Protests continue across Turkey, with some violence reported overnight, and police brutality continuing. The Turkish police have begun to arrest those using Twitter to announce protests. And the government has been holding counter-rallies, sometimes using Photoshop to fill in the crowds.
Rather than cool tensions, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan seems determined to throw fuel on the fire. The spark for the unrest was, of course, the prime minister’s determination to destroy a small urban park in order to build a shopping mall or, perhaps, a mosque. What started out as an environmental protest morphed into something far larger, largely in response to the prime minister’s arrogance and police crackdown.
It’s against this backdrop that the announcement that Erdoğan will confiscate an eight-decade-old botanical garden and transfer it to the Istanbul mufti’s office seems like he is extending his middle finger to liberals, secularists, and the general public. According to Hürriyet Daily News:
On May 29, [Rector Yunus] Söylet wrote on Twitter that the Religious Affairs Directorate had been demanding the garden from the university for the past eight years following a question from a student. The university did not respond to the Hürriyet Daily News’ request for information on the issue. After Söylet’s remarks, a number of students, academics and activists gathered at a panel in Istanbul to discuss the significance of the garden for science and to voice their demands that the garden be maintained. Several academics are still waiting for a response from the rector’s office for an appointment in which they expect to express the importance of the garden to science. Istanbul University’s Alfred Heilbronn Botanic Garden was established near Süleymaniye Mosque in 1933, by Alfred Heilbronn and Leo Brauner, two Jewish professors who escaped Nazi Germany for Turkey. Erdal Üzen, an academic who has worked at the garden for many years, says the uprooting of such plants would cause damage to them. The botanical garden in Süleymaniye includes around 3,000 different plant species and 1,000 different tree species that function as a record of all the species found in Anatolia. The Turkey’s Biologists Association’s Istanbul bureau head, İlbay Kahraman, warned that the uprooting would cause great damage to the school and garden.
Once again, the Turkish prime minister demonstrates the confusion many Islamists and Middle East potentates hold regarding the difference between democracy and majoritarianism. As the spiteful Erdoğan doubles down, let us hope that the White House and State Department will dispense with the notion that Erdoğan’s Turkey is any longer a model once and for all.