I talked to my parents last night and they said some of my readers have been concerned about me as a result of the recent protests in Turkey. Thank you. I appreciate it.
Picture of the Protests in Turkey taken by one of my students, Fatih Basyurt.
First, I’ll let you know not to worry about me. I live in Erzurum. Small protests began last week in Istanbul because an old and beautiful park at the center of Istanbul is to be converted into a strip mall and mosque, and single-handedly because Erdogan (Prime Minister) thinks it should. Protests are not just about the park but how undemocratically such a decision was made. However, if you talk to the guy who sells vegetables down my street he says, “It is good that there will be another mall.” This city is conservative. About 200-300 students protested the other day, but it’s small and doesn’t seem to be catching as much in the East. I’m safe and sound.
40,000 marching across the Bosporus Bridge in Istanbul
However, the protests are not about the trees or the mall or even the stricter laws about alcohol. They’re about the brutality and violence of the police toward the early small demonstrations. I woke up Saturday to epic stories of 40,000 people marching across the pedestrian-free Istanbul Bridge, and protests spread around the country from there. Istanbul Bilgi University did an un-scientific poll of 3000 protestors in Istanbul. Their reasons for protesting:
- Disproportionate use of police force : 91.3% strongly agree
- Protection of democratic rights: 91.1% strongly agree
- PM’s “authoritarianism”: 92.4% strongly agree
- Preventing the cutting down of trees: 56.2% strongly agree
- Directed to protest by a political party: 7.7% strongly agree
I’m hopeful because the hoped for outcomes according to this poll are ending police violence (96.7%) and the government’s respect of freedom (96.1%).
This is not the Arab Spring, because here you have an elected prime minister with dictatorial leanings, but one that can be voted out in a few years. That’s far from the dictators of Egypt and Tunisia. Also only 8.9% of those surveyed either agree or strongly agree with wanting military intervention (a la 1980 military coup style).
There’s also been evidence of the beginning of a split between the once inseparable Prime Minister Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul. Gul as President has a rather ceremonial role but is highly respected. While Erdogan has been referring to protestors as terrorists and extremists, Gul has been talking about the rights of people to protest their government and how a government ought to be in line with the demands of its people.
No one really knows what happens next, but that is the uncertainty and excitement of life. Change is afoot though. These protests seem more in line with the US in 1968 then they do with the regime changes in the Middle East.
The people call: Police brutality must end. Authoritarianism must be weakened. Democracy must be strengthened.
Good luck Turkey.
In other news, one of my classes threw me a Turkish wedding on my last day of class and I watched open heart surgery yesterday. Life never ceases to amaze…