Turkey: Erdogan makes his move, but he risks provoking a revival of the movement

Early this morning, when most of the protestors were asleep in their tents, riot police armed with rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas stormed Taksim Square in Istanbul. This attack is part of a co-ordinated string of measures being pursued by the Erdogan government in an attempt to crush the mass movement of Turkish people that has been developing over the past two weeks.

The official reason given for this morning’s attack was that police were seeking to remove tents, barricades and banners from Taksim Square. In messages delivered through loudspeakers police chiefs insisted that they were not seeking to clear protestors out of Gezi Park itself, nor were they seeking violent confrontation. The Governor of Istanbul made a similar statement on Twitter and appealed to the protestors refrain from violence.

As with so many of this reactionary government’s promises, these media-friendly words were contradicted by the events on the ground. Rubber bullets, water cannons, tear gas and full riot gear are surely not necessary simply to clear away a few tents and banners? It was the police, not the protestors, who had come prepared for a fight. Sure enough, the police did in fact try to enter Gezi Park but were rebuffed by protestors.

provocateursAgent provocateurs holding police radiosSome individuals amongst the crowd of protestors have been throwing Molotov cocktails at the police. Protestors have been quick to recognise these individuals as police agent provocateurs – throwing bombs in order that the police then have an excuse to fire on the protestors. These petrol bombers’ attacks have been very theatrical and laughably incompetent – with most missiles not even coming close to police lines. They are well-equipped, very well organised, dressed in military-style khaki clothing and, according to one Guardian journalist “the throwers don’t even remotely resemble the protestors I’ve spoken to and interviewed over the past week”. On top of that, the Turkish state TV channel that entirely failed to report on the first days of the movement when the police brutality was at its worst, was set up and ready to begin live broadcasting as soon as these individuals began throwing bombs.

This move by the government comes after the demonstration in Taksim Square last night (Monday) attracted the lowest turnout since the beginning of the protests two weeks ago. It also comes the day before Erdogan has agreed to meet with some representatives of the demonstrators. Some protestors have already described Erdogan’s decision to meet with certain representatives as a “divide and rule” tactic. This latest move is likely to be an attempt to undermine the confidence of those conciliatory layers who are trying to reach some kind of deal with the government.

What these conciliatory layers fail to understand is that Erdogan and his government clearly have no intention of backing down, and today’s assault on Taksim Square is just a dress rehearsal for the eviction of the protestors from Gezi Park and other areas around the country.

This afternoon a group of 50 lawyers gathered at the Caglayan court building in Istanbul to read a statement to the press calling for dialogue between the protestors and the government, and for an end to police violence – the very same things that both Erdogan and the police claim to be working towards. Before these lawyers were able to read out their statement the police encircled the group, attacked them and took them into custody. One lawyer, Fatma Elif Koru described how the police pushed and kicked the lawyers to the ground, while the Ankara Bar Association has released a statement “question[ing] what kind of ‘democratic regime’ we are living in”.

Erdogan himself made a characteristically arrogant and provocative speech this morning in which he claimed that the original environmental protest had been used as “camouflage” by other groups intent on violence. In addressing the police brutality against protestors, which has continued unabated in many areas of the country, he simply asked “what did they [the protestors] expect?” and he praised the police for moving into Taksim Square to remove the “illegal rags” that the demonstrators had put up. The extent of Erdogan’s “concessions” so far has been to promise that the trees in Gezi Park will be transferred to another location rather than simply cut down when the park is demolished - in other words, no concessions at all.

The ruling class in Turkey have had to proceed carefully against the mass movement that has ignited across the country. Today’s events demonstrate that they have judged the movement to be at an ebb – with many of the workers and youth feeling the exhausting effects of two weeks of demonstrations and police clashes. However, as today’s clashes continue with the police and protestor lines continuing to push against one another in Taksim Square and Gezi Park, this could galvanise the movement into a renewed struggle to remove the Erdogan government.

Erdogan thinks that he can easily steamroll over the movement. But with his vicious and arrogant actions he might reignite the movement and bring in newer layers that have so far stayed neutral in the struggle.

With Erdogan intransigent in the face of the protestors’ demands, the protestors must bring more pressure to bear on the government. The trade unions and locally organised action committees must provide co-ordination and leadership to the struggle and infuse the magnificent spontaneous movement with an organised militant backbone. Such an organised movement could then begin preparing for an all-out political strike to bring this government down.

What is required is a general strike across the whole country. “Diaologue” with Erdogan can achieve nothing. For Erdogan any form of so-called dialogue is a means of defusing the movement, sowing confusion and gaining time in the hope that the masses will get tired out. Once that happens he will hit hard in the hope of crushing the movement. His latest move in Takism Square is an indication of this. But at the same time it is also a provocation that could potentially revive the movement!