Turkey (MNN) — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan remains unapologetic to protestors.
He labels them as “looters,” “bums,” “extremists,” and social media liars.
Protesters are upset with Erdogan’s government decisions to restrict alcohol sales and his declarations about appropriate rates of reproduction. It’s grown beyond what started the protests–a sit-down demonstration at Istanbul’s Gezi Park when it was scheduled for demolition.
They see Erdogan as imposing the values of his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP). The party was voted into power two years ago by around half the vote.
Erdogan stated, “This is a protest organized by extremist elements…. We will not give away anything to those who live arm-in-arm with terrorism.”
IN Network has Christian national staff on the ground in Turkey observing the situation. Rody Rodeheaver with IN Network reports, “From everything that I’ve been able to learn from our people, it really is not [an extremist-organized protest]. It is more a protest that has bubbled up from the discontent of the people in the country who feel they’re not being heard, who feel the government is getting more overpowering and taking charge of their lives in ways that should not be happening in a constitutional republic.”
Not allowing protests to slow down his agenda, Erdogan left on Monday for a four-day trip through North Africa. In his first stop at Morocco, Erdogan told reporters that the situation is calming down. “On my return from this visit, the problems will be solved.”
Rodeheaver says it doesn’t look that way. “This is a situation that, number one, is expanding. Protests are spreading out into the neighborhoods. People can’t sleep at night because the protests are going on [with] the noise in the streets.”
Turkish President Abdullah Gul has come in with a polarizing message and supported citizens’ right to protest. “If there are different opinions, different situations, different points of view and dissent, there is nothing more natural that being able to voice those differences,” President Gul said. “Democracy is not just about voting; the [protestors’] message has been received. What is necessary will be done.”
But Prime Minister Erdogan insists citizens should limit voicing their displeasure “at the ballot box.” And while Turkey’s parliament gives their president a nod in title, it’s still the prime minister who holds executive power.
Excessive police force has also come under criticism. Tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and water cannons have been used by police on demonstrating citizens. Protestors have fought back, hurling stones and bottles.
3,195 people have been injured and 2 killed as of Monday, according to the Turkish Medical Association. 26 of the injured are in critical condition. Most of the injuries have occurred at the heart of demonstrations in Istanbul, but protests are also taking place in Ankara, Izmir, Adana, and several other areas.
“We are concerned by the reports of excessive use of force by police,” said Secretary of State John Kerry in a show of support from Washington on Monday. “We obviously hope that there will be a full investigation of those incidents and full restraint from the police force.”
Protests are ongoing. On Tuesday, the Confederation of Public Workers Unions (KESK) gathered their people across political party lines in a two-day demonstration. KESK says the government is carrying out “state terror” and acting undemocratically. Police responded with more tear gas and water cannons.
According to Rodeheaver, “Media and people who are observing this are saying that the average age of those people who are protesting is between 16 and 25, and that age range makes up about 30% of the population of Turkey.”
Despite the chaos, IN Network is reaching out to this young adult demographic with teen camps starting next week. “It’s very timely,” says Rodeheaver. “We will have a group of young people in one place and be able to really talk about and allow them to air their feelings. [We will] talk about how Christ enters into this conversation, how Christ is relevant into this kind of environment.”
They’re expecting several hundred teens at IN Network camps across Turkey. But their camp project is only 13% funded. It takes $100 to send on teen to camp and they need help.
Rodeheaver says, “It is a great opportunity for people to say, ‘I’m going to invest in a Turkish young person and help that young person–at a very critical time in the country of Turkey–really hear what Christ has to say about how you live, how you communicate, and how you’re a citizen of this world while being a Christian.’”