Turkey: «You are beautiful when you are angry»

The protests in Turkey are fundamentally about freedom.

Tur­key is facing the fier­cest anti-govern­ment move­ment of its his­tory. It is descri­bed as a his­to­ri­cal union of peop­le, as it uni­tes secu­lar natio­na­lists, Kema­lists, revo­lu­tio­na­ry socia­lists, Kurds, labour unions, stu­dents, rival foot­ball team sup­por­ters, housewi­ves, young and old peop­le. A week has passed sin­ce the pro­tests begun. Today, one of Turkey’s big tra­de unions decla­red a two-day strike, to demon­st­rate their sup­port of the grass­roots move­ment in Tur­key and to pro­test against the vio­lent police inter­ven­tion against unar­med citizens.

"Turkey: You are beautiful when you are angry": Cover of the weekly humor magazine Penguen.

«Tur­key: You are beaut­i­ful when you are ang­ry»: Cover of the weekly humor magazi­ne Penguen.

The Gezi Park protests in Taksim spreading nationwide

Gezi Park, known as the last green spot of Istan­bul, was occu­pied by hund­reds of peop­le oppos­ing the urban redevel­op­ment plan inclu­ding the demo­lish­ing of the park and con­struc­tion of a shop­ping mall inste­ad. Occupy-style pro­tests began on 27 May. Pro­testors were play­ing gui­tars, read­ing books, and basi­cal­ly «han­ging out» in the park. The reac­tion of the police was exces­si­ve, ear­ly in the mor­ning when peop­le were slee­ping, set­ting their tents on fire, show­e­ring peop­le with pep­per spray and teargas.

Soon after, the park was occu­pied again. This time more crow­ded with the back­ing of some cele­bri­ties, aut­hors, and musi­ci­ans. As the police dis­per­sed the peop­le with heavy-han­ded met­hods, pro­tests just escalated. This time, thou­sands of peop­le with diver­se back­grounds gat­he­red in the famous squa­re of Taksim. Simul­tane­ous gat­he­rings occur­red nation­wi­de, main­ly in the capi­tal Anka­ra, Izmir, Eski­se­hir, and Antalya.

 Supporters of the Nationalist Movement Party and Socialist Party next to each other. These two groups of people have known to be rivals (photo: Yunus Emre sel, DHA)

Sup­por­ters of the Natio­na­list Move­ment Par­ty and Socia­list Par­ty next to each other. These two groups of peop­le have known to be rivals (photo: Yunus Emre Sel, DHA)

Viva Social Media

Many com­plai­ned about the media igno­ring the growing pro­tests. CNN Turk was espec­ial­ly cri­ti­cized as the chann­el was broad­cas­ting a docu­men­ta­ry on pen­guins the night that the stre­ets of many cities were tur­ned into a battle­field betwe­en pro­testors and the police. 

Poli­ti­cal pres­sure on the media has been heavy the last coup­le of years in Tur­key. The coun­try is known to be one of the lar­gest pri­sons for media.

So it was no sur­pri­se that soci­al media beca­me the source of infor­ma­tion and know­led­ge. Peop­le have been twe­eting from the stre­ets, pub­lish­ing pho­tos, exchan­ging volunte­er doc­tor and lawyer con­tacts for the pro­testors, and poking the offi­ci­al Twit­ter accounts of the main­stre­am TV chann­els for their ignorance.

NTV, Turkish news channel buses have been the target of protestors for neglecting to cover the demonstrations. (Photo from Diren Gezi Park (Occupy Gezi Park) Facebook page.)

Buses from Tur­kish news chann­el NTV have been the tar­get of pro­testors for neg­lecting to cover the demon­stra­tions. (Photo from Diren Gezi Park (Occupy Gezi Park) Face­bo­ok page.)

Con­cer­ning the issues, Turkey’s pri­me minis­ter Recep Tayy­ip Erdo­gan bla­med the oppo­sitio­nal par­ty for pro­vo­king the mas­ses, and lashed out at the role of soci­al media in hel­ping orga­nize and co-ordi­na­te ral­lies. «And now we have this menace cal­led Twit­ter,» said Erdo­gan in an inter­view with Haber­turk Sun­day evening. In the after­math of Erdogan’s speech, 25 peop­le were detai­ned in Izmir becau­se of their twe­ets, on the grounds of spre­ad­ing «mis­le­ad­ing and libel­ous infor­ma­tion», Ana­to­lia news agency reported.

A graffiti from Istanbul.

A graf­fi­ti from Istanbul.

Alt­hough the pri­me minis­ter, who is on a poli­ti­cal trip to Morocco, has not taken a step beck, deputy pri­me minis­ter Bulent Arinc apo­lo­gized on Tues­day «for the police aggres­sion against our citizens who were involved in the ini­ti­al pro­tests and acted with environ­men­tal con­cern,» as Ana­do­lu news agency reported. He said security for­ces had been orde­red to only use gas in self-defen­se. Yet, the mas­ses have not cal­med down. It is obvious that the demands are no lon­ger mere­ly about the Gezi Park or the urban redevel­op­ment plan of Istan­bul. Pro­testors keep say­ing it lou­der that it is more about democracy and the free­dom of speech, free­dom of lifestyle.

