MESOP ANALYSIS : A Government in Search for Legitimacy: Gezi Park & Manipulation

Assistant Professor Evren Altınkaş  –  June 16, 2013Domestic Policy

This essay covers the protests started in Gezi park and widely spread all around Turkey and claims that the reaction of the government towards these protests basically stems from its loss of widespread legitimacy which started a long time before these protests; and the manipulation of religious and national symbols by the government to outrun these protests is not only a tool to oppress the protesters but also a trial of regaining the lost legitimacy.

First subject taught in the courses “Political Science 101” is “power and legitimacy”. Legitimacy, shortly, is the belief that the decisions of the leaders and the government are right and just, and so those decisions should even morally be accepted regardless of what. We can also call it as “respect for government”. Two other important concepts, authority and sovereignty are taken into consideration as respect for the leader and respect for the country, and so we can say that respect for government is by itself not adequate and those three concepts must be together to talk about a healthy government. Also, as the decision makers and executives are just and right, people have to obey those decisions without hesitation.[1]

In short, legitimacy is a situation depended on the “consent of the governed”.[2] We can even say that looking into the number of policemen employed in a country will be sufficient for us to understand the level of legitimacy of that country’s government. Governments with a problem of legitimacy employ more policemen, and it is the contrary in countries with less legitimacy problems. We cannot simply explain why the governments with legitimacy problems employ more policemen only with the terms of “oppression on the population or being despotic”. But we can say that people, when they think that the government is not legitimate, will automatically disobey the laws and regulations put forth by that government. And, this situation brings with it the employment of more policemen to control whether people obey the laws or not.

When we look at the recent developments at Gezi Park in Turkey, we see the boom of a long-lasting legitimacy crisis. The discomfort and reaction of public started almost a month ago when Erdoğan did not cancel his trip and went to USA, instead of visiting Reyhanlı, where two bombs exploded and killed dozens of people, which is considered mostly as a result of the pro-Syrian opposition attitude of the Turkish government. As the social reactions towards the Syrian policies of Turkish government and its financial and societal results were increasing; this time Erdoğan, whilst defending the law which limits the usage of alcohol asked “why people were disturbed by regulations following the orders of the religion rather than laws conducted by two drunkards”[3], according to a certain percentage of the population, meaning Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and İsmet İnönü. Only a couple days after this provocative speech, police intervened to a small group of protesters in Gezi Park with a disproportional use of force.

When the highest representative of the government, Prime Minister Erdoğan called the Gezi Park protesters as “marauders”, and added that “government will demolish the Park and build the military establishment instead, also they will demolish the Atatürk Cultural Center (AKM) and build an opera building and a mosque”[4], this protest has turned into a huge social opposition. The movement spread to other cities in Turkey and number of people participating in protests increased rapidly. Now, what government needed was the usage and manipulation of national and religious symbols to gain back the legitimacy it lost, as it is taught in Political Science courses.

Prime Minister Erdoğan, in his speech to the people who came to welcome him from his trip to North Africa claimed that the Gezi protesters “burnt the Turkish flag” (relying on a video published by TRT[5], state television, which was taken in 2010 showing a bunch of PKK supporters burning the Turkish flag; irrelevant with the Gezi protesters), that the “protesters running away from the police raided a mosque with their shoes on and consumed alcohol in the holy place” (both the imam and muezzin of the mosque stated that never happened and the protesters have used the mosque as an infirmary[6]). This speech was a clear manipulation of the national and religious symbols. As the Gezi park protests continued increasingly afterwards, police again used a disproportional force on the protesters in Taksim Square on June 11, 2013. Only a couple of minutes after the police intervention, we witnessed a group of “protesters” with walkie talkies in their hand and guns in their pockets, entering into the area, where they opened up posters of PKK leader Öcalan and threw Molotov cocktails to police cars.[7] As these scenes are usually interconnected with the PKK sympathizers, the mainstream media focused on these people and an artificial image of “heroic Turkish government and police fighting against a group of terrorists and anarchists” tried to be created in the minds of Turkish audience.

As it appears that the events happening at Gezi Park underline that JDP government still considers the examples above as tools of regaining the legitimacy; the written declarations of UN General Secretary[8] and Amnesty International[9] on the night of June 11, 2013 show us that the legitimacy of the Turkish government is becoming problematic in the perception of international society.

Assistant Professor Evren Altınkaş

Please cite this publication as follows:

Altınkaş, Evren (June, 2013), “A Government in Search for Legitimacy: Gezi Park and Manipulation”, Vol. II, Issue 4, pp.46-47, Centre for Policy Analysis and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, ResearchTurkey. (

[1] Michael G. Roskin. Political Science: An Introduction. Pearson, 2010, pp.21-26.

[2] Ibid, p. 26.