It all started about a week ago, as an occupation of a public space to stop its development into a mall, a mosque, and an Ottoman-era military barracks. Residents of Istanbul were upset at the prospect of losing a public green space and equally angry that it was to happen without any public consultation. So some concerned citizens settled in Taksim Square for a peaceful sit-in. But once Turkish police arrived late last week to break up the sit-in, violence erupted, with the protest morphing into a nation-wide movement against what many consider to be the increasingly authoritarian rule of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Protests have been reported in 67 of Turkey's 80 provinces. Two of Turkey's largest labour unions have called for a general strike, adding to the people in the streets. Amid the violence, two people have been killed, over 4,000 injured (according to the Financial Times), and over 3,300 detained (according to The Associated Press).
And the world is watching, with solidarity protests popping up in Berlin, New York and even Athens.
Will these protests become a Turkish Spring, following the patterns of protest that toppled the governments in Egypt and Tunisia in 2011? It may seem so, but despite criticism of Erdogan, and a growing rift between AKP supporters and Turks who fear he is taking the country away from its secular roots, Turkey is still a functioning democracy. There is concern over freedom of the press and, obviously, the right to free assembly and protest. But the country's economy is also experiencing an unprecedented boom.
It's these last few issues that were on our minds when we set up to cover Turkey on The Agenda. We had actually recorded an interview last week with Turkey's new ambassador to Canada, Tuncay Babali, before the protests became violent. As such, we didn't have an opportunity to ask Babali about the violence, and therefore decided to pull the interview from our broadcast, in light of events of the past few days. If you're curious about what the ambassador did have to say about Turkey's place in the world, and about Turkey's concerns over the Canadian government's official recognition of genocide in Armenia in 1915, you can watch the interview below.