The situation in Turkey today could be much less polarized, without such strong anger and distrust of the police, if a key lesson learned in the South Caucasus had been applied in Taksim Square: governments should engage non-violent protestors and allow demonstrations to fizzle out gradually.
The indiscriminate and violent police reaction in Turkey did the exact opposite. Already on May 31, it was evident that the police had chosen the wrong approach. Exiting a metro station onto Taksim Square, my eyes already tearing and my throat scratchy, I was suddenly between a wall of police firing tear gas and a group of people running towards Gezi Park, where days earlier a few dozen demonstrators began a protest against the uprooting of one of central Istanbul’s last green spaces.
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Sabine Freizer, currently a non-resident senior fellow at The Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center and the Program on Transatlantic Relations, is the former Europe director for the International Crisis Group and lives in Istanbul.