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Protests in Turkey: An Overview

  • By Canan Marasligil
  • 3rd June 2013
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A peaceful sit-in at a park in Istanbul has crescendoed into violent clashes between police and protestors all across Turkey. In the first of a series of posts on the unrest, our Turkish Translator in Residence Canan Marasligil explains how it all started, and how she feels as a Turkish citizen watching the protests from afar. In the days to come, Canan hopes to write more on the matter, looking in more detail at how myths and misinformation have spread through the media, and examining the role a translator can play in this situation.

If you are on social media, you must have come across the #OccupyGezi hashtag. If you’ve been reading the international press, you will have see Turkey in the headlines. But, if your only connection to the outside world has been the Turkish media, you must think a bunch of looters have been busy destroying the city of Istanbul for the last five days. Looters! For this is what the prime minister, Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, has called the protestors gathered in Taksim square: “çapulcu”. This is why you may also have seen your Turkish friends adding “çapulcu” to their names on their social media profiles.

I am outside of Turkey. I am a Turkish citizen, and I have always been close to my native country, but I remain an outsider. So my account of these past few days is more than just my own voice: it is the voice of my fellow citizens who are in the streets, fighting for their basic human rights in an increasingly authoritarian regime. It may also be a repetition of what has been written already on many blogs and newspapers. But I hope it will act as an introduction to some future reflections I am going to try to share with you in the following days as I observe the events unfolding in Turkey from where I stand.

Five days ago, protesters gathered in Gezi Park on Taksim Square in Istanbul. They were holding a peaceful rally – a sit-in – against the demolition of trees in the park to pave the way for yet another shopping mall. (Istanbul already has a few dozen). The protestors were families, young and elderly people, activists…they were not from any specific political movement, but they gathered to save the trees, and to halt the continual transformation of Istanbul into one giant shopping mall.

After armed police violently tried to break up the protest with tear gas and water cannons, the Gezi Park protesters were joined by fellow citizens from all over the city. Thousands of people took to the streets on Friday night: some crossed the Bosphorus bridge on foot to get to Taksim square while others banged on pots and pans from windows and balconies, creating an orchestra of resistance. The focus of the demonstration shifted quickly: this was no longer about trees (and it was never, really, just about trees). Most of the protesters demonstrated peacefully, chanting calls for Erdogan to resign. These protests have now turned, as the Guardian explains, “into Turkey's biggest anti-government disturbances in years, challenging Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's power.”

Those who have been following the story of Turkey for the last decade must know that Erdogan, in power since 2003, has been running an increasingly authoritarian regime. His anti-democratic restrictions, which range from imprisoning writers and journalists to banning alcohol, have been the reason for much frustration and dissent. These “ten years of arrogance”, as writer and journalist Ece Temelkuran explains in this New Statesman article, have caused citizens to say “enough is enough!”.

Every day the violence by police against civilians has increased. I am hearing about the gravity of the situation from my friends and family in Turkey, and by following #OccupyGezi on social media. I am scared. How can you not be afraid of a prime minister who responds angrily to his own citizens, who belittles their plea, and even threatens them. Only a prime minister with imperial aspirations can say “For every 100,000 protesters I will bring a million from my party”. If the international community had not seen this before, I hope now they believe Turkey is in desperate need of change.

These last few days and the restless times ahead deserve deep analysis and reflection with a cooler head. When I speak with my friends and family, and I interact with protestors on social media, I do feel the urge, the solidarity, the excitement, the anger, and the need for being together “shoulder to shoulder against fascism” (faşizme karşı omuz omuza). I support my fellow citizens, my friends, and I am proud of them. They fill me with their hope, because from where I stand, I don’t see much hope in the way the government is reacting. But I do see hope through this massive wave of goodwill and solidarity, this fight against what no human anywhere in the world should be faced with: oppression.

If you don’t read Turkish, there are still some close sources you can reach. Some Turkish writers have offered their first responses in the UK-based Bulent Journal, and this very thorough account by Amy Spangler, from literary agency Anatolia Lit, is also worth a look – and there are many other good pieces about #OccupyGezi I hope we can share in due course. We will try to share as much as possible on our Twitter and Facebook feeds.

As the situation in Turkey evolves, I will be writing more posts on specific subjects, like the role of translation and the media, looking at the story in more detail. If you have questions or comments, please add them below, or contact us on Twitter @freewordcentre.

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