There is a lesson in last year’s unrest for the Turkish government only if it is willing to make things better.
The embattled Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan is embroiled in controversy after a series of secretly taped conversations went viral on YouTube and Facebook in December, 2013.
In the recording, Erdogan allegedly tells his son Bilal to reduce some funds to "zero" by distributing them among other partners.
At one point, the voice supposedly of Bilal, says some 30 million euros ($40 million) remain to be given away to some businessmen.
Soon after the scandal broke out, Turkish citizens – especially the ones who are already fed up of his neo-Islamist rule – began criticizing and accusing him of corruption.
To make matters worse, Erdogan, in response to the leaked tapes, passed a controversial new law in February that would tighten control of the internet in Turkey.
Subsequently, outraged citizens took to the streets, demanding the right to freedom of speech and government transparency.
Amid the protests, the Turkish prime minister, yet again, announced the one thing that can flare up the unrest. He said that his government will take “new steps” to deal with the situation that would include a ban on social media websites [YouTube, Facebook].
It’s undoubtedly a disastrous decision given the fact that Turkey went through the worst turmoil in decades last year after the Prime Minister tried to hijack its people’s fundamental rights, including the right to free speech.
Here are some quick reminders from 2013.
Turkey Protests 2013:
The first and foremost reminder is the protest itself.
The initial protests, held by student activists who were against the demolition of the historic Gezi Park, soon took a turn for the worst as law enforcement agencies brutally tear-gassed and even shot the demonstrators.
To the horror of the demonstrators, the state media was silenced and discouraged to report the wrongdoings of the police officers.
Turkish Human Rights Activist Allegedly Shot And Killed By The Police:
The image above of a protester being shot dead is one of the most shared online.
The incident and the authenticity of the picture were confirmed on popular microblogging website Reddit, where multiple witnesses identified the deceased man as Ethem Sarisuluk.
The shooting wasn’t reported by local television stations. CNN Turk, however, ran the footage. But the protesters wanted to spread the news of the brutal killing to the world and that they were able to achieve that through Twitter, Facebook and other social media forums.
Protesters Raise $53,800 For A Full Page Ad In New York Times:
After the state media’s abandonment, protesters garnered the international media’s support by raising funds for a full page advertisement in the Washington Post and/or the New York Times.
And yet again, this was achieved through the internet.
The page entitled ‘Full Page Ad for Turkish Democracy in Action: OccupyGezi for the World’ was posted on IndieGoGo.com.
Erdogan used the term capulcu – which roughly means "looters" – to describe the Gezi activists.
As a reaction, the protesters came up with a neologism “chapulling” and gave it the meaning of "fighting for your rights" instead.
Social media photos of people holding messages of "I'm a chapuller as well" trended throughout the protests on Twitter.
He Was Called A Modern-Day Sultan:
After the Turkish PM made a statement denouncing Twitter, the protesters feared the government’s crackdown on the internet.
The fears turned into reality after almost sixteen people were arrested in June from their homes for posting anti-government messages on the web.
As a result, another social media wave was generated criticizing Erdogan’s growing annoyance towards social media and free speech. He was called a “modern-day sultan” while several others compared his actions to that of Adolf Hitler.
All the points mentioned above are just a reminder of how important the internet had been to the protesters during the unrest.
While the public couldn’t even accept the hushing up of state media, one can imagine what would happen if Erdogan tries to snatch away the freedom of using social media websites.