After murmurs of revival jerks, the anti-government demonstrations originating in Istanbul’s Gezi Park are coming back to life. Yesterday, an innocent 15 year-old became the latest casualty of the government’s controversial use of police force. The boy, Berkin Elvan, was struck in the side of the head by a tear gas canister launched by the Turkish Polis while he was out getting bread. From this extreme contrast of innocence and violence, the young teenager’s image has come to be a symbol for the resistance movement.
The protests commenced after the boy’s parents announced their beloved son’s death on social media. A vigil was conducted outside the hospital he remained in a coma for the past 269 days. Crowds flocked to the scene to pay their respects, but the police immediately resorted to their controversial tactics involving tear gas- even in such close proximately to the hospital’s entrance.
Yesterday’s protests marked as the biggest protests since Gezi Park. Thousands flocked to the streets in several districts all over Istanbul as well as over dozens of cities in Turkey and even around the world.
Do to the role as an organisational tool, social media outlets are seen as threatening to the government. Merely weeks ago, PM Erdoğan passed a controversial censorship law in which he can over-ride and shut down any site at any time- without a just cause. With the protests formulating predominately through Twitter, that site was completely shutdown yesterday evening in an attempt to stop others from taking to the streets. Other main media outlets, such as Facebook and YouTube, are next on the block list.
The protests of yesterday reflect a raw, emotionally charged sentiment and both the protestors and the reaction of the police exemplify this.
The demonstrators consisted of an array of people- transcending age as well as gender lines. Demonstrators marched with pictures of Berkin Elvan as well as carried signs condemning his killers and the assumed man responsible for the operation, PM Erdoğan. As the night progressed, the numbers decreased but protestors that remained became more aggressive by embracing tactics of vandalism, throwing debris, burning trash and public property, banging on buildings, screaming, anything to get the attention of the police and provoke them.
Turkish Police reacted in a way that has strangely become routine. Crowd control with men on the crowd firing tear rubber bullets and tear gas, men manning the TOMA water cannons, and hundreds waiting in armored police buses on-call. Even with the emotional tension being so pungent one could almost smell it in Istanbul’s air, the insecure government’s right hand could not play a passive role and was forced to play a mildly aggressive one to be a more equally matched and have a chance against the protestors.
Mass protests are expected to increase as the week progresses with foreshadowed images of correlating violence.
Today marks a new day- Berkin Elvan’s funeral service is this afternoon which will be followed by expected violence from the same force that took the youngster’s life. Already, the voice of sirens echo round the city and over power the call to prayer. As the work week wanes, it can be anticipated that protests will get progressively worse.
The protest commenced today (12 March 2014) at 12:00 as it surrounded Elvan’s funeral service at Okmeydani Cemevi. The funeral procession will proceed from Şişli Square to Feriköy cemetery at 15:00 followed by protests increasing in size as the day progresses.
(Şişli/Feriköy, İstanbul, Türkiye)
Enthusiastic Protest with Fireworks in Kadıköy
Today, the murder trial of Mehmet Ayvalıtaş provoked thousands of people to gather outside the courthouse this afternoon. The police attacked the protestors at the courthouse and they eventually relocated the demonstration to the center of Kadıköy (Boğa Heykeli). The community of protestors decided to walk to the AKP’s regional builiding in the district of Kadıköy where the police predicably reacted with the TOMA water cannons as well s tear gas. The third demonstration in Kadıköy was conducted this evening as a heightened, enthusiastic response by the protestors with the usage of fireworks. Kadıköy has not been the centre of a protest of great size since October (with the exception of the “corruption” riots of December). This is significant for protestors to face the coldness of Turkish winter to get their message across.
The fabled ideal conception of “democracy” has been defined as being a form of government in which all eligible citizens participate equally which is supposedly done either directly or through elected representatives. This idea encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the “free” and “equal” practice of self-determination in terms of politics.
This concept is arguably controversial in all contexts where it has been executed and in its various abstractions, interpretations along with all of it corresponding glories , short-comings and failures.
