The Gezi Park Protests: Time for a New U.S. Approach to Turkey

MESOP 14.6.2013 – By Howard Eissenstat  – Assistant Professor, Middle East History, St. Lawrence University – Turkey Country Specialist of Amnesty International USA

Amidst ongoing protests in Turkey, the media has focused its attention on both the causes of the crisis and the Turkish government’s response. Despite this focus, there have been noticeably few assessments of potential outcomes, or recommendations for a broader U.S. response. This brief attempts to help fill that gap, with a view towards informing U.S. policy.


The durability and passion of the Gezi Park protests should serve as a wake-up call not only to the Turkish government, but also to the United States.

The protests have become a catalyst for millions of Turkish citizens who believe the usual levers of democratic governance have simply stopped being responsive.

Though he has reason to feel confident, Prime Minister Erdoğan’s response to the protests has demonstrated remarkably little flexibility, exacerbated by his tough, brusque demeanor.

The U.S. response since the onset of the crisis has been consistent and strong, but it is important that this rare frankness become a regular feature of Turkish-American relations. 

The U.S. should continue to publicly address human rights abuses, while insisting on the right to peaceful protest: real reform is most likely to occur if abuses are followed with public criticism of Turkey’s human rights record.