English: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister ...
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Turkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Robert Mann

I’m leaving this afternoon for Istanbul. Perhaps it’s not the best time to dive back into Turkey, with all the protests and turmoil. But it’s also a grand time to visit a country — when it’s struggling with the transition to democracy.

Turkey is far more democratic than many countries in that region and, for a time, it’s been held up the model of a Muslim country that embraces democracy.

This is my fifth trip there in as many years, and I can say that the Turkish people I’ve met and come to know — most of them devout Muslims — are deeply committed to democracy and pluralism.

They are happy that their economy is booming. They are delighted by the many freedoms they now enjoy. They are grateful that the current government headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has enabled them to freely express their faith, i.e., women wearing headscarves. (Imagine if, in the United States, it had been illegal for citizens to wear a cross around their necks when entering a public building or in a school.)

For the first time, Turks are experiencing prosperity and freedoms they didn’t have.

But the question I have for my friends in Istanbul and in the other cities I’ll visit is this: Are you willing to really embrace full democracy? If you are, it will be messy (freedom of speech and the press isn’t always pleasant), but it will also be worth it.

Right now, I have the sense that many Turks who support Erdogan are deeply fearful that the protests around the country, but centered in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, threaten their democracy.  And they might have good reason to fear this unrest. In the past, it’s usually been just the excuse the military needed to rush in and overthrow the government.

That hasn’t happened this time. But it doesn’t mean that many Turks aren’t fearful that what they’ve fought for and achieved could be taken away in the midst of the turmoil.

That’s my take based on what I know and what I’ve read. I’m eager to see things firsthand.

Turkish People

It’s a fascinating country, and there’s quite a bit at stake there now — the very future of democracy in a very important part of the world, involving a very important U.S. ally.

I’ll do my best to report in from time to time over the next ten days to tell you what I’m seeing and learning.

13 thoughts on “Turkey and its struggle for democracy

  1. Dr. Mann. I have been reading your blog for past few months, and agreed with most everything you wrote about Louisiana politics. However, after reading your article above, I’m dismayed about your take on what is happening in Turkey today. From what you wrote, I can immediately tell that your visits to Turkey have been sponsored, paid by a group, who fed you this narrative. Fortunately, there are other narratives that explain the conditions in Turkey. You are a social scientist. Your moral duty to yourself and to your art is to open your eyes and ears not just your mouth.


      1. Dr. Mann, I believe you have not closely viewed and learned about what’s going on in Turkey. Because, your take is a quite far from the reality. Turkish people demand democracy, that is why Turkish people is protesting on the streets. You are right that the current government allowed girls with headscarves to go to school and it allowed Turkey to live such a turmoil without the army intervention. Those are good things but
        -Did you know that the current government cancelled the 29th of October celebrations? (That’s like canceling 4th of July celebrations here in the US)
        -Did you know that the current government is trying to take out Ataturk’s Address to the Turkish Youth from school books? (That’s like preventing students from reading the declaration of independence)
        -Did you know that the current government has been preventing TV channels from broadcasting important news? Just recently they prevented the channels to broadcast an unfortunate bombing event in southeast Turkey and the recent protests. (That’s like US channels being censored from briadcasting Boston Marathon events or Occupy Wall Street protests)o;l
        -Did you know that Turkish government has recently banned commercials and sponsorships of all alcohol products? (That is like a no miller, bud, coors, etc. commercials anywhere(!) and sports events or concerts without their main sponsor)
        -Did you know that people at many major positions in Turkey cannot be sued without the personal permission of the prime minister?
        -Did you know people protesting by just standing (yes doing nothing else) have been detained, lawyers protesting at the biggest courthouse of the country have been detained, doctors helping those injured by police brutality has been detained, journalists from Turkey and even from other countries trying to take photos and make news have been detained during these protests?

        What is common about all those above? They are all bans and rules that prevent freedom. That is government oppression of press, prevention of freedom of speech, freedom to protest, etc.

        I can keep counting but you probably did not know many of those.

        Do you know why the protests in Turkey started? It is because the city of istanbul tried to demolish a park at the heart of the city to build a shopping mall. Can you think of the demolition of Central Park in New York so that they can build a shopping mall? I don’t think so.

        There were tens of protestors at the beginning? Those were environmentalists who were trying to save the park since the city started planning the demolition.

