27/12/2013

The Night Before the Revolution, Taksim 2.0

Crowds are already gathered on Ankara's Kennedy Street

Turkey has had a stressful week and so have I - in many ways parallel to that of the country. Essentially, I've come to realise I must commit to facing some home truths about the way I have been living in the past four months. So have the people of Turkey, it seems.

For my own part, the aftermath of the protests brought on the kind of depression that one gets waking up to nothingness after a night of dancing and debauchery - the kind of night that living in Taksim has provided far too easily for me since I moved there and attended the Gezi protests this summer.

Waking up with a ringing in one's ears from the bass, aches from contorted muscles and a violent sense of lack from the night before, somewhat diminishes the beauty of the dawn. But in that moment, when you clearly feel affected - between being jolted back into the dunya from slumber and life carrying on, there is a moment of clarity; Things have got to change.

For most people, this is expressed in cliche vows none-the-less inspiring in their goals (namely "I'll never drink again!"), forgotten no sooner than they are uttered. 

But with this week of Turkish news, jolting us back to life, the momentum has returned. And this time, the country seems bustling with anticipation to strive to do something inspiring.

 AKP-gate

After a heavy police response, sustained over a number of months, the protest movement's sense of mission was broken. By last weekend, there was more or less no police presence in Taksim; no chanting, no gathering - just shopping, tourists and club culture - the modern opium of the masses. Thus, in the last month an incentivised judiciary, pressured by vengeful political pressure, thought it portune to ignite a witch hunt discussing custodial sentences for everyone who was caught in handcuffs or on camera, from pensioners  to minors.

However, the latest scandal, after weeks of tit-for-tat between the two old allies, Fethullah Gülen and Erdoğan, has led the country into a state of madness whereby I had to stop myself from using the internet while writing this, as the situation has been changing on an hourly basis, rendering any chance I have to write up the events, utterly useless (then, that is the essence of beyhude)

The scandal unveiled by prosecutors and police units who were probably sympathetic to Gülen, unveiled in perfect timely fashion, a huge scam involving the children of AKP members. Several of the highest personages of the AKP were later forced to resign, and a new cabinet was ordained by the prime minister (photographed below with the caption "the last supper", by one Twitter member). In the meantime, the entire upper echalons of the police force and prosecution involved in the investigation against AKP members were fired and replaced by mandarins loyal to the government. Not-to-mention, a TV quizshow similar in style and popularity to Britain's Countdown, both of which I love, has been knocked off the air due to focus on the definition of the word 'someone who steals money from the people'. (answer: yitici - 'scavenger')


I could go on, but it's best you refer to this article by Emre Kızılkaya to get the full-update, as of two hours ago. ..

Resmi Twitter'da görüntüleTaksim 2.0

Twitter has been blowing up with messages of those pledging to gather there tomorrow night. I estimate the police build-up throughout the day will be formidable. 

Despite this, the protesters are looking defiant. Many are beginning their messages with the phrase "warn the police!"

Erdoğan should be worried now. Firstly, the opposition has broadened to include not just the Gezi youth and old opposition groups, who were nay-sayers from the start, but from the ranks of former voters. After all, losing the confidence of Hizmet members does not cause a substantial dent in the AKP electorate, however, many non-aligned conservatives will be put off by the sudden violent turn on the leader and his movement. Erdoğan must erase the memories of those who, despite being AKP, were taken aback by his unilateral decision to start this war and close down the Hizmet movement's schools. As Orwell might have put it, "Oceania the AKP has always been at war with Eastasia Gülen". He will do this by focusing on the group's US links and location. This might bring Erdoğan at direct odds with the states, but at this point, that is not looking unlikely to happen.

Secondly, with a judiciary in ruins and a thoroughly ruptured police force, Erdoğan risks losing the support of the security forces he has worked so hard to build the trust of over the years, in the AKP's quite noble fight against the military.

Broadened Opposition

Months ago, I shared my disappointment that there was no figure respected by both sides equally, who could bring calm to both sides of society in the heat of conflict. Now, I feel ardent that such a leader is not necessary; For if these two entities in Turkish society - the urban secularist young and practising Muslims of the same generation, living completely separate lives albeit side-by-side, can come together and hit it off in the streets, then this will be the beginning of something great for Turkey. Somewhat perversely, we have the AKP to thank for that. Credit where credit is due, but for now, their role is to allow for the steady transferal of power.