In my observations abroad, the pillars of debate in regards to Turkey (with additional respects to Egypt and Tunisia) are as follows:
Majoritarian versus Representative forms of democracy.
This concept refers to the form of democracy that is based upon the majority rule of a nation’s citizens and is the “conventional form” that which is used as the basis of political social structure in many modern states.
This common form is not universally accepted for it has been greatly criticized posing the threat of becoming a “tyranny of the majority” whereby the majority (ruling class) of a society could oppress or exclude minority groups. Contrasting this fearful idea, consensus democracy was developed as an antithesis of such for it emphasizes rule by as many people as possible tin order to promote the ideal to make the government inclusive (this is executed with a majority of support from society merely being a minimal threshold). It differs from trends of fascism for the it assumes equality of citizens and they claim that it is a form of authoritarian democracy (that represents the views of a dynamic organized minority of a nation as opposed to the disorganized majority).
2. Representative (republican) Democracy
Contrasting the former is representative democracy (also referred to as “indirect democracy or “republican democracy”) which based on the principle of elected officials representing a group of people, as opposed to direct democracy. This variation transcends to all modern “Western”-style democracies such as theUnited Kingdom (a constitutional monarchy) and Poland (a parliamentary republic). This contains elements of both the parliamentary and presidential systems of government as well as is it is generally curtailed by constitutional constraints such as an upper chamber. As it modifies certain aspects of the ideal definition of democracy as I first states, this has been further described and identified by some political theorists as being a polyarchy.
Keeping the terms defined in mind, it goes without saying that the road to democracy is a process rather than being an event that occurs instantly overnight– it requires an ongoing struggle.
Struggles, conflict, and confusion are, unfortunately, all inevitably linked. Within the political atmosphere that clouds the Middle East is a distinguishable fog that rains an undeniable conceptual confusion of conceptions that on wets the acute political alienation of the societal elements that feel subject to both a governmental leadership as well as a policy agenda that bleeds the ideal color s of democracy and leaves hostilities to their particular interests and values as residue. The worst environments for such a glum forecast are where they are most prevalent– in the “one-man shows” that consequently allows for the correlation of both adoration and demonization.
Specific national contexts reflect history, culture, values, and such referring to an ideal zeitgeist in which empowers and unites the nation’s identity and resonates in its psyche. Paralleling these are the relating sense of common experiences and similarities that are both skeptical and critical of certain Western “hegemonic” conceptions of modernity, constitutionalism, and governance. I have found the archetype of such abstraction in the illustrated representation in Turkey.
The conflicting sentiments of above in the context of Turkey has generated turmoil as well as it has highlighted both the dangers and passions of lethal polarization.This was formulated, initially, within the drama of Gezi Park and its repercussions and has now grown into the incomprehensibly enormous clash between Prime Minister Erdogan and the exiled Islamic leader Fethullah Gulen.
Turkey’s situation is very unique in a peculiar way for two distinct reasons:
1. The economy of Turkey has grown exponentially within the past eleven years. The development has subsequently produced a flourishing middle class as well as a dominant business community that has a lot at stake if both investor confidence and currency exchange rates steeply drop. This reality is complicated by the fact that part of those that have gained economically have been aligned with the AKP, and by the degree to which the Turkish armed forces are also major stakeholders in the private sector.
2. Another critical achievement of the past eleven year reign of the AKP leadership has been to depoliticize the role of the Turkish military. This has been partially justified to protect itself against interference as well as another factor being that of meeting the standards of the EU accession criteria.
From Turkey’s situation, which applies to mutual tensions in nearby Islamic nations, are elements of absence of common, political community, past preoccupations and
With these distinctions that shape Turkey, alienation fused with emotional distress have become symptoms (rather than explanations) for justifying the existence of such a strong political charge.
These conflicts are about religion, social stratification, class, status, political style, and varied opinions of governmental control. Complimenting this is an additional source of public antagonism that is the unresolved (and sketchily unacknowledged) debate about the true nature of democracy as the ideal for “good” governance. One perplexing element is language, especially its use by politicians concerned with public opinion.
