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Turkey: Contemporary Affairs
Although the Justice and Development Party (AKP) secured convincing electoral victories in 2007 and 2011, struggles over the role of religion and secularism continue to shape Turkey’s political arena. In September 2010, the AKP sponsored a constitutional referendum aimed at reforming the judiciary and decreasing the power of the military establishment. Although opponents viewed it as a power grab, the AKP argued that the reforms would prevent unelected elites from obstructing the popular will, and the referendum passed with a comfortable margin. In 2011, the heads of Turkey’s armed forces issued their collective resignation in protest of ongoing prosecutions of military personnel. Certain members of the military have been charged with plotting a coup and planning to attack mosques and other civilian targets to provoke anti-government sentiment. Throughout 2012, the Turkish military remained on high alert in regard to the crisis in Syria as thousands of Syrian refugees have crossed into Turkey in search of safety. In October 2012, mortars from Syria struck a Turkish village killing five Turkish citizens, and the Turkish military has stated that Syrian troops would be viewed as a threat if they approached Turkish borders. Recent demonstrations in Turkey began on May 28, 2013 in response to a government plan to demolish natural green space in Istanbul, known as Gezi Park, and replace it with a shopping center that resembles an old Ottoman barrack. The unrest began when demonstrators gathered in Gezi Park to block the redevelopment plans, but the situation escalated after police used tear gas to crackdown on the activists. Protestors have been calling for the resignation of the Mayor of Ankara and Prime Minister Erdogan, accusing Erdogan’s government of becoming increasingly authoritarian and trying to impose conservative Islamic values. According to various news sources, four people are reported to have died, while thousands have been injured and hundreds arrested in the unrest. Tensions have further escalated after Prime Minister Erdogan, who left on June 3, 2013 for a trip to North Africa, continued to press the development of Gezi Park during his visit abroad.