The offices of the governing party were set ablaze in Ankara and Izmir. Demonstrations and fighting with police also took place in Adana, Antalya and many dozens of other cities and towns, in as many as three quarters of Turkey's provinces
In the clashes with the police, the assaults and counter-assaults, countless women were in the forefront of the fighting, relishing a chance to battle for what they see as a clash over what kind of world they will live in. There were women in sun dresses holding out their arms to mockingly gesture "Bring it on" to the riot police; women in thin tank tops, their hands wrapped in rags so that they could grab tear gas canisters; many young students in jeans, some wearing head-scarves and a few with Occupy face masks as well; and other women of all ages and classes.
Some women fought; some milled around like most people; some brought fresh bread and tea to keep everyone going; some went home and banged out the rhythm of chants in their neighbourhoods. The police, who were spraying people in the face with streams of pepper gas and firing bone-breaking, flesh-penetrating baton rounds at close range, displayed a particularly violent hatred for women. Photos on the Web show one or another defiant woman caught in a crossfire of gas-loaded water cannons strong enough to cause serious injury.
Few women entered into this fray without an awareness of the special dangers, but perhaps their enthusiasm for symbolic and physical confrontation stems from a feeling that they are a central target of Erdogan's programme. He tried to ban Caesarean section births and put restrictions on abortion, not so much in the name of religion but because, as he once opined on TV, "Turkish women" (meaning ethnic Turks, not the country's minorities) should have more babies. In the blatantly patriarchal climate Erdogan has helped foster, honour killings, long a plague in Turkey, have risen sharply, with little prosecution. This participation by women is not just an interesting and positive feature. It is one of the characteristics that is best about this movement.
Another of its characteristics is that it is an outpouring of opposition to the government by many tens of thousands of people, while the opposition political parties have not been playing a directing role. The focus is on the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Many protesters demand that he listen to the people. Others, from the first, called for his resignation and increasingly his head. But this is more of a massive convergence of diverse streams than a political coalition.
There is a general unease with Erdogan's recent speed-up of the Islamization of Turkey's society. Recently the world-renowned pianist Faisal Say was tried and convicted for a Tweet comparing the Moslem vision of heaven to a house of prostitution. A young couple got in trouble for kissing on the Istanbul metro. The sale of alcohol was limited, and Erdogan declared that only alcoholics touch it. This was understood as a slap at Ataturk, who made a political point of drinking as part of establishing a Westernized, non-religious state and society.
Angered by all this, in a residential neighbourhood near Taksim Square a very elderly woman and the much younger woman from the countryside who cleans her apartment marched out of their apartment building arm in arm, bought some beer and sat down on a bus stop bench. They sipped a little and held their cans in the air so that the world could see their solidarity with the protesters who chanted, "Thanks for banning alcohol, now we've come to our senses." People also held mass kiss-ins.
Now in the streets there seems to be an enormous desire for unity. In a city torn by deadly football rivalries, there were marchers wearing the t-shirts of one team and the scarves of their bitter enemies. A widely-posted photo shows a trio of young men making the hand signs of the fascist Grey Wolves, the secular Kemalists and the leftists. There were gay rights banners and a few portraits of Ibrahim Kaypakayya (the founder of the Maoist movement). The main opposition party, the deflated CHP that considers itself Ataturk's heir, has not played much of a role so far. Many protesters voted for Erdogan and many people are sick of all the political parties. But the most common political symbols have been badges, banners and portraits of Ataturk. While Kurds as individuals are participating and there are occasional banners and chanting in support of the PKK and its leader Abdullah Ocalan, in general the question of the liberation of the Kurdish people has been lost in a sea of Turkish flags.
Some of the protesters are religious believers who feel that Erdogan is instrumentalizing their faith. Some are opposed to religious rule in general. Most seem to consider themselves secular. But this secularism itself covers contradictory trends. Kemalism (as Ataturk's ideology is called) has always been reactionary. His vision of the "unity" of Turkey has always meant oppression of the Kurds and other minorities who make up a large part of the population. When marchers in Istanbul chant, "We are Turks, not Arabs" – one of Ataturk's signature ideas, hitching Turkey to the Western powers instead of the Arab world – this kind of opposition to Islamism is poisoned with Turkish chauvinism and reactionary ambitions for regional domination as a willing junior partner to the Western imperialist powers.
While opposing a religious state, Ataturk's heirs repressed non-Sunni schools of Islam (such as the Alevis) and gave state support to the Sunni religious establishment. Although Ataturk banned the public wearing of head-scarves for women and promoted what are perceived as Western values in other ways, the Turkish state he founded has both relied on the traditional mould of patriarchy and promoted a more Westernized (and sometimes decadent) form.
In fact, the most fervent followers of Ataturk have been Turkey's generals, who kept their country under an iron heel for much of the late twentieth century with the blessing of the imperialist powers. The complaints emanating from Washington and other Western capitals about Erdogan's "authoritarian turn" have to be seen in that light. Ironically, some of the"leftist" parties now in the streets against Erdogan and going along with the Kemalists gave him their support or assent until now, with the excuse that "He saved us from the generals."
This kind of confused thinking is especially dangerous in a confusing situation. The political and class coalition around Erdogan is fraying, although not necessarily irreparably. As an informed observer explained it, Erdogan became prime minister with the support of the Tusiad, the association of Turkey's most powerful imperialist-dependent capitalists, the heads of holding companies that own big banks and monopolize industrial sectors such as textile, appliances and other export items and construction. At a time when globalization was forcing a restructuring of Turkey's ruling class and the traditional parties had become ineffectual, his task was to repair the power structure and broaden its social base by bringing in newly arising, traditional, Islamic-minded rural capitalists who like to call themselves the "Anatolian tigers" as a signal of their aspirations for wealth and power. He also appealed to the pious rural population and those coming into the cities.
Erdogan promoted himself as a tough guy from the slums of Kasimpasha, not far from Taksim. But his political success with sections of the ruling class was based on the fundamental promise not to radically change anything. His way of dealing with the urban poor was a reactionary populism based on a kind of cultural revenge against the "Tarabyav", people from an opulent, secular Istanbul quarter. This was combined with "the Kurdish card," his long-term attempts to bring the PKK and Kurdish capitalists under his wing, simultaneously mitigating the "Kurdish problem" and acquiring an ally with influence among an important segment of the rural and urban poor.
However, the headlong economic development under his leadership has brought political changes. There is a question as to whether he still feels a need for the support of the lesser, "Anatolian" newly rich, and a feeling that his programme is meant to favour the country's biggest financial forces and encourage the kind of "bubble" speculation that may take Turkey down the path of Greece. Many people at various levels are worried that Erdogan's policies regarding Syria will pull his country into a regional ethnic and religious civil war. It can be said with certainty that many people at the top are worried that he is endangering rather than solidifying the ruling coalition.
To be continued...
Pix from Voice of Russia.