Former ally tried to bring Turkey’s Erdoğan to talk to Gezi protesters

Ahmet Davutoğlu, a former prime minister and leading figure in Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), told Turkish news site T24 on Tuesday he had tried to foster dialogue between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and protesters during the country’s largest ever anti-government demonstrations in 2013.

Davutoğlu, who quit the ruling last year to form his own Future Party, said he had advised Erdoğan to go to Taksim Square, the area of Istanbul where demonstrations were centred, to meet the protesters face to face.

The protests began as a small sit-in against plans to demolish Gezi Park, a small green area overlooking Taksim Square, in order to build a shopping mall. They exploded into nationwide protests after videos of heavy police interventions against the environmentalists went viral on social media.

Erdoğan, then prime minister, opted to continue his hard line against protesters, whom he called looters. Several civilians were killed, some of them struck directly by police tear gas canisters, and thousands were injured.

The period also marked a turning point for the AKP government, which has cast off its liberal founding principles to take an increasingly authoritarian style of governance since he protests. The democratic backslide was exacerbated in December 2013, when the government was rocked by a corruption probe that implicated several cabinet ministers. The AKP says the investigations were launched by a clandestine religious group that infiltrated the judiciary and police force.

“From Gezi Park to the December investigations I shared my ideas on all subjects, I made my objections clear, I tried to influence events,” Davutoğlu said.

“I tried to bring Erdoğan to those youths in Taksim and to make them meet, but I couldn’t convince him,” he said.

Davutoğlu was appointed as prime minister when Erdoğan was elected president in 2014, but was forced to resign two years later when reports surfaced of disagreements between the two leaders.