Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan compared the recent Baltimore protests in the United States to Turkey’s Gezi Park protests that started in May 2013, portraying international media’s reaction to the former muted, and the latter provocative, accusing them of having “double standards.”
Erdogan claimed certain countries have been criticising Turkey over the Gezi Park protests since the spring of 2013 yet have remained silent about the recent Baltimore protests in the United States.
He said “Similar incidents happened in Germany, and now they are happening in the US. We currently witness the reaction of those who made hours long live broadcasts during the Gezi Park protests, and presented twisted images to the world to smear our image, are now playing ‘three monkeys’.”
He asked, “Do they write anything? Do they broadcast live? Wasn’t the black man who was killed in Baltimore a human being?”
“Nobody made a statement saying we are ‘concerned’ about the recent incidents in the United States. We did not hear any critique of harsh conduct and disproportionate violent practices of American police towards protesters, putting soldiers on the streets,” he added.
Erdogan was referring to the official statements released by Western nations saying they are “concerned” over Gezi Park protests in Turkey.
He stressed that the “The true concern of the Turkey’s critics is not human rights or democracy. Look - death sentences were decreed in Egypt. Were any voices raised from the West? In the European Union, death sentences are banned. Did they say anything? Nothing.”
The Gezi Park protests were initially sparked by demonstrators opposing the urban development plan for Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park at the end of May 2013. Subsequently, the protests spread across Turkey and transformed mostly into anti-government protests with wide participation from some of the opposition parties and extreme-leftist groups who opposed the policies of the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and its leader, Erdogan.
The then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed the protesters as "a few looters" at the time of the protests. Police had suppressed the protests with tear gas and water cannons.
Erdogan chastised those who criticised him when he called the protesters “looters” of being silent now when the US president Barack Obama dismissed the rioters as “thugs” on April 28, right after the protests began. White House stood behind Obama’s comment which was regarded as highly offensive by the American public.
The Turkish government condemned the Gezi Park protests, particularly, after the riots turned violent.
President Obama also strongly condemned the violence saying: “There's no excuse for the kind of violence that we saw yesterday. It is counterproductive,” following the Baltimore riots.
In April 2015, after Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American resident of Baltimore, the largest city in Maryland, died in police custody following his arrest. His death became public, and large protests were organized condemning Gray’s death and police violence in Baltimore. During civil unrest, police established curfews and deployed riot squads to maintain order.
It is reported that at the time of Gray’s arrest, he seemed to be in good health. Following the spread of Baltimore protests, prosecutors in Baltimore charged 6 police officers for Gray’s death.
Similar protests and civil disorder occurred in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014 after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer. The protests caused an intensified debate in the United States about the relationship between law enforcement officers and African Americans, which are a minority in the US.
Erdogan spoke against Turkey’s critics in the light of the Baltimore protests when he hosted Turkish workers for May Day celebrations in his presidential office. May Day is now a holiday in Turkey after a law was passed to celebrate Labor and Solidarity Day in April 2009 by the AK Party government.
May Day celebrations have a history of conflicting views and violence in Turkey. Turkey has been a member of the NATO since 1952 which is an anti-communist bloc under Cold War conditions and May Day was associated with communism and left-wing associations. Turkish state was not willing to let leftists and others celebrate May Day openly because communism was defined as a threat to Turkish national security.
In May 1977, May Day celebrations turned into a bloody battle in Taksim, a public square popular with leftist groups use for protests. During the clashes, 34 people were killed and 136 people were wounded. The incidents of the 1977 May Day are now remembered as “bloody May 1.”
Following the Turkish state’s move to make May Day celebrations legal, the AK Party government allowed people to hold commemorations in Taksim which was banned to protesters and May Day celebrations for long years.
In 2013, the AK Party government reversed its decision to open Taksim for May Day commemorations due to security concerns and it caused tension with the leftist movements. The government urged demonstrators to hold rallies at designated squares to avoid security problems.
27 days later on May 28, the Gezi Park protests sparked in Taksim.
In 2015, Taksim was closed to May Day celebrations again not many incidents were reported compared to the last two years.