#OccupyGezi and Youth: What I thought I knew – and didn’t know

Youth we know protesting near Dolmabahce Cami in Bekistas - one is throwing a gas cannister back towards police (Image by Scott Peterson/Getty Images)

Youth protesting near Dolmabahce Cami in Bekistas – one is throwing a gas canister back towards police (Image by Scott Peterson/Getty Images)

It would be a lie to say that I could summarize or explain “the protesting youth of Turkey today.” Who could? The New York Times takes a stab at it here.  The key sentence in their piece, as I see it from the vantage point of the youth I know is “They don’t want to seize the state so much as teach it to behave.

But let me talk about our own experience over the last week, during which we have been very worried about our young family members and young friends in Istanbul. We often wonder whether they are being beaten or tear gassed or water hosed just for peacefully demonstrating about their concerns.  Then, this afternoon, as I was taking a nap, I felt a tap tap tap on my cheek. Squinting one I open, I saw Kenne – otherwise known as the Queen puppet responsible for the maintenance manners and the protection and promotion of ladylike behavior et alia. As usual, she had a sour look on her face, and was displeased with something.

“Youth today,” she spat, “really! They are çapulcular indeed!”  In case you don’t know what çapulcular are – check out this link.

Wagging the paper at me, I saw she was holding up an image printed from the computer. It showed three young men in the midst of a smoky gas cloud with one throwing something into the air. I immediately knew it was Istanbul, and that probably the young men were throwing a teargas canister back at the police who had likely shot the teargas at these young men. This is now a familiar image to me over the past 12+ days. The particular picture in question, the caption read, was from Beşiktaş, near Dolmabahçe mosque – the mosque that Prime Minister Erdoğan had accused people of drinking and fornicating in – when in fact the Imam of that mosque said “No – not true – it was used as a triage hospital when the police attacked the people who were peacefully protesting.”

Istanbul Octobre 2010 - Mosquée de Dolmabahce

Istanbul Octobre 2010 – Mosquée de Dolmabahce (Photo credit: Valerie Hukalo)

Shots of this type of action have been all over the Turkish news – And I have seen those images as classic adolescent and young adult bravado. You know, the way you feel invincible, that nothing could touch or hurt you? But I know that bravado is also driven By frustration at incremental change towards policies and regulations in daily Turkish life that slipped significantly from the secular upbringing these young people have experienced. However, I have been convinced that the Molotov cocktail throwers have been the minority – certainly not the young people I know.  Also, from cruising the Turkish media, I am sure that some of these protesting youth include Islamist youth who are demonstrating as they are displeased with the iron fist represented in the police response ordered by Prime Minister Erdoğan’s interior minister (who is in charge of the police).

Finally, after a week of being angry about the lack of media attention to these major events in Turkey, we at least began to see images of what I thought were these “outlier” young men on CNN last night -mostly men from what I can see – throwing Molotov cocktails and returning shot gas canisters by hand towards police. I engaged in a one sided screaming match with the television, begging the reporters to report on the much larger community of youth who were NOT what my Turkish friend perfectly refers to as the “crackheads” crazy enough to still be inside the park and engage in such behavior. Crazy indeed, I thought! Who would be stupid enough to do that – put your life in danger? But as soon as I said it, I remind myself again that teenagers and young adults feel invincible untouchable and that explains a lot what I was seeing. Falan filan.

I watched and watched – although my husband could not stand to be in the room looking at the TV pictures of the Square so near his home (as I wrote about yesterday). Although I must say the coverage was more focused on the fact that the reporter had to wear a gas mask then on the substance of the situation in Turkey – but eventually some really good commentary came on CNN).

But let me take you back to this afternoon. Kenne Left me with the photo of these young çapulcular çapuling With their gas masks, rubber gloves and bravado. When I woke up again, I had the surprise I did not expect.

The surprise came in the form of an email from one of the young Turkish men I know very well who has lived with us. He sent me a link to an Internet site – a news site with 43 pictures of young people protesting in the streets of Istanbul. Let’s not even get onto the topic of how the media seems to indicate that all of the protest is only going on in Istanbul and not in all the other cities. As I began to scroll through the slides – my young friend sent me another message – “I’m in picture number 30” he said, “I’m in the middle with a gas mask on!”

My heart stopped as I clicked as fast as I could to number 30. And there it was, the photo that Kenne had printed out for me (see photo at top of post). It was one of the beloved young ones that I know. My mind raced as I tried to make sense of this. This young man studies a serious topic in University, is a kind person, always helped my ailing father during family visits, how could he be in a gas mask in the middle of the major fighting in Beşiktaş? I had to revise my view on what I was seeing on CNN – on what I was thinking I knew FOR SURE about the young generation – at least those that I have known.  These were young, secular men I knew, engaging in this behavior – as a result of having tear gas shot at them while peacefully protesting. It’s a lot to sit with – the notion that this sweet young man was fighting fire with fire.  As our e-conversation progressed, this young man told me he wanted his grandkids to remember him as a çapulcu who fought for what was right in the hope that the government would listen and things would be better.  It’s a lot for me to sit with.  It’s a lot for all of us to sit with.  I just hope that Tayyip sits with it a bit more.

