#DİREN TÜRKİYE! 12 hours of devastation…and resilience

Child suffering from gas exposure being brought into makeshift infirmary in the Divan Hotel, June 15, 2013 (Photo by Yannis Behrakis of Reuters)

For the past twelve hours, we (me, occasionally M. who can barely stand it, and the entire Karagoz puppet troupe that inhabits my head during this cross-cultural marriage) have been glued to the Internet in order to understand what we can of the exceptionally brutal crackdown on the Gezi Parkı protesters in Istanbul – and of course on the many protesters around Turkey whose stories are not being covered.

We have seen the EU Turkish Minister explain that all who go to Taksim Square/Gezi Parkı will be treated as “terrorists.” Hacivad Bey the Sufi elder puppet lets out a distinctive sigh of shock at this statement.

We have seen photos and live feed of children, elders and families engaging in peaceful protest in Gezi Parkı. Soon after, we heard reports of police warnings amplified over the crowd, suggesting that children and elders leave the park, as it was about to be cleared. The protesters resisted by chanting slogans back at the police. Esma the hippie puppet chants along with them whenever we can get a live feed.

We have seen a sudden police action circa 8 p.m. involving water canons laced with chemicals from the TOMA (Panzers) and yet again scads of tear gas. We have seen photos and videos of people writhing in pain, people vomiting, people with great red welts, horrified children who cannot breathe and their terrified parents. We have seen great clouds of tear and/or pepper and/or vomit gas hovering over most of the city – even miles from Taksim Square. Even Karagoz, the oppositional trickster cannot speak about this.

We have seen protestors taking cover in the Divan Hotel, a fancy hotel where in the past, I often stopped to buy fistikli lokum – they make the best in the city – for my father, who loved it. We usually had a glass of Çay on the terrace before we left. We have seen that hotel turn itself into a shelter for protestors – and into a voluntary infirmary. We have seen police fire tear or pepper gas into that hotel – and to storm that hotel. Now, at 5 a.m. Istanbul time, we see those peaceful protestors sleeping on the carpet in the lobby of that hotel – afraid to leave as the police have threatened to arrest all who do so. Zenne, the nervous nelly like a glass of quivering quince jelly puppet, wrings her hands in anxiety at this.

We have seen the TOMA (Panzers) shoot the same chemical-laced water on people attempting to enter Istanbul’s Aleman Hastanesi (German Hospital), thwarting their attempts to obtain help. Celebi, the modern lover puppet, can only cover his eyes.

We have seen M.’s home street, Sıraselviler Caddesi bombarded with tear gas, bashed up by anarchist protestors – the lunatic fringe perhaps – still trying to fight the police. (Archers of Okcular, I welcome debate/opinion on that one). The chorus of little dancing ladies begin banging their pots and pans again at this.

June 15, 2013 arrests in Istanbul (Image from Europeans Against the Political System’s Facebook Page)

We have seen increased protest, arrests and fighting and resistance to police brutality in M.’s 80 year-old Aunt’s neighborhood, Şişli and so many other areas. So far, she is fine, she has lived through a lot, but we are still worried about her. Kenne, the Queen of Manners, demands that we call her at 5 a.m. her time to make sure she is safe, but M. nixes this idea and hopes that she is sleeping.

We have telephoned, Facebooked, Tweeted and Skyped friends who express the same range of emotions – devastation, anger, sadness, frustration, confusion, anxiety – and in the end, resilience.

In the last conversation of the night, I asked my very dear friend about her day. Mostly, she said, it was punctuated by fear about not knowing the location of one of her three sons for too many hours. When I asked her whether people buying her (truly delicious) Börek at one of her Börek Online franchises (still open and ready for business) she said “yes, business was good.” Continuing, I asked whether her customers spoke of what was going on – she stopped and thought. I watched her face for a while on our fuzzy Skype connection as silent but long deep tears appeared to slide down her face. She was tired, but more sad than tired. Finally, she said “no, we didn’t, we have to keep it like normal. We have to pretend like normal, or we go crazy.”

At this, the whole troupe of Karagoz puppets weep.

And while it is not normal to experience any of the horrors described above (Börek excluded), our only wish tonight is for the people of Turkey to find their inner resilience and to keep on going as they seek to find some balance and some peace between all parties.

Turks crossing one of the two bridges that span the Bosphorus Strait – from Asia to Europe (Image from Europeans Against the Political System’s Facebook Page)

And just when I thought that I could not look at Twitter one more time tonight or my heart would break, I did, and I began to see reports and photographs from trusted friends of thousands of people crossing from the Asian side of Istanbul, across one of the city’s two continent-spanning bridges, to support the protestors in Taksim.

And with that, the puppets begin a never-ending whisper of a chat as we try to sleep – #DirenTurkiye!

