The trees in Gezi Parki were really the tip of the iceberg – or the straw that broke the camel’s back about things a large segment of Turks were frustrated about. This post gives you the quickest ever read on all the context you need to grapple better with what’s happening in Turkey today. Image source unknown.
Last night, I was moved to write a blog post after 12 hours of watching horror after horror unleash on the 99% of peaceful protestors in Istanbul. What was worse was knowing we were not seeing it in the other 77 provinces that have risen up and spoken. But the worst part of the night was seeing and hearing my Istanbullu friends so scared, sad and confused was terrible.
Since posting last night, I’ve had an email stream from a number of friends, family, colleagues and e-buddies. Many are just tuning in to what is going on. Many do not understand the larger context of what is going on. Given that the Karagoz puppet troupe inside my brain can read my thoughts, they woke me up from my pain-medicine induced nap with the clattering and banging of pots and pans – much like what the Istanbullus have been doing from the 9 pm to 10 pm hour for the past 2+ weeks.
“We demand, M’lady,” (that’s what they call me, they are old fashioned, trained in Ottoman court etiquette) “that you provide a quick context for people who don’t know Turkey. I mean, they could read (among others) the very easy to digest modern history of Turkey called Crescent and Star: Between Two Worlds which you can buy here OR you could just sum it up – you DO teach social policy after all, I’m sure you could muster that even through your medicated haze.”
And so here it is – my own version of the context for Turkey’s current events over the past 3 weeks as narrated by the puppets, based on:
1) Personal observation of the country over the past 10 years,
2) 10 years worth of conversations with my Turkish-American husband, his family and friends in Turkey
3) A whole lot of reading in the book and newspaper department.
If I get something wrong- or you disagree – let’s talk about it. I’m 200% open to dialogue.
If I had to sum up what’s going on in Turkey it would be this:
First, Celebi the modern lover poet explains “Turkey was founded as a secular state by modernist Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 – and has been a secular state ever since. At that time, the military was charged by Ataturk to at all costs maintain the secular state. Ataturk modernized the country in many ways, moved from Arabic to Latin script, had a keen focus on women’s rights, voting, educational and otherwise. He wasn’t, however, always in the right – some might say he was, at times, as authoritarian as Erdogan is being today – for example – see today’s article in the New York Times“
Second, Hacivad Bey the learned Sufi elder puppet explains “although people did practice Islam, of course, and 90% or so of people had ethnic Muslim backgrounds, perhaps before the past 50 years these people were not a majority in much of the country – especially in Anatolia (the Asian side of Turkey, and generally, the rural and agrarian part of the country). The one exception here might be the far eastern part of Turkey where there is extreme poverty and my guess is that some effects of the Iranian revolution in the 1970s went over the border to the eastern part of Turkey.”
Third, Mercan Bey, the Arabian Spice trader puppet who has travelled many roads and seen many things explains “due to the great poverty and lack of opportunity in the Eastern part of the country, a great migration to the cities began in the 1960s and 1970s – as well as the previous swarm of emigrations to Germany for the post WWII rebuilding effort. I believe this started after the non-Turkish goods embargo and as Turkey began to be more economically viable as an emerging market with a more solid GDP (but don’t, M’lady, assume that I buy wholeheartedly into macroeconomic measures alone). If pressed, I would say that probably started 25 years ago?”
Ever the interrupter, reinforced by my time making arguments in courtrooms and perhaps not feeling heard enough as a kid for reasons out of all of our control, M’lady (me) jumps in “Now, I’m not an expert in this topic but to give you a sense of the scale of the migration, when my husband left Turkey & emigrated to the United States about 20 years ago, Istanbul was populated by belki (maybe) 5 million people. Now, Istanbul is roughly 17,000,000 people. To give you a concrete example, whenever we are driving down to the south towards Gelibolu in Edirne (on the European side) there are ever-expanding scrums of sprawli – new neighborhoods burgeoning like mushrooms. These are neighborhoods that my husband has not seen before, names he does not know – all in places that were just trees and nature. Once, when returning from the south, the highway was closed, and we became totally lost in the miles and miles and miles of these new areas – using my dead reckoning skills to get by. As a Twitter friend reminded her followers today, it is 165 KM to cross Istanbul from side to side – it’s that big. OK, I’ll shut up.”
Fourth, Bebe Ruhi, the puppet with Dwarfism steps up now. “These new areas M’lady described formed quickly. There is a term in Turkish “gecekondu” (geh-jeh-kon-doo) which refers to a hastily built house constructed in one night. People would come chock-a-block from the East, my family included, and build these types of houses just to get a foothold. A friend of M’lady’s tells a story of her husband’s doorman offering land to him for purchase on the edge of the Asian side of Istanbul. The husband turned it down – and is now poorer by a factor of 10 than his former doorman, for example. In any case, all of this growth was sped along as in order not to have a public health nightmare, the city began to install electricity and plumbing to people for free. Of course, this well intended policy had an unintended consequence….continued, unchecked development, a story we have heard around the world.”
Fifth, Kenne, the Queen of Manners and Maintenance of Ladylike Behaviors puppet steps up now with a haughty tone. “Well, it is my understanding that the increased presence of people in the gecekondu were practicing Islam more deeply than the traditional Istanbullu elite were at that time – and of course this was related to where ‘these people’ were coming from, uneducated swarms from the wilds in the East.” At this point, Esma, the tolerant and dialogue-oriented hippy puppet pulls Kenne out of the way and speaks to her in an unusually sharp tone about her classist intolerance in explaining this part of the story. Blushing, Kenne pulls her to the other room to end the argument like ladies (but she highly doubts Esma is a lady, really, what with all of her hippy ways…but that is a story for another time).
