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Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

#irritated Ankara

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The following, written on 6/8/13, is a follow-up on a prior post for Atatürk’s Republic, which sought to explain how Turkey’s multi-party system not only fragments the opposition of the ruling party, but also perpetuates Turkey’s illiberalalbeit democraticsociety. As part of this chronically fragmented society, the demonstrators of this last week will have a difficult time unifying to effect meaningful political change. Worse, they don’t even know what they are fighting against.

One week ago, at 2:30am, I dropped my duffel on a poorly lit street corner and hailed a cab for Esenboğa International Airport. My shirt was damp and my sinuses were still tingling, but I was oddly at ease. In three hours, I’d be on my way home.

I offered the remaining bills in my pocket80 liraand the driver’s face lit up. He asked what time my flight was, urged me to buckle up, and handed me his sweater-vest as a pillow. I sneezed; he laughed. For the next hour on the road, I pretended to sleep. The city was calm, but there was electricity in the air. The deliberate cacophony of pots and pans emanated from one apartmentwhat would become, over the next few days, a 9:00pm ritualbut the rest of Ankara seemed asleep. I couldn’t help wondering, though, if theylike mewere only hushed, with one eye open.

The evening had been, in some ways, a bust. Intruding on my last, nostalgic night of draft beer and good company was the unwelcome irritation of expired Brazilian tear gas. I consulted Reutersthese were already, allegedly, the biggest protests to rock Turkey in years. And so, through the pungent smell of propellant, the tinny sound of the canisters, and the sight of sprinting protestors through the windows, I wondered aloud at what the next step would be.

The Turk seated across from me shrugged. He wanted garlic bread, but the bar had been too busy cutting lemons for its gas-afflicted patrons to complete the order. We called a few friends and urged them not to join us after all. Once the garlic bread arrived, we could talk. “It’s about time,” seemed to be his outlook on both the bread and the protests. “Won’t get good media coverage, though.” Being that he would start working at a Turkish newspaper in three days, I trusted his judgment. Would anything really change, though? We disagreed on that point.

We did agree, though, that our allergy symptoms were improved by the CS gas. The asthmatic bartender wasn’t as pleased. I blew my nose into a napkin and squeezed lemon into my eyes.

News and social media were already exploding. It was the “summer of discontent” in Turkeyobvious echoes of the Arab Spring. I laughed. It wouldn’t catch onthis was not anything like the Arab Spring. Soon, it would be re-branded as part of #occupy. Closer, but not quite. A few days later, I would begin to see the locally originated #diren, the imperative of “to resist,” oreven better“to put your foot down.” Much closer.

The question, of course, was whether or not those sprinting figures outside the window agreed on what they were resisting. Some came into the bar and, like many of the staff, sported tree-shaped stickers to demonstrate their solidarity with the Istanbul Gezi Park protesters. But everyone knew that this was not about a park, or greenspace, or even environmentalism. When I asked, the first word I heard was “fascism.” Adequately vague, but adequately powerful. The point was that these people had preexisting grievances with their government, and this was a timely outlet.

We walked outside just as the displeased throngsmarching from park to park since the afternoonreturned to John F. Kennedy Ave., carrying banners and chanting slogans. There were only three hundred, at the most, but within ten minutes, they drew a reckless police TOMA truck and plenty more tear gas. I was pulled into the next bar after being “warned” by the TOMA trucka quick water cannon across the chest. I ordered another beer. Someone threw a chair at the truck.

Half an hour later, still bemused and sniffling, I decided to head back to the apartment and grab my luggage. Part of me was happy to be leaving these streets, but another part was irritated enough to want to stay. And the more I sneezedsuch an unbecoming complement to indignationthe more irritated I got. Did what I was doing tonight really warrant that police response?

I suspect that many who witnessed that night on JFK Ave., or earlier that day in Gezi Park, walked home with similar thoughts. Fascists. What has made matters even worse is PM Erdoğan’s typically inflammatory reaction: A recitation of his perverse idea of what “democracy” means, i.e., nothing beyond election day. Many marginally displeased Turks have certainly been drawn into the ranks of the irritated by these authoritarian responses to what would have otherwise been truly marginal protests. And they have clearly been irritated enough to withstand the systematic irritation of their collective sinuses.

I have posted already, on Atatürk’s Republic, about how Turkish politics is only “democratic” in the strictest sense of the term, lacking anything that could be called liberal. The “liberal” use of tear gas in the last week only underlines this absence.

The problem is systemic, and can be blamed squarely on Turkey’s ill-conceived multi-party system, which all-too-naturally begets tyranny. Ironically, the men and women who have taken to the streets in the last week will try to work within their constitutionally illiberal democratic system, believing wrongly that the person of Erdoğan or the AK Parti is exclusively to blame for the “fascism” that they perceive. Even more ironically, the young secularists who make up a large portion of the disaffectedthemselves quite liberal-mindedwould be the last to advocate the two-party system that Turkey needs if it is to become a tolerant, rights-based, secular nation. Not only does the multi-party system prima facie seem more liberal, but the constitution that prescribes it came from Atatürk’s hand.

Until they realize what it really is that they should be resisting, the demonstrators will only be confused and irritated. And even if they do realize, and continue to seek change, they will soon understand that full-scale revolution is the only answera step that very few would be willing to take. Unfortunately, I do not see any other way out. The only solution is to challenge the very nature of Atatürk’s republic.

As we pulled up to the international departures terminal, I thanked the driver for his sweater-vest, dragged my duffel from the trunk, and handed over the 80 lira, and 75 kuruşall my bills and change. He thanked me. I smiled and nodded.

Kolay gelsin seemed the best parting words. Literally, “may it come easily.”

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Written by M. James

June 10, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Posted in News, Politics, Turkey

Tagged with , ,

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