Slowly, American folks around us have started to tune in to what is happening in Turkey. Some have caught on to this on Twitter via the hashtag #OccupyGezi, referring to the Occupy Movement in Istanbul’s Gezi Park, which was at risk of being razed for the development of the Prime Minister’s son’s shopping mall. Slowly, M. and I have learned to navigate the challenge of watching one’s homeland erupt into the unknown from thousands of miles away. It includes M.’s usually excellent English breaking down – I suppose due to preoccupation with what is going on at home – or as he says – one of his homes. It includes M. taking naps to alleviate stress, something I have never seen him do. It includes partnering on the production of protest slogans and signs for the protests that have occurred in and around Boston by the small population of Turks living here.
But back to the fact that people have come around to this news about Turkey slowly – this has been particularly painful for us – and for M. One colleague asked him “why the Islamists were rioting in Turkey” – not realizing that the movement appears to be largely driven by secular forces. I say slowly, as media coverage (especially television coverage) seemed slow to pick up the 10+ day old story. I was relieved to see CNN tonight, finally reporting much of what we heard last week on top of their live broadcasts of clashes between a minority of violent protestors and police all night in Taksim Square. In any case, if you want to get up to speed, by far the most thoughtful piece on the topic is written by a heroine of mine, Şafak Pavey, who addresses what the situation in Turkey means for the West in The Guardian here. If you read anything, read that, please!
So, how has this impacted us as a couple? As reports began of protests and police brutality in Istanbul’s Taksim Square a week ago last Friday, M. and I hopped on our laptops and stayed there for hours – online Turkish news fora, Turkish newspapers, email with friends – and of course Twitter and Facebook. We, along with our friends and family quickly realized that a true people’s movement was afoot – some might say almost a revolution and some might say a precursor to Civil War. I suppose others might say it is a flash in the pan. It remains to be seen how these events (which have rolled across Turkey way beyond Istanbul) will proceed.
My husband, usually a loud, gregarious and friendly person appeared to me to be sinking farther and farther inside himself, and the couch, eyes glued to laptop – with the occasional seemingly heated conversation with a Turkish friend or family member (I say seemingly as all conversations with Turkish friends or family members in the 10 years we have been together sound heated – even if they are about where one can buy the best red pepper or baklava).
Over these past 10+ days, I have seen M.’s eyes take on a somber tone, bereft of the usual rougue-ish glitter that is generally present. He didn’t want to talk, he didn’t want to process, he just wanted me to sit with him. I watched as his fingertips typed all the faster on his laptop – with about 10 tabs of the Internet open for each of the Turkish newspapers across the political spectrum – Milliyet, Today’s Zaman, Radikal, Hurriyet Daily News, etc.
On that first Friday night, we stayed up much of the night watching the Internet – nothing about the protest was covered on US television that we could see. We sleepily watched the beginnings of the throngs of protestors walking across one of Istanbul’s massive bridges from the Asian side of the city to the European side of the city. And as we watched, I realized that it was not just worry about one’s home country that I was watching – it was echoes of what I believe to be M.’s post traumatic stress disorder from his own terrifying interaction with Turkish police during one of the three coup d’états he has lived through.
I knew better than to ask him about it, I knew he would not want to talk about it. And what he experienced was a drop in the bucket compared to friends of his who were detained for long periods, and tortured terribly. As dawn broke through our New England living room window, we continued to watch the now thousands of protesters pouring out from around the city towards Taksim Square, to support the original #OccupyGezi protesters.
“I am so worried for them,” he said “I think the police will beat them when they get to the other side.”
“But canım (dear), There are so many people! It looks like thousands and thousands of people crossing that bridge, don’t you think that offers some safety?”
At this point, Hacivad Bey, the learned Sufi elder puppet who resides in my head (read more about that here if you think I’m tripping on acid), well he just stroked his beard, he’s seen a lot in his life. “M’lady, he said to me, he could be right. Don’t dissuade him, just be quiet and listen.”
Karagöz, our resident agent provocateur puppet, on the other hand whooped and hollered in agreement with my husband. “Yep,” he said “they’ll all get the serious beat down.”
The little chorus of dancing lady puppets who reside in my purse cowered and trembled and shook. But the air of empowerment seemed to infiltrate the bowels of the purse.