Image of a secular and Islamist pair of friends lunching in the sun (Image from Kobreguide.com)
Sixth, Yehuda Rebbe the Revered Rabbi Puppet walks to the forefront, ignoring the fuss in the other room. “During these past 25 or 30 years as more and more Islamic religious people came to live in the cities in the western part of the country – the breadbasket you might say – the secular and religious divide within Turkey became increasingly evident. You can see this divide in our very own Siamese Twin puppets who love/hate Turkey – meaning Sobra and Daf The secular people, a good chunk of whom referred to themselves as “Kemalists” a term that refers to the country’s founder back in 1923, are devoted to maintaining Turkey as a secular state and respecting peoples’ right to have whatever religion they want – as long as they stay out of the way of secularness. Now as any true policy implementation scholar would tell you, this is easier said than done. Unfortunately, my revered Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the nation did things in those early years that have become very divisive in recent years – such as ban women from wearing headscarves in government buildings and universities. He also banned the wearing of the Fez amongst men. and He also made sure that women had the vote and that women could go to school. He was not perfect by any means but the central tenets with which he founded the republic – often with an iron fist akin to Tayyip’s now – were and are very important to many a Turk.”
Seventh, Safiye Rakkase the vainglorious dancing girl puppet steps up, in an uncharacteristically non-fashion oriented mood and surprises us all. “When the Ak Partesi (the AKP or in English the Justice and Development Party, JDP) came into power about 11 years ago – they were referred to as moderate Islamists by many the world over. They tolerated women like me who choose to dance for a living and don’t mind baring their midriff once in a while. Slowly, many in my secularist camp feel strongly that the AKP cronies have tried to chip away at the traditional secular laws and regulations put in place by our beloved Ataturk. They have also slowly added laws and regulations that are seen as slightly more in line with sharia or Islamic religious law – but not overarching at all – nothing like Iran, for example, but still, bad enough over time given the snowlball effect. Now remember, Turkey is NOT a place where people have to wear headscarves – I never ever have – my hair is too lovely – and remember that many of the women who wear headscarves in the countryside do so for traditional reasons the same way M’Lady’s grandmother in Spain or her mother in New York City in the 1950s and 60s did.”
As Safiye Rakkase steps down from her virtual podium, most of the puppets are standing mouths agape, as she returns to look at her fashion magazines and sing along to “HollaBackGirl” by Gwen Stefani. “That was unexpected,” cry the little chorus of dancing ladies more used to the Harem than the dance hall.
Of course, I, M’lady, must force myself in on the contextual lesson once again “I will say that some of the things that I have personally seen the Prime Minister and the President do in the past 10 years have indeed been positive – provide more water sources for the arid land in the southeast so people can farm and make a living, say, near Sanliurfa, where we saw field upon field of pomegranites and nut trees for as far as the eye could see. I have understood that the AKP has worked to provide more education for children and to implement a nascent child welfare, juvenile justice and disability services system – albeit drops in the bucket designed to please EU regulators (who will never accept Turkey anyway). Tayyip is well-reknowned to have provided a better infrastructure in terms of roads and transportation. These are all very good and very needed things. Of course what the prime minister gets the credit for most is Turkey’s booming economy & GDP measures although it is quite unstable, rising up and crashing down many times in the last 10 years I’ve been watching. And the macroeconomic indicators do not necessarily indicate how well people are doing down at the bottom – there is an argument that there is an increased middle class I believe to be true to some extent but what middle-class means there may be very different from what middle-class means In Europe or the United States.” At this points, the puppets gently push me back to bed rest.
Seventh, we have a rare appearance from Perihan Hanim, the fairy Godmother puppet. “Hello dears, I will add that in the past year or so, all of a sudden, a series of smaller, more authoritarian actions began to take place at the tingling of Tayyip’s fingertips. For example, there were the recent restrictions on the sale of alcohol from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., increasing incidents of disrespect/arrest/attack of people who do not follow Islamic religious holidays even if they are not following them in a quiet manner (such as being beaten by police for having a beer for dinner in a restaurant during Ramadan) or say a ban on Turkish Airlines stewardesses wearing lipstick along with the introduction of a very Burqa-like, hijab-oriented (modest dress) uniform. All these may sound like small things – but I think they have built up and people on the secular side of the great divide deeper and wider than the Bosphorus could ever be. And, whether right or wrong, I note that there has been a more authoritarian feeling with respect to how our Prime Minister has conducted business in a shady way, encouraged nepotism, become corrupt and bend rules for things he wanted. Even M’lady’s brother-in-law began attending mosque just to make business connections, although he knows just about zilch about Islam. That corruption is an issue in Turkey has been documented and discussed by M’lady’s economist brother-in-law – but let me not get lost in an area in which you will cease to listen to me. Here is the core of the matter: When people learned that The Prime Minister pushed through (via his political majority) a government approved plan that was going to remove the beautiful Gezi Park – the trees became the straw that broke the camels back. And now here we are, in a chaotic situation and no one knows how it will end.”
As of this writing – we hear many voices. Capulcular exhausted from weeks of well-intended capuling, old-hard line Kemalists saying “this is enough, the youth are being hurt, it is time to stop protesting” and other secular friends saying “we doubt the youth will stop.” Regardless of what the future holds for Turkey – we hope that this Karagoz-puppet-inspired contextual analysis has helped you some, and indeed not set you off to sleep in boredom.
When one falls, a thousand stand up. (Image source unknown)
In the distance, in a far part of the house, however, we hear another puppet voice – that of Hacıyatmaz who just keeps on rolling – he is chanting “#DirenTurkiye” again and again. And so are we.