One side of the argument contains the strong desire to base the legitimacy of governmental on pleasing the citizenry while the other side insists upon constitutionalism as well as fidelity to law. Both sides are motivated by stubborn, unchangeable convictions and they both refuse to take into account the others position as being valid or legitimate which makes compromise a far-fetched whim. In synthesis, “good governance” is virtually impossible without a sense of community. From this, social unity is currently unattainable in the presence of the sort of alienation that grips the public sector of Turkey and beyond.
Other aspects of the controversy are simplified into the difference of opinion over the ideal nature of democracy and which elements are necessary to make a government legitimate. The two opponents in Turkey being those of majoritarian and representative distinctions of democracy.
The central tension within this is as follows:
The publicly conceived myth (in all countries that deem themselves to be “modern”) is that legitimacy lives in endorsing the republican tradition of “limited government” as well as internal checks and balances. Political culture says otherwise for it is decidedly ambivalent for it can spontaneously legitimize the majoritarian prerogatives of a popular leader with strong societal backing. Those displaced, lament authoritarian tendencies that never troubled them in the past when they held the reins of governmental authority.
An element of the most recent confusion entails that, on occasion, the authoritarian tendency gets corrupted to the breaking point where it loses support with the people that share both its class and ideological outlook; from this, a reformist enthusiasm emerges. This has not happened in zTurkey but nearby Egypt, the tenure was short lived as its adherents (whom were drawn from the ranks of the urban educated elites) quickly realized that their values along with their interests were dangerously jeopardized by the “new” order– more so than it had been by the excesses of the “old” order. This was not, however, the case in Turkey. In Turkey, the situation is more subtle yet exhibits analogous features. Despite the outcome of elections that brought the AKP to power initially in 2002, it was subsequently reinforced by the stronger electoral mandates in both 2007 and 2012 (although the majority of the opposition never accepted these results as legitimate). In the background of this alienation, there was an implicit and feared belief that the AKP was mounting a challenge to the strong secularist legacy of Kemal Ataturk (an under-ratedly powerful idea). With political acumen, the AKP acted pragmatically and created a rapid-growing economy where it proclaimed its fidelity to the secular creed. From this, it gradually subjected its armed forces to civilian control. Despite the magnitude of these achievements the AKP , the prime minister never gained respect from the anti-religious opposition. Strangely, this “alienated opposition” was never able to present a platform for responsible opposition that could give a possible positive alternative to the Turkish public.
To further the understanding of Turkey’s political roots, it is appropriate to mention that the legacy of Ataturk’s nation includes an acceptance of “procedural democracy” in the form of free and fair elections that are accompanied by the apparently implied assumption that the outcome would be faithful to a modernist appetite. When the AKP disappointed those expectations in 2002, the opposition became quickly fed up with the workings of “democracy”. Erdogan’s harsh style of discourse is particularly irritating to an already alienated opposition, reinforcing their belief that any alternative is better for Turkey than the AKP. Similarly, the still obscure public falling out between the AKP and the “hizmet movement” has inscribed a new dimension in Turkish politics. It is not extreme to suggest that Turkey is currently experiencing some of the mishaps associated with keeping a political party in power for too long. Such prolonged control of government almost inevitably produces scandal and corruption, especially in a political culture where both the rule of law and the ethics of civic virtue have never been strong.
So, the debate of which form of the Western conceptualization of democracy is legitimate prevails. In reiteration and synthesis, the majoritarian form of democracy allows for the leadership to be essentially responsible to the electorate and (f its policies reflect the will of the majority) the perspective and values of opposed minorities do not need to be respected. Critiques of such call for such forms of government to be treated as susceptible to the “tyranny of the majority”. Such is arguably the case in Egypt (Morsi in 2012).
