Friday, June 21, 2013

What's Happening in Turkey?

So, it turns out that I haven't written a blog post, on Gezi Park or anything else, in just over two weeks. I'm not quite sure how that happened -- I suppose I could say that we've just returned from a five-day trip to Ankara and we're moving out of our apartment in nine days, but that would be an excuse. If I'm being honest with myself, the real reason is that I just feel so disappointed with everything that's been happening in Turkey. I could spend hours analyzing  the prime minister's divisive rhetoric or the government's lies (and don't be fooled, they are lying), but I got to a point where I felt like, Why bother? And then it just seemed silly to blog about other, mundane things. If nothing else, the protests in Turkey have been all-consuming; I swear, it's all anybody can talk or think about.

At the same time, there's been a disturbing lack of information about what's been happening in Turkey's cities. While the domestic TV news channels are now reporting on the various protests and everything related to them, the footage usually covers what happened about 18 to 24 hours before. It's been really hard to get a handle on what's happening at the moment, and even Twitter and Facebook doesn't always provide the answers. It turns out that there's something very disorienting about living in a city and not actually knowing what's going on there.

To be honest, I'm not sure where the Gezi Park protests are headed next. The issue of the park's development, which is what sparked this whole thing, has been more or less resolved -- a court has suspended the building project and should the government win on appeal, they have pledged to hold a referendum to determine Gezi Park's future. And while not everyone believes that the government intends to fairly follow this outlined process, there's nothing more to be done about the park right now. So technically, the protests should be over, but the protests are no longer just about Gezi Park.

I actually thought the whole thing was over after the police surprised the protesters with an attack in Taksim Square on Saturday. People were angry, certainly, but this time, the police took a much stronger stand in keeping protesters out of the park and square, and that action -- combined with later throwing tear gas into nearby hotels -- seemed like the final blow. But I was wrong -- the protesters have not given up. The "standing man" protest -- where one just stands silently in a quiet act of civil disobedience -- has caught on, and groups of people have begun meeting in parks around the city to discuss their next steps.

I sincerely hope that the protesters do not give up. I have stopped deliberately going out to protest areas as I fully believe that this is a Turkish issue that has to be solved by the Turkish people, and my presence as a foreigner is irrelevant. (It may even be harmful, considering that the government has partially blamed the demonstrations on foreign agents.) But if the Turks stop protesting, I believe that the situation here will be worse than before, and that instead of expanding civil engagement, the Gezi Park protests will have resulted in Turkey becoming a more repressive country. And that thought just makes me really, really sad. People have died for this.

Yes, Gezi Park has seemingly been saved. But what is being lost? Even more journalists have been arrested, the few TV channels that showed the initial protests have been fined for "harming the physical, moral and mental development of children and young people," the Health Ministry wants to investigate the doctors who helped the wounded, lawyers have been detained, and there are reports that the government is drafting some kind of bill on the use of social media (although the govt is saying now that the bill will only affect "crimes over the Internet," whatever that actually means). Various AKP ministers have also said that the government plans to strengthen the power of the police force and will bring out the military if necessary. With this kind of rhetoric, is it that much of a surprise that a group peacefully meeting in one of Istanbul's parks was violently attacked (by civilians of a different political viewpoint) last night? Instead of offering conciliatory messages, the government has instead decided to display its strength, and I think it's fair to say that they have no intention of backing down on their general policies. Half the country apparently agrees with them, and half don't. So the question becomes, what will the other 50 percent do? As we near the end of week four of the Gezi Park protests, I still think the answer is that only time will tell.

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