Here is an inter­view with a pro­te­stor, the well known actor Meh­met Ali Ala­bora on CNN International.

Invasion of the Private Sphere, Bodies, Thoughts, Tweets

Erdogan’s Jus­tice and Devel­op­ment Par­ty (AKP) is popu­lar with con­ser­va­ti­ve Isla­mic poli­ti­ci­ans and voters in Tur­key. It has won three succes­si­ve par­lia­men­ta­ry elections, gai­ning almost 50% of the vote in 2011. Poli­ti­cal sta­bi­li­ty has been accom­pa­nied by eco­no­mic growth. Accor­ding to govern­men­tal sta­ti­s­tics, “Tur­key is expec­ted to be the fas­test growing eco­no­my of the OECD mem­bers during 2012–2017, with an annu­al average growth rate of 5.2 per­cent.” In other words, Tur­key does not have a serious finan­ci­al bag­ga­ge like its Euro­pean neigh­bors. Of cour­se, one should check how this growth affects the eve­ryday life of citizens. Rese­ar­chers draw atten­tion to regio­nal and gen­der dispa­ri­ties con­cer­ning the dis­tri­bu­tion of the wealth.

Protests in Eskisehir, Turkey (photo: showdiscontent.com)

Pro­tests in Eski­se­hir, Tur­key (photo: showdiscontent.com)

Yet, do the con­fi­den­ce of the par­lia­men­ta­ry majority of the ruling AKP and the eco­no­mic growth mean that the govern­ment can play the three mon­keys (not hea­ring, speak­ing, see­ing) when faced with society’s demands? Last year, Erdo­gan pro­vo­ked out­ra­ge when he like­ned abortion to mur­der. Only a mon­th ago, a Tur­kish court con­victed pia­nist and com­po­ser Fazil Say of blasphe­my and inci­ting hatred over a series of com­ments he made on Twit­ter last year. More recent­ly, Turkey’s par­lia­ment passed legis­la­tion cur­bing alco­hol sales and adver­ti­sing.

What we see today on the stre­ets of Tur­key is a group that is heavi­ly con­cerned about their per­so­nal space whe­re they think and act free­ly. They are ang­ry at the way that the aut­hori­ties try to label them as mar­gi­nal or a mem­ber of an orga­nized unit. I guess one of the best insi­der com­ments is from a bisexu­al blog­ger:

We ran and sto­od, aided or got aid, side by side with peop­le who would get dis­gus­ted by my sexu­al pre­fe­ren­ces, who would condemn me for my reli­gious view or cri­ti­cize me for my poli­ti­cal opi­nions, becau­se we have one com­mon qua­li­ty, we are still HUMAN.

Despi­te the sof­t­e­ning reac­tion of govern­ment mem­bers (except the pri­me minis­ter him­self, who seems to be the direct tar­get of the pro­tests), resi­stan­ce is still on. Peop­le are wai­ting for an offi­ci­al gua­rantee of the abo­lish­ment of the redevel­op­ment plan of Gezi Park, legal action on the exces­si­ve and abu­si­ve police inter­ven­tion and furt­her actions to ensure the free­dom of speech.

It is impor­tant to remem­ber that it all star­ted with pro­tec­ting the tre­es. It was a bunch of young peop­le occupy­ing their last green spot in the city of Istan­bul. It is too ear­ly to com­pa­re the hap­pe­nings to the Arab Spring. It is more like an awa­kening and swee­ping away of the fear to rai­se a voi­ce against the unjust. What Tur­key is wit­nessing today is, apart from cer­tain groups that have a cle­ar poli­ti­cal agen­da, a uni­ty of peop­le who are basi­cal­ly offen­ded by not being heard, get­ting bea­ten by the police for­ce, and being psycho­lo­gical­ly suppressed. What is hap­pe­ning in Tur­key indi­ca­tes people’s con­cern about free­dom. It should not be mere­ly cap­tu­red wit­hin the pola­riza­tion of the secu­la­rists and the Isla­mism. As the well-known jour­na­list and lawyer Özgür Mumcu wro­te in his column on Radi­kal on June 3, the­re is no need to seek con­spi­racy the­ories behind the most spon­tane­ous upri­sing of Tur­key. The rea­son is the arro­gant stan­ce of the peop­le in power who do not want to lis­ten to the demands of the citizens. Peop­le are fed up being suppressed each time they want to pub­li­cal­ly cri­ti­cize the govern­ment or dis­play dis­con­tent of cer­tain poli­cies. It’s as simp­le as this. 

Remem­ber­ing the famous line from the poet Nazim Hikmet:

To live! Like a tree alo­ne and free
Like a forest in brotherhood








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