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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