I believe the beginning of the end will come this weekend.

It is time for all of us to look inwards and refocus our energy on moving on to a new stage in life, with grace and finesse. For me, this involves a revolt against the part of me who just wants to rock out in Taksim, at the expense of greater things. For Turkey it involves doing just that, to call for greater things.



13/12/2013

Top Ten Worst Things About Living in Taksim


Up until last year I was a happy man, a contented man, living in that commercial-hub-come-residential suburb of Bakırköy. Bakırköy’s unique charm lies in its calm side streets, its busy shopping areas, its plethora of restaurants and its easy access to the coast, and transport across the city. My life there consisted of chay, shopping, reading and working diligently on my writing whilst busying myself with extra work. Bakırköy, it can be said, brings out the best in me. 

However, something was stirring within. I can relate to the Vietnam veteren in Tropic Thunder, when he grimmly whispers ‘beds give me nightmares’. The life experience I have garnered since post adolescence has been a bumpy ride, and my brain cells have somehow drawn a clear connection between happiness and bedlam. 

Thus, I ended up in Beyoğlu. I was attracted by the madness there, the hussle and bussle of Istiklal Caddesi, the crazy night life, the music, the smells and the sounds. I also feel more at home in older areas with real houses as opposed to the standard five floor apartment complexes that litter Turkish cities. 

After six months though, I’ve decided that maybe it is not for me. As I sit here, at four in the morning, having been abruptly woken up by an enraged transvestite banging on the door of my downstairs neighbour (I thought it was an earthquake and ran onto the balcony) I’m focusing all my rage into an internet-friendly list of pet hates. I hope it exorcizes some of my negative energy

It’s really busy. I love the atmosphere of Istiklal Caddesi. There is music, shopping and anything you need for a great time on your own or with friends. However, my left shin is battered and bruised from the amount of times someone with an armful of shopping bags has whacked it while trying to shove past me at rush hour. 

Noise. Again, as I said, I love the sounds of the city. The music, the cars, the streets sellers. I love it all. The people, the mating cats, the planes overhead – seriously, I love it. The İGDAŞ jingle, the guys below me singing Arabesk and throwing out their friends at 4am, the family below them having screaming contests over diner. It’s all great. The police sirens, helicopters, street weddings, live bands, garbage men, builders, more builders and whatever the guys drilling the road every day are doing. I seriously, love the constant buzz of the city, don’t you?

Sleeze. One of the reasons I came to live in my hood of Tarlabaşı, just adjacent to Taksim proper, is that it was a little on the wild side. However, it’s a bit grim coming-face-to-face with the dark side of Taksim’s commercial life. Curb-crawlers walk up and down the back streets with leery possessed eyes, trying to get the attention of the travestis poking out of their windows. The travestis themselves cause no trouble, but the insidious whispering of ‘şşş, bi şey ister misin?’ does grate a little.  
Prices. Everything from housing to food to coffee is more expensive in Taksim. How much blame lies in tourists and foreigners like me for being here, and land lords and emlak guys looking for a quick buck is contested. But I know who I’m blaming. I have a one bedroom apartment here. In Bakırköy, for the same price I had a garden in a nice two-bedroom close to the meydan.

Cihangir. ‘You don’t want to live around there, this area is a lot more cultured’ is the response I got from an Emlak in Cihangir, when I suggested I might rather live on the Tarlabaşı side – which is half the price of anywhere he was offering and, funnily enough, offers an ethnic and cultural mix far superior to Cihangir’s wine-sipping upper middle class lot. Of course, Cihangir fully deserves to be one of the Guardian’s selected best places to live on the planet. It is cute, old-fashioned and charming, and has a lot to offer a new-comer to the city. I just wish they wouldn’t go on about it.

The po-po.The police have always been present in Taksim, and they have always been rude and agressive. The fact that now they have gas cannisters and water cannons just makes it even more depressing and some weekends it feels like you’re living under martial law.