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7 Responses to #OccupyGezi and Youth: What I thought I knew – and didn’t know

  1. Again, thanks for sharing a wealth of information. And I wonder if, in your wide searching out of material, you have found commentary from other Arab nations about what is happening? For this will be a crucial part of the picture, what outside support Erdogan has, and how Turkey is being viewed in the Arab world. And whether secular people in other Arab countries are responding to these protests, or in some way offering encouragement and support – and I imagine that the news programs on the weekend will have a lot of coverage here –

  2. Jack Scott says:

    This piece in the Guardian may also help to shed some much needed light on the meaning behind the unrest in Turkey http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/jun/10/turkish-protests-west. Just one point of clarification for Nancy whose comment implies that Turkey is an Arab nation. Turks are most certainly not Arabs.

  3. lizcameron says:

    Thanks Jack, sharing this piece. I also found this helpful. There is so much to digest and discuss with respect to what’s going on. I wanted this post to just be about the wool coming off of my own eyes re: the youth I know & what would make them engaged in the type of protest they were photographer in. One of my friends in Turkey wrote that the most apathetic and apolitical generation in Turkey has managed to blossom overnight into something else. I suppose it’s like parents watching a child grow up. In reading my essay this morning, I think perhaps I published it before it was fully formed. I should write more about why the whole country is up in arms – and I know it’s much more than the youth being angry – I often resent everything getting blamed on the youth During a major system change – although they are usually the linchpin forgetting things noticed. Thank you also for the clarification on Turkey not being in Arabic country – I deal with this one on a weekly basis. This misconception is usually an honest one for Americans who do not have much natural knowledge of the middle east or as many Turks I know would put it, Eastern Europe. 😉 At least that’s what I think. As I get worse and worse and grumpy about such assumptions – when I should be kind – especially to my dear friend Nancy – M. Tends to get more and more diplomatic about it. For example:

    Prof. I work with closely: “so your husband’s Arab right? When is his family going to want him to marry a second wife?”

    Me: “silence – arrrgh – (Attempt not to turn into the Jolly Green Giant or the Incredible Hulk) Turkey is not on the Arabian Peninsula and this is an assumption about Muslims that is not true everywhere. Also my husband is not a Muslim.” This is usually followed by a quick exit and an internal angry commitment to never speak to the person again. It of course supplements what time.

    M. on the other hand, is
    Cool as a cucumber. He was in the supermarket two years ago and someone said “oh you have an accent you’re an Arab!”

    Calmly, and with a smile, M. said: “yes I have an accent but I’m not an Arab I’m from Turkey.”

    Response: “are you sure?” (Can you imagine)

    M.’s response back: “yes, I’m very sure that I am not an Arab. Turkey is not on the Arabian Peninsula.

    Response from incredulous supermarket genius: “but people speak Arabic in Turkey, you speak Arabic!”

    Response from M. Who is now turning up the charm factor: “I speak Turkish. It is a Ural Altaic language. In the very southern part of Turkey by Syria occasionally you hear some people speaking Arabic, but the language is mostly Turkish and perhaps some Kurdish.”

    Response from supermarket person: “Well I’ll just have to see if that’s correct.”

  4. lizcameron says:

    Dear Nancy, thank you for your comment. I’m not sure I am really a wealth of information – I’m just really in shock about how the young people I know which are small small sample of all, have chosen to act. Or more properly have been forced to act. I think I should have let my piece cook a little bit more, and will consider that today.

    Just one point of clarification – Turkey is not on the Arabian Peninsula, Nor is Arabic spoken there much at all, therefore it is not an Arab country. This is actually something that will almost always raise the dander on the back of people’s necks. It is a common misconception.

    I am thinking carefully about what I want to say in an in-depth Post about my thoughts on the Prime Minister’s strategies, supports, allies – and what will happen next. He has surprised me with a night of relative peace at Taksim although the protests and police brutality raged in Ankara and other cities last night.

    I, like you. am grateful that the news is now covering this – although it’s frustrating to see outlets like CNN report-week-old news – but I guess that’s just how the new cycle is!

    Love, Liz

  5. Alan says:

    . . there has been mounting evidence that the molotov cocktail throwers were plain-clothes police or agents with the police. There was an attempt to justify intervention by having them all use SDP sloganed ‘shields’. Those TOMAs can hit the eye of a gnat at 100mts yet not one of the fake protesters was hit – all except for one who set himself on fire when his petrol bomb burst over him – he ran into the open and was gently doused by a TOMA. All of those monster riot trucks and god-knows-how-many riot police ‘battled’ for hours to suppress 12 so-called protesters! I invite you and your followers to go through the myriad of photos of that particular incident (or any of the others) and answer for themselves the question of who is instigating the violence and preparing the ground for ever greater control of the population in the future. The Western worlds’ economies are collapsing and the stage is being readied for the battles/unrest that is on its way. Orwell got it right even if his timing was a bit out!

  6. Ben Leib says:

    Thank you for providing the personal details that so often get lost or overlooked in American coverage.

  7. lizcameron says:

    I really appreciate that you took the time to leave your comment. It makes me feel as though keeping this blog does have a purpose after all when I sometimes lose faith in its relevance or importance. Much, much appreciated. Best, Liz

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