Last week police in Istanbul raided the encampment of a group of activists opposed to the destruction of a well-liked public park and the construction a new shopping mall in its place. The police’s harsh assault on the demonstrators with tear gas and water cannons backfired, however, and ignited a rapidly-escalating, nationwide protest with calls for the resignation of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The unprecedented expansion of the demonstrations and riots suggests that the outburst of anger and opposition is fueled by more than a simple determination to save a green space in central Istanbul. For many Turks, the unrest appears to be a reaction to the perceived autocratic leanings of the prime minister and resistance to the direction of Turkish democracy, freedom of expression, and the role of religion in society.
On June 6, the Center on the United States and Europe (CUSE) and the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings hosted a discussion to assess the underlying causes of the recent protests and their likely impact on Turkey’s domestic and foreign policy. Panelists included Brookings TUSIAD Senior Fellow Kemal Kirişci, Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow Ömer Taşpınar, Henri Barkey of Lehigh University, and Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations. Senior Fellow Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Saban Center, moderated the discussion.