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Turkey Burns
Erdogan’s AKP was overdue for resistance.

Young protesters in Ankara, June 2, 2013.

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Jim Geraghty

And as Istanbul-based American writer Claire Berlinski notes in a gripping account from that city, rumor fills the vacuum:

There is outrage about the bombing in Reyhanlı that left 52 Turks dead and which appears to have been attributable to a series of inexcusable police and intelligence blunders (but no one knows, and no one believes what the press writes); there is fear of war with Syria; there is concern about strange reports that al-Nusra, a Syrian militant group affiliated with al-Qaida, has been cooking up Sarin gas in Adana, five miles east of the United States’ Incirlik Air Base. 

Turks have always had an intense interest in conspiracy theories, and the factionalism and petty corruption of their politics often justified a certain qualified paranoia. But now their government has proven to be a heavy-handed, brutal force of dystopian nightmares, and very little seems too farfetched to be possible.

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This picture, showing a Turkish riot-police officer spraying tear gas on a woman in Istanbul’s Taksim Square last week, is turning into the Turkish equivalent of the famous images of the 1970 Kent State shootings, or the February 1968 Associated Press photo of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon. A key argument of the government is that the protesters are malcontents, radicals, and troublemakers, but the woman in the red dress looks like the Turkish middle class personified.

Crisis Group, a blog featuring the Wall Street Journal’s longtime Turkey correspondent Hugh Pope, describes how this protest is different from earlier ones:

The bulk of the protestors thronging Istanbul’s central streets by day are middle-class, often spurred into action by social media networks. Many of them hold regular jobs, including bankers, lawyers, academics and other private-sector personnel. Women are notably numerous at the protests. Celebrities turn up to be photographed helping to clean up Taksim Square. Bands of high-school children skip classes day after day, defying their families, donning the black signature colour of the protests and sneaking to demonstrations with water bottles filled with anti-tear-gas vinegar from the kitchen back home.

Everything about Erdogan’s reign as prime minister suggests he doesn’t back down from a fight; he’s heavily invested in the narrative of himself as the noble leader, backed by God, who is bedeviled only by a radical minority whose sole agenda is troublemaking. But the seeds of a powerful coalition of opposition have been sown — including the business community, which had, until now, relished the unprecedented prosperity that the AKP reign had brought.

Benjamin Harvey, the Turkey bureau chief for Bloomberg, spotlighted how the Turkish stock market responded to the prime minister’s latest defiant speech on Thursday with a steep, ominous drop:

The era of Erdogan’s dominating his country’s politics with a cult of personality and a heavy hand appears to be nearing its end. But what will follow is still extremely unclear.

— Jim Geraghty, who writes NRO’s Campaign Spot, lived in Ankara, Turkey, from 2005 to 2007.



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