As Turkish-Americans living in the United States—deeply devoted to Turkey and supportive of the nation’s interests—we consider the excessive force used by the police against the demonstrators to be deplorable and criminal. Peaceful public demonstration as a form of protest or means to petition government for redress of grievances is an accepted practice in all civilized, democratic societies. The response of the Prime Minister Erdoğan and current Turkish government to what began as a modest movement to protect the environment has placed that government outside the community of democracy.
These protests have now turned into an outcry for greater democracy and freedom in Turkey. This outcry is justified not only by the government’s plans for the future of Taksim Square but also by its oppressive policies and actions over the past ten years: imprisonment of opposition politicians and journalists, dismantling of the independent judiciary, Islamization of the educational system, and discrediting of honorable members of the Turkish military on trumped up charges. There are more journalists in prison in Turkey than in any other country in the world.
An increasingly autocratic Prime Minister is determined to impose his religious worldview on a secular society. The Prime Minister’s attempt to forge a Muslim moral majority and micromanage peoples’ lives comes amid this growing government assault on political and civil liberties. It is becoming clear that the current government is trying to transform Atatürk’s modern, secular republic into an Iranian-style Islamic state.
Prime Minister Erdoğan is also proposing a transition from a parliamentary to a presidential system. This model would give a newly empowered president the prerogative to dissolve the legislative assembly. If a constitutional referendum is approved and Erdoğan is elected as the new president next year, Turkey would find itself with an authoritarian presidential system resembling the Russian system more than that of the US or France, where a strict separation of powers defines and limits the president’s powers and authority.
Our hearts are broken by what we have been witnessing, but our moral outrage and pain does not begin to compare with the pain of the broken bodies of the young people protesting in Istanbul.
Indeed, it is the youth — educated, dedicated, patriotic and proud — who will lead the country into the future. As Atatürk said in an address to Turkish youth in 1927:
Your first duty is to protect and defend forever Turkish Independence and the
Turkish Republic. These are your most valuable treasures. In the future, there
will be domestic and foreign enemies who will want to deprive you of these
treasures. One day if you are obliged to defend Independence and the Republic,
you will not think of the circumstances and the adverse conditions in which
you will find yourself. In order to begin your duties… the strength that you
will need is present in the noble blood that flows in your veins!
— Kemal Atatürk
October 20, 1927
(Atatürk’ün Gençliğe Hitabesi’nden)