        Then police force used brutal force to kick the activists out of the park. People were tear gassed and water cannonned. Thousands started supporting the initial group and started protesting against police brutality, They kept tear gassing protestors. Since the police used the tear gas guns as weapons, many people lost their eyes. These include innocent people who were not involved in the protests as well. This uncontrolled action by the police led hundreds of thousands of people across the nation and the world to protest what’s going on in Turkey.

        So, add those that I listed above with the information that I gave about the recent events and please tell me who is demanding freedom and democracy? The protestors are standing against dictatorship and struggling for real democracy!


        Have a nice trip.


      2. Yes. I know all of this and I believe it’s wrong for the government to behave this way. I also think there are reasons for this behavior, which does not mean I think those reasons are legitimate. I think you did not understand the point of my post.


      3. Dr. Mann: having lived in Istanbul several years I can attest the democracy and freedoms you profess are being enjoyed by the Turks today are no where near what I witnessed during my time there. The democracy and feedoms of the Turkish people are being eroded by President Ergodan, a soon to be noted hardline demigod. To change the saying slightly – President Ergodan, you are no Mustafa Kemal Attaturk. So quit trying to be one. And Dr. Mann, I think you need to start talking to Turks who will tell it like it is rather than to ones who will tell you what you want to hear.


      4. I am not attacking your integrity but the foundation of your opinion. As an educator in higher education, like yourself, before I would give my students a staunch opinion about an issue, I would ensure I had explored a broad spectrum of facts on the subject before forming that opinion and then have sufficient facts and data to fully support my opinion. Time to rethink your approach.


      5. Well, you’re obviously certain you are correct about it all. Good for you. If you actually read my post, you will see that I acknowledge that I am still exploring this issue and learning.


      6. Dr. Mann: Low road? I simply called you out. You called William Jenkins a “handmaiden”, LSU Board of Supervisors “Sgt. Jindal’s Lapdogs”, referring to the LSU BofS “Jindal apparently demanded they surrender their independence and self-respect.”,

        You wrote “It seems they do his bidding about whom to hire and fire. They remain quiet as he decimates the university’s budget. They eagerly comply with his program to relinquish the state’s health care system to corporations. In other words, Jindal says, “Jump.” They respond, “Yes, sir!”

        Needless to say, I am simply accusing you of being a mouthpiece of individuals or organizations, who sponsor your trips to Turkey by writing solely their narrative about Turkey while ignoring a whole host of issues. How is this different than the LSU Board of Supervisors, who surrendered their independence? The narrative you wrote is very transparent and well known by other Turkish people. If you can disclose your source of funding I will be very happy to apologize.

        For example, you wrote to equate being able to wear “hicab” type of headscarf as manifestation of democracy. Hicab is not an ordinary headscarf that many women around the world wear. Queen Elizabeth wears a scarf at times to protect her hair from the elements. Hicab goes a lot further than protecting women’s hair from elements. The word “Hicab” is an Arabic word means a curtain, or cover. It also implies “shame” or a “cover of shame”. It is not a Turkish word or Turkish concept. Girls at the age of puberty and even younger are encouraged to wear this. How do you think a 12-13 year old girl from a patriarchal family will stand up to their parents and say no? We are talking about a region of the world where domestic violence stands around 37% according to WHO. Hicab has noting to do with democracy but oppression of Turkish woman. Why not assign to your students an investigative reporting about what happened to Turkish women in past ten years under current “democratic” administration with one caveat that you will not use what is fed but you forage your own information.

        Shortly, you may think that I am attacking your integrity. No Dr. Mann, I am indeed trying to save your journalistic integrity and your soul.


      7. We could continue this bantering for some time, so I will conclude my portion of this blog by saying. Having lived with the Turks and personally viewed their freedoms and practiced democrary, I will say “Yes, I am obviously certain my opinion is correct at this time”. Until such time as you can provide me with sufficient views and data to prove me wrong, I will continue to believe this way. Simply being an infrequent visitor and talking to a limited few, statistically your views can be considered skewed to that of a typical tourist.


      8. I can tell by your barb that you are not one to take criticism well or to admit that you might possibly be wrong. And I will quickly point out as you did, my statement was I am certain my stance is correct “at this time”. Too bad you can’t seem to accept others points of view as well as you criticize us for not accepting yours.


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