It would be a lie to say that I could summarize or explain “the protesting youth of Turkey today.” Who could? The New York Times takes a stab at it here. The key sentence in their piece, as I see it from the vantage point of the youth I know is “They don’t want to seize the state so much as teach it to behave.”
But let me talk about our own experience over the last week, during which we have been very worried about our young family members and young friends in Istanbul. We often wonder whether they are being beaten or tear gassed or water hosed just for peacefully demonstrating about their concerns. Then, this afternoon, as I was taking a nap, I felt a tap tap tap on my cheek. Squinting one I open, I saw Kenne – otherwise known as the Queen puppet responsible for the maintenance manners and the protection and promotion of ladylike behavior et alia. As usual, she had a sour look on her face, and was displeased with something.
“Youth today,” she spat, “really! They are çapulcular indeed!” In case you don’t know what çapulcular are – check out this link.
Wagging the paper at me, I saw she was holding up an image printed from the computer. It showed three young men in the midst of a smoky gas cloud with one throwing something into the air. I immediately knew it was Istanbul, and that probably the young men were throwing a teargas canister back at the police who had likely shot the teargas at these young men. This is now a familiar image to me over the past 12+ days. The particular picture in question, the caption read, was from Beşiktaş, near Dolmabahçe mosque – the mosque that Prime Minister Erdoğan had accused people of drinking and fornicating in – when in fact the Imam of that mosque said “No – not true – it was used as a triage hospital when the police attacked the people who were peacefully protesting.”
Shots of this type of action have been all over the Turkish news – And I have seen those images as classic adolescent and young adult bravado. You know, the way you feel invincible, that nothing could touch or hurt you? But I know that bravado is also driven By frustration at incremental change towards policies and regulations in daily Turkish life that slipped significantly from the secular upbringing these young people have experienced. However, I have been convinced that the Molotov cocktail throwers have been the minority – certainly not the young people I know. Also, from cruising the Turkish media, I am sure that some of these protesting youth include Islamist youth who are demonstrating as they are displeased with the iron fist represented in the police response ordered by Prime Minister Erdoğan’s interior minister (who is in charge of the police).
Finally, after a week of being angry about the lack of media attention to these major events in Turkey, we at least began to see images of what I thought were these “outlier” young men on CNN last night -mostly men from what I can see – throwing Molotov cocktails and returning shot gas canisters by hand towards police. I engaged in a one sided screaming match with the television, begging the reporters to report on the much larger community of youth who were NOT what my Turkish friend perfectly refers to as the “crackheads” crazy enough to still be inside the park and engage in such behavior. Crazy indeed, I thought! Who would be stupid enough to do that – put your life in danger? But as soon as I said it, I remind myself again that teenagers and young adults feel invincible untouchable and that explains a lot what I was seeing. Falan filan.
I watched and watched – although my husband could not stand to be in the room looking at the TV pictures of the Square so near his home (as I wrote about yesterday). Although I must say the coverage was more focused on the fact that the reporter had to wear a gas mask then on the substance of the situation in Turkey – but eventually some really good commentary came on CNN).
But let me take you back to this afternoon. Kenne Left me with the photo of these young çapulcular çapuling With their gas masks, rubber gloves and bravado. When I woke up again, I had the surprise I did not expect.
The surprise came in the form of an email from one of the young Turkish men I know very well who has lived with us. He sent me a link to an Internet site – a news site with 43 pictures of young people protesting in the streets of Istanbul. Let’s not even get onto the topic of how the media seems to indicate that all of the protest is only going on in Istanbul and not in all the other cities. As I began to scroll through the slides – my young friend sent me another message – “I’m in picture number 30” he said, “I’m in the middle with a gas mask on!”
My heart stopped as I clicked as fast as I could to number 30. And there it was, the photo that Kenne had printed out for me (see photo at top of post). It was one of the beloved young ones that I know. My mind raced as I tried to make sense of this. This young man studies a serious topic in University, is a kind person, always helped my ailing father during family visits, how could he be in a gas mask in the middle of the major fighting in Beşiktaş? I had to revise my view on what I was seeing on CNN – on what I was thinking I knew FOR SURE about the young generation – at least those that I have known. These were young, secular men I knew, engaging in this behavior – as a result of having tear gas shot at them while peacefully protesting. It’s a lot to sit with – the notion that this sweet young man was fighting fire with fire. As our e-conversation progressed, this young man told me he wanted his grandkids to remember him as a çapulcu who fought for what was right in the hope that the government would listen and things would be better. It’s a lot for me to sit with. It’s a lot for all of us to sit with. I just hope that Tayyip sits with it a bit more.
- The Battle for Taksim Square (world.time.com)
- Beyond the #OccupyGezi hashtag in one Turkish-American household (elizcameron.com)
- An Uneasy Calm in Istanbul as Protests Continue at Taksim Square (world.time.com)
- Turkey: Regime Ignores International Community’s Outrage (99getsmart.com)
- Turkey, 11.06.2013….#OccupyGezi the Largest Uprising ever in Turkish (including Ottoman) History (snuproject.wordpress.com)
- Turkey – Journalists scapegoated in “Occupy Gezi” crisis (en.rsf.org)
- #OccupyGezi: Resistance Goes Mainstream in Istanbul (animalnewyork.com)
- Turkish protesters embrace Erdoğan insult and start ‘capuling’ craze (guardian.co.uk)
- Terrible Tuesday in Taksim Square (counterpunch.org)
- Everywhere is resistance: social media and the Turkey protests (thirdspacesblog.wordpress.com)