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Turkey

Opinion: Gezi Park anniversary a chance for domestic peace

If Erdogan truly wanted to, he could bring peace back to Turkish governance. To do so, he would have to drop the course adopted since Gezi Park protests began a year ago, writes DW's Baha Güngör.

On May 28, 2013, peaceful demonstrators took the initiative against a construction project that was to scalp a small green space in central Istanbul's Taksim Square. They occupied Gezi Park, one of the last green preserves amidst the mountains of concrete and big-city noise, so that they might save it from clear-cutting. Three days later, police began a relentless offensive targeting the activists' peaceful camps.

Images of the brutal dispersal, an act unworthy of a democratic constitutional state, shocked the Turkish public and the international community. Now, on the one-year anniversary of the protests against Erdogan's heavy-handed rule, many civil society groups have called for renewed protests - especially at Taksim Square.

It's exactly at this convergence point that Prime Minister Erdogan still has a chance, albeit a small one, to restore domestic peace.

Rather than setting the police loose on thousands of demonstrators, he could simply tolerate the critical rallies as one component of democracy. Such equanimity can be expected of a prime minister whose party rules with an absolute majority. He could therefore demonstrate his willingness to do things differently.

Even a small hint of openness to dialogue would show his opponents and dissenters in both politics and civil society that, as head of a NATO member state with EU ambitions, any unflattering comparisons to deposed Arabic despots are superfluous.

Yet Erdogan, with his recent verbal attacks on European media and German politicians critical of him, shows that any hopes for tempered reasoning may be in vain.

One year after the beginning of the Gezi protests, there are again fears of serious confrontations or violent clashes - instead of a turn for the better. Also receding into the distance are the calm channels needed to further strengthen the economy, as are the hopes of a quick easing of rocky EU-Turkey relations.

The West needs Turkey as a reliable ally for conflicts in that region - from Syria to Iraq, from Iran to the Caucasus and back to Ukraine.

But the Turkish bulwark has cracks in it. Every day they will become longer and wider if Erdogan does not act prudently in the foreseeable future - and from a position of democratically legitimate political strength. This includes the ability to work under pressure and to absorb criticism at home and abroad.

That he will manage to do that successfully in the near future appears, at least for the moment, impossible.

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