On the need for remembering Gezi Park right

Published by Today's Zaman, 5 June 2013

Much has been and will be written about why and how a small and peaceful protest in Taksim Square's Gezi Park evolved into a large social eruption. Relatively little has been said about what this might mean politically, socially, economically and diplomatically in the near future.

No matter from which political angle one looks at the events we have seen in Turkey over the past days, it is clear that one of the biggest problems in Turkey is our weak democratic culture. We have problems in handling different opinions, lifestyles, beliefs and political views and expressing ourselves, compromising, negotiating and reconciling.

Soon, there will be healthy calls for accountability and justice over how the police and authorities and, in some cases, protesters have conducted themselves and how the government handled this process. All of these are necessary, but if we want to see a lasting impact of what we have experienced last week and if we want to learn lessons from it as a nation beyond our usual polarization of “us” versus “them,” we must find ways to conceptualize Gezi Park's memory from now on.

One way of not only memorializing but also seeking to develop Turkey's democratic culture would be to declare Gezi Park as a Speakers' Corner in the style of Hyde Park in London. This would not only make sure that protesters' voices are not lost amid all the party politics and finger pointing that will follow, but also it would give us an inclusive platform to learn to communicate, listen and disagree. Thus, it would be a memorial site with a dynamic and future-looking aspect, which not only seeks to establish an account of what happened but universalizes what we learn or should learn from it.

Without finding a way to remember Gezi right and utilize it for a better future for Turkey, sadly its memory will remain as a divided account, like the protests that took place in Turkey between 2002 and 2008.
What the protests symbolized was much more important and powerful than mere party politics. We saw people from all walks of life, who felt that their voices, thoughts and opinions were not represented either by the government party nor opposition groups, protesting for no major cause but to say, “I am here, this is my view, my concern.” That voice has to be continually heard, beyond who votes or supports what party or follows which cultural or political affinity.

To this end, it would be a symbolic but important step if the Turkish government, in conversation with the protesters, declares Gezi Park as a Speakers' Corner. Both groups can come with a clear list of rules of conduct and post it there. Security forces would be told not to interfere.

Yes, it would be a small and symbolic step. No, it won't solve any major problems. Yes, both the government, opposition parties, NGOs and wider public have so much to learn from the events of last week. But at least it would be a tangible and physical expression, a space and experiment for all of us to learn to respect one another. And who knows, one day, no such physical space might be needed in Turkey and we will all abide by rules of conduct we develop to ensure we talk to and hear one another.