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In Turkey, a protest to protect a tree turns into war against a tyrant

What once was a protest to protect a tree against the machine turned into a war against a tyrant
We have crossed a milestone in Turkey.

A series of events in Istanbul’s Taksim Square this week showed us the Turkish government of Prime Minister Tayyyip Erdogan is working hard to undermine and crush any resistance that will cause it to stumble on its path to ultimate power. This truth can only be ignored by a blissful ignorance.

How did we get here? Yes, it started with trees in a park. But Erdogan felt the need to demolish the park.

These are the last days of a system. It’s either Erdogan’s victory or the power of the people to come out of this with their freedoms intact.

People rushed to the park to protest the demolition of the last green space in the heart of Istanbul that breathed life into the city -- and its ever-growing façade of gray. What many people had previously ignored suddenly became a mass rally, disrupted when police attacked protesters with tear gas and pepper spray.

The reasons that ordinary Turks have turned into gas-masked protestors traces back much farther than these last two weeks. Since the arrival of Erdogan’s ruling party, the AKP, a majority of Turks have worried about how their lives might shift toward a political system more similar to that of Iran than that of the West.

Erdogan has inched Turkey toward exactly such a system over these past 10 years. 

He slowly but steadily conquered every part of the system, making sure the gears never turned against their revolution. 

The result was a majority for his party in the Turkish parliament, with the power to vote up or down anything, according to Erdogan’s will. The law and police force cleared the way of any bumps they might encounter on the road.

Erdogan instilled fear in the 49 percent of the Turkish population that did not vote for his party. For many, a single word or comment might result in arrest or jail -- as has been the fate of many who tried to voice their concerns and opposition to the government.

With the latest moves by the government to dictate everything from alcohol sales to abortion rights to the number of kids each family should have – while pushing ahead with construction projects without consulting those involved – the camel’s back finally broke.

So the crowds raged on, while Erdogan either dismissed protesters as thieves, ignored them, or accused them of being pawns of foreign terror organizations. Meanwhile, everything deemed illegal for the people suddenly became legal in the hands of the Turkish police.

A new era in the evolution of government tyranny is now on full display.

The Turkish media, which had ignored the protests, is suddenly covering acts of alleged protestor violence and police intervention. Meanwhile, police invaded the Court of Justice to arrest attorneys and prosecutors, an act that is strictly banned by the law.

Yet many people are standing strong. And a few positive effects of the movement can’t go unmentioned.

First, the faith in the Turkish people has been restored in many hearts. Many of us stopped believing any kind of resistance was possible. Most felt abandoning the country was the only solution.

But this movement has sparked the people’s passion, and fused the will to reclaim the freedoms of speech -- and of living.

People were afraid to criticize or poke fun at Erdogan in any way – such acts usually ended up with him suing. So this partial liberation has cleared the mist over a long-forgotten Turkish sense of humor that many have wanted to express for so long.

Today, we not only struggle against Erdogan’s mingling hand, but also are trying to patch the increasing polarization he forces on the country.

What once was a protest to protect a tree against the machine turned into a war against a tyrant that will not stop to exert any measure of vengence against a crowd that’s asking for what’s rightfully theirs, as stated by the rules of democracy.

These are the last days of a system. It’s either Erdogan’s victory, which will lead to theocracy, or the power of the people to come out of this with their freedoms intact.

One thing is for sure: The Turkish people have lost their sense of fear on the path to freedom. They have numbed their senses against the burns by the pepper gas, and don’t mind the taste of the stick on their flesh.
No one will back down until their rights are back where they belong.

Oytun Yucel is a graduate of Northwestern University. He has been involved in the protests in Gezi Park in Istanbul since they began on May 27.