Washington, D.C. — As protests stemming from outrage over the government’s forceful crackdown on peaceful protesters continue across Turkey, national-security experts at the Center for American Progress today released two columns calling on the Turkish government to exercise restraint in responding to protests and to protect Turkish citizens’ right to peacefully gather and demonstrate. Specifically, the CAP experts agree that the Turkish government—and particularly Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—should embrace this opportunity to secure democratic rights such as freedom of the press and freedom to engage in political protest. Prime Minister Erdoğan should remember that stifling dissent is a sign of weakness—not strength—and demonstrate to the world that Turkey is a vibrant and robust democracy.
The first column, “Liberal Turkey Speaks—Is Prime Minister Erdoğan Listening?”, outlines the political climate in Turkey and identifies the longer-term trends behind the unrest. Authors Michael Werz, Matthew Duss, and Max Hoffman write that the violent and unnecessary crackdown against protesters underscores broader tensions between the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and urban elites; concerns about the government’s crackdown on media freedom; and parochial anger about large infrastructure projects undertaken without consulting local opinion.
“The protests in Taksim have become a metaphor for Turks demanding higher standards of tolerance, pluralism, and individual freedom than the AKP-led government is willing to accept,” said Werz, a CAP Senior Fellow with the National Security team. “Prime Minister Erdoğan’s increasingly paternalistic and majoritarian approach is alienating Turkish elites, sparking dissent within his party, and undermining the sources of his political support in the long term. He should moderate his rhetoric and ensure Turkish police respond to peaceful protests with appropriate measures that do not escalate the situation—and the United States should publicly call for such steps.”
The second column, “Will Turkey’s Ruling Party Learn from the Debacle at Gezi Park?”, written by CAP Senior Fellow Scott Lilly, argues that the issues driving the protests in Turkey are quite different from those that propelled the Arab Spring but should be matters of prime concern to both Turkey and its close allies such as the United States.
Lilly observes that while much progress has been made by Turkey in recent years on improving the rights of the minority Kurdish population, the country has made little progress in other areas of human and minority rights and has demonstrated remarkable insensitivity in its dealings with the Muslim religious minority known as the Alevi. As Lilly lays out in his column, the Turkish government’s recent hardline response to demonstrators is indicative of Prime Minister Erdoğan’s unilateral and at-times authoritarian style of governance that fails to build or widen consensus.
Lilly concludes that, “We live in a world in which social cohesion is a necessary condition for sustained economic progress. Prime Minister Erdoğan should either redirect his policies toward building cohesion or turn the reins of power over to someone who can.”
To speak with CAP experts on this issue, please contact Katie Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.741.6285.