Erdoğan’s kingdom for 12 trees

Erdoğan’s kingdom for 12 trees
This undated photo made available on Monday Feb. 4, 2013 by the University of Leicester, England, shows the remains found underneath a car park in Leicester, which have been declared “beyond reasonable doubt” to be the long lost remains of England’s King Richard III, missing for 500 years. (Photo: AP, University of Leicester, File)
Richard III is my favorite villain. These days, I find myself thinking of Shakespeare’s criminal tyrant often. His manipulative schemes to get to the throne, his increasing paranoia and cruelty that knows no bounds are peculiarly familiar. He is perhaps best known for crying out, “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” after a climactic fall from his horse in the final battle for the crown. Could Richard have saved “his kingdom” if he hadn’t fallen off his horse? I doubt it. Shakespeare makes the point that the people resent him increasingly, and that England is ready to welcome anybody who isn’t Richard. Did Richard really think he was losing his kingdom for a horse?

That feeling held by the common people behind the palace walls must be close to what non-AKP voters feel like in today’s Turkey. Possibly, the resentment is stronger, since people can actually vote in today’s society, but still end up with rulers who act like kings.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is an autocrat, one who is currently working hard to increase polarization in Turkey to consolidate his voters. He is facing serious graft allegations. He will answer for any crimes eventually, tomorrow if not today. One day his days in power will come to an end and the sycophants around him will abandon him. He will be all alone, just like Richard at the end of Shakespeare’s play. He knows it too. This is why he sharpened his polarizing language even further after the Gezi protests last year.

Never has he been a democrat, but life got much tougher for Erdoğan’s critics and opponents after a handful of people staged a sit-in, which, in a matter of days, turned into a massive anti-government movement.

It was the first time the other half of the nation, those who don’t vote for the Justice and Development Party (AKP), came together. Kemalists were together with Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) supporters, hipsters hand in hand with devout Muslims. It was the first time so many people came out to the streets and told Erdoğan: “You are evil. And we hate you.” This is my understanding of Gezi, a process which is ongoing.

Yet Erdoğan’s interpretation was radically different. To him, it was “all that vandalism and violence over 12 trees,” the number of trees in Gezi Park according to him. The man is no tree lover, he orders forests cut down whenever he notices one. He likes selling forested land, and he has even implied that trees are a sign of primitiveness while asphalt is the symbol of civilization. So it is not a surprise that people demonstrating to defend trees must have been pretty shocking for him. But what the 12 trees stood for was a denunciation of the government’s greed that is costing us our forests, our people, our workers and children, a condemnation of Erdoğan’s exclusionary policies that don’t take into account anybody who is different from the majority.

After Gezi, Erdoğan increased his attacks on every non-AKP segment of society and upped the tone of his polarizing rhetoric. Nothing has been the same since Gezi.

Really, it is never about a horse, or trees, for that matter.

This post originally appeared under TZ Blogs section published at

Author: E Baris Altintas

I am a journalist and a civil society professional. I can be reached at

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