Leftist, Anarchist Groups Participate in Turkish Violence

Protests will not spin out of control, expert says.

A protester runs to avoid tear gas during clashes with the police in Istanbul early Tuesday, June 4, 2013.

A protester runs to avoid tear gas during clashes with the police in Istanbul early Tuesday, June 4, 2013.

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What began as protests of the development of a grassy park in Istanbul has turned into a firestorm of violence that continues to sweep across the country.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has acknowledged that police overreacted to some of the public dissent, fueled in part by what he calls extremists. It began on May 28 when a group of young environmentalists staged a sit-in in Istanbul's Taksim Square in an attempt to stop commercial development on one of the city's remaining green spaces.

[READ: What's Really Behind Turkey's Unrest]

The protests grew into the thousands as police tried to break up the demonstration. Other groups joined, including the Republican People's Party, the main opposition to the ruling Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP.

The resulting protests have spread across Turkey from Istanbul, in the northwest corner of the country. Provinces such as Ankara, home of the capital, Kayseri and Adana near the Syrian border have also witnessed violence.

This is likely a permanent turning point for a burgeoning group, according to one analyst.

"This is very new, this is neither the military nor the government," says Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at D.C.-based The Washington Institute. "This is the new Turkish middle class taking to the streets, protesting the government."

 

This group first made its presence known following breaking reports that the protests in the park had turned violent. Tens of thousands of middle class Turks spilled out onto the street at roughly 3 a.m. to support their countrymen's right to petition their government.

[ALSO: Turkey Is the Model for Arab Spring Nations]

One incident in particular drew widespread attention. Multiple photographs document a police officer wearing a gas mask as he blasts tear gas at a woman in a red dress who appears to be standing peacifully. Business Insider reports this has become a symbol of the public's indictment of the Erdogan government.

The resulting events mark the first time Erdogan rolled out a grandiose project, and recanted following successful public opposition. Usually the military or police squelch such outcry.

"The United States supports full freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peaceful protest, as fundamental to any democracy," said White House spokesman Jay Carney Monday afternoon. "We believe that the vast majority of the protestors have been peaceful, law-abiding, ordinary citizens exercising their rights. The United States has serious concerns about the reports of excessive use of force by police and large numbers of injuries and damage to property. We call on these events to be investigated and to urge all parties to refrain from provoking violence."

Cagaptay expects the protests will "fizzle out" as the driving force – this middle class – returns to work.

The middle class will swell to roughly 80 percent of the citizenry within the next decade, says Cagaptay. It has "tasted the power" through social media organizing and this brand of protest.

"This is the most massive grassroots demonstrations we have seen in Turkey in decades," he says.

[READ: Turkey Hopes to Convince U.S. to Act in Syria]

But it is not clear of nefarious participants. Cagaptay adds that militant leftist and anarchist groups have also joined the swells of protesters and risen to the forefront through violent action.

An amalgamation of groups participating in the protests could include the far-right ultra nationalists from the National Movement Party or members of the influential moderate Islamist Gulen movement, among others, notes private security firm Stratfor.

"An opposition movement this divided will have trouble enduring as a cohesive movement, especially without a strong personality to bind it together," according to a Tuesday Stratfor report.

The Kurdish Workers' Party, known as the PKK, may also take advantage of the chaos of violent protests. The Islamic separatist group has staged attacks in Turkey before including recent strikes along the country's border with Syria.