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14 Responses to #DİREN TÜRKİYE! 12 hours of devastation…and resilience

  1. Alan says:

    . . that this is a watershed moment in the history of this nation is a given – there is now a one-man-made rift (RTE’s grip on the AKP is absolute in my opinion) that divides country. Where will it go? Downhill! For example RTE is withdrawing all support from the State ballet, opera and orchestras because he and the bulk of his supporters do not appreciate any of it. These are flagships of Turkey’s cultural status in the world – the envy of many around the world.
    Protesters trying to cross the Bosphorus Bridge to get to Taksim have been tear-gassed and blasted with water cannon. At one point all public transport was suspended.
    As RTE and his crew dumb and culture-down this country there will be a massive exodus of talent. There is also the issue of Turkey’s economic miracle – a credit/debt bubble if ever there was one – examine the figures for yourself. GDP is often used as evidence of growth is a totally false indicator ie I pass a coin/service/object to you that equals a unit of GDP – you pass the same thing back and now we have two units of GDP. Turkey is neck deep in debt – when the bubble bursts – and it will – then what.
    If FUKUS/NATO/Turkey does attack Syria before the end of Summer then all hell will break loose in this area – Russia and Iran will NOT stand by – expect that Syria will unleash all it has against Turkey/Israel/Jordan if the government finds that its hard-won victory over the West’s murderous jihadi terrorists is being negated by these immoral Western governments.
    The West is desperate to keep RTE in power because he is their obedient satrapi in their criminal war against Syria and Iran. That means he believes he can do whatever he wants to sustain himself on the throne of the Neo-Sublime Porte.

  2. Jack Scott says:

    The people of Turkey have two choices and I fear the majority will take the wrong path. Erdogan and his cronies simply don’t understand that democracy is not just about winning elections. And when that starts going against them (and it will when the economy starts faltering), watch them stuff the ballot boxes to keep their grip on power. Sadly, I don’t think this will end well.

  3. thirdeyemom says:

    Excellent post. Often it is so hard to get news of what is truly going on around the world. I honestly have only read a little Bout the protests and am not sure I understand what it is all about. But have seen much social media on it and Instagram pictures. Time for me to read up. Hope things calm down over there.

  4. lizcameron says:

    Thank you so much for your comment – it means a lot and I’m glad that you got it. This was an intense post written with intense feelings. If I had to sum up what’s going on in Turkey it would be this:

    First, turkey was founded as a secular state in 1923 and has been ever since. At that time the military was charged by the country’s leader to at all costs maintain the secular state.

    Second, although people did practice Islam and 90% or so of people had ethnic Muslim backgrounds, perhaps in the last 50 years there was not so much of people really deeply practicing their religion. 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. Just based on things I’ve heard and read.

    Third, there was a great migration to the cities from the eastern part of Turkey as Turkey began to be more economically viable – I would say that probably started 25 years ago? I’m not an expert in this topic I’m basing this on reading I have done and speaking with other academics and family members and friends. To give you a sense of the scale of the migration, or when my husband left Turkey & Emigrated to the United States about 20 years ago, the city was maybe 5 million people. Now that city, Istanbul is roughly 17,000,000 people. For example, Whenever we are there, driving down to the south on the European side there are ever expanding sprawling new neighborhoods– neighborhoods that my husband has not seen before. Names he didn’t he has not seen before. All in places that were just trees and nature.

    Fourth, These areas formed quickly. There is a term in Turkish “gecekondu” Which means a hastily built house done in one night. People would come from the east and build these types of houses. 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.

    Fifth, it is my understanding that the increased presence of people practicing Islam was correlated with the migration of people from the east.

    Sixth, during these past 25 or 30 years as more and more 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 became clearer and clearer. 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 is a secular state and respecting peoples right to have whatever religion they want. Unfortunately the founder of the nation did things like ban women from wearing headscarves in government places and universities and ban men from wearing the fez for example. He also made sure that women had the vote and that women could go to school. He was not perfect and did many things that were not good But the central tenets were and are very important to many Turks.

    Seventh, when the current ruling party came into power about 11 years ago – they were referred to as moderate Islamists. The name of their party in an acronym is AKP And I believe that stands for the justice and development party. Slowly, this party and their leaders have tried to chip away at the traditional secular laws and regulations put in place by the nation’s founder. They have also slowly added laws and regulations that are more in line with sharia or Islamic religious law – but not overarching at all. Turkey is not a place where people have to wear headscarves – or many of the women who wear headscarves in the countryside do so for traditional reasons the same way my grandmother in Spain did Or my mother in the 1950s and 60s did. 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 that have been positive are things like provide more water sources for the dry land in the east so people can farm and make a living, provide more education – albeit often private religious schools – provide 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.

    Seventh, In the past year or so all of a sudden a series of more authoritarian actions begin to take place. For example, there were the recent restrictions on the sale of alcohol, 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 having a beer for dinner in a restaurant) & a ban on Turkish Airlines stewardesses wearing lipstick and the introduction of a very Burqa-like, hijab-oriented uniform. Are these may sound like small things but I think they have built up.

