By Aydogan Vatandas*
The most important message of last summer's Gezi protests in Turkey was that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's government had lost its legitimacy in the eyes of some segments of Turkish society.
While some of the members of the government received this message, Erdoğan himself interpreted the protests as a coup attempt against himself. He called the protesters “looters” on the one hand, and on the other he said they were an extension of some Western powers that aim to overthrow his government.
After the biggest corruption scandal in Turkey's history struck Erdoğan and his government on Dec. 17, it became obvious that Erdoğan is blaming the Gülen movement for everything that troubles him, including the Gezi protests.
It is no secret that protests occur all over the world and that governments, by using their intelligence agencies, try to hijack these protests.
It has become obvious that the Turkish government was successful in hijacking the Gezi protests by using some propaganda techniques and tools of psychological warfare.
Soon after the protests started, first some illegal, provocative groups hijacked the demands of the demonstrators. Second, in order to delegitimize the protesters, Erdoğan claimed that they had consumed alcohol inside a mosque and attacked a woman wearing a headscarf. Claims were made that the woman and her baby were attacked by up to 100 protesters in Kabataş, at the height of the nationwide Gezi demonstrations. However, security camera footage disclosed on Feb. 13 has revealed that there was no physical attack on the woman, and that the allegations by Erdoğan to discredit the protesters were inaccurate.
Using the mosque and the headscarf
The main reason for why Erdoğan used these two religious symbols -- the mosque and the headscarf -- to discredit protesters was that he was well aware of how respected they are in Turkish society. Erdoğan, by using these two symbols, aimed to prevent the protests from spreading into religious communities.
When the protests started in Turkey, it was no secret that Fethullah Gülen, a highly respected Islamic scholar who lives in Pennsylvania, suggested that the protesters should be listened to and not treated harshly. This was an indication that Gülen believed the people's voice and requests on Gezi should not be ignored.
It is also important to point out that many writers of both the Zaman daily and Today's Zaman noted that the main motivation behind the Gezi protests was to react against Erdoğan's growing authoritarian tendencies. This intellectual support by Mr. Gülen and some Zaman and Today's Zaman writers led Erdoğan to think that the Gezi protests were even engineered by the Gülen movement.
What happened right after this support was shown is quite interesting.
Some protesters who claimed to represent the Gezi demonstrators started protests in Pennsylvania where Mr. Gülen lives.
However, the Turkish American community did not support the protests and even claimed that the protests were manufactured by the Turkish government.
Oray Eğin, a Turkish writer who supported the Gezi protests in Turkey, found these protests in Pennsylvania to be out of sync, pointless, unintellectual and the greatest secular fiasco in the history of protests, indicating that there was no relationship between the protests in Gezi and Pennsylvania.
Even the US-based newspaper Posta212, which I believe reflected the spirit of the Gezi protests, showed that the Pennsylvania protesters had nothing to do with the Gezi protesters.
The common opinion of Turkish American society is that Erdoğan's government was behind the Pennsylvania protests. The goal behind this attempt was to prevent intellectual support to the Gezi protests by the Gülen movement and Gülen-affiliated media. It may also have wanted Hizmet followers to have the impression that the Gezi protests were also against the Hizmet movement. However, it seems that this was not the only goal behind the Pennsylvania protests.
It may be a coincidence, but whenever the protesters were called for a demonstration in Pennsylvania, those were the times when Erdoğan's anger was at its peak against Mr. Gülen and the movement.
Well, there is an old saying for this situation: If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.
If Erdoğan's government is behind these demonstrations in Pennsylvania, it should know that the FBI would consider this a covert operation by another government and there could be some severe consequences.
*Aydoğan Vatandaş is an investigative journalist based in New York.