Archive for June, 2013

June 16, 2013

What is this about?

First time I heard of the Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, I was out at a fasıl celebrating the birthday of two of my friends. Half of the people at my table were glued to their smartphones showing each other images of the police brutality in Istanbul on Twitter. I had heard of the park and that it was going to be demolished to be replaced with a shopping mall and a city museum. I didn’t really care. I wasn’t living in Istanbul and protests happened all the time for various reasons, right?

The next day things started getting out of hand. TV channels were still not mentioning what was actually going on (except for a select few which are largely unknown) but I gathered there were major anti-governmental protests raging in all the major cities in Turkey from hearsay. There was a certain tension in the air. “But why?” I was asking, “this is supposed to be about a park.”

I grew restless at home. I wanted to do something but I didn’t know what and why. I couldn’t wrap my mind around these unprecedented events. I logged onto Facebook after a long time and boom! Everyone on my NewsFeed had shared something relating to the protests. That “something” ranged from opinions giving insight about the going-ons and providing inspiration, videos capturing the police brutality in all its reality and banners in English and Turkish with eye-catching graphics and exemplary wit. No, this was clearly not about a park.

What was it about then? The government had launched a campaign to hold peace talks with the representatives of the Kurdish minority, much to the dismay of certain groups in the country. Whether it was done in the most appropriate manner or not, at least something was being done. As for other issues, things were surely not so bad as to deserve such a widespread uprising… right? Then I began to think (after having a very enlightening conversation with my mom). No, actually there were many issues worth going to the streets for. The censorship on the internet, attempts to ban abortion, restrictions on alcohol consumption, all those journalists, university students and other innocent people detained for speaking their minds…

When have we become so pliant? So accustomed to oppression? I realized that all these issues relate to my every-day life. Each one of the repressive measures and many others undermine my existence in this country in some manner. It’s as if I, with my opinions, life style, ambitions and desires as a woman, am not wanted here. Worse, I am being forced to change, to submit and if I refuse, I will be eradicated.

Hasn’t this happened before? Of course it has. And when it did, it created me. I never deny that my whole existence was at the expense of others. Since the Republic of Turkey was established in 1923, many people suffered so that I am the person that I am today. It’s just that the tide has now turned.

Aren’t there issues that demand more urgent attention? That are more fundamental? Of course. But this movement is not to be treated as the spoiled child of a generation of privilege. Because no one should be compelled to embrace the long-awaited end of armed conflict (which is yet to be seen), steady economic growth and increasing soft power influence along with a way of life driven by tyranny and fear which can only count as a sorry excuse for a democracy.

So is this about turning the tide back? Going back to what Turkey was in, let’s say, 1997 when the pro-islamic government of the time had to resign due to the interference of the army? NO! This is about democracy. True, unbiased democracy for everyone. Nothing else. And certainly not politics.

Still I couldn’t go out. I had to think of my safety. Then there was the job at a public institution that I had been accepted to. I didn’t want to jeopardize that surely in case I was taken into custody. No, no, I shouldn’t go. But I went. I couldn’t help it. And it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

So that was why I went. As for what I went to do in practical terms, I went to clean the streets with plastic gloves and garbage bags. I went to warn the other protesters not to chant curse words or throw stones at the police. I went to make peace with the people of this already pretty much divided society, my people.  I went to have my share of fear, brutality and teargas along with them. I went to demand democracy in peace.

I felt the joy, solidarity and a common sense of purpose that I never thought would be possible in Turkey anymore. And I had the time of my life.