    Eighth, increasingly, there has been a more authoritarian feeling With respect to how the prime minister has conducted business in a shady way, force things on people, become corrupt and bench rules for things he wanted and people were frustrated with that. My brother-in-law, an economist, has spoken at conferences about the reduction of corruption in government’s allover Europe – and has addressed some of what is going on in Turkey in this regard. 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 that no one knows how it will end.

    Oh my goodness, I’ve just written a lot – I’m actually a professor of social policy so I can’t help myself – that’s my excuse! I hope this helps you to understand – maybe I’ll post the whole thing for others. Please ask other questions please let me know if I can help you understand and thank you so much for your kind thoughts and hopes that things will indeed come down over there.

    Best, Liz

  5. Dear Liz,
    Thank you for keeping us informed. It is very distressing and sad.

  6. Thanks for sifting and interpreting all of this for us. And for sharing private communications, the insiders’ stories. And for your courage in keeping up with a painful story. Though there may not be a good outcome to this protest now, these have been days of courage and truth, and the world has noted this, so these days will not be forgotten Indirectly, Obama has sent Erdogan a message by upping the ante in Syria. I encourage their hope in the waiting that lies ahead, and their conversation about how to be Turkish now –

  7. lizcameron says:

    Thank you so much for your comment. It is a big effort to sift through it all – the lack of context in the limited US reporting, the Turkish papers and websites that I can barely read, the English-language Turkish papers (3) that each are backed by different factions in the Turkish political environment….and of course our friends on Twitter, Facebook and Skype.

    I agree that there may not be a good outcome to this protest now – I just wish people were really and truly seeing the scope of the protests (77 out of 81 provinces – not just Istanbul) and the brutal, inhumane response of the police in all of those places.

    Regarding your comment on Obama sending a message by upping the ante in Syria – I probably disagree as there is strong evidence that the US and Turkish military are working together to arm the rebels. Turkey and Syria have a long history of acrimony – most recently related to the province of Hatay, in which the city of Antakya is (you may remember that from when I showed you the photos of the monastery of St. Simon above the city). In any case – there is much more to be learned on that front than meets the eye. Publically, Obama has had low level representatives from the State department issue two, if I am up to date, statements of concern about the freedom to congregate in peaceful protest and about the police brutality used against 99% peaceful protesters.

    As for your last point – this is really the heart of the whole matter, I think. Namely, the question of just how to move forward and be Turkish now, in such a very divided country. Although, I do wonder if the country is really as divided as it seems. On many levels I would say yes to this – but when you look at reports of voter irregularities, vote buying, local-level politicians forcing people to vote AKP, perhaps there is not such a difference. Who knows. I just hope the media eke it out into the press.

    I feel sad as I sit here next to M. who is reading to me about how the great crowds at Erdogan’s rally today were shipped in from far away rural areas along the Marmara Sea and Black sea. It appears that there were fewer local supporters in the Istanbul area (and many of those have lost faith in him given his apparent stamp of approval on the police brutality). We also know this to be true about yesterday’s rally in Ankara, where many were bussed from afar.

    It is a sad time in our household. We feel powerless as we watch our friends suffer. All we can do is be active on social media – and protest. I finally got so mad at what happened last night that I got up to go and protest today and now I am totally wiped, but glad I did it!

    Thank you, as always, for engaging in dialogue with me about the goings on in this blog and for being such a valued and amazing support.

  8. lizcameron says:

    I agree, Naomi, it is distressing and sad. I believe we must take these feelings and channel them for good as best we can! AN idealist tonight, I suppose! Best, Liz

  9. lizcameron says:

    A good, solid and succinct sentiment that sadly, I think may indeed be the case.

  10. lizcameron says:

    I agree that RTE appears to have the death vice grip on the AKP – what in the hell does he have on them all? they follow like (paid?) lemmings. I personally think he wishes to be a modern-day Ataturk.

    As for the west being desperate to keep him in power – wouldn’t Kilicdaroglu or other potential replacements (if we were even so lucky at the polls) just do the same thing.

    ???? more of these than answers. Hard to sit with, easier to sit with when amongst friends.

  11. Pingback: #DirenTurkiye: The Karagoz Puppets provide a socio-historical cheat-sheet for what led to #OccupyGezi | Slowly-by-Slowly

  12. thirdeyemom says:

    Wow Liz! Thanks for the incredible explanation of events in Turkey! I really appreciate it! It is complicated isn’t it. No one wants an authoritative government. I hope things calm down over there. I will stay tuned…

  13. lizcameron says:

    Dear third eye mom – I am so glad this was of some use! I appreciate your comment! Best, Liz

  14. thirdeyemom says:

    Thanks Liz! I’m trying to frantically play catch up on everything since my MAC was in the shop.

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