places of the European part of Istanbul, Taksim Square. The green areas may be cut down (or ‘transferred to a more suitable spot’ as claimed by the government representatives) to develop a planned construction of a replica of 19th century Ottoman Barracks in its place, which was to serve as a luxury residence and shopping mall.
When the council cut a couple of trees in a midnight operation, a few people nearby posted it on social media and a couple hundred youngsters moved to the park to stop the demolition. Despite the protests started by environmental activists, leftists, and a few outspoken public figures; artists, musicians, actors-actresses, the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a public statement directed at the protestors: “We’ve already made up our mind about Gezi,” said the PM, “We’re going to demolish the park no matter what. Protest all you want—we won’t stop the demolition.”
The unsuitable and authoritarian answer of the government changed the main aim of the pacific protests into significant actions across several cities. It was radicalised owing to Tukish police repeatedly fired tear gas at thousands of protesters around Istanbul’s main square last Friday, as four days of increasingly heavy-handed attempts to shutter a small protest to save a downtown park evolved into a broader demonstration against the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
It has been a demonstration of Turkish frustration at what is seen to be an increasingly authoritarian administration.
Koray Caliskan, a political scientist at Istanbul’s Bosphorus University said: “Erdogan is a very confident and very authoritarian politician, and he doesn’t listen to anyone anymore. But he needs to understand that Turkey is no kingdom, and that he cannot rule Istanbul from Ankara all by himself.” Moreover, Ugur Tanyeli, an architecture historian, said: “The real problem is not Taksim, and not the park, but the lack of any form of democratic decision-making process and the utter lack of consensus. We now have a PM who does whatever he wants.”
The demolition of a public park was the symbolic trigger for this uprising, the mass participation stems from a number of more complicated reasons.
However, from an environmental point of view and according to international agreements (in which Turkey is active Member), governments must guarantee that ‘Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature’. Unfortunately this and other basic environmental principles are not being complied by the current Turkish Administration.
Some questions result from Taksim Gezi Park and environmental policy challenges:
Is the Turkish administration formulating appropriated domestic environmental laws and complying with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change? and is environment protection being enhanced by the presence of certain human rights, such as the right to public participation?
The battle for Gezi Park is actually a good example of the consequences of unsustainable policies and modern autocracies, which are also repeatedly demonstrated in some Latin American, African and other Middle Eastern countries.
By Karla Sifontes/ firstname.lastname@example.org