In his first international trip of his presidency in 2009, President Obama praised Turkey as a model democracy and a bridge between the West and the Middle East. And in dealing with the civil war in Syria, Turkey has played a key role in efforts to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power.
And because of Erdogan's closeness to the West, the White House's call for the Turkish government to exercise restraint may actually have some effect. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc apologized today for "excessive violence" used against those protesting plans to destroy an Istanbul park, the first sign that the pressure from the streets and Turkey's allies is having an impact.
"If Obama was to get up and say like he did with Mubarak 'don't use force against the people,' I think Mr. Erdogan would listen," Aliriza said. "He's made it very clear through his actions that he really cares what is said in Washington."
If things go well in Turkey, and the protests successfully spark an adequate response from Erdogan's government, the episode could be a boost to Turkey's democratic credentials – an example of how mature democratic societies work these problems out.
But things could take a turn for the worse if protests continue much longer, Kirisci noted.
"The time is right now for these protests to stop," Kirisci said. "I think the message has been received, it's been appreciated. [If protestors continue] they run the risk that radical groups will take this over, things will turn violent and the original message will be lost, if not lose its legitimacy."