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Turkey

Turks in Germany keep a close eye on protests

Turkey is in turmoil. Ethnic Turks in Germany keep a close watch as mass anti-government protests continue day after day. Naturally, they all have their own opinions.

In spite of the most massive protests ever during his term of office, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has left the country for an official visit to several North African states. He is watching developments in Turkey from afar, as are the many Turks living in Germany. 

Berrin Alpeck, who lives in Berlin, is constantly on the phone with friends and relatives in Turkey. "During the day, they go to work, and in the evening they join the demonstrations," Alpeck says, adding she understands the peoples' anger: "They are taking to the streets for freedom and their democratic rights. People in Turkey feel monitored and confined."

Anti-government protesters march . REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Most protesters have been peaceful so far

The Turkish mainstream media are a good example, says Ufuk Yaltirakli, who often watches Turkish TV broadcasts in Berlin. At first, the protests were not even mentioned, he says. Fearing state restrictions, broadcasters apparently censored themselves: "While the US news channel CNN ran reports on the protests, Turkish CNN showed animal documentaries."

Freedom of expression

Kenan Kolat was in Istanbul when the protests erupted. The head of the Berlin-based Turkish Community in Germany told Deutsche Welle he saw tens of thousands of people march in a peaceful demonstration, "many of them for the first time in their lives." Everyone took to the streets, and it wasn't just the usual splinter groups, he said - that made it special.

Kenan Kolat,
Foto: Wolfgang Kumm/dpa

Kenan Kolat was in Istanbul and was moved by the protests

The Istanbul protests reminded him of the German protests against the Stuttgart 21 railway and urban development project, Kolat said. Both were directed against construction plans. Plans to remove trees in Istanbul's Gezi park in Taksim Square, in order to rebuild an Ottoman-era barracks which once stood there, but which would now house cafés, museums and possibly a shopping center sparked the protests. Meanwhile, the protests have taken a different tack, and are directed at Erdogan and his all-too-autocratic style of government. Demonstrators accuse the prime minister of imposing conservative Islamic values on the entire country, for instance by introducing strict new laws regulating the sale of alcohol.

Speak out against violence

Kolat, who experienced the heavy-handed police response first-hand, condemned the use of tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protesters: "I could not breathe; I was also affected by the tear gas."  His deputy Hilmi Kaya Turan was injured by a cartridge from a tear gas gun.

Kolat urged the EU and the German government to find "clearer language" for Erdogan. He does not think it is enough that Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc apologized to those injured in clashes on Tuesday, and he wants the police officials responsible for the violence to be punished. Kolat concluded that is the only way to find common ground for negotiations between the parties of conflict in Turkey.

Protestors ligt torches in Taksim Square 
Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

The end of the wave of nationwide demonstrations is not in sight

While Bekir Yilmaz, head of the Turkish Community in Berlin, worries about the violence, he suspects the protests are spurred on by leftist opposition groups with the aim of toppling the government - a government that won more than 50 percent of the vote in the last elections. "They can't attack the government by democratic means, so now they are taking a different approach," he says, adding that these groups were taking advantage of a protest that had begun peacefully. Yilmaz said people must recognize that Erdogan's government has advanced the country over the past ten years, and that the majority of the Turkish people stand behind him.

Has the government learnt its lesson?

However, Bekir Yilmaz does not agree with Erdogan's response to the protests. The Turkish Prime Minister dismissed the protesters' demands and insisted foreign powers were behind the demonstrations.  "Even as Prime Minister, you can't have your way, no matter what," Yilmaz says: even with 50 percent of the vote, a politician must listen carefully to different groups to ensure everyone can coexist in peace.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Erdogan said in Morocco that the situation in Turkey appears to be calming down and that by the time he returns to Turkey on Thursday (06.06.2013), the disturbances would have dies down. But the protests are continuing, and although the police have largely withdrawn in Istanbul, in other cities, they are still taking a hard line.

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