After a time, I began to hear a great clattering and clanging coming from my purse – those little ladies were making a fantastic rhythm with their spoons and pots and pans and çay bardağı Much as many of the residence in the houses of Istanbul (& many other cities) are doing every night for 11 days – when they were not venturing into the street.
Esma, our hippie puppet rummaged around the house for a gas mask and transported herself back to Istanbul – soon enough we saw her at the front of the march coming from Kadıköy across the bridge – a little tiny puppet in a rose petal dress fist held high, yelling “Hükumet istifa!” (“Government, resign!”).
Kenne, the Queen of manners and maintenance of ladylike behavior puppet stuck her head up high, pursed her lips and through her nose said “how that puppet lived in the Ottoman court I’ll never know – she’s just so oppositional and non-ladylike! ”
As the large group (and large is an understatement) made it towards the end of the bridge We breathe a sigh of relief as the people were allowed to pass. We watched streams and streams and streams of people – men, women, children, conservative religious, traditional, modern, miniskirt wearing – everybody crossing the bridge – all captured on a live stream video handheld by our only news source, a citizen Broadcasting on the Internet. As the days went on (and on) we heard more of the story and realized that this was indeed not an organized uprising of the people – a true people’s movement. My husband has tears in his eyes much of the time – but only the ones a wife would notice without mentioning them.
“I am relieved that we are not there, “he said quietly, referring to our trip, cancelled for my own health reasons two days before the riots started “because I would worry so about your health and the pain that you are experiencing, “but I am so sad not to be there, to miss this historical moment.”Knowing that I didn’t need to say it, but feeling guilty, I quietly responded with “canım please go if you need to – I support you 100%. ” And I meant it. My husband is not a fan of nationalism. He hates flags. He hates nationalistic politics. He hates the danger that can come with nationalism. He wishes he did not have to be affiliated with any state. Idealist, I know, but to see this hint of nationalism and pride surprised me in some ways and did not in others.
For years, you see, M. has had a maudlin attitude about Turkey whenever we are there – “Everything is different,” he says angrily sometimes, “it’s not like it used to be – the traffic is awful, the smog is oppressive, there are too many people everywhere, the trash is everywhere, there McDonald’s restaurants, the old meyhane (local restaurants) are gone, where is the Turkey I know and love? ” Underneath much of this mouthy protest, I believe, has been his fear that what occurred in Iran during his formative years – namely the Islamist fundamentalist uprising – could occur in Turkey. He has never been a fan of the current party in power (the AKP) and is a supporter of the Turkish Green Party, although, Turkish nationals residing out of the country are not allowed to vote in absentia.
I began to realize that what my husband was experiencing before my eyes was an awakening of sorts – or perhaps a new level of awakening. We began to see graffiti and protest signs in Istanbul saying things such as “I was drunk for 10 years, and when the Prime Minister Erdoğan banned alcohol from 10 PM to 6 AM I sobered up and realized this reality sucks. ” Although these signs and slogans were somewhat in gest, they hold a nugget of truth about what’s going on. People have had enough of the slow introduction of increasingly restrictive Islamist-oriented policies and regulations, of the large number of journalists detained without charge in many cases – and more that you can read about.
As Nazim Hikmet, the famous Turkish writer said, “one tree falls, one nation rises.” All of this has been unexpected – for Turks – for people worldwide – and for how our relationship handles times of crisis. It is a learning moment for us all – and we are all standing on the tip of the #OccupyGezi iceburg.
- Turkey, 11.06.2013….#OccupyGezi the Largest Uprising ever in Turkish (including Ottoman) History (snuproject.wordpress.com)
- Turkish riot police break through barricades into Taksim Square to confront Istanbul protesters – Independent (independent.co.uk)
- Turkish police use tear gas against protesters (foxnews.com)
- Turkish police enter Taksim square again (worldbulletin.net)
- The Battle for Taksim Square (world.time.com)
- Turkish police crush Taksim Square barricades, fire tear gas at protesters (metronews.ca)
- Turkish police storm Taksim Square (irishtimes.com)
- Turkish Spring: Taksim Gezi Park protests in Istanbul (boingboing.net)
- Turkish police remove illegal placards in Taksim (worldbulletin.net)
- Everywhere is resistance: social media and the Turkey protests (thirdspacesblog.wordpress.com)