Photo: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan

It is now almost two weeks since mass demonstrations arose against his Government, but Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan shows no sign of relenting in his decision to re-develop Istanbul’s Gezi Park, the catalyst for the protests, or to give way on wider demands, such as holding police accountable for violence that has killed three protesters and injured thousands.

Instead, on Tuesday, Erdogan justified police attacks to clear Istanbul’s Taksim Square and other protest sites: “What were we supposed to do? Kneel in front of these people and ask them remove the banners? How would those illegal rags be removed from public buildings?”

The Prime Minister stigmatised dissent, “Violent actions that took place in many cities of Turkey have camouflaged themselves behind the Gezi Park protests.”

This is dangerous language. It divides the country into two inimical camps, simplifies the crisis, and embedding it in a politics in which “democracy” is defined only through the “ballot box” and every opposing demand is labeled “illegitimate”.

For Erdogan, “bad” people have a hidden agenda, going beyond the demand for a better ecology, with credulous deceived by these “marginals”.

A Prime Minister’s Language Adds Fuel to the Flames

I am asking from the protestors to give an end to this. If you have a problem, go to my mayor, governor or choose your representatives and I will accept them. However, if you continue, then I have to speak the language you understand! We will act accordingly. Because our patience has its limits too. You can’t show this country as if it is terrorized to outside. They call this ‘Turkish Spring.’ The real one came to this country when we came to the power.

We can’t act like divisions of Janissaries [members of an elite military unit of the Ottoman Empire]. We can’t discharge the governor, chief police officer. Not possible. The process will be different afterwards. Anyone who does not respect the nation’s power will pay the price.

Erdogan’s rhetoric strips the notion of democracy of its essential elements — such as accountability, transparency, pluralism rather than majoritarianism, and intra-party activity — and considers democracy equal to no more than ballot boxes. Because of this, the legitimacy of any political demand is recognised only if it comes forward in the next elections. This is called “law’ and ‘lawful struggle” by the premier — all else is marginal, pursued by “vandals”.

For the ruling Justice and Development Party, “advanced democracy” can only be achieved through political and economic stability. Those who are “behind the Gezi Park unrest” have no “goodwill” for this.

Although the Government says a mall does not have to be constructed in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, Erdogan has reiterated that a mosque, opera house, and a city museum as well as replica “Ottoman-era” will be built. The Prime Minister, challenging claims he is destroying Gezi Park, says he planted more than two billion trees across the country during his three terms in office, but this is tangential.

The problem is not the number of trees. Protecting the nature was the spark of events, not the cause of dissent. Instead, that cause lies in Erdogan’s marginalising, polarising , nd biting language — a language which restricts, corrects, and tries to tame citizens.