Ask Mehmet: Current events, Turkey and you

  • Published
  • By By Mehmet Birbiri
  • 39th Air Base Wing Host Nation Advisor
Editor's Note: Ask Mehmet is a forum for people to ask questions of the local area, as well as the outer confines of the region and the country as a whole. To submit a question, send an e-mail with the subject "Ask Mehmet" to


"Mehmet, I hear and read there is tension in Turkey. I have been reading about rallies and/or demonstrations taking place as well for a while. What is all this unrest about, and what does it mean for U.S. personnel stationed in Turkey?"

Turkey has experienced friction and tension since the foundation of the Republic, with the unrest being very high from time to time. While the names of the opponents have changed over the years, the underlying ideologies have remained very much the same - communist/fascist, leftist/rightist, theocratic/democratic, pro-Ataturk/anti-Ataturk, liberals/fundamentalists.

Here is a summary of the more recent events and incidents that are the causes and results of the unrest you have been reading and hearing about:

Gezi Park

The demonstrations started in May 2013 at Gezi Park in Istanbul. Gezi park, located by Taksim Square in the heart of Istanbul, has been one of the most popular and loved parks and is frequently used by the citizens. A decision was made by the government to build a shopping mall in place of Gezi Park. Despite multiple protests against the new plans, heavy equipment was used to begin removing large trees in the park towards the end of May. Thousands of citizens, mostly university students, camped in the park in order to prevent graders and other heavy machines from removing the trees.

Police attempted to remove the camping protesters from the park, but they resisted strongly. Low-scale clashes took place between police and campers almost daily. The resistors had great support from Turkish citizens throughout the country. Their reaction and protests have become a symbol for some citizens who are unhappy with the government's applications and style of running the country.

In mid-June of 2013, the government decided to bring an end to the Gezi Park issue. Police used water cannons tear gas weapons and graders to disperse the protesters. However, these actions sparked protests in other Turkish cities such as Izmir and Adana. Seven protesters were killed and hundreds were injured during those clashes. People who were not marching in protest supported those who were by blowing whistles and banging on pans and pots from their houses.

Fifteen-year-old Berkin Elvan sustained a severe head from a tear gas canister shot by police during the Gezi Park demonstrations in June. He was reportedly shot at 6.30 a.m. while on his way to a bakery to get bread for breakfast. He was in a coma for 269 days and died March 9. In reaction to the government and police actions at Gezi Park, approximately 2 million people attended his March 10 funeral. That same night another young man was killed during a clash between two opposing groups of protesters.


In addition to all this, other factors and events have provoked further unrest. One of which involved a case opened in 2009 against the Turkish armed forces pertaining to charges of plotting a military coup to topple the government in 1999. The top military generals, retired and active duty, including several chief of forces and retired chiefs of Turkish General Staff were arrested and put on trial in specially formed courts. Many of the accused were sentenced to life in prison. However, most of the generals were released due to a special law passed last month. Yet, some generals, officers, professors, writers and journalists are in still prison.

Government policies

The pro-Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has passed several laws affecting the daily life of the citizens such as changing the education system, opening and promoting religious schools, putting a restriction on consuming and selling alcoholic beverages and criticizing non-Islamic attire and life style.

The government also took a recent unpopular step by deciding to close private prep schools. The schools are mostly owned and run by a religious foundation headed by Fethullah Gulen. Gulen, who currently lives in Pennsylvania, USA. Although the Gulen foundation and AKP have been keen allies for years, that step was considered as declaration of war between the long-time allies.

The graft probe

Another event that has caused a stir began the morning of Dec. 17, 2013, when police raided several residences in Istanbul. Thirty-four people were taken into custody and sent to court on charges of corruption. Among those taken into custody were the sons of four ministers of the current government, the general manager of a state-run bank, a very famous businessmen and a district mayor in Istanbul. Police discovered $4.5 million in shoe-boxes located the house of the bank's general manager. Seven large safes and a money counting machine were found in the house of one of the Minister's sons.

Some Turkish people were shocked with the alleged corruption scandal and though it would result in change. However, others, including Prime Minister Erdogan and AKP leadership, considered the investigations and arrests as an anti-government move and blamed the Gulen foundation. Hundreds of judges, prosecutors, police chiefs and policemen were shuffled and replaced. Several new laws were passed within a few days of the arrests to protect the government and its actions. The suspects of the Dec. 17, operation were released within a month, which was an action that further upset a number of Turkish people.


In addition to all of that, Turkey will hold local elections to elect new mayors and city council members at the end of March. Under the shade of all the strained relations and tension, political party leaders, including Prime Minister Erdogan, have been using harsh language. A number of Erdogan's opponents commonly use social media as an effective campaign tool. Erdogan stated he is contemplating banning Facebook and YouTube after the local elections, which has increased the tensions more.

What this means to you

What does this all mean for U.S. personnel in Turkey? It means U.S. personnel should pay close attention messages from the wing pertaining to travel restrictions and force protection considerations. Just like it would be a bad idea to walk into the middle of a protest in New York City, it's also not a good idea to walk into a protest in Turkey or anywhere else. Avoid large gatherings, especially if they are spontaneous or if there are indications the event might not be or remain peaceful.

Don't let the current events discourage you from get out and enjoying all Turkey has to offer. Just be aware of what's going on around you and know where to find the information you need to stay safe such as the Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection channel, the 39th Air Base Wing Facebook page and emails from the 39th ABW AT/FP office.

If you have any more questions, please contact the Public Affairs office at