Saturday, June 8, 2013

Gezi Park Turkish Protests: Where is a "Range of Opinion?"

Protesters doing yoga in Gezi Park
What a fascinating week in Turkey as my friends have risen up and demanded their Turkish democracy be inclusive of their lifestyles and opinions too. I say "my friends" because, like most expats, I have a few friends who support the AKP and hundreds who don't. Most of my Istanbullian friends are broadly secular, supportive of the ideas of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and are internationally-oriented global citizens. So they are completely unrepresentative of the average Turk, and especially, the average Turk who voted in the AKP-majority government.
A Turkish friend who protests
In story after story about the protests, the range of opinions reported has been very narrow. It is very easy for Westerners in Istanbul to identify with the protesters, because they are asking for things that Westerners consider foundational for a democracy: respect for minority opinion, respect for diversity of lifestyle, respect for the variety of religious expression, and respect for freedom of the press. The protests started with concern about the pace of urban transformation and sense of loss for vital green spaces within one of the world's largest cities. All of these ideas that the protesters are demanding have been ably, bravely, and amply reported. The protesters' voices are heard in story upon story in the English-language press. But you'll notice, there isn't a big range of opinion there. The protesters seem unified around these thoughts.

The views of government supporters and of the government has been very hard to find. I've been trying to find those opinions, because as a library professional, my job and my joy and my mission in life is to share information on all sides of issues. While the protesters are organized in both Turkish and English on social media and are also available in the park for easy interviewing, AKP folks must be talking to themselves on Twitter and Facebook almost exclusively in Turkish. Journalists are flying in from all over the World to cover this story, but with today's news budgets, having a translator is an extra expense some news organizations may not have. I have read hardly anything reflecting the AKP view.
Six Turkish Newspapers
All With the Same Headline
Where is a "range" of opinion
(on either side)?
The Turkish media had six front pages all with the same headline in Turkish to reflect to Turkish people the 'official' government opinion when Prime Minister Erdogan came back from North Africa; this shows there is not much deviation in the AKP opinion either. Even worse for the AKP and its supporters, their opinions aren't being expressed in English.

Even at the friendship level we expats rarely hear these AKP opinions, simply because many AKP people have not taken the time to learn a global language so they can express themselves to the world.
Protest banner decrying police brutality

These narrow bands of opinion seem to be a Venn diagram of two circles, one labeled "protesters" and one labeled "AKP." The circles seem not to have overlapping parts. Because each side seems mostly to talk to like-minded friends there is also the danger of online filter bubbles.

I remember this kind of polarization in the Bush years in America. It's the kind of opportunity Obama walked into, rallying everyone around the center. I don't know if there is a center in Turkey, but it is unoccupied at the moment - unlike Gezi Park.


agent L said...

I have the pleasure to teach in (fml) Bakırköy three times a week. My pal has the dubious honor of teaching in Pendik. Nightly, we share what the opposition says. No one in Bakırköy seems to understand what the big deal is about a few rock-throwing punks. In Pendik, they seem to lean on the side of: they made the police gas them. I understand wanting both sides of the story, but from my perspective, the other side of this story is ignorance, lack of curiosity, lack of understanding of why church and state should be separated, and weird rumors about CIA spies that put me and all my yabanci friends in danger. Please do share if you find something less grim on the other side.

Mark and Jolee said...

Karen, points well taken. All of the coverage has been on what can be easily understood in western Europe and the U.S. But of course things are much more complicated. The secular minority feels sidelined from the political center after ten years of AK Party government. After decades of being people who set the agend they now are out of power and feel disenfranchised. The big majorityof poor and working class Turkish citizens, religiously inclined and socially conservative, after decades of being vilified, disparaged and discriminated against, now feel they have a government that represents them and a leader, Erdogan, who can stand up to those who abused and insulted them in the past. (whether a neo-liberal capitalist goverment can truly represent their interests is a question for another time.) But, is it true that AK Party supporters, or religious conservatives in general, cannot support the demands of the Gezi Park movement? Does not the humble citizen abhor police brutality, want a say in the future of the city and have an interest in green space? One of the best answers to that was given recently by the participation of 'Anti-Capitalist Muslims' in the protests. There really is a range of ideas and the more the movement opens up to debating those ideas the better will be the chances that this movement will result in real progress for Turkey.

Catherine Yiğit said...

I think you underestimate how divisive politics is here. Even moderates pick their sides so whole topics are black or white with little grey visible. Even if a range of opinion exists it may not ve shared. Also what gets published is likely to be extreme rather than middle-of-the-road. Look at Kilicdaroglu, a moderate and thoughtful man who unfortunately is completely unsuccessful in Turkish politics where big personalities and broad strokes count. Should there be a move towards welcoming more subtle politics, of course, but that's not going to happen in the current situation.

Karen said...

Agent L, Mark & Jolee, Catherine, thanks for your comments. I appreciate you sharing your point of view.

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of AKP supporters who speak fluent English and other languages. Please do not underestimate them!

I know many "mainstream Turks" who appreciate what the AKP has done for them in terms of access to health care and the stable Lira. The governments before the AKP were corrupt and involved in heinous crimes (who can forget the 40-50 businessmen who were dug up, dead, tied up as they had been killed during torture, or the land grabbing, and how wealthy the leaders' families became...) There are legitimate reasons to support the AKP even though the last few months they have been behaving abominably.

Just sayin

Karen said...

Thank you, Anonymous, for stopping by and leaving a comment. I appreciate it. I agree with you that there were plenty of reasons for people to vote for the AKP prior to the past two months. Indeed, I documented the economic achievements of Turkey under their leadership in my blog post from January 12, 2013 entitled "My Scoop: "Turkey 2000-2010: A Decade of Transition - Discussion Among Experts."

Putting the military back in the barracks under civilian control required an astounding level of courage beyond my imagination.

For these and under reasons, the prime minister was headed for the Turkish equivalent of Mt. Rushmore. He has created an extraordinary legacy - it would be a shame for this legacy to evaporate if present circumstances continue.

Travel Sites Catalog All Traveling Sites Expat Women—Helping Women Living Overseas International Affairs Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog Directory expat Czech Republic website counter blog abroadWho links to me? Greenty blog