In contrast, representative democracy spawns from a generally skeptical view of human nature and it consequently seeks for procedures and support to nurture a specific political culture– one that favors moderate government over both efficiency and transcendent leadership. Par example: the American adoption of “republican democracy” that is a classic instance of sculpting a constitutional system that was threatened by majorities and protective of minorities as well as of individual rights (although initially totally blind to the human claims of slaves and native Americans). Secularization has tarnished the link between religious claims of certainty with the consistent republican sensitivity to the flaws of human nature and the general ethos behind “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Over time, every political system faces crises– it is inevitable. the American founders realized that the envisioned arrangements would only survive the tests of time if two conditions were met: first, reverence for the constitution by both lawmakers and citizens, and second, judicial supremacy to override legislative and executive swings towards either implementing the momentary passions of the mob or aggrandizing power and authority, and thereby upsetting the delicate balance of institutions.
It need hardly be argued that neither Turkey (nor Egypt and others) are remotely similar to the United States, but the superficial embrace of democracy might benefit from closely examining the menace of majoritarian democracy in a fragmented polity as well as to make note of the difficulties in establishing a representative democracy in political cultures that have been controlled by militarism and authoritarianism for a long time.
At current, Turkey is attempting to preserve both sufficient stability and consensus to enable the self-restrained persistence of “procedural democracy” and a subsequent successful process of constitutional renewal that would rid the country of the 1982 militarist vision of governance, and move it towards establishing the institutional and procedural frame and safeguards associated with representative democracy. Visions relating to an ideal, democratic future for Turkey greatly call for a process, not an event. Such an objective will require an on-going struggle that is inevitably distracted by the crises of legitimacy to be adequately obtained. The general hope is that calm minds and soft power will prevail which would mean for the serving of long-term interests of a state that transcends into a greater potential of being a true role model for the region and for the world.
Cenk and Barış did not instantly repair their bond. They did establish a vague understanding to which they learned to trust one another. Over the course of the next month, they notified each other of their whereabouts during the demonstration. Although on opposing sides, they teamed up; they defended each other. They covered each other’s backs in the protest, they shared a hiding place taking cover from the TOMA, and they took turns pulling guard at night on their trek home.
In late October, they made a brotherly pact stating that if one of them were to be crippled—a wheelchair wound—the survivor would axiomatically find a way to end it. As they were boyhood friends, it was difficult to detect seriousness in their plan but, in context, they believed sincerity in each other’s voices. To make it appear more legitimate, they drew it up as a contract and signed their name only having each other’s eyes as witnesses.
Weeks later, in mid-November when the air began to chill, Barış was hit. Protestors with fireworks had given a new definition to “friendly fire.” The explosion took off his right leg, so conveniently at the hinge of the knee. At first, he managed with a funny little half step, almost like a child hopping about in play, then he started to wobble and tilted sideways until he finally keeled. “Oh, bok,” he said. He just kept repeating in a faded, hushed voice calmly almost as if he had simply stubbed a toe. “Bok, oh bok.” as if he’d stubbed a toe. Losing blood, he wheezed for air. He only began to panic when he looked down and saw himself wallowing in his own blood. He tried to get up and run, but there was nothing left for him to run on and he fell, hard. The stump that had replaced his right leg twitched violently. Stained white slivers of bone were now visible, and the blood came in quick, spiratic spurts like water from a pump. Wild-eyed and bewildered, Barış reached down as if to pat his lost leg. In the poignant act, the little blood he had left all seemed to sprint to his head and he immediately passed out.
There was nothing much anybody could do. The crowd was dense with thousands, screaming barbarically almost forgetting their own cause for this chaos. After penetrating through the treacherous swarm of rebels, Cenk through himself over his friends body to shield it from more atrocities and pain, but it was of no use. Barış and his stump had stopped twitching now and his blood drained tranquilly. He already resembled a cadaver, and the air was filled with puzzlement at his status of life. These thoughts were quickly muted when he opened his eyes and looked up at Cenk. “Oh, kardeş,” Oh, brother– he moaned as he attempted to slide himself away. “Hayır, beni öldürme.” No, don’t kill me.
Barış seemed confused, befuddled, and distant. He remained still again, only for a moment, then gestured toward his missing leg. Patting the ground frantically, searching for something irretrievable. He used up his waning energy on an impossible whim. Chocking back upon internal, private pain, Cenk managed to utter a word to his friend, “Dur (stop).”
“Merak etme, sorun değil. Onlar geri dikebilirsiniz.” Don’t worry, it’s not a problem. They can sew it back on.
“Biliyor musun?” Do you know?
“Hiç sanırım.” I think so.
Barış set his gaze due north, up towards the dim, smoky lit sky. He passed out again. Minutes later, he awoke, eyes shut and still, and softly whispered once more, “Beni öldürme.” Don’t kill me.
“Yapmayacağım,” Cenk responded. I won’t.
“Beni öldürme, lütfen.” Please, don’t kill me.
“Söz verdin” You promised.
Cenk nodded and looked into the somber visage of his friend and said, “Biliyorum.” I know. Moments later, Cenk carried Barış through the demonstration, humbly yet seemingly heroically. When he reached an ambulance off the protest route, Cenk reached out and touched Barış’s remaining leg. “Gitmem lāzım,” he said. I must go now, and he departed to return to his post with his fellow policemen. Later, he heard from the television set from the comfort of his couch that Barış had died before he reached the hospital.
This news seemed to relieve Cenk of an enormous weight.
Despite being blatantly foreign to this culture in my thoughts, I am constantly having to remind myself that this is not my home. Immediately, after the first day, I found myself without the “foreigner” label. Convenient enough for me, I blend. I match the exact general description of a Turkish woman, except my eye colour betrays me. I can best describe my first encounter realising how intriguingly well I camoflague here as follows:
Walking through the busy streets of Kadıcöy Boğa at 22:00, I cannot quiet the crazy gnat buzzing about in my mind cleverly named Paranoia.
They all know that I am not one of them.
These simple thoughts of heightened delusions occupied my already busied mind. There was no validity in those infecting thoughts. I had prepared for the subconscious occupants of the dreamer to turn on me as an invader as viciously in the film “Inception.” In reality, I was actually treated as if I were one with them.
As I walked back from a rally by the waterfront in Kadıköy Rıhtım, the streets were packed with thousands of demonstrators passionately screaming.
HER YER TAKSIM, HER YER DIRENIŞ!
(“Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance”)
I participate in the chant as I document the protest and keep an eye on my friend.
People, people everywhere and so much stimuli your mind’s gears screech and jolt to maintain the desired high speed of mental processing. I turn my head jerkingly, looking side to side for my friend. She is quiet, little and beautiful. It seems hard for someone so sweet like her to be in a situation like this. It baffles me also that such an astonishing contrast between her and the hostility of the protest to go unnoticed. I feared the demonstrators had gotten carried away and devoured another innocent. I use my peripherals, trying to maintain an air of coolness while I stress.
The police are coming.
They will gas us soon.
We need to get back to the flat.
There are so many people.
There is not much time.
I need to find Sebahat.
I become more aggressive in my movements. I grab my bag tightly, slightly flex and prepare to act in any means necessary to complete the task at hand: find Sebahat and get home fast. I bend and bounce to get the lactic acid in my knees flowing, just in case I need to bolt. Not realising at this point how silly my little pre-game warm-up looks, I pivot in a 90 degree increment, looking for dear Sebahat. Ducking, avoiding the thrusting of fists and signs, I rotate my head with my eyes squinting looking past the bold colours of torches to see the darkness of the people.
I face adjacent to the crowd. I still don’t see her. Without a working mobile phone, this is most certainly not the time to hunt for a miraculous wifi signal (despite it being needed and most ideal). Communication-less and separated at the worst possible time.
If she gets hurt or gassed again, I will never forgive myself.
This thought brings about an anxious weight of her well-being being my responsibility upon me and I get a sharp pain in my gut.
I think I am going to be sick.
I hide my feelings, but they escape through my stare. I almost feel the subconscious projections realising now that I am an intruder- this fear they smell wreaks and they trace me as the source.
I am achy and tired and even lifting and turning my head in a compact angry mob hurts. I am stressing unfathomably and trying to maintain self composure and control, but I can feel my exhausted self slipping.
The crowd still roars.
(“Murder the police”)
I can hear the police banging their shields with batons, trying to flex the muscles and establish a desired sense of dominance but end up failing to do so and come off as being both unprofessional and rather timid. They are young, probably most are former schoolmates with the protestors. Unexperienced and appearing frightened, they looks like youths in their boyscout uniforms carrying their AK47s. These boys cannot cry to mother when the mean kids mock them, so they fire as them and hose them with gas instead.
My eyes burn. I can feel tear gas in the air. Though a distance away, the officers draw near. I acknowledge the fear of the consequences if I am to encounter a close quarrel with the police and it forces more weight on my strong but enervated back. Pushing people out of my way as I challenge myself to go against the current, I am swimming far away from all of the rules I firmly established in my mind in terms of not standing out. I crouch a bit and protect my body with my arms raised to defend. I hurry along with swift strides of intense precision.
I walk 100 metres, scouting as if for my prey.
I walk a few strides farther.
Still, no sign of Sebahat.
I fight to post myself up, juxtaposed to the crowd at a makeshift curb of the street. Drenched in excretion from the harsh combination of heat, people, and panic, my thoughts race and I have almost lost all hope.
I can’t leave.
I should go.
Maybe she made it back to the flat.
I cannot risk that.
I have to stay here.
I can’t leave.
From the 15cm curb I territorially claimed as my spot, I searched through the crowd with my effulgent eyes. What I am looking at is a disguised Kadıköy Boğa (the centre of this district). Famous for always being busy with traffic, trolleys and the thunder of passersby, it has has recently become the notorious night venue of the #DirenKadıköy movement. Its iconic bull statue in the middle of the square is lost in the protest. Kadıköy is transported, its natural state almost completely lost at this point, in the mist of people, protest, and police. The neighbourhood becomes unrecognisable, even to the locals.
Thousands march past me, none of familiar. Time changes its shape, it morphs with the chaos and transforms five or ten minutes into hours. I find myself overwhelmed with stressor emotions and I hover over the fine line of focused and out of control. I am standing still, almost statuesque, slightly above the people. I am able to look down on their heads, only signs, banners and flags tower above me. There is no empty space in my view, the canvas is cluttered, busy, and completely filled. I play a twisted game of “Where’s Waldo,” looking for a little girl in a white tank top in a cacophonous crowd of contentious civilians.
The batons banging, the warlike drum roll matches the beat of my heart. It is hard not to lose hope as the crowd becomes more heated as they continue to provoke the police. Louder, the tension shrieks as a kettle does when it about to boil. My thoughts pound violently in sync with my pulse and I fade out of focus, wondering in a subconscious sea of neverending stress. My subconscious embraces the crowd, unites with it and becomes one as the rush comes.
I have surrendered to the stampede.
I accept the chaos.
I agree that I am a part of it.
This confirmation brings an unorthodox sense of peace to me and calms my head. Forced feelings subside, my eyes already open can see past the opaque haze of both tear gas and confusion and I can see again.
“They don’t know that you’re a foreigner, did you know?”
A familiar voice.
Quiet, almost a vivid imagined whisper, just barely audible amongst the discord.
Jolted with my new found vision and now apparent auditory abilities, my head turns cautiously, almost suspiciously to the target of the stimulus.
Behind me, sandwiched between a brick wall of a posh daytime café and the infinite mass of demonstrators is little Sebahat.
Finally, as I had just accepted a perceived to be doomed fate of a potentially brutal encounter with the Turkish police, I had kept my hope and promise.
I found my friend.
I grabbed her hand and clasped her fingers so firmly as I navigated the massive maze of men to lead us to safety.
We would make it home just in time.