About Me

My photo
Boston, MA, United States

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cheers of Protest (Printed by Cumhuriyet, Eng Ed. 2/2011)

I have lived in the United States since 1985 and visit family in Turkey every chance I get.   Political and social changes can be even more obvious when observed once every few months, capturing disparate snapshots, instead of continuously being in that environment.  This is why my visits to Istanbul over the years have created a unique panorama of views on trends.  My January 2011 illuminated significant social changes: 

My favorite pastime in Istanbul is walking up and down the pedestrian street Istiklal, in the district of Beyoglu.   In the early 2000s. dense packs of 20-25 year olds would rush down like buffalo herd to various bars and coffee shops along the street, illustrating the result of immigration from the underdeveloped southeast regions coupled with high birth rates.  Istanbul’s population is said to have tripled between 80’s and the 2000’s.

The Istiklal Streetyouth would have been born in a period which was also a stage to the 1981 coup d’etat.  The intervention aimed to depoliticize Turkey limiting democratic processes in order to facilitate central control, a reaction to combat the instability, believed to have resulted from the failure of the previous democratically elected governments.     

Following the coup, our school bags were searched every morning by armed soldiers in front of my all-girls middle school.   Political discussion was not tolerated in the schools or outside.   My generation had its democratic wings clipped early on in life!

During my strolls along Istiklal Street 20 years later, I assumed that the 20 year olds, raised in this depoliticized environment would not embrace their rights to speak up and take the political reigns.   My theory seemed to sync with the boisterous advent of the Islamic oriented AKP party.  AKP, in its untypically long rule in government, sought to limit the rights of critical government institutions such as the military and the high courts, staffing them with pro-Islamic partisans.  Yet, they had secured almost half of the national votes.

Along Beyoglu, extremes were still present…. The occasional communists selling their publications, Green Party representatives, factory workers on strike…  These tiny groups were precious tokens, a symbol of non conformism we had to nurture.  Every time I went for a stroll along
Istiklal Street
, I would return with their magazines under my arm, my name signed under every petition.

AKP party must have shared my conviction about the overall depoliticization and lack of public reaction.  After winning 58% of the votes in a constitutional referendum to boost its own reigns of power, AKP brazenly believed in its license to take their Islamist agenda to the next level.   It had already been wire tapping its opposition and sending anyone who speaks against them to jail based on ungrounded allegations, AKP proceeded to ban alcohol from sports events, limiting its sales to licensed shops, whilst claiming no ideological motive although Turkey has the lowest alcohol consumption per capita of any European nation. 

What AKP didn’t realize is that the tipping point of the public tolerance against Islamic extremism had finally been reached.   In January 2011, at the Galatasaray Stadium opening ceremony,  Prime Minister Erdogan was booed by thousands of sports fans.   He threw a temper tantrum, leaving the match and proceeding to claim that his government paid for the stadium and that Galatasaray fans were ungrateful.  I can imagine his political strategists’ dismay at his reaction.  

In December, at a conference at Ankara University, eggs were thrown in protest at an AKP party deputy.  The Prime Minister lashed out against the students, blaming the university administration for their lack of control.

January 19, 2011 witnessed the fourth anniversary of the murder of the Turkish-Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink.  Although the criminal was detained, justice has still not been served-   even official inspectors believe that the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) may be involved and yet, identified parties have not been questioned in the investigation.   On January 19, tens of thousands walked along
Istiklal Street
, placards in hand, chanting in Turkish and Kurdish “Justice for Dink” , “We are all Armenians”, “Government is the Murderer”.   Upon hearing my participation in this march, my mother was dismayed “I warned you not to go to Beyoglu!” she scolded me.  Yet, walking along the thousands in this protest was the safest I ever felt in Beyoglu.  Given the choice, I would want to be a part of a nation full of people I walked with that day, screaming for justice and ready to do something about it. 

On January 29, thousands have planned a “raise your glasses against AKP’s restrictive policies” protest against restrictions on drinking.  The event will be held in various cities in Turkey and abroad.   The event has been announced in social media which will increasingly become the synergistic adhesive amongst the internet generation for spreading opinions.   

I had been wrong about the 80’s youth -  Political protest is in their DNA.   On January 29, I will be raising my glass from Boston not just to protest the AKP, but also to celebrate the resurfacing of political reaction in Turkey.    AKP’s demise will come from the organized participation of the young generation in the political processes and nothing can hold them back.

No comments:

Post a Comment