Representatives from both the European Union and the United States government have released statements calling for the restraint of police forces and protesters, amidst ongoing clashes in Istanbul, Turkey. The unrest began as a local protest against plans to redevelop Gezi Park, a rare green area in the city, but after harsh police retaliation, the protests spread to other districts — and then to dozens of cities across Turkey. It is the biggest protest against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan since his government took power in 2002. For Turkey’s neighbours–Armenia and Azerbaijan–the protests have another significance, perhaps representing a sign of things to come. For governments with a precarious hold on power, it could be a threat, and for citizens, the spark of their own movement.
In her statement about the protests in Turkey, EU foreign policy representative Catherine Ashton “expressed deep concern at the violence that occurred in Istanbul and some other cities in Turkey, and regrets disproportionate use of force by members of the Turkish police.” Ashton urged that a dialogue be opened to negotiate the issue and curtail the backlash.
Similarly, in a statement from the White House, government spokeswoman Laura Lucas called on the Turkish authorities to “exercise restraint,” describing the public demonstrations as “a part of democratic expression.”
In the neighbourhood
Meanwhile, Turkey’s neighbours have also responded with concern over the turmoil in Turkey, but perhaps not for the same reasons. Azerbaijan has spoken out against police violence towards protesters, expressing surprise at such human rights violations from a country which teaches human rights to Azerbaijan.
Speaking about this issue, member of Azerbaijani Parliament Aydin Mirzazade commented:
“We believe that the standards should be equal for all countries and against all cases. It is unacceptable that the incidents in Azerbaijan become the object of their condemnation, while they themselves use force in their country in a more severe form. It would be very much desired for such cases of abuse not to take place specifically in Turkey.”
For Azerbaijani citizens, the protest movement has brought their own national situation into the spotlight. With national elections on the horizon, many Azerbaijani’s are questioning the future of the current authoritarian regime, and looking at events in Turkey with keen interest. As a young Azerbaijani journalist wrote:
“I feel so sorry for Azerbaijan. Due to our own passive political life, and a society that doesn’t advance, young people are living through the lives of their neighbours.”
Neighbouring Armenia has spoken out in support of the protesters, with civic activists launching a human rights petition in an act of solidarity. The petition from Armenian Civic Activists states:
“We are sure that our generation in Armenia, in Turkey, and in other countries will be able to build democratic societies which will endorse regional and global, dynamic and equal human development. We express our solidarity to all human rights defenders in Turkey, in Armenia and all over the world. We are for the human rights protection and full enjoyment and realization of rights of all citizens and peoples.”
Tourists ought to…
The Foreign Ministry of Ukraine – as well as several of his counterparts in other European countries – has advised Ukrainians to refrain from traveling to Turkey because of the worsened security situation in the country. For those already in the country, the ministry advised against participating in the protests or going to crowded sites. The Foreign Ministry released a statement elucidating the situation:
“Due to the deteriorating security situation in Turkey, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry advises Ukrainian citizens to refrain at this stage from traveling to the country, particularly to such cities as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, Eskisehir, Mugla, Konya, Yalova, Antalya, and Bolu.”
Meanwhile… Watch: FEMEN take a stand for Turkey
However, according to chairman of the Azerbaijan Tourism Association, Nahid Baghirov, the tension and upheaval in Turkey has not affected the number of Azerbaijani citizens travelling to Turkey for touristic reasons. In spite of fears over safety and neighbouring countries attempting to curb the numbers of their nationals travelling to Turkey, Baghirov addressed the risks, saying “I do not believe in it, as there is no danger of war or terror. People are just expressing their views.”
Twitter in the darkness: #occupygezi
Social media is playing a key role in the unfolding events in Turkey. As twitter and Facebook offer a forum for real time updates, and government denial of the severity of events, allow for posting images which speak for themselves. Likewise, efforts to show solidarity and create partner “Occupy Gezi” movements around the world are taking place via social media.
Read also: A letter to the world about Turkey