Going out all the time. When I was living in Bakırköy it was all ‘Liam, come here’ and ‘Liam, let’s go there’. Although constantly making the journey was a small annoyance – as a closet introvert, I much prefer the power to move around and leave in my own time on the excuse that I live conveniently, some distance away. Now I am already situated where people go out, and it’s not so much ‘Liam, come here’ as ‘I know you are a five minute distance away, so get out of your house’. What’s so annoying is that because it’s so close, I don’t even have the will-power to say, ‘I would love to see you, but I have to play Age of Empires, call my girlfriend and enjoy a nice home-made curry’, which at any other time, would make a smashing start to the weekend.  
 There are no supermarkets. This is quite a contentous subject, as it naturally veers into the subject of shopping centres. Make no mistake, Taksim doesn’t need a mega-mall. It does, however need somewhere that sells fresh milk – the kind that goes on cornflakes. Oh, but I have to g oto Mecidiyeköy for both of those if one runs out because the mini-markets around here (hidden on backstreets) sell ayran, cheese, water and, inexplicably, Coco Pops. Neither does Taksim have anywhere that sells cheap bits-and-bobs, my beloved tuhafiyes are scattered far and wide in Mecidiyeköy and Beşiktaş, so if you need a shoe rack, flower pot or Ottoman insignia to hang on your wall, you are going to have haul that bad boy up here yourself.

Paint Thinner Sniffers. I don’t really know where this craze came from, but it looks rather addictive. Kids, teens young adults, sit around sniffing baggies of uninviting green-yellow paint thinner to get high. Their care-free, glazed expression has a certain charm when accompanied with a vacant smile or on top of a burnt out police vehicle, however the down side is that they don’t often have the financial assets to secure a regular high anda re always asking for ‘just one lira’. It’s kind of depressing. 

Yemek Sepeti is awful. Yes, yes, why don’t you just cook then, you lazy bum, you would be quite correct in responding. But we all know the pace of life in Istanbul means that yemeksepeti.com’s online food delivery service is a sheer God-send. In Beyoğlu though, there is nothing you can order at a decent price, and when it does come, it is cold and an hour late. I have no explanation for this, and pine fort he days I could get a nice fajita and waffle from Bakırköy’s Abbas restaurant within twenty minutes of ordering.

Maybe I’m being a misery guts. Yes, life in Taksim, especially this year, has given me a plethora of tales and stories to relate for years to come, and I am more than grateful. But no-one wants to live in an anecdote, and it is oft-times I crave for the quiet tranquility of the sub-urbs once again.

11/12/2013

Private Space as a Means of Public Discourse

"I don't like violence and never threw a stone, but when I arrived and there were barricades everywhere and cars were burning [...] it was neccessary. Without the damage no one would listen to us! I am thankful for that! We had to go public."

The above quote is taken from the scribblings of Christopher Schafer, one of the artists showcasing work at the Istanbul Bieniale exhibition this autumn. The quote is taken from a number of articulate scrawlings from inside his notebook during the Gezi protests.

"Go public" was a choice phrase. I highly doubt that in the midst of the initial carnage of the protests Schafer was aware that the meaning of public space would be the concept of that fall's Bieniale exhibition. It most likely wasn't, demonstrating in itself, the cultural success of the movement.

In fact, in a direct correlation to the suppression of dissent in Taksim over the last few months, other aspects of public space have become notably more and more exploited as mediums of oppositional expression.

Ironically, this has not just been in the public commons itself, online and in protests and cafe gatherings of groups like the formative Gezi Party, but through the private sector advertising realm of billboards, televison commericals and newspaper adspace where expression is traditionally a buyer's market.

The first noticable use of this has been from women's rights group KaDer. The group has funded billboards and advertising all around Turkey with the stalk black and white image of the  Prime Minister and two opposition leaders with sticky notes on their foreheads saying "don't forget the women candidates!".

The campaign intends to draw attention to the fact that during the last council elections in Turkey in 2009, only 26 councils were appointed to women candidates. With the next council elections looming in three months, the group intends to keep women's representation on the main parties' agendas.

Of the country's biggest media outlets, Hürriyet and Zaman (opposition and Gülenist, respectively), advertising too, has made use of the current protest and discontent prevalent in all quarters of Turkish society to achieve readership, albeit in divergent ways.


Hürriyet is an opposition newspaper generally positing a more mature manner of opposition than the ulta Kemalist Sözcü and Cümhüriyet - though it is not immune from hyperbole and uncontextualized quotes.

It's advertising campaign, under the slogan 'Hürriyet Benim' or 'Freedom is Mine', has been extremely effective. It's beauty is in that it, whether on great billboards in the city or on TV advertisements, has bearly mentioned hürriyet itself, as the logo is no where to be seen. The several adverts all reach out towards various unsatisfied factions of Turkish society, with different captions of liberal character; a cameraman stating 'I can share my work with the world', an underage bride with the text 'I can be considered a child' and a disabled woman saying 'I can live wihout impedment'. Most interestingly, considering we are talking about Hürriyet, is the Kurdish youths represented particularly strongly in their TV advertisement who state 'I can be born into another language'. 

Zaman, in their typicalşy non-direct confrontational style, have well-and-truly been piped to the post by Hürriyet. The advert, shown below, shows a riot police cop and protestor reading the paper together under the caption 'It's time for brotherhood' (a play on words - 'zaman' meaning 'time'). The headline says 'There is another possibility... What's the use in fighting?'.

At first the ad was simply tongue in cheek, as there is no way Zaman, with its staunch support of the government over the years, could hope to tempt a large Gezi readership. However, the ad now, just a couple of weeks after it first appeared, is already embarrassingly out-of-date, because by now, Zaman's Gülenist owners have broken up with the government following a legislative attack on their schools, and scandalous revelations that Erdoğan had been out to break their power from the start.


On a more negative note however, given all parties are preparing for the up-coming local elections, the billboard owners have shown signs of clamping down on such reference to opposition. CHP Deputy Chairman Umut Oran announced yesterday, that Ströer-Kentvizyon had  “censored” a billboard campaign by the party which read, “If the citizen is paying taxes, the government will give an account! Call to the Prime Minister: Do not hide the Court of Accounts reports from Parliament. Do not disregard the will of the people!”

Oran, apparently quoting the concern of the advertisers, said the response was that, “You are criticising the Prime Minister too much”, and added that “This (Ströer-Kentvizyon) company which is known for its closeness to the AKP, and which has a dominating position in the market, has shown the presumption to interfere in political discourse.”

Oran has tabled a parliamentary question to Prime Minister Erdoğan demanding to know if Ströer-Kentvizyon CEO Murat İlbak was given any instructions to refuse the ad, and whether or not the Inter Publicity Services firm has ever been brought before the Competition Authority for anti-competition. Only by following opposition tabloids are we likely to find out the result of the case in no uncertain terms.







07/12/2013

Gülenist-AKP Break-up Recieves the Social Media Treatment

This last year has definitely been a coup for the art of satire in Turkey. The Gezi protests, with the help of facebook and twitter, meant anyone could create a witty, slanderous critique to spread around the country within minutes. 

The following photoshops/comic captions have gone viral on buzzfeed rip-off (so much that you'd think someone might notice) www.haberself.com. They are ordered parallel to the day-by-day events which took place in the initial days of the Gezi protests, but posit what may happen if such a tactic is initiated by theologian and media moghul Fethullah Gülen's supporters. 

The Gülenists have, for time immemor,al, been seen as the integral make-up of the AKP government, if not the bulk of its support. However, since PM Tayyip Erdoğan declared their business backbone, the private cram-school, to be outlawed along with every other cram-school in the country, a media war has broken out and the split could be irrevocable. Gülenists ratcheted up the highest-shared tweets on Earth with anti-government comments, their TV stations have given whole hours to reports exposing how at a loss children will be without their course-centres - some of which represent the only such centres in a whole district. 

With that in mind, the spirit of protest is neigh, and from the least suspected group. For the Gezi crowd, this has been an interesting twist in the story of the beginning of the end of the AKP.

Would-be news stories in the event the Gülenists take Gezi!

1) Police are seen putting alcohol in their water cannon vehicles in order to scare away protestors. This summer the tanks were actually loaded with acid to burn protestors.




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2) Protestors leave notices out side their 
encampment  for items needed from donors. Items include prayer mats, tasbihs, kufis, rose water and tea



















3) Protesters begin chanting "We haven't performed wudu for three whole days, send us a police tank!" The Gezi protesters would shout similar slogans, mostly a simple 'Come on and spray us'



4) Renegade courses begin in the Gezi tents. This is both a joke about the fact that the cram-school closures are what started the backlash and the fact that during Gezi, voluntary libraries and yoga classes were taught



 5) The legendary 'Standing [for prayer] Man'. The actual protests were capped off by a dingle man, standing for several hours in stillness until he was taken away by police. Impromptu standing protests broke out all over the country.



06/12/2013

Dersim: The Politics of Memory

 It may be enough for the outsider looking on Turkey, that empirical documentation and eye-witness testimony implicating the Republican regime in the 1937-39 Dersim genocide, is being reviewed seriously in the media, spurned on by television documentaries that have stopped treating the subject as an abstract, unfortunate tragedy.

If anyone thinks evidence in itself, is enough to lead to a more critical treatment of the past, then one seriously denies the power of ideology in remembrance of the collective past. Of course, one can distance oneself from the past on a personal level, saying 'I wasn't there', 'times have changed', 'political decisions depend on a great number of factors and my own descendants were simply a cog in the machine at best' etc etc. 

The distancing mechanisms can go on infinitely in such a way, and their function is to provide that the debate can be dealt with in the abstract as best as possible. However, there other function is to mystify the debate. i.e. 'I wasn't there, but I'm sure there is some rational explanation for it that doesn't go against my rose-tinted view of the epoque'

This can be highlighted by the comment in the thread below. A facebook friend posted a link on Dersim which was immediately defended as so (see the second and forth comments)

Firstly, the commenter was obviously unaware that the Dersim massacre had little to do with the Sheikh Said Revolt which occured just north of the region ten years earlier. This mental connection, in itself is interesting, as though all protest relates to such unapologetically anti-state protests as the one instigated by Sheikh Said.  But notice the sentence "it is a natural right of the state to protect itself". It is implied that this is true even if, as I pointed out, the reason for the existence of a state in principle, being the protection of the citizenry within its boundaries. 

On another occassion, when the eminnent Dutch journalist in Istanbul, Frederike Geerdink, posted something similar back in September, she was instantly insulted, in a thread (pictured below) which was very revealing:




'Memo' compounds a number of contradictory philosophical arguements, all with the job of denying the genocide, i.e. "Are you a historian?" doesn't matter anyway, because the question is "Where you there?", denying that people who actually were there, were given a voice on the matter. Later, we see the truth according to Memo, that "Atatürk is the last person anybody anywhere has to apologies for", although nobody had mentioned Atatürk previously. Thus, he unconsciously admits the connection, choosing to deny it all the same.

Why Remember?

In defence of those Mustafa Kemal/Republican loyalists who don't want to see the country's founder take criticism, however, the question stands that if one is to be completely objective in discussing past crimes, then what is the point of visiting the past anyway?

This, of course, is to dismiss the qualms of those affected directly my the massacre, but more pertinently, it is to the detriment of those who have suffered since that time, because the fascist mentality which lead to the massacres, has not been confronted. 

Essentially, 'those who forget history are doomed to repeat it'. Though a major genocide is unrealistic in modern Turkey, one would be surprised to know with what ease many people, still speak casually about the idea of Kurdish people being transported out of Turkey for their treachery. And we all know what that means. 

More generally, however, the fascist mentality in Turkey has been broadly responsible for every event in which disobedient sectors of the population or goverment have been rooted-out and punished collectively.

Be it headscarved women being kicked out of universities on mass, Christian missionaries murdered in cold blood, practicing Muslims fired from military high-ranks, Armenian journalists being assassinated or, this week, Alevi families having suspicious marks left on their doors in majority-Sunni areas - the ghosts of the past tend to flare up on a regular basis. 

Thus, public condemnations of the past, whatever their logic, realpolitick rationale, will only help take Turkey away from the false logic that whatever occured in the Republican era was pure and good.

Resources:

For further reading, check out this recent Radikal article on the revelations of nerve gas course for conscripts in nearby Elazığ (http://www.radikal.com.tr/turkiye/dersim_katliaminda_kimyasal_izi_ilk_kez_ortaya